Revisiting the Green Bay Packers Defensive and Special Teams Position Grades Heading Into The Regular Season

Last week, we took another look at the new-look Green Bay Packers offense and re-graded them based off of what we saw during their three pre-season games. This week we will reanalyze the defensive and special teams positional groups grades I gave prior to the pre-season and change them accordingly. For the defense, a majority of the defensive starters for the Packers did not play in the preseason games, so we will be focusing more on the depth of each position group. For the special teams unit, I will solely look at the group as a whole.

D-Line Before Training Camp: B+     After: B
Devonte Wyatt quietly had a strong pre-season for the Packers. Despite only recording one tackle in two games, Wyatt did a solid job tracking the ball carrier and getting off of blocks. Wyatt’s best game was undoubtedly against the Chiefs, where he showed off his ability to rush through the offensive line and generate pressure on the QB. Additionally, against the Chiefs starting right guard, Wyatt did a great job shedding the block and containing the run for what would’ve been a quick tackle if he wasn’t held. While his impact so far hasn’t quite lived up to the first round expectation, Wyatt’s ceiling is high and he could make an impact alongside Kenny Clark.

Offseason addition Jarran Reed had a solid training camp, showing off his ability to stuff the run at the Packers family night back in early August. Reed will be a solid starter alongside Kenny Clark until Wyatt performs at the level the Packers need from him.

As for the rest of the defensive line, the Packers elected to keep 2021 5th round pick TJ Slaton, 2022 7th round pick Jonathan Ford, and undrafted rookie Akial Byers (IR). In a surprising move, the Packers released Jack Heflin, who had an above average preseason and an arguably better preseason than Ford, outperforming him in two of the three preseason games. Slaton and Byers saw limited playing time this preseason so we haven’t seen a whole lot from them. Question marks at the depth of the defensive line lowers their position grade slightly but not enough to have too much worry about how the unit will perform this year.

Linebackers/Edge Rushers Before Training Camp: A-     After: A
Kyrs Barnes is one of few starters to have played in the preseason and he excelled; being in the top 10 performers for the Packers defense all three weeks, and being top three in two of those weeks according to PFF. Quay Walker also had a great preseason and put his ability to mirror the quarterback on full display. Walker’s speed and quickness when attacking the ball carrier is why the Packers drafted him with their first pick. Walker will be an excellent complement to De’vondre Campbell. The last inside linebacker the Packers elected to keep is Isaiah McDuffie. McDuffie also had a great preseason, being my week two player of the first half, and posting a 75 grade the first two weeks of the preseason. The depth the Packers have at linebacker is promising given their poor track record of linebackers prior to last year.

As for edge rushers, the depth is less impressive. The Packers chose to keep Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, and Kingsley Enagbare to back up Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Enagbare and Galeai recorded a sack each during the preseason and none of the players graded higher than 70 in any game. Their usage will most likely be limited to rotational roles, filling in for Gary and Smith when they need a breather, and they will perform well if they are limited to those roles. However if Gary or Smith go down and are out for a period of time, there is little confidence they can get the job done. Despite this, the strength of the inside linebacking corps is enough to improve the Packer’s grade at this position.

Defensive Backs Before Training Camp: A-     After: A-
When healthy, the Packers have one of, if not the, best secondaries in the NFL. The only question marks were in the depth of the position. With the preseason we got a look at the defensive backs who could play should the Packers suffer another injury like they did last year. Having now seen these players play full games, I can say I am more confident in the Packers depth at corner than I was at the beginning of the year. Shemar Jean-Charles was the best corner for the Packers this preseason and Keisean Nixon had some great coverage plays, though his overall grade isn’t the best. Should Jean-Charles or Nixon have to take over for a snap or two, I believe they would play well.

As for the safeties, the Packers are in trouble. While Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are without a doubt great players, the depth outside of them is scary, especially with Savage reportedly having a nagging hamstring injury. The Packers placed preseason star Micah Abernathy on the practice squad in a move to free up space for Rudy Ford, whom the Packers signed this past week. I for one am not a fan of this move. While Ford is a veteran, drafted in 2017 by the Cardinals and recorded 39 tackles, an interception, and three PBUs with the Jaguars last season, he has been underwhelming his whole career, having a career grade of 59.4 in coverage. Meanwhile Abernathy excelled in the games we saw him, recording a stellar interception against the Saints and averaging a 70 coverage grade over the course of the three games. The decision to relegate Abernathy to the practice squad is an interesting one and the weakness of depth for the safeties outweighs the gains the Packers made at cornerback depth, keeping their score the same for now.

Special Teams Before Training Camp: C     After: C+
The Packers looked better at special teams this preseason. Some positive takeaways from the preseason: Amari Rodgers looks better as a returner, fielding every punt with no issue, and even taking a kick return 50 yards, something the Packers haven’t seen in a long time. Though there were a couple times the Packers let up a big return, they looked better at limiting returns. Pat O’Donnell has looked great as well, as expected, and he should have a great season with the Packers. While Crosby should be good to go when the season starts, his injury does cause concern that he could struggle this year, and should he either struggle or not be healthy for the season, the Packers kept Gabe Brkic instead of Ramiz Ahmed. Brkic missed his only field goal attempt quite egregiously but went perfect on extra points, while Ahmed went perfect on all kicks. Should we have to rely on a backup kicker, the Packers could be in trouble, but the improvements Biscaccia has brought to the special teams unit cannot be denied, and the Packers look to be much improved in that area this season.
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