Breaking down the Packers’ defense position by position.
Joe Barry enters his first season with the Green Bay Packers, looking to finally get this defense over the hump. For years now the front office has dedicated premium draft capital and more recently, money in free agency to the defensive side of the ball, yielding mediocre results.
The Packers enter 2021 with a new coordinator, scheme, and a lot of depth on the defensive side of the ball — will it be enough to be anything more than average?
Today we’ll take a look at the defensive roster in its entirety and discuss the state of each position group heading into the season. It takes a village to make it through an NFL season, so this will also include the practice squad players.
Defensive linemen (8)
Active: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Kingsley Keke, TJ Slaton, Jack Heflin
Practice squad: Willington Previlon, Anderson Abdullah
The defensive line is far from a position of strength for the Packers. However, I do think there is some room for optimism, at least relative to last season. Kenny Clark is healthy and is the star on the defensive line. He’ll play nose tackle primarily, but has the versatility to move around to impact the game in other ways. This year’s team features more bodies that’ll be available to play snaps, thus keeping Clark fresh — and presumably healthy and more impactful.
Behind Clark is perennial underachiever Dean Lowry and block-eater Tyler Lancaster. Both are rotation level players (Lowry being the better of the two), but don’t offer anything too significant on a snap-to-snap basis.
Thankfully, the team has some young options behind them that should be able to see snaps as well. Their job is going to be to hold up at the point of attack and let the other members of the front seven make plays.
Kingsley Keke is another rotational defensive lineman, however, Keke does offer some pass-rushing upside, something they desperately need from the position. I expect Keke to get plenty of opportunities to continue his development and hopefully turn into a difference maker, possibly earning a bigger role.
TJ Slaton will play snaps at nose tackle right away behind Clark. Should he hold up and eat blocks, he could allow Clark to move out to end and provide a massive D-line. Consistency was his problem in college — I would temper expectations in year one — but he could be a nice player down the road.
Jack Heflin earned his way onto the team, simple as that. This “trash-can full of dirt” should be able to play on obvious run downs. He does a lot of the same things as Lancaster, but offers more upside as a pass-rusher. This year should be more about learning and developing, but he’s got a role on this team after 2021.
Overall, this group has one star (Kenny Clark) and several players that deserve snaps in the NFL. That’s not to discredit them, because that’s a positive thing, just to point out that beyond Clark, every single player will play in some capacity and could earn a bigger role. I don’t love this group but it shouldn’t quite be the liability it was a year ago.