In our first piece, we did our best walking in the shoes of Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. The exercise allowed us to predict who will start on offense. Now, we do our best being defensive coordinator Joe Barry, predicting how the Packers’ depth chart on defense will shake out to kickoff 2023.
Predicting the Green Bay Packers’ Depth Chart on Defense
Packers’ Defense Has Talent
Barry has a lot riding on how his unit plays this season. Barry has been under immense pressure over the past two seasons. General manager Brian Gutekunst has spent a lot of draft capital on the defense. However, even with the capital spent, the Packers’ defense has underachieved.
Barry is going to need to make sure he puts the best players on the field. If he makes the wrong decisions, he very well could be out of a job. LaFleur also has a lot to lose when it comes to the defense. He decided to stick with Barry for a third season. If Barry and the defense falter, it puts LaFleur in a very bad light.
Of course, starters probably will change as the season progresses. But here is who we think Barry will start the season with as his starters.
A lot is riding on how the Packers’ defensive line plays in 2023. The run defense has been a major weakness under Barry. Stopping the run is going to be vital for the Packers’ success.
Kenny Clark is still the engine that makes the defensive line run. He will need to continue to be the star of this unit. But he will need some help and that help is expected to come from Devonte Wyatt. Last year’s first-round pick is going to need to make a big jump in his second season. He displayed some pass rush ability in his rookie season registering one and a half sacks. But he will need to show he can stop the run as well.
While Clark and Wyatt are vital, the key to the Packers’ defensive line could fall in the hands of TJ Slaton. He was one of our players to watch this season. He is a massive man and has exceptional athletic ability. If Barry is creative, which he hasn’t been, Slaton could be a key piece this season. He could play the nose, allowing Clark to line up at other spots on the line. His size could also help the Packers stop the run.
With Rashan Gary still recovering from a 2022 season-ending injury, it is highly doubtful he will be available when the season kicks off. So with him out, Barry will need to rely heavily on Preston Smith and rookie Lukas Van Ness to provide the pass rush.
Smith stepped up when Gary went down in 2022. His veteran presence will be important for Van Ness this season. Van Ness is a mountain of a man and has a lot of potential. But he is fairly raw and it will take him some time to reach his potential. Playing with Smith will help with his maturation.
Excluding his temper tantrums, Quay Walker had a solid rookie season. He still has a lot to learn, but his size and speed are pretty obvious while watching film of him from 2022. Barry is a former inside linebackers coach. He will continue to work with Walker, trying to get the most from him.
De’Vondre Campbell struggled in 2022. He also dealt with injuries. The Packers need him to play better in 2023. With Walker showing he could be a standout, they won’t need Campbell to be the player he was in 2021 when he was All-Pro. But he does need to be better than he was last season.
The Green Bay Packers defense has the luxury of having a standout group of cornerbacks. Jaire Alexander is arguably one of the best cover cornerbacks in the NFL. When put in the right scheme, again something Barry has failed to do at times, he can shut down top opposing wide receivers.
Former first-round pick Eric Stokes is still rehabbing from a 2022 season-ending injury. But the Packers have quality depth in Rasul Douglas. He stepped in at the boundary cornerback spot Stokes filled in 2022 and played well. Having him and Alexander as the top two cornerbacks should scare opposing offenses.
While Keisean Nixon isn’t considered a “starter” he will see a lot of playing time. Nixon will be the Packers starting slot cornerback. He displayed big-time playmaking as a returner in 2022. With him seeing more time on defense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him be a playmaker in the defensive backfield.
Gutekunst has provided a lot of talent for the defense. But one position he has failed at providing talent at is safety. At this point, the Packers are throwing crap against the wall and seeing what sticks when it comes to safety.
Darnell Savage, a first-round selection of Gutekunst’s, has been a massive failure. His play was so bad that he was benched in 2022. He did eventually get his starting spot back, but it wasn’t because of his play. The depth at safety is awful and the Packers have a lot invested in Savage. This is a sink-or-swim season for Savage and the money is on him sinking.
We are going with Jonathan Owens over Rudy Ford for the other starting safety spot. Owens was signed as a free agent this off-season. He comes over from the Houston Texans where he started 19 games in his two seasons there. Owens is a solid tackler, something that the Packers direly need at safety. By starting Owens, it will allow Ford to focus on special teams, something he thrives at. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ford eventually takes over for Savage.
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