Outside linebacker (OLB) has been a strong position for the Packers since they drafted Clay Matthews. Unfortunately, Clay Matthews has bounced around from outside to inside over the past few seasons due to the Packers poor inside linebacker play. The plan for 2016 is that Clay Matthews plays his best position, OLB, opposite of Julius Peppers all season. With a potential suspension looming for both Matthews and Peppers, the Packers will need all the depth at OLB that they can get. Lets hope that those suspensions don’t happen because having 52 and 56 lined up outside rushing the passer all season should mean good things for the Packers defense. Players like Nick Perry and Jayrone Elliott, make OLB a strong, deep position.
1) Clay Matthews: A potential suspension for Matthews kind of puts a slight damper on his season outlook. Since being drafted in 2009, Clay Matthews has been the Packers best and most productive defensive player. Last year, Clay earned his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl and his first as an ILB. Going on about his 2015 season here wouldn’t make much sense because he played ILB. However, going off of his track record at OLB, the Packers expect impact plays and double-digit sack numbers. Matthews has tailed 67.5 sacks in his career, obviously the majority of those came from his strongest position, OLB.
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2) Julius Peppers: Like Matthews, a suspension looming over Peppers head kind of makes it hard to forecast his 2016 season. The 36 year old is entering his 15th year in the NFL and his third and final year on his contract with the Packers. Coming off a Pro Bowl season last year in which he recorded 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, the Packers hope his fifteenth and potentially last season produces similar results. Peppers isn’t the player he used to be, but the future hall of famer has enough left in the tank for one more crack at a ring with the Packers.
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3) Nick Perry: This is a make or break year for Nick Perry. Health has been an issue for Perry since the Packers took him in the first round in 2012. Overall he has been a bust, but he has a chance to change that title. After a very strong 2015 postseason, Perry re-signed with the Packers on a one-year deal. Perry tailed a mere 3.5 sacks in 14 games during the regular season but in just two postseason games Perry also had 3.5 sacks. Along with the impressive sack numbers in the playoffs, Perry also had eight tackles, two QB hits and a forced fumbled. If Perry can build off a great postseason, someone is going to pay him next offseason. If Peppers and Matthews are indeed suspended, it will be vital for Nick Perry to perform the way he did in the playoffs for the entire season.
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4) Jayrone Elliot: Elliot made some splash plays in 2015 in limited playing time. I think his game sealing interception week 2 last year against Seattle comes to mind. He appeared in 14 games last year tallying three sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Jayrone’s biggest impact last year came on special teams ranking number three on the team with 11 special teams tackles. In 2016, the Packers may need him to have more of an impact on defense, especially if they are without their top two OLB’s due to suspension.
5) Datone Jones: Most people may be thrown off seeing defensive end Datone Jones name on this list, but the Packers plan to use Datone at both defensive end and outside linebacker this year. Jones has been relatively underwhelming since the Packers made him their first round pick out of UCLA in 2013. Last year he ranked second on the team in QB hits (13), and the Packers want to see what he can do when they turn him lose to just focus on rushing the passer.
6) Kyle Fackrell: The Packers took Kyle Fackrell in the 3rd round (88th overall) out of Utah State. Fackrell was the All-Mountain West defensive player of the year as a senior in 2015. He played in a 3-4 defensive scheme at Utah State, which is probably made all the more appealing to Ted Thompson and the Packers. Fackrell’s main role this year will probably be as a contributor on special teams but look for him to be a key contributor on the defense in the near future.
7) Lerentee McCray: A rare free agent signing by Ted Thompson, McCray was brought in from the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Obviously he wasn’t a marquee signing by any means, but a guy that was brought in to compete for a backup OLB spot. McCray’s numbers last year were less than stellar. He tallied 15 total tackles in 11 games. If McCray cracks the 53-man roster, look for him to make his name on special teams.
8) Derrick Mathews: The Packers signed Mathews in early August after spending his 2015 rookie season on the Washington Redskins practice squad. The 6-foot, 232 pound linebacker was signed to compete in camp for a potential spot on the practice squad. Do not look for him to contribute to the 53-man roster this year.