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Packers 2018 Roster Grades: Outside Linebacker group had age and depth issues

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Despite the personnel issues on the edge, the team got a 10.5-sack season from an unexpected source.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Over a two week span, 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 2018 season. Tuesday’s analysis looks at the outside linebacker group.

The Packers opened the season with two former Pro Bowlers at the outside linebacker position, as Nick Perry and Clay Matthews were the two highest paid defensive players on the roster. At the end of the day, it was Kyler Fackrell who put up the best numbers over the course of the season, but other younger players did not see much playing time and the veterans did not play up to their usual abilities. It was not a strong showing from the group as a whole, and it hurt the pass defense all season.

Starters

Clay Matthews

2018 Stats: 29 solo tackles, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF

This was just the third time that Matthews has started all 16 games in a season. Despite the relative health, he managed to have his worst statistical season. This was the first time he had single-digit tackles for loss in a season with 16 starts. Yes, he had one or two sacks taken away on frustrating penalties, but he was less of a pass rushing force.

Matthews was slower and was not able to bend the corner on his pass rush. He still believed greatly in his athleticism and tried to run around blocks, undercutting them rather than taking on the block and holding the edge. He did not do himself any favors entering his free agency.

Nick Perry

2018 Stats: 15 solo tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Perry had trouble staying on the field this year. He was only available for nine games this season, the fewest since his rookie season. Even when he was on the field, he did not provide much of a pass rush. This was his worst statistical season.

Perry managed well at being able to hold the edge in the run game. He was still valuable in taking on blocks and keeping contain. That said, he did not provide edge rush in the passing game.

Backups

Kyler Fackrell

2018 Stats: 29 solo tackles, 12 TFL, 10.5 sacks

Fackrell stepped in frequently this season. He filled in for the seven starts that Nick Perry missed. Fackrell was not a consistent pass rusher, but he found the quarterback more than all the other OLBs combined.

Fackrell also finished second to Matthews in total snaps. While Perry got more starts, Fackrell played 58.5% of the defensive snaps this season. Fackrell was not consistently effective and earned six of his sacks in just two games (including the now infamous phantom sack where he never touched Josh Allen). But while he was not a game breaker every week, he was still the most effective pass rusher on the team this year.

Reggie Gilbert

2018 stats: 27 solo tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks

Reggie Gilbert finished 2017 with several big games and made fans very excited about his potential. He never did find that success on the field this year. Gilbert was available in all 16 games, but did not manage to beat out Kyler Fackrell for a start during the season. Still, Gilbert is the youngest of the outside linebackers on the active roster this season and should continue to grow into the position.

Kendall Donnerson

2018 stats: no statistics

Donnerson did not make the 53-man roster until week 14. He spent most of the season on the practice squad after joining the team as a seventh-round draft pick out of Southeast Missouri State. He has incredible measurable athleticism, but he did not see the field at all this year.

Overall Grade: C-

The starters in this unit lacked burst and athleticism. Whether due to injury or age, Perry and Matthews did not get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. There was not much depth behind the starters to make up the difference. In a position where teams routinely rotate speed rushers, the Packers only had four outside linebackers for most of the year. The Packers ended the season with 44 sacks, but only 18 of those came from this position group. Consider that Dean Lowry, Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark combined for 11 sacks.

It was not a good year for the outside kinebackers. Fackrell’s double-digit sack season was the lone shining light statistically.