The Green Bay Packers have long employed a strategy of ‘draft and develop’, which for the most part has worked well in their favor. Although the team has only made it to one Super Bowl in the Aaron Rodgers era, they’ve been to the playoffs every year except for one (2008) since Rodgers took over the starting position. In the grand scheme of football, this is success.
Much of this success is due to the strength of the Packers' offense. Time and time again, Green Bay has shown wizardry-like intelligence when it comes to turning no-name receivers into effective playmakers. However, the defense has long been a different story.
The fluctuating rollercoster ride we’ve seen in Green Bay’s defense makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the Packers’ struggle. It seems every season it’s something different, whether it be the defensive line or the secondary. When looking at the broad picture, the defensive backfield was the problem area last season and could continue to be this season if Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins can’t stay healthy.
When looking at the front seven, it’s obvious that the Packers need to make swift moves to address the OLB position. With Clay Matthews getting older and Julius Peppers moving on back to Carolina, Nick Perry and last year’s third round draft pick Kyler Fackrell are the next in line to lead the outside.
Perry was a big contributor to the defense last year and netted a big 5-year contract, which is promising. For Fackrell, it’s now time to step up and show that he can eventually fill the shoes of Julius Peppers; and because he’s already a bit older (Fackrell took a year off before college and was a redshirt his first year at Utah State), the pressure to perform is even higher. However, Fackrell does show promise as someone who can contain mobile quarterbacks, an issue the Packers often struggle with. He provides a bonus of versatility on the line and if he can put on a bit more weight before the start of the season, he’ll hopefully be in good shape to pick up some of Peppers’ snaps. Although Fackrell is not young, he has less experience than most linebackers his age because of the time off and the ACL injury he suffered in 2014.
Because of the questions surrounding Fackrell, the Packers still need a second man to potentially start adjacent to Perry. Among a large group of pass-rushers in this year’s NFL Draft, T.J. Watt is an option if he’s still available when the Packers take the stage next week. However, drafting another linebacker does not solve the immediate need for more veteran experience on the line.
The youth and lack of experience of the defense is an obvious issue and could continue to be if the Packers can’t find the right long-term solutions. The best hope in Green Bay is that Perry will continue to perform at a high level and that Fackrell will show promise, giving the Packers the ability to move Matthews back and forth from the inside and outside.
The Packers need two or three solid players who can stick around for a few years. Hopefully Perry and Fackrell will be the duo to take over for Peppers and eventually Matthews. Adding T.J. Watt or someone like him to the roster will give Green Bay depth but without more veteran power on the roster, the youth in the OLB position will continue to be a concern until the Packers find the right fit.