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Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
The Packers managed the eighth most takeaways in 2022, but that is about the only positive for this defense. They gave up the sixth-fewest passing yards, but that number is skewed because they faced the fewest passing attempts in the league. At seven yards per attempt, they were tied at 25th, the 22 passing scores ranked in the bottom half of the league, and their 34 sacks had them tied at 27. The run defense was no better. At five yards per carry, the Packers ranked 28th; they were 26th in rush yards and 24th in rushing scores. The big shock about all this is how little the team did to address it. The only significant free agent addition was at safety and is not necessarily an improvement. They used first, fourth, and sixth-round picks on defensive linemen/pass rushers and a pair of sevens on defensive backs. The only rookie likely to make any impact is Lukas Van Ness, and he will be a third wheel unless Rashan Gary is not ready to return from his injury.
There were not many additions to the defense, but there were some subtractions that will put different faces in the lineup. Two of last year’s defensive line starters, Dean Lowrey and Jarran Reed were not invited back. That makes room for last year’s first-round pick, Devonte Wyatt, and most likely, third-year man T.J. Slaton to take over. How much difference they will make is hard to say, but it’s hard to fathom it being any worse.
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 Kenny Clark is the only Green Bay interior lineman to average six or more points per game in the last several years, and he barely did it at 6.3 last season. from 2017 through 2019, Clark put up good numbers for a tackle. Averaging roughly 58 combined stops and 6 sacks. He was a strong DT2 over that span. In 2020 and 2021, his numbers slid out of the top 24, rendering Clark no better than depth in leagues starting two. Last year’s rebound is cause for optimism, but it is still anyone’s guess if he will be a solid DL2 or a decent DT3. Target him as the latter.
Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are the starters at the edge position. Smith’s best season as a pro came in 2019, his first year with the Packers. That season he totaled 55 combined tackles, which was a career-high at the time, and 12 sacks, which is still his career-best. In 2020 and 2021, Smith’s numbers dropped significantly. He bounced back in 2022 with 59 tackles and 8.5 sacks so there is hope for IDP-relevant production, but it is far from a sure thing.
Gary was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2019, but so far, the team has seen a weak return on that investment. He did little over his first two years in the league, recording just seven sacks. Gary had somewhat of a breakout in year three, going 28-18-9.5. in 2021. He was on pace for similar or slightly better numbers last season when a knee injury ended his season in week nine. The Packers hope he will be ready for the regular season, but his availability is in doubt as we approach training camp. It sounds like Gary is a strong candidate to open the season on the PUP. At best, he will be eased in and not near 100% early in the season.
It’s hard to tell if the selection of Lukas Van Ness was due to Gary’s injury or the less-than-stellar production from both he and Smith over the last three seasons. Either way, Van Ness is expected to provide immediate help. He is big at six feet five and 272 pounds and has the frame to add more muscle. Van Ness earned the nickname Hercules from his Iowa teammates for his power and ability to throw offensive tackle at their quarterbacks with his bull rush. Despite impressing those around him, Van Ness was not very productive statistically. In two seasons with the Hawkeyes (26 games), Van Ness recorded 70 total tackles and 13 sacks. He will need to become more of a technician and add some pass-rush moves and counters to his arsenal, but Van Ness has the potential to be special.
- Edge Preston Smith – Late-round pick with a low DE2 ceiling
- Edge Rashan Gary – Likely no better than a DE3, even when healthy
- Edge Lukas Van Ness- High long-term potential
- Edge Kingsley Enagbare – No impact
- Edge Colby Wooden – Developmental rookie
- DT Devonte Wyatt – No impact expected
- DT Kenny Clark – Low-end DT2 with some upside
- DT T.J. Slaton – No impact
- DT Jonathan Ford – No impact
- DT Karl Brooks – No impact
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