Last week, we looked ahead to the future of the Green Bay Packers, starting with their 2022 offensive free agents. While the offense will look to maintain as many of the weapons that made them the best offense in the NFL in 2020 as possible, the defense is a completely different story.
By bringing in new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the Packers are hoping to mimic the success of the system Barry was part of with the L.A. Rams. With a host of young defensive players needing to prove themselves, how they adapt to the new scheme is critical to their NFL futures.
As mentioned in last week’s post, Jaire Alexander is playing on his fifth-year option and almost certainly gets an extension. This is excellent because Jaire is by far the most important defender that would be on the list. Secondly, Aaron Rodgers’ eventual status will determine what the Packers can do financially in 2022. With that in mind, who are some of the most relevant defensive free agents going into 2022?
King is the most polarizing figure on this list and has been since drafted in the second round of 2017. After an abysmal performance in the 2020 NFC Championship, it looked like a given King would be gone in 2021. Yet the team brought King back on a one-year deal. The way free agency shook up, the Packers likely could have gotten other options for the same price, but at the time, King was a cheap option experienced with the team and well-liked by the players and coaches.
That said, the Packers didn’t spend a first-round pick on Eric Stokes to bury him on the depth chart. The most likely scenario is for King to start while Stokes gets acclimated to life in the NFL, with Stokes taking over at CB2 in 2022. King’s future will ultimately depend on how he adapts to Barry’s defense. Another small contract like 2021’s isn’t out of the cards, but it’s more likely King plays for another team in 2022.
Another second-round corner that hasn’t lived up to the draft capital, Jackson finds himself in an awkward spot. The former Iowa standout started five games in place of Kevin King in 2020, and while I thought he played better than his low grades suggest, it still wasn’t ideal for a second-round corner three years into an NFL career. By the end of the season, he was a nonfactor in the cornerback room.
Jackson never seemed to thrive in Mike Pettine’s scheme, but he’ll get one more shot with a new scheme in 2021. He’ll need to make the most of it because the odds are stacked against him. The Packers have dumped a lot of resources in cornerbacks over the last ten years, and Jackson looks to be another failed experiment.
The favorite to start the season as CB3 and the “Star” role in Barry’s offense, Sullivan has impressed as a UDFA. The role will be heavily contested, as Barry has emphasized the position’s importance to his scheme, but Sullivan is the clear favorite.
While he’s been picked on at times and doesn’t have a ton of splash plays, Sullivan is solid, and a team can’t ask for much more in its CB3. Shemar Jean-Charles could look to compete for the “Star” role, but most rookie corners tend to be bad. Sullivan stands a good chance of resigning with the Packers in 2022.
Inside linebacker is mainly an afterthought as far as the Packers are concerned. Even so, fifth-round pick Kamal Martin and UDFA Krys Barnes held the line admirably in 2020. But what of Oren Burks, the one inside linebacker the Packers did invest a higher-round pick in?
Injuries slowed Burks’ development early on, pushing him down the depth chart. Even when healthy in 2020, he was used in odd ways. Despite being the athletic, rangy backer the Packers could have used, he was bizarrely used as a pass-rusher and studying in the outside linebackers group.
Like Josh Jackson, Burks gets a fresh start with a new defensive scheme. Unlike Jackson, Burks’ position group isn’t crowded. With a big leap, Burks could play his way to a 2022 extension.
Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.