PACKERS FOOTBALL FRIDAY: Make No Mistake

The Packers definitely got bigger, faster, and stronger this offseason.  Green Bay’s draft class was littered with elite athletes.  Every player Green Bay took aside from Cole Madison was a well above average athlete for their position.  Green Bay also added 6’7″ Jimmy Graham and the 6’6″ 275 pound Marcedes Lewis to their offense.

Make no mistake, though, the team’s biggest addition this offseason was defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.  Not only was “Mo Wilk” literally the heaviest player that Green Bay brought in, he easily has the most upside.  Despite his modest one-year contract, Wilkerson is a potentially long term dominant player in the way that the rest of the offseason additions likely aren’t.

Wilkerson is 28 years old.  He is at an age, especially for defensive lineman, that should be considered his athletic prime.  He should see no real drop in play due to athleticism until his age 32 season, if not a little later.  Think of the years Ryan Pickett gave Green Bay in his early 30s.  Justin Smith dominated in a similar role as Green Bay will use Wilkerson in even in his age 34 season.  You wouldn’t know it from the tape, but Ndamukong Suh is 31.  Wilkerson could very well give the Packers four or five seasons of high level football.

Things did not end well in New York for Wilkerson.  He signed a big five year deal in 2016, and hasn’t been the same player since.  The pessimist would tell you that Wilkerson got his money and got fat and happy.  The optimist would tell you that the Jets were completely dysfunctional, leading to a 24-40 record over the last four seasons.  New York lost most of the leadership that Wilkerson thrived under.

Speaking of Wilkerson thriving, not enough attention is being paid to just how good he was while he earned the aforementioned extension from the Jets.  From 2012 to 2015, no 3-4 defensive end was consistently better than Wilkerson whose name wasn’t Justin James Watt.  Wilkerson dominated against the run, using his quickness and length to mystify blockers.  He also finished in the top five in Pro Football Focus’ pass rush productivity twice in that span.  Of the three big name defensive linemen the Jets drafted in round one (Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Willams), Wilkerson’s highs have been the highest.

Mike Pettine was Wilkerson’s defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012.  2012 was likely Wilkerson’s best season as a pro.  Mike Pettine is now the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers.  Even if you’re the pessimistic type, Wilkerson no longer has a long term deal, and has to play out a one year, $5 Million contract.  If his motivation truly has been money, he needs to play well to get more of it, and it needs to happen this season.

Wilkerson’s true upside is a Suh-level disruptor.  He’s a player whose caliber Green Bay didn’t really have the cap space to sign, but were able to sign because of how things ended with the Jets.  It honestly reminds me of the Charles Woodson deal.  Wiklerson, like Woodson is All-Pro talented.  If he can rediscover what he lost in New York, he’s young enough to make it count for a long time.

Green Bay made solid additions, but none quite like Mo Wilk.  Graham is too old to dominate for a long time, so is Tramon Williams.  Davon House doesn’t have that ceiling, and though Lewis’ ceiling is higher, it’s not All Pro.  Wilkerson could be a career defining signing for Gutekunst.

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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