Green Bay Packers: Every defense needs a playmaker

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 18: Devin Bush #10 of the Michigan Wolverines intercepts a pass during the third quarter of a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 18: Devin Bush #10 of the Michigan Wolverines intercepts a pass during the third quarter of a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Where will the Green Bay Packers get their playmaking from on defense in 2019?

The Green Bay Packers defense is missing something. A player who can put them over the hump and strike fear in opposing offenses. They have a good foundation in corner Jaire Alexander, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and defensive end Mike Daniels, but one more piece needs to be added to complete the puzzle. What Green Bay’s defense needs is a playmaker.

In the past, the Packers had a guy who could dominate the defensive side of the ball. Corner/safety Charles Woodson and outside linebacker Clay Matthews are the first names that come to mind. However, a long look at the current defensive depth chart will reveal no such player on the roster.

A couple years ago you could have argued perhaps safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was turning into this player but we all know how that turned out. Somewhere along the way Clinton-Dix lost his edge and became a non-factor against the run which caused them to deal him to the Washington Redskins during the middle of the 2018 season. Green Bay really hasn’t had a ball-hawking safety who could also impose his will against the run since Nick Collins.

Before injuries and age caught up with him, Matthews was the type of player who could go out and dominate a game for the Packers. During his four double-digit sack seasons, which included a defensive player of the year campaign in 2010, he was almost unblockable. Now, as he nears his 33rd birthday in May, Matthews hasn’t reached at least ten sacks in a season since 2014. His current contract has expired and his time with the Packers may have spoiled as well.

Fans are excited knowing defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be back next year but don’t expect much improvement if Green Bay doesn’t make some serious moves this offseason.

For starters, they will need to bring in a safety and because Earl Thomas is likely to become a Dallas Cowboy in the near future, he will likely come through the draft. On film, prospects Deionte Thompson from Alabama, Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State, Washington’s Taylor Rapp, and Miami’s Jaquan Johnson are players who could play right away for the Packers.

Currently, with the way this position group looks in Green Bay, we can definitively say they will be in serious trouble if the only capable starters on next year’s roster are Tramon Williams, Josh Jones, and Kentrell Brice. These three did not force a single turnover this past season.

Moving forward, outside linebacker might be the biggest need for this team. The only way Matthews returns is if it’s on a short-term, super cheap deal. If he walks, that leaves Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, and Reggie Gilbert as their only options. The injury bug has gotten the best of Perry since signing his $60 million contract at the beginning of 2017 and Fackrell was the only guy to hit double digits sacks last season. Even with Fackrell’s production, which seemingly came out of nowhere, the edge position needs immediate attention. The Packers can’t assume with any certainty that Fackrell will have the same success in 2019 and Gilbert showed very little in the snaps he gave in 2018.

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Kansas City’s Dee Ford and Minnesota Vikings Anthony Barr are notable free agents who could mesh well in Pettine’s scheme. If Green Bay can land an outside linebacker in free agency who has had solid production recently, it would still be wise to spend one of their two first round picks on the pass rush. Florida’s Jachai Polite and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell are common names linked to Green Bay among the draft community.

Last, but not least, I can’t rule out Green Bay drafting an inside linebacker early on in April’s draft. Current Packers linebacker Blake Martinez is as solid as they come, however, he still leaves something to be desired. When I look around the league and see the Cowboys with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch affecting the outcomes of games and Atlanta Falcons’ Deion Jones‘ supreme athleticism it makes me wish Green Bay had someone similar.

To further my point, do you really think the Indianapolis Colts reach this year’s playoffs without taking Darius Leonard in the second round of last year’s draft? Probably not.

Leonard was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie finishing with 163 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles. To put that into perspective, if Leonard was a member of the Packers he would have finished second on the team in interceptions and sacks, as well as first in tackles and forced fumbles.

In my opinion, the common take for devaluing the role of today’s inside linebackers couldn’t be more wrong. Finding an inside linebacker who can drop in coverage and fend off blocks while tracking down ball carriers is more important now than it has ever been in the NFL.

Let’s say Green Bay has their pick between LSU’s Devin White and Michigan’s Devin Bush, they really couldn’t go wrong with either. Martinez provides a consistent effort, but teams aren’t game planning to somehow take him away. You could argue no team has needed to do that when facing the Packers for quite some time. Meanwhile, White and Bush have that potential.

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If the playoffs are a real expectation next season, adding a natural born playmaker on defense will play a huge role in the success of the 2019 Green Bay Packers.