Packers: Why Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard would be an excellent hire


On Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported that the Green Bay Packers are set to have a very busy couple days with interviews for the vacant defensive coordinator position.

One of these candidates being current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

Here are a few reasons why he would make sense for the Packers.

Reason #1: Leonhard is a potential hometown hire

Leonhard is somewhat a fan favorite among the Packers faithful due to being local via Madison and the Badgers. Leonhard started at Wisconsin as a DB coach in 2016. He then upgraded to defensive coordinator after just one season and has held that role ever since. While he is a popular candidate, his lack of NFL coaching experience may be a concern.

Wisconsin ranked fifth in total defense out of the 127 active FBS teams in 2020, allowing less than 300 yards per game, a very respectable feat in the world of college football. They also allowed only 17.4 points per game.

Wisconsin also allowed the second-fewest TDs (15) of any Power Five team to play more than five games in 2020.

One issue they’ve had this season came in the sack department. While traditionally the offensive lines of the Big10 are some of the strongest in college football, Leonhard probably expected more out of his pass rushers than just 11 sacks across seven games. They ranked fourth-last in the Big10 in sacks per game.

Leonhard’s unit has ranked top-10 in the country in total defense in three of his four years as coordinator. Ironically, it was the year that Leonhard’s defense did not rank inside the top-10 that he is best remembered for. That year was 2019.

In 2019, they had a historic start to the season. In their first six games, the Badgers defense allowed just 29 points. That’s 4.8 points allowed per game. What’s even crazier? They scored 28 points on defensive TDs over that same period.

So that’s a net total of ONE POINT allowed in their first seven games of a season. After that, the wheels started to fall off the tracks, allowing 72 combined points in two games versus Ohio State. Some blame can be pointed at Leonhard for this downfall, but let’s not forget that Justin Fields and Ohio State were an offensive buzzsaw at that time.

Nonetheless, they finished 2019 with an impressive 25 turnovers forced in 13 games.

One year earlier in 2018, Leonhard’s defense allowed a very impressive 4.4 yards per play, second only to Alabama in college football. That has since regressed to 5.0 yards per play in 2020, which was still top-20 in CFB.

Reason #2: Leonhard’s NFL experience

Leonhard had a nine-year career as a safety in the NFL prior to returning to his alma mater Wisconsin as a DB coach in 2016. He played on five different teams during the nine-year span.

Those teams included the Buffalo Bills (2005-’08, 2013), Baltimore Ravens (2008), New York Jets (2009-’11), Denver Broncos (2012), and the Cleveland Browns (2014). Leonhard played in 142 games over his career, starting in 73 of them (51 percent).

Leonhard finished his career with 14 interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 35 pass deflections. He also tallied 4.5 sacks, 332 solo tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 14 QB hits. It’s quite obvious his physical nature as a player has factored into the overall physical nature of the defenses he’s coached up at Wisconsin. Physicality in all phases is something Green Bay’s defense has been lacking.

Reason #3: Leonhard is an excellent football mind

In 2020, Wisconsin ranked 10th in red-zone defense, ninth in points allowed, fifth in yards per game allowed, and fifth in third-down defense. Overall, Leonhard’s defenses at Wisconsin have been tough in the trenches, physical in all phases, and 100 percent effort driven on every single snap.

Since Leonhard took over as the defensive coordinator in 2017, Wisconsin has ranked in the top-10 in total team defense in three of his first four seasons.

  • 2017 (third, 13.9 points allowed, 48.6 completion percent allowed, 163.3 pass yards allowed, 98.4 rush yards allowed at 3.2 yards per attempt)
  • 2019 (10th, 16.9 points allowed, 51.6 CMP, 187.4 PYA, and 101.3 RYA at 3.4 YPA).

Simply put: Leonhard knows how to coach a defense. Even if all the stats aren’t perfect, his defenses are nearly built that way.

Even at age 38, Leonhard would be an instant and intelligent upgrade from Mike Pettine. He would utilize Green Bay’s defensive personnel to their full potential for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Overall, this potential hire just makes too much sense. I know it seems a bit homer-ish to some Packers fans, but Jim Leonhard as defensive coordinator combined with Matt LaFleur at head coach and Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator sounds like a dream.

In the end though, if all goes well in the interview process, it could become a reality. Leonhard’s physical nature as a DC combined with his spirited coaching style is just what the Packers need on defense.

J.J. Watt and the Packers would be a perfect fit. dark. Next