It’s been over 10 years since the Packers boasted a top 5 defense. It’s no surprise that was also the last year the Lombardi returned home to Lambeau Field. The Packers have dealt with mediocre to poor defenses for a decade and they crumpled when the lights shined the brightest. Last season this was the not the case. While the 2021 playoff pain dims, one thing is clear, the defense played its best game of the season in the biggest moment. Entering the 2022 season with all pro talent at all three levels, the defense is truly on the precipice of greatness. With some player growth coupled with a couple of new faces, this Packers defense can be truly special this season.
The trenches are where every great defense starts. The Packers have talent across the line, highlighted by Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, and Preston Smith. These three terrorize quarterbacks and set the tone for any game. The combination of Gary and Smith crashing the edges coupled with Clark collapsing the pocket is every quarterback’s worst nightmare. Beyond their pass rush acumen, all three play well against the run which isn’t common for talented pass rushers.
Unfortunately, the lack of quality depth outside of the big three means opposing teams have solutions once one of them comes off the field. Dean Lowry had his best season as a Packer in 2021, but he is still a replacement level player at best. The Packers will hope to see significant growth from 2021 5th round pick TJ Slaton. He showed he belonged on the field and deserves a bigger role. Surprisingly for a man his size (330 lbs.) he shown some pass rush ability in addition to being an effective run plugger. More reinforcements are on the way in the form of Jarran Reed. A talented former first round pick, Reed can provide 3 down depth for the unit, keeping everyone fresh.
Edge rusher depth is another story all together. The Packers essentially have no effective depth chart beyond Smith and Gary. Expect a combination of draft picks and veteran pickups post draft to fill out the room. The Smith and Gary will be at their best if they have running mates who can be effective enough that they don’t have to be on the field for every play. This is another ingredient of an elite defense.
The back seven of the green and gold defense is littered with a combination of all pros and potential stars. It’s anchored by the new heartbeat of the defense, De’vondre Campbell. Fresh off signing his new 5 year, 50-million-dollar contract, Campbell has finally stopped the revolving door at linebacker. He’s a true 3 down linebacker that has sideline to sideline speed. He could use a great sidekick at inside linebacker, but the Packers could do a lot worse than Krys Barnes. Hopefully he can grow into his role as Campbell’s partner in crime.
The secondary is truly where there is an abundance of riches. Highlighted by star Jaire Alexander, the Packers defensive backs boast one of the best trios in the NFL, combining Alexander with Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas. They should be able to stand up to just about any opponents’ receivers and not only stand their own, but shut them down. The Packers will likely look to add to the backend of the roster, but the cornerback room looks deep and talented.
Safety is similar, anchored by Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Throughout his career, Amos has done nothing but be exactly where he needs to be and make plays. He might be the most consistent player on the Packers roster. Savage in some ways is his exact opposite. One game he’ll be the best player on the field; another he looks lost. If Savage can eliminate some of the mental errors and begin to stack consistent performances, he and Amos will be one of the best safety tandems in the league.
However, Green Bay likes to play three safeties frequently and at this point do not have any real depth behind their starters. Last year’s third safety, Henry Black, is a free agent and may not return. They may look to bring in both a player through the draft, as well as a veteran presence who can contribute immediately. Creating this roster flexibility is critical to keeping offenses guessing.
The Packers have all the cornerstones of a truly elite defense; elite pass rushers, a talented middle linebacker and a talent riddled secondary. It’s up to the Packers coaches and front office to augment the unit with complementary players that can complete the transformation of the defense into a true shut down unit.
Jordan is a lifelong Packer fan who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on twitter at @jordantwolf.