Today’s rankings, the beginning of the top-10 countdown, reflect a pair of veteran returners on both sides of the ball, in addition to a duo of high-priced newcomers to the Green Bay defense.
T-10: Bryan Bulaga, OT
One of the longest tenured Packers on the roster, Bulaga heads into the final year of his contract extension signed in 2015. When healthy, Bulaga has been a good-to-great right tackle for Green Bay and the Iowa product bounced back to play 14 games in 2018 after just five the year before. He continues to be productive as a pass blocker and a stable bookend piece to David Bakhtiari.
At age 30, Bulaga is most likely heading into his final season in a Green Bay uniform. Despite rumors that the Packers tried to get him to take a pay cut over the past couple of years, Bulaga has remained Green Bay’s best right tackle option on the roster with the struggles of players like Jason Spriggs and Justin McCray. The signing of Billy Turner may have landed the the Packers their heir apparent to Bulaga a year from now, but the health of Bulaga remains integral to the offense in 2019.
T-10: Adrian Amos, S
One of the areas Green Bay struggled the most last season was safety and the front office recognized that with the first round draft selection of Darnell Savage and the four-year, $36 million signing of Amos. A figurative trade with the Chicago Bears exchanging Amos for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should leave the Packers’ secondary in a more enviable position.
While Amos is not the turnover-creating machine the Packers have lacked at safety since the days of Nick Collins, his dependability to be in the right place at the right time should help the defensive backs around him. While versatile, Amos should be expected to play the strong position more often than not and allow Savage to make more plays on the ball. With three interceptions and three forced fumbles in four seasons in Chicago, the Packers are hoping that Amos’ best football is still ahead of him at age 26.
9: Preston Smith, EDGE
From one free agent signing in Amos to another in Smith, the Packers got much better this offseason on the defensive side of the ball. Green Bay committed eye-popping money to edge rushers in the spring and the Packers thought enough of Smith’s pass-rushing acumen to offer him a four-year, $52 million contract. Smith should team up with fellow newcomer Za’Darius Smith to form a new starting combination on the edge.
With Washington, Smith logged 24.5 sacks over his first four seasons while forcing four fumbles and intercepting four passes as a 3-4 linebacker. However, his best season might have been his first, tallying eight sacks and three forced fumbles as a rookie. Durability is a calling card for Smith, who has not missed a game in his pro career, and his experience with new Packers’ inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti — someone Smith is familiar with from their shared time in Washington — should help Green Bay put Smith in the best position to succeed. At age 26, the former second-round pick Smith will get every opportunity to earn his first Pro Bowl nod with the Packers.
8: Blake Martinez, ILB
Like Bulaga above, Martinez enters the 2019 season in a contract year. The former fourth-round pick has steadily progressed as a member of the Packers’ defense and started all 16 games for the second consecutive season in 2018. Martinez posted career-highs in tackles (144) and sacks (5), while being used more often as a blitzer in Mike Pettine’s scheme.
With the departures of Jake Ryan and Antonio Morrison, Josh Jones’ rumored trade request, and the slow development of Oren Burks as a rookie last season, the Packers find themselves thin at the inside linebacker position. Seventh-round pick Ty Summers may bring help, but Martinez is in line to log a high snap count again in 2019. Martinez was on the field for over 98% of the team’s snaps last season and gained 15 pounds of muscle this offseason to help his body continue to hold up to the demand. The consistency of Martinez in the middle is critical to the Packers’ revamped defense, but more big plays would help win him a big contract extension next year.