The outside linebacker position for the Green Bay Packers has the biggest name on the defense. The other two players still under contract for the 2013 season each have a single year of NFL playing experience, though they arrived in Green Bay in very different ways. One, a first-round draft pick, saw his rookie season cut short by injury; the other, an undrafted free agent, picked up some slack when injuries claimed the starters, but he has a long way to go to prove that he can be a serious candidate for substantial playing time.
Signed for 2013:
Matthews is of course the star of the defense, and with his switch back to the right side he was able to bump his sack totals back into double digits with 13.5 in 2012 while playing in only 12 regular season games. He's the prototypical high-motor, high-ability player who is equally talented rushing the passer, defending the run, and covering receivers. He's on the short list for the best linebackers in the NFL at this point.
Nick Perry will return in 2013 as a bit of a question mark. In the first six games, his presence helped Matthews immensely, as Packers opponents finally had to respect a pass-rushing threat on the opposite side. However, knee and wrist injuries sidelined him after that sixth game of the year, with the wrist forcing him to have surgery and be placed on injured reserve. He's a very talented pass-rusher, and with another full training camp he will hopefully continue improving at the other facets of his game.
Moses is the undrafted wonder, who was a training camp and preseason favorite around the fan community. Once thrust into the lineup due to Matthews' hamstring injury, he showed some sparks of pass rushing ability but struggled in coverage and against the run. Like Perry, he was adjusting to linebacker from playing defensive end in college, and he'll benefit from another training camp. He'll provide some limited depth, but will need to continue improving on those other parts of his game.
Position Grade: B-
Once again, Matthews is among the best at his position. Combined with some flashes of ability that we've seen out of Perry and Moses, there's tons of potential in this unit. However, depth is a serious concern. Perry played some of his best football when he was able to have his snap count limited and give maximum effort on every snap he was on the field, and if Matthews were to be injured again it would be a serious challenge to adjust the team's defensive scheme to be effective. Combined with the need for improvement out of the younger players, I can't quite bring myself to give a full "B" grade.
Need Grade: 7 (out of 10)
Once again, depth is the primary driver here. The team will absolutely need to acquire another second-stringer. That does not necessarily need to happen in the first few rounds of the draft, but they'll need a complete player who can cover and play the run to help spell Perry and rotate in and out of the lineup.