While the Packers’ humdrum free-agent haul to this point ranks somewhere between sorting through two-weeks worth of junk mail and waiting in line at the post office, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe stands out as an unclaimed option that could chip in and shore up a less-than-impenetrable run defense.
Though much of the offseason scuttlebutt has centered around bringing in new talent at linebacker, the road to improving the Packers’ defense starts with beefing up the trenches.
With the exception of Kenny Clark, Green Bay’s defensive line is decidedly average, as the likes of Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster, while useful, are nothing more than one-dimensional backups.
Last season’s catastrophic 37-20 loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship is still fresh in the memory of several diehards who saw Raheen Mostert gallop over the opposition for 220 rushing yards.
The factors that contributed to San Francisco’s undeniable dominance in the running game included defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s refusal to adjust to the offense, as his outside pass rushers continued to line up in a wide-9 alignment, leaving the C-gaps wide open for Mostert and company to infiltrate.
The players also had a hand in the beatdown with numerous Packer defenders failing to set the edges.
But coaching and player execution alone don’t account for all the struggles the defense had in slowing down San Francisco’s running attack. The fact is: Green Bay lacked the horses up front to stop the bleeding — and that was case all year long.
Pettine’s unit not only tied for 6th worst in allowing 4.7 yards per carry to their opponents, but only seven teams surrendered more rushing touchdowns than the Packers (15) in 2019.
Drafting at least one interior lineman seems to be a no-brainer for Brian Gutekunst, but one can’t pin their entire hopes on claiming the one prospect or prospects the team belives can step in and make a positive impact.
What if the Packers end of up of the short end of a run on defensive tackles?
Enter Wolfe, an accomplished trench men coming off a quietly impressive 2019 campaign with the Denver Broncos.
The 30-year-old has distinguished himself as a versatile gap-penetrator since being drafted in the second round by Denver back in 2012.
He quickly took to Vic Fangio’s 4-3 under scheme in 2019 by not only showcasing his ability to rush the passer (see 7 sacks in 12 starts), but also acquitted himself well versus the run by properly maintaining his gap.
At his best, Wolfe was once decsribed by Rotoworld as a “poor man’s version of J.J. Watt.”
So, why is he currently a free agent?
No. 95 has missed his fair share of games due to injury throughout his NFL tenure — 20 to be exact in his eight years of service. To put it another way, Wolfe has only three 16-game seasons under his belt.
Spinal cord, elbow and neck injuries are among the setbacks he’s experienced in recent years.
But the fact the heady lineman remains available this late in the game indicates that they can be had at a reasonable rate. This is where a financially strapped team like the Packers needs to pounce and bring home the bacon.