As is well documented, the Packers had the second worst pass defense in the NFL last season. To respond, the front office retooled the secondary, adding Davon House, Kevin King, and Josh Jones. However, pass rush is a key aspect of pass defense, and to this end management did little to improve. If the veterans stay healthy and the young players improve, there’ll be no issues. If not? Could be a rough year on defense once again.
1. Clay Matthews – All things being equal, Clay Matthews is the best inside and outside linebacker on the Packers roster. He registered a measly 5.0 sacks last season, but he was playing through a hamstring injury much of the year. Prior to the injury he was on pace for 9.5 sacks. If he can remain healthy, he should be expected to play at a near Pro-Bowl level most of the year.
2. Nick Perry – If Nick Perry remains healthy and plays like he did last year, the Packers will be alright. He posted a career-high 52 tackles and 11.0 sacks last year. In the four years prior to that, he had never registered more than 31 tackles or 4.0 sacks. We’ll find out this year if he’s the real deal or a one-year wonder. The five-year, $60 million deal the Packers tossed him this past offseason should have us all hoping he maintains his hot streak. Last thing to keep an eye on with Perry, his health. He’s never played a full 16 game regular season, and he’s never been as needed as he is this year. Time will tell if he can stay healthy and handle the pressure.
3. Kyler Fackrell – There were high hopes for Fackrell entering 2016. A third-round pick, Kyler ended the season with just 18 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Little is known about the Utah State product, but the Packers’ staff is high on him, evidenced by the team’s decision not to add more players at the position. He has the good size (6-foot-5, 245 lbs) and athleticism for an outside linebacker. For the first time he’ll be given a chance to show what he can do. If Clay or Perry struggle with injuries, Fackrell will be the next man up.
4. Jayrone Elliott – This will be Elliott’s fourth season with Green Bay. He’s totalled just 4.0 sacks in his first three seasons, but he hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself on defense. In all likelihood this is his make-it-or-break-it campaign. He’s flashed strength, speed, and tenacity at times. Now a primary backup, expect a career year from Elliott.
5. Vince Biegel – Biegel is by far the biggest addition to the outside linebacker corps. The Wisconsin product was selected by the Packers in the 4th round of the draft and was expected to contribute early on. A foot injury during OTAs that required surgery has lessened the expectations for Biegel, who is expected to return to training camp in a couple weeks. The time off pushes him behind Elliott on the depth chart, but Biegel could claw his way into a significant role with the defense by the end of the season.
6. David Talley – This is where things get interesting. The Packers typically keep six outside linebackers, and the first-five players are near locks, leaving Talley and Leuligasenoa to battle it out for the final slot. Without having seen either player in pre-season games or padded practices, Talley gets the nod. Standing at 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, and running a 4.51 second 40-yard dash (the fastest of any linebacker on the team), Talley has all the tools to be a successful linebacker in the NFL. He’s unlikely to see much time on the field, barring significant injuries to the unit, but we could see him more down the road.
7. Josh Letuligasenoa – Likely the odd man out, Letuligasenoa just straight up lacks the athleticism to make it in the NFL. Coming in at 6-foot-1, 294 pounds, and running 4.94 40-yard dash, he’s simply too slow, even though he has the functional strength and high motor that you love to see at the position. Barring he comes out and dominates in the preseason, he’ll likely be cut prior to Week 1.