Packers 2021 post-draft position review: Outside linebackers

Green Bay Packers, Za'Darius Smith (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Za'Darius Smith (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Green Bay Packers didn’t make many changes to the pass rush this offseason and, in fairness, they didn’t need to do a whole lot.

While the Packers’ pass rush took a slight step back last season as a whole, there were bigger priorities to address this spring and the team still has plenty of talent at outside linebacker.

Let’s take a closer look with a review of the Packers’ offseason moves before looking ahead to the new season.

Currently on the roster

Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, Randy Ramsey, Tipa Galeai

Offseason moves

A big offseason question was whether Preston Smith would return due to his salary cap hit. As it turned out, he agreed to restructure his deal, helping the team save over $7 million in cap room. The Packers were also able to save cap room by restructuring Za’Darius Smith’s deal.

Improved from 2020?

The Packers bring back mostly the same group from last year, so the improvement will need to come from the development of players on the roster. A new system could also help as the Packers transition from Mike Pettine to Joe Barry as defensive coordinator.

Key player

Rashan Gary.

Za’Darius Smith is the Packers’ best pass rusher and has been consistent since joining the team two years ago. Smith is also a great leader.

But if we see a third-year jump from Gary, it can make all the difference for this defense. He was impressive late last year and especially in the postseason. If Gary takes another step, he could be a Pro Bowler.

Positon outlook

Development of the young edge rushers will determine how much this group improves in 2021.

We know what Za’Darius Smith brings to the defense. He’ll likely hit double-digit sacks, force a few turnovers, and be a great leader on the field. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that from Preston Smith this year. He showed he can be a difference-maker in 2019 when he also had double-digit sacks.

But it will be the development of young players like Gary, entering his third season, and Garvin, in year two, that will be important to this defense.

If Gary builds on his dominant performances late last year, he could have a breakout season in 2021. If that happens and Preston Smith gets back to his best, this pass rush will be scary.