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The Green Bay defense was rather mediocre in 2021 but that was an improvement over their 2020 performance when they were in the bottom third of most categories. Their numbers in terms of yardage and point allowed were a little odd in that the Packers were seventh in both completion percentage and yards through the air, while only two teams allowed more passing scores. When it came to the ground game, they were tied for 29th at 4.7 yards per carry but allowed the seventh-fewest points. Green Bay was good in the big play columns with 39 sacks and a significant improvement in the turnover columns, jumping from 18 in 2020 to 26 in 2021. Not being satisfied with the improvement, the team used five of their eleven draft picks on defense, including both of their first-round selections.
The Packers have been a 3-4 team for well over a decade. Despite using a large amount of early-round draft capital and plenty of free-agent money on the position over the years, Green Bay has never had an Aaron Donald or Calais Campbell-type player on their defensive line. Much of this can be attributed to the two-gap approach they usually employ, where the responsibility of the linemen is to occupy space and keep blockers off the second-level defenders. Even though it would allow them to make more plays, linemen are generally asked not to penetrate because it could open lanes for both running backs and scrambling passers. Regardless of the cause, the important point is that no Green Bay defensive end has managed an average of six or more points per game in the last several years.
Dean Lowry came close last year when his mark of 24-17-5 added up to an average of 5.94. If 3-4 ends are considered tackles in your league, those numbers are good enough to make him a DT2 candidate. With comparable numbers across his five seasons as a starter, this is about what can be expected without much upside.
It is a little harder to get a handle on what to expect from Jarran Reed. Following five years in Seattle and one with the Chiefs, this is his first adventure in a three-man front. Reed projects as the starter opposite Lowery and on paper, is a great fit. At 6’3” and 307 pounds, he has the prototypical size and skill set to be successful in a 2-gap scheme. Reed has also shown the ability to get after the passer at his previous stops. He has 26 career sacks including 10.5 in 2018 and 7 in 2020 while working as the 3-technique tackle in Seattle’s 4-3. His numbers with the Chiefs last year were rather disappointing but there were a lot of other issues involved in that situation beyond Reed. What it comes down to in fantasy terms, is that Reed has the ability and potential to put up good numbers but I am not confident he will be able to overcome the limitations of the scheme and do so. Unless the Packers plan to change up their approach and go with more of an aggressive 1-gap, I see 40 combined tackles and 3-5 sacks as the ceiling for Reed.
The signing of Reed and selection of Devonte Wyatt at the bottom of round one might be signs that the Packers are planning more 1-gap responsibilities. Wyatt’s numbers were modest while at Georgia. As a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, he totaled 113 combined tackles, 5 sacks, and 4 turnovers. Pre-draft scouting reports suggest he is a highly active and disruptive gap-penetrator that plays with great effort but has some issues against double teams. In the short term, Wyatt should see plenty of work as the third defensive end. With both Reed and Lowry set to become free agents at the end of this season, there is a clear past to a starting job for Wyatt in 2023.
There has traditionally been marginal production from the Packers' defensive end positions but Green Bay has one of the best nose tackles in the game. Kenny Clark was a late first-round pick in 2016 and has been well worth the price. Over five seasons as a starter, he has been rock solid on the field and consistently productive in the box scores. From 2017 through 2019, Clark ranked no lower than eighth among interior linemen and inside the top 30 in leagues that lump the positions together. If not for a groin injury he suffered in week one of 2020 and the back injury that bothered Clark for much of last season, that streak would almost certainly have continued. Through six games in 2021, Clark was the number five tackle with an average of 9.8 points per game. After that, he was sporadic at best. The good news here is that the back injury did not require surgery and he should be 100% for the start of camp.
Tedarrell Slaton is listed as the backup to Clark at nose tackle and will get a few snaps in relief but if Clark were to miss time, we might see Reed slide inside with Wyatt moving into the starting role.
- DE Dean Lowery – Marginal value in most formats
- DE Jarran Reed – Sleeper with a relatively low floor and limited upside
- DE Devonte Wyatt – Possible dynasty target
- DE Jack Heflin – No impact expected
- NT Kenny Clark – Low DT1 if healthy all season
- NT Tedarrell Slaton – No impact
- NT Jonathan Ford – No impact
There are two things we know for certain about the Packers’ inside linebacker position. It can be a goldmine for IDP production, and over the last several seasons, they have kept only one of them on the field full-time. Over a three-year span starting in 2017, Blake Martinez was an IDP star averaging 95-52-3, 2 turnovers, and 4 passes defended while ranking eighth or better every season. In 2020 it was Christian Kirksey averaging better than eleven points per game and heading for a top-15 finish before missing several games. While he was out, Krys Barnes put up good numbers. Last offseason the Packers signed DeVondre Campbell who promptly went from borderline roster worthy in Atlanta to the fantasy game’s number two linebacker at 14+ points a game with the Packers. The thing all these guys had in common besides the strong statistics, was none of them had a sidekick at ILB that was roster worthy in any format.
Campbell is still with the team and looked to be virtually a sure thing to repeat the top-ten finish, right up until the Packers picked Quay Walker at 22. Now we are left trying to figure out the plan, not only for this season but for the next several. Campbell played nearly every snap through week 17 in 2021, sitting out the last regular-season game as the Packers rested most starters. Campbell is one of the league’s better coverage linebackers and is signed through the 2026 season. It’s a pretty safe bet he will keep the every-down role and continue to be a highly productive option for IDP managers even if Walker takes a bite out of his tackle numbers.
Between them, Barnes and Oren Burks were on the field roughly 55% of the time at the other ILB spot. So the question is, did the organization use a first-round pick on a two-down linebacker, or do they plan to change up the defense to keep both Walker and Campbell on the field in sub-packages at some point? Considering the skill set of Devonte Wyatt and the addition of Walker, I have a feeling the Packers’ defense could have a little different look going forward.
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