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Packers 2017 roster grades: Clay Matthews led a disappointing group of edge rushers

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Clay Matthews bounced back somewhat from a down 2016 season, but that didn’t offset the other issues with the Packers’ outside linebackers.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2017 season. Today, we examine the outside linebackers.

While not the sole source of the Green Bay Packers’ pass rush, the team’s outside linebackers played a significant role in determining whether the defense could generate adequate pressure on the quarterback. As became obvious over the course of the 2017 season, that proved to be an issue, one which ultimately cost defensive coordinator Dom Capers his job.

Starters

Clay Matthews

2017 stats: 44 total tackles, five tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble

The Packers’ 7-9 final record obscures some positive developments of their season. One of those was outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who rebounded from a forgettable 2016 campaign to lead the team in several statistical categories. Despite missing two games and playing wounded in several more, Matthews finished with 8.5 sacks, the highest total for Green Bay and his personal best since 2014. He also led with 30 total pressures (30, according to Bob McGinn Football). Still, that production meant little given the myriad defensive issues that held back the Packers all season.

Even with Matthews’ statistical improvement over 2016, his overall decline since his 2010-14 peak has led to speculation that the Packers could rework his contract this offseason. Given the team’s dearth of pass rushers and exploding salary cap escalating salaries, the front office has no real leverage from which to force a pay cut. However, the Packers could instead try to sign Matthews to an extension that lowers his 2018 cap number, something that would benefit both sides. Either way, Green Bay cannot depend on him to wreak havoc the way he once did with regularity.

Nick Perry

2017 stats: 38 total tackles, one tackle for loss, 7 sacks, one forced fumble

Nick Perry’s breakthrough 2016 season (11 sacks and an interception) coupled with the decline of Matthews and the departure of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones forced the Packers to open up the wallet last offseason. Perry signed a five-year, $60 million deal with over $18 million in guarantees, making him one of the highest-paid players on the roster and a key cog in the defense moving forward.

Unfortunately for the Packers, Perry didn’t build on that success. He missed four games over the course of 2017 and suffered a hand injury that required the training staff to club his hand for several weeks. Perry still made some big plays, but not with the frequency the defense required of him.

At this point, Perry looks like the type of player that can make a meaningful impact when healthy but will likely miss significant time each year. The Packers have to plan around his health limitations accordingly.

Backups

Ahmad Brooks

2017 stats: 19 total tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks

While Ahmad Brooks displayed a high motor and made a few big plays during his first season in Green Bay, he didn’t come close to matching the production of his predecessor, Peppers. Given that the Packers paid more for Brooks than Peppers made with the Carolina Panthers this season, the move ranks as a particularly egregious misfire.

Kyler Fackrell

2017 stats: 28 total tackles, 3 sacks, one fumble recovery

In two years, Kyler Fackrell has yet to establish himself as anything more than a special-teams contributor. His sack totals, meager as they are, don’t align with his ability to get after the quarterback (12.5 total pressures, seventh on the team). The Packers will bring Fackrell back for next season and give him another shot, but don’t feel surprised if he doesn’t make the final cut.

Vince Biegel

2017 stats: 16 total tackles, one tackle for loss

A foot injury wiped out most of Vince Biegel’s rookie season. For that reason, the Packers still don’t know whether he can become a regular contributor to the defense. He should get his chance next season, especially if the team moves on from Brooks.

Chris Odom

2017 stats: Six tackles, one tackle for loss

The Packers added Chris Odom off the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad in mid-September, though they used the first-year linebacker sparingly. His main contributions came on special teams. He will likely return this summer for training camp.

Reggie Gilbert

2017 stats: One tackle

The Packers stashed Reggie Gilbert on the practice squad for most of the season, bringing him up to the 53-man roster in December. Gilbert appeared in just two games but still managed to produce six pressures, per Bob McGinn Football. That figure exceeds that of Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Josh Jones, Quinton Dial, Montravius Adams, Biegel, and Odom, all of which saw significantly more playing time. Gilbert should get a long look in the upcoming preseason.

Overall grade: C-

The frontline of the Packers’ edge rush looked solid on paper, but injuries and the lack of depth behind the top group led to a disappointing season. The front office will almost certainly invest considerable resources towards improving that area of the roster this offseason.