If you look at the Green Bay Packers defensive line the last few years, it’s always seemed like “Kenny Clark, and a bunch of guys.” Sure, Dean Lowry had a decent Packers career, but after him, nobody truly stands out since Mike Daniels in 2018. TJ Slaton and Devonte Wyatt had some decent flashes last year, but it wasn’t until this year that we’re truly looking at the defensive line as a possible force. That is in part to the contributions of rookies Karl Brooks and Colby Wooden who are leading the D-Line resurgence.
It’s been said that you can tell a real scout of talent in a general manager from their picks in the middle and late rounds of the draft. Well, Brian Gutekunst seems to have struck gold with Colby Wooden in the fourth and Karl Brooks in the sixth rounds. We’ve seen both of these players make an impact getting good penetration in the running game forcing for tackles for loss, as well as getting in on the pass rush which coming from the defensive line position is something the Packers have sorely lacked in the past.
After eight games, Brooks is already putting up some impressive pass-defense numbers for a sixth-round pick.
Brooks Impressing Early
When I first evaluated Karl Brooks after he was drafted 179th overall, I was very impressed with his initial burst off the line. As soon as the ball was snapped, he was off his stance and into the neutral zone play after play. This might not seem like a whole lot, but as games progress, and offensive linemen fatigue, that burst could get him into the backfield quickly. And that’s exactly what has happened so far in his rookie campaign.
Brooks after eight games has two sacks and three tackles for loss, along with two more QB hits. What isn’t listed on the stat sheet is when that burst paves the way for teammates to make plays as well. This was noticed this past Sunday when Brooks burst into the backfield walking the offensive lineman 5 yards backwards to blow up a run play that fellow rookie Lukas Van Ness cashed in on the tackle.
Brooks has also deflected four passes at the line of scrimmage. He is currently tied for the 2nd most at this stat in the league. This might be a “big whoop” stat to some for a lineman, but this shows a recognition of when he may be beat at the line to try to affect the play in another way. This ability to break containment with a lineman was also show against the Vikings when Brooks got his hands up to block a 44-yard field goal attempt.
Wooden Contributing Early as Well
Colby Wooden’s stat sheet may not be as impressive as that of Karl Brooks at this point, but he’s still making his #96 known on the field. Wooden has yet to register his first NFL sack and only is listed as having one QB hit, but he is all over the place in terms of rushing the QB.
Same as Brooks, Wooden has had some great burst into the backfield to force some Tackles for loss whether they be on his stat sheet or not. This past Sunday vs the Rams he perhaps had his biggest play this season with a TFL on fourth down. Kicking off the fourth quarter, the Rams elected to go for it on 4th and 2 at midfield, and Wooden made them pay for it. He beat Rams LT Alaric Jackson and then stood up Rams running back Royce Freeman for a tackle for loss turning the ball over on downs.
As far as the pass rush portion goes, let’s look no further than Packer’s star Edge rusher Rashan Gary. Gary was heavily criticized being a top-15 pick by the Packers and only having 9.5 sacks in his three-year college career. Packers’ personnel talked about his QB hits and hurries and that eventually those would turn into sacks with some adjustments. Well, they were right for Rashan Gary. They could be right for Colby Wooden as well as his young career is just getting started and soon those hurries could turn to sacks.
I couldn’t name a single member of the Packers’ defensive line right now that isn’t pulling their own weight. Each player behind the leader Kenny Clark has had their flashes in this season already to make a good mark. Hopefully, it’s only up from here.
Each one of these players has areas they can improve and have improved. Rashan Gary in an interview stated talking about the rookies recently that “they want to be perfect” and he loves it when they mess up, because they are mad at themselves, and they come back and make a play to make up for it. They strive for perfection more than just by using the words.
If Brooks and Wooden can continue to improve from this point forward, alongside Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt and TJ Slaton, this defensive line could become dominant. That’s not a word I use lightly because I know how hard it can be to achieve. But, right now, Brooks and Wooden aren’t even scratching the surface of their potential. When they do, the Packers defensive line could become amongst the best in football.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.