The Green Bay Packers defense has the potential to be elite this season. While the offense lost key contributors like Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Billy Turner and Lucas Patrick, the defense has been adding talent in recent years, both through the draft and by re-signing key potential free agents.
When the Packers hired defensive coordinator Joe Barry last season, many people were skeptical because of the low rankings his defenses had in his previous stints as defensive coordinator in Detroit and Washington.
The 2021 season served to dispel those concerns as Barry’s defense ranked ninth in the NFL in yards allowed and improved as the season progressed.
But this year, the Packers have made moves that will give Barry a chance to really show what he can do. The Packers re-signed All Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas who were potentially set to leave via free agency. GM Brian Gutekunst also signed free agent defensive lineman Jarran Reed to bolster the defensive line.
Then the Packers then used both of their first-round draft picks on defensive players with linebacker Quay Walker going 22nd overall and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt being added with the 28th overall pick.
That means that the Packers defense could easily have seven starters who were once first-round draft choices this season.
Along the defensive line, the Packers have Wyatt and Kenny Clark. Clark is already a two-time Pro Bowler who is still in the prime of his career. He is one of the few interior defensive linemen in the NFL today who can both stop the run and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the inside. Now with the addition of Wyatt, Clark has more help along the defensive line and may not see the steady diet of double teams he has often faced every game.
At linebacker, the Packers have Walker, one of this year’s first-round picks on the inside and Rashan Gary on the outside. Gary was drafted by the Packers in 2019 and it took him some time to adjust to playing in the NFL.
In his rookie year, Gary didn’t see the field much but he has improved each season and had 9.5 sacks in 2021 while providing consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His work ethic and intelligence give him the chance to continue to improve in 2022 and beyond.
The secondary has three former first-round picks in the starting lineup. Safety Darnell Savage was also selected in 2019. Unlike Gary, he started immediately in his first season and was an immediate upgrade for the Packers at the position.
Savage played his best football in the second half of the 2020 season and he became a consistent playmaker. Unfortunately, he struggled at times in Joe Barry’s defense last year but remained a solid starter. The Packers are hoping Savage can return to his late 2020 form as he gets more comfortable in Barry’s defense. The team just picked up his fifth-year option so Savage is under contract through the end of the 2023 season.
Jaire Alexander just signed a new contract extension that makes him the highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Alexander was the team’s first-round pick in 2018 and also won the starting job in his first season in the league. By 2020, Alexander earned Pro Bowl honors and was considered one of the top cover corners in the NFL. A shoulder injury cost him most of the 2021 season but Alexander is back and ready to start earning his $20.1 million per year average salary.
Eric Stokes was the Packers top draft pick in 2021. He became a starter very early in his rookie season when Kevin King was injured and stayed there when Alexander was lost for the season in Week 4.
Like Alexander, Stokes has outstanding speed and the former Georgia star did a very good job of limiting the productivity of the receivers he was covering. If Stokes makes a jump in his second season, the Packers could have one of the best three starting corners in the league with Alexander, Stokes and Rasul Douglas.
The Packers can realistically start the 2022 season with seven former first-round picks starting on defense. The talent is clearly there for this defense to be one of the better units in the league. That can help take some of the pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the young Packers receiving corps and help keep this team among the top contenders in the NFC.
One thing is for sure, Joe Barry has never had this much talent to work with as a defensive coordinator. He can’t wait for the season to start.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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