Packers: Predicting which players make 53-man roster on defense
By Dillon Graff
Predicting which players make the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster on defense.
Unlike the offense, the Packers defense has plenty of roster spots on the margins up for grabs.
Under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, everyone has a clean slate and roles are still being defined. Who will step up and claim those snaps and contribute on the field is still anyone’s guess.
As it stands, I break down the current state of each defensive position group – citing who would likely make the team if final cut-downs were today.
Defensive line (5)
In: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Kingsley Keke, TJ Slaton
Out: Jack Heflin, Willington Previlon, Carlo Kemp, Josh Avery
Despite being one of weakest position groups on the roster, the Packers haven’t made any significant external additions outside of fifth-round draft pick TJ Slaton. We all know the immense talent that Kenny Clark possesses, and the importance of keeping him fresh, because this defensive line desperately needs Pro Bowl Kenny Clark for this defense to thrive.
Behind Clark is a combination of uninspiring/unproven options. Dean Lowry hasn’t lived up to his contract extension and needs a vastly improved effort in 2021 or this will assuredly be his last season in Green Bay. Tyler Lancaster is what he is, a block eater. It’s not sexy, and he offers nothing in the pass rush, but he does provide some value to this defensive line – you’d just like to see someone of his skill-set play far fewer snaps.
As far as the unproven options, there is some untapped potential. Kingsley Keke got his first real taste of NFL playing time last year and showed some flashes of pass-rush ability. However, he wasn’t able to consistently give this defense quality snaps. We still don’t know if he’s anything more than a rotational D-lineman at this point, but he does possess some appealing athletic traits worth developing. He’s going to be counted on for snaps this season, but how many he receives will come down to consistency.
Lastly, we have fifth-round draft darling TJ Slaton. The Florida product is an absolute mountain of a man, standing at 6-foot-4 inches tall and 330 pounds. His college tape showed glimpses of a highly athletic player for his size – so it’s not hard to understand why the Packers decided to roll the dice in Round 5.
The concern and ultimately the reason he wasn’t drafted higher, was… you guessed it, consistency. Early returns have been promising, but the opportunity is there for the rookie. The hope is Slaton can take some of the pressure off Clark and play some nose tackle so he can move around more under Joe Barry. I think he can certainly play a role in year one, but I would encourage people to temper expectations.
UDFA Jack Heflin out of Iowa possesses some traits that make him worth a stronger look. I would almost guarantee he finds himself on the practice squad where he can continue his development.
Outside linebacker (4)
In: Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Jonathan Garvin
Out: Tipa Galeai, Chauncey Rivers, Delontae Scott
The first three pass rushers (Smiths/Gary) are all roster locks, and should assume the lion’s share of the EDGE snaps in 2021. Za’Darius is a human wrecking ball and can pass rush from the edge or with his hand in the dirt. His versatility is important to this defense. I would like to see Gary be given significantly more snaps than Preston Smith this season – because he’s on the verge of a breakout.
The fourth outside linebacker spot is going to go to someone who shows a little bit of upside as a pass-rusher, but their predominant use will be on special teams. Right now I’d lean Jonathan Garvin due to youth and athletic traits.
However, Tipa Galeai is someone the coaching staff likes and could be a useful player with some added weight. It’s possible we see the team consider keeping five players at the position if both players show their worth on a rebuilding special teams unit.