Green Bay Packers: Get to Know the Final 2 Defensive Coordinator Candidates

Dec 23, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been a week filled with interviews for Matt LaFleur as he conducts what has been a fairly extensive search for the next Defensive Coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. It’s a list that included nine candidates — Joe Barry, Chris Harris, Ejiro Evero, Chris Kiffin, Bob Sutton, Jim Leonhard, Ryan Nielson, Matt Burke, and Jerry Gray — but is now down to just two obvious front-runners, according to Tom Silverstein of Packers News.

You can click here to read Tom’s article.

As Tom mentions, several sources believe that it is Leonhard’s job if he wants it, with some even saying he may have been offered the job. However, there are others who still think that Ejiro Evero has a decent chance as well–especially with how difficult it has been to pry Leonhard away from Wisconsin.

But regardless of who ends up as the next Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator, both coaches fit the mold that LaFleur desires as young, up and comers.

Per Tom’s sources, second interviews were conducted on Friday, so a decision may be near. And if that’s the case, here is what you need to know about each of these candidates vying to be the next defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.

Jim Leonhard – Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator

Let’s start with the fan-favorite, Jim Leonhard, who most Green Bay Packers fans are very familiar with. Leonhard has been the Defensive Coordinator at Wisconsin since 2017 after starting as the DBs Coach in 2016. During his tenure, he has led one of the nation’s most dominant defenses, ranking in the top-10 in points per game allowed and yards per game allowed in three of his four seasons at the helm.

Under Leonhard, the Badgers have built a stout front-seven that has put several players in the NFL. And as a former NFL safety for 10 seasons, his ability to work with members of the secondary is held in high regard.

As a former player of Rex Ryan’s and Mike Pettine’s for much of his career, Leonhard’s 3-4 defense looks similar to that of Pettine’s. And while that may make some cringe, that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. There would be some familiarity with the returning members on defense, and if offered the position, it would show that LaFleur doesn’t take much issue with the system but rather how Pettine deployed it.

I imagine that luring Leonhard away from Wisconsin won’t be easy, but you have to think if he’s going to make the leap to the NFL, heading just two hours north to a defense with several playmakers would be the move he makes.

Ejiro Evero – Rams safeties coach

Ejiro Evero has been the safeties coach of the Los Angeles Rams the past four seasons, spending a year with LaFleur there while he was the offensive coordinator, and the two developed a strong friendship during that time. Prior to joining the Rams, Evero was a quality control coach here in Green Bay.

Under now Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, the 2020 Rams had the NFL’s top-scoring defense and ranked fourth by DVOA. With Evero working with the safeties, the Rams’ pass defense ranked fourth-best in the NFL by DVOA, and the safety duo of John Johnson and Jordan Fuller came down with four combined interceptions, 11 pass breakups, and a passer rating when targeted of 97.4.

And if grades are your thing, Johnson was Pro Football Focus’ ($) third highest-graded safety this season, behind only Adrian Amos and Jessie Bates.

Under Staley, the Rams ran a very similar defense to that of Vic Fangio, who is now the Denver Broncos head coach and before that the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Sean McVay was clearly fond of this defensive system, which is why he hired Staley, and if LaFleur feels similarly, then Evero, who was able to learn the defense this past season, would be a logical choice.

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If you read Tom’s article, the vibe is that this is Leonhard’s job for the taking. However, as I already mentioned, does he want to leave Wisconsin? Or instead of bringing in a similar system to Pettine’s’, will LaFleur opt for Evero and a defense closer to that of Fangio’s?

For the time being, we will continue to play the waiting game, but it certainly feels like a decision is nearing.

Update: Jim Leonhard has reportedly turned down the defensive coordinator position. Read more here.