When talking about the interior of the Green Bay Packers defensive line, the conversation starts and ends with Kenny Clark. In his six seasons with the Packers, he has posted 22.5 sacks. At only 26 years of age, Clark is the leader of the interior of the Packers defensive line. What makes his play even more impressive, is that he has done it without another standout defensive lineman playing next to him. That is why it might be time to find Kenny Clark’s help in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft.
Looking for Help for Kenny Clark in the First Round
This off-season, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery earned the title of running game coordinator for the Green Bay Packers defense. It was a promotion that Montgomery deserved. Entering his eighth season with the Packers, Montgomery has been a driving force in Kenny Clark’s development. But it isn’t just what he has done with Kenny Clark. Excluding Clark, Montgomery hasn’t been given much to work with in regards to the Green Bay Packers defensive linemen. Montgomery has been given chicken you know what and been asked to make chicken salad.
It’s about time that Montgomery is given some talent to work with. In recent history, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has ignored the interior of the defensive line. Since taking over as the general manager in 2018, Gutekunst has only drafted three interior defensive linemen. Those players were James Looney (2018), Kingsley Keke (2019), and TJ Slaton (2021). Slaton is the only player still on the Packers roster. The highest pick Gutekunst used on the position was on both Keke and Slaton, both selected in the fifth round.
With the Packers having two first and two second-round picks, it might be time Gutekunst starts to show some attention to the Green Bay Packers defensive line. No doubt that one or two of those picks will be used on the wide receiver position. As discussed, that position has some massive holes. While the defensive line isn’t hurting as badly as the wide receiver position, it still needs some infusion of talent as well. Kenny Clark has shown he is a standout, but he needs some help.
Breaking Down What the Packers Currently Have
Dean Lowry broke out of a two-year slump to finally show some production in 2021. Lowry posted five sacks, along with 42 combined tackles with nine and a half quarterback hits. The five sacks Lowry posted were the most he had posted in his career. While 2021 was a bright spot for Lowry, it was something that was well overdue. 2021 was his best season since 2018, the same year he signed a contract extension. The Packers are banking on him playing as he did in 2021, but his history is against that.
The Packers were able to cobble up some money and sign a free agent defensive lineman this off-season. Jarran Reed is a seven-year veteran who played with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021. Last season, Reed posted two and a half sacks. But it’s his production prior to joining the Chiefs that should intrigue Packers fans. From 2016 to 2020, Reed played for the Seattle Seahawks. During his time with the Seahawks, Reed posted a total of 22 sacks. In 2018, he posted a career-high 10.5 sacks. If Montgomery can get Reed to play as he did in 2018, Reed might be a force lining up next to Kenny Clark.
Behind Clark, Lowry, and Reed are Slaton and 2021 undrafted free agent Jack Heflin. Slaton played sparingly in 2021 but did show some promise, especially against the run. Slaton is a big body, who is a higher-level athlete. Montgomery will need to continue to help Slaton develop. Heflin played in just four games in 2021 and posted just one combined tackle. If the Packers select a defensive lineman high in this year’s draft, Heflin will have a difficult time making the roster. Tyler Lancaster, who saw way too much playing time in 2021, is a free agent. If he is re-signed, that will illustrate how weak the depth is on the Green Bay Packers defensive line. Lancaster was one of the most ineffective defensive linemen to see playing time in the NFL last season.
The Possible Targets for the Packers
Gutekunst and the Packers hold the 22nd and 28th picks in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft. In the second round, they have the 53rd and 59th overall picks. If Gutekunst focuses on other positions in the first, he has the option of getting a quality defensive line prospect in the second with one of the Packers two second-round draft picks.
This year’s NFL Draft has some prospects that might be available when the Packers are on the clock in the first as well as the second round. Here are a couple of defensive linemen to remember when the Packers select.
Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
When looking for quality defensive players, the Unversity of Georgia is a good starting point. Georgia has started to compete with the University of Alabama when it comes to producing NFL-caliber defensive players. In this year’s NFL Draft, there could be a total of at least four defensive players from Georgia who could hear their names called in the first round.
One of those players might be defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt. At 6’3″ and weighing over 300 pounds, Wyatt has the size to be a solid NFL defensive lineman. Along with the size, Wyatt is unbelievably athletic. At this year’s NFL combine, he posted a 4.77 forty-yard dash, which at over 300 pounds, is crazy. But Wyatt isn’t just a good athlete, he has proven that he is a very good football player.
Last season, which saw Georgia win the national championship, Wyatt was a key member of the Bulldogs defensive line. he posted 39 tackles, seven of them for a loss, and two and a half sacks. The Bulldogs, similar to what Joe Barry does with the Green Bay Packers defense, played multiple fronts. Wyatt has the ability to line up in multiple areas. Many mock drafts are projecting him for the latter part of the first round, which might make him available for the Packers.
Travis Jones, Connecticut
The University of Connecticut had one of the worst football teams in NCAA history in 2021. However, with how awful they truly were, Travis Jones was one of the bright spots. In 11 starts for Connecticut, Jones posted 47 tackles, seven and a half of them for loss, and four and a half sacks in 2021. Jones surprised many with his pass-rush ability, but he was an even better run defender. Unlike Wyatt, Jones doesn’t have the capability to play multiple positions and is a pure nose tackle. Kenny Clark is the Packers starting nose tackle, but he has the ability and athletic ability to play along the defensive line. Because of that, if the Packers were to select Jones (he is projected to be taken in the second round), they could shift Clark and have him play alongside Jones.
DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Sometimes, when scouting NFL Draft prospects, a scout comes across a player that presents a challenge. There are some players, that don’t fit into a certain category. They might be productive, but don’t have the standard size that most NFL teams are looking for. That is the case with DeMarvin Leal.
Leal was a very productive player for the Aggies defense. Last season, he posted 58 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, with eight and a half sacks. His output helped him earn All American honors. Leal wasn’t a one-year wonder either, he was productive throughout his college career. However, the problem that Leal presents to scouts is his size. At 6’4″ and being over just 280 pounds, Leal doesn’t have the typical size for an interior defensive lineman. In fact, Leal played a lot on the edge during his career at Texas A&M. His size, and the fact he played on the edge, make many scouts believe he could be an edge rusher, similar to current Packer Rashan Gary.
Even with the questions about his size, Leal is still an intriguing prospect. There isn’t a doubt that Barry could find a place for a player like Leal.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images