The Packers’ defense will once again be very young. Stalwarts Daniels, Matthews, Perry Ha-Ha and Morgan Burnett will have to deal with the losses of Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, and Micah Hyde. No amount of raw talent can replace the veteran savvy represented by such leaders, though youth has its advantages. The departures on the defense will need to be replaced by the likes of Kevin King, Josh Jones, and Vince Biegel. But one can’t help but feel there will be some growing pains without the leadership that the Packers enjoyed in the recent past.
Julius Peppers at times made significant contributions to the pass-rush though it seems the Packers got everything they could out of him. Hyde did not have the physicals that guys like King and Jones have, nor the speed, but he had football intelligence that takes more than a year to develop. Datone Jones finally had a productive season and is now with the Vikings so the Packers will have a chance to prove that letting him go was the right thing to do twice next year. Jones never turned into the dominant rusher that the Packers hoped he would be when they drafted him in the first round in 2013, but had a good season in 2016 and will leave a vacuum if not as big a one as Peppers.
So the Packers defense will come into 2017 missing some leadership and football intellect. But they also made some additions that could be significant.
Significant additions that will see playing time
In Daniels’ interview, he made a point to talk about how impressed he was with second round pick Josh Jones. Jones has the right attitude to go with
Another addition, of course, is Kevin King. Chosen at the top of the order in round two, King’s 6’3″ frame and blazing speed make him one of the most exciting prospects at the cornerback position that Packer Nation has seen in a long time. King was not present for OTA’s but depending on how quickly he picks up the offense, should see plenty of playing time and have a chance to compete for a starting role right off. If he comes on strong, the Packers defensive backfield should see a significant upgrade and (with the addition of House and health of last years CB group) be considered a position of depth.
Early last season, when Clay Matthews was healthy, the Packers pass rush was adequate. The combination of Matthews and Perry was effective and while the Packers will no longer be able to roll elephants Peppers and Jones out on the field with those guys, if the bookends can stay healthy they should be a force to be reckoned with. Kyler Fackrell has put on some weight in preparation for what is a long season and if Vince Biegel can get his feet under him, there should be pass rush combinations that are able to get home if the defensive backfield covers better.
Defensive line rotation
With Daniels leading the way, and the addition of Ricky Jean Francois, along with the expected development of guys like Kenny Clark and Dean Lowery, the defensive line rotation should be solid. Drafting Montravius Adams gives the Packers another possible rotational guy without having to throw him into the fire too often. Job one for this rotation will be stopping the run and Daniels, Nick Perry (OLB) and Ricky Jean Francois will stand out in this regard in 2017. With the Cowboys on the schedule yet again in the upcoming season, we will need to be stout against the run. But guys like Daniels, Francois, and Clark have shown they can do more. Collapsing the pocket takes quarterbacks off their spot and offers inside pressure that could be the difference particularly in early games like the one against the Atlanta Falcons where the Packers have to go on the road into a hostile environment.
If Daniels’ attitude on the D-line transmits to the rest of the team, and the pressure up front is backed up by more solid play in the defensive backfield. This year’s Packers defense could become what Mike Daniels envisions it to be.