The Green Bay Packers defense has more talent than they’ve had in a long time. The team has six former first-round picks starting this season and has Pro Bowl or All Pro players at defensive line, linebacker and cornerback.
The Packers used both of their first round picks in this year’s draft on defense, adding linebacker Quay Walker and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt to their roster. The two former Georgia Bulldogs will add talent and depth to two positions the Packers have typically given a low priority to for a long time.
The Packers also took the cap space they saved in the Davante Adams deal and re-signed All Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas.
GM Brian Gutekunst also signed former Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander to a new, long-term contract that made him the highest paid cornerback in the NFL and added free agent defensive lineman Jarran Reed to bolster the defensive line.
The offseason simply reinforced that the Packers were determined to win with defense and talent-wise, their starting 11 is tough to beat.
The defensive line is deeper and more talented than it has been in a long time. The inside linebackers are fast, smart and talented. The starting edge rushing duo of Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are both experienced and capable of reaching double-digit sacks this year. Few teams can match the trio of Alexander, Eric Stokes and Douglas at cornerback and Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are as good as any staring pair of safeties in the league.
The last time the Green Bay defense was this talented was probably 2010 which is coincidentally the last time the Packers won the Super Bowl. The defense suffered key injuries in 2011, including the career ending injury of Nick Collins, and then the level of play fell off over the ensuing years.
While the talent level on defense is potentially impressive, there is a major concern on defense as the Packers head into the 2022 season: if injuries strike in key areas, there may not be enough depth for the team to continue to play at a high level.
On defense, a team is often just as good as its weakest link. Once a team finds a weakness, it will pick on that player or unit and pick up yardage despite the strengths the unit may have elsewhere.
The areas of biggest concern start with edge rusher. Yes, Gary and Smith give the team a pair of excellent starters who can both consistently get to the passer, but behind them there are no players who have proven they can be consistent contributors even as part of the rotation.
Rookie fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare flashed potential during preseason but hasn’t played in an NFL game yet and may need time to develop into a consistent performer. Both Jonathan Garvin and Tipa Galeai made the team again, but neither has proven themselves capable of getting to the quarterback on a regular basis.
If injuries strike either Gary or Smith for an extended time, defensive coordinator Joe Barry will have to get creative when he tries to rush the quarterback.
The situation at safety may be even more concerning. Amos and Savage are quality starters but behind that dynamic duo are a lot of question marks. Injuries struck during preseason, sidelining Savage and players who had the potential to make the roster like Shawn Davis and Vernon Scott.
As of now, the Packers have precious little proven depth at safety. Dallin Leavitt and Rudy Ford are known primarily for their performance on special teams and have been a liability at times on defense. Rookie Tariq Carpenter was drafted because of his size and ability to contribute on special teams but didn’t look ready for extended action on defense during the preseason.
A similar situation exists at cornerback. The top trio is elite but the backups are largely unproven. Shemar Jean-Charles looked like he was ready to make a second-year jump at times during the preseason, but he has played a total of 37 snaps on defense in his NFL career.
The only other player on the active roster at cornerback right now is Keisean Nixon who is also better known for his special teams prowess than his play on defense. Last year, Nixon played only 11 percent of the defensive snaps with the Raiders and was targeted only six times according to pro-football-reference.com.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about when discussing the Packers defense this season. This could be the Packers best unit in more than a decade and that could really help the team remain among the elite teams in the NFL. But because the roster is so top heavy, injuries to the wrong players could quickly turn this defense from elite to vulnerable if the backup players aren’t ready to step up and play well.
Gutekunst gambled when putting together this year’s roster. If it pays off, the defense could be one of the best in the league. But if the team’s lack of depth is exposed, it could derail this team’s dreams of getting back to the Super Bowl.
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