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APC’s Packers All-Decade defense boasts six unanimous picks and several what-ifs

The Packers’ top defense was tougher to pick than the offense for the past decade, with some difficult decisions coming in the secondary.

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ defense throughout the 2010s was rarely spectacular and frequently didn’t even approach “good,” but that’s not necessarily a reflection of the talent present in the locker room. For a variety of reasons, including injuries, coaching, and untimely free agent departures, the Packers’ defense rarely lived up to the sum of its parts.

Nevertheless, there were still some pretty great players around on the defensive side of the ball over the last decade, including six unanimous selections in our voting.

Defensive Line: Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark

Daniels and Clark start and pretty much end the list of dominant Packers defensive linemen from the 2010s.

Though never a statistically dominant pass rusher, Daniels still compiled 29.5 sacks during his seven-year run with the Packers, including two where he teamed up with Clark. His younger counterpart has managed 16.5 sacks through his first four seasons and seems well on his way to a lucrative contract extension in the very near future.

EDGE: Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers

The Packers’ all-time sack leader, Matthews’ early 2010s peak was truly fearsome, nearly winning him a Defensive Player of the Year award during the Packers’ Super Bowl season. His 2014-15 stint at inside linebacker was good enough to get him consideration from some voters at that spot, too, though ultimately he didn’t receive any votes there.

Peppers, meanwhile, was worth every penny Ted Thompson and the Packers paid for his three-year deal, putting up some staggering numbers over his age 34-36 seasons. The former second overall pick piled up 25 sacks, 21 tackles for a loss, 14 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles, and two interceptions, scoring touchdowns on both picks.

ILB: A.J. Hawk

A.J. Hawk gets the nod here with six votes to Blake Martinez’s one, but this is as much a referendum on the Packers’ decision-makers as a commentary on the Packers’ defense. That Hawk and Martinez were the only vote-getters here says as much about the quality of the Packers’ inside linebackers over the last decade as it does about either player’s merits on the field.

Hawk was a disappointment as the fifth overall pick, but missed just two games from 2010-14 and contributed in a variety of low-to-medium impact ways, though he rarely contributed splash plays.

In some ways, Martinez was Hawk’s spiritual successor. Assignment sure and rarely out of place, Martinez was a steady presence in the of the Packers defense, but had a host of limitations and, like Hawk, rarely made any kind of splash in the middle.

CB: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams

Shields and Williams both represent major free agent success stories for the Packers. Shields, an undrafted free agent from Miami who made a late switch from receiver to defensive back, went on to be a key contributor to the Packers’ Super Bowl defense. His 18 interceptions in Green Bay only put him at 26 on the all-time leaderboard, but he’d likely have ended up much higher had concussions not brought his time in Green Bay to an untimely end.

Williams, meanwhile, had a brief stop in Houston as an undrafted free agent before ending up with the Packers. Like Shields, he was a key contributor for the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run, nabbing game-altering interceptions against the Eagles and Falcons. He left as a free agent after the 2014 season, but returned in 2018 and played two solid years with his most noteworthy NFL team.

Charles Woodson also received a vote at cornerback, but will appear elsewhere on this list.

S: Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett

Like Sterling Sharpe for 90s-conscious Packers’ fans, Nick Collins represents a great “what if” in Packers history. How would the Packers’ fortunes have been different in 2011 and beyond had Collins’ career not come to a cruel end in Carolina? We’ll never know, but Collins’ contributions in 2010 (including a pick-six in the Super Bowl) were noteworthy enough to make him a unanimous selection here.

Though his Julius Peppers-induced slide in the 2014 NFC Championship Game may be some fans’ lasting image of Morgan Burnett, his long-term steady play lands him on our all-decade team. Though he had more than two interceptions in a season just twice, Burnett was reliable and, other than a season-ending injury in his rookie year, consistently available.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also received one vote at safety, though his most lasting contribution in Green Bay may have come via trade. The Packers landed a fourth-round pick in exchange for Clinton-Dix in 2018, and later used that pick as ammunition to trade up and select safety Darnell Savage in the 2019 NFL Draft.

FLEX: Charles Woodson, B.J. Raji, Casey Hayward

Though his most notable time in Green Bay came pre-2010, Charles Woodson was too good to leave off our list, and he was still pretty darn effective in the 38 games he played with the Packers from 2010-12. Woodson compiled 10 interceptions and 5.5 sacks in a little less than two and a half seasons’ worth of post-2010 play, good enough for a FLEX spot on our list.

The ninth overall pick in 2009, B.J. Raji’s best seasons came in 2010 and 2011. His 9.5 total sacks those seasons doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a pretty tidy sum for a nose tackle. He also has the unique distinction of being the only Packers player in history to score a touchdown on his only recorded rushing attempt.

Casey Hayward received three votes as a FLEX player, tying Raji for the second flex spot. Limited somewhat by injuries and questionable usage in his four seasons with the Packers, Hayward still managed to intercept nine passes and defense 34 more. He made the Pro Bowl in his first two post-Packers seasons.

Micah Hyde and Za’Darius Smith both received one vote each in the FLEX category.

Packers’ All-2010s Defense

DL: Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels
EDGE: Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers
ILB: A.J. Hawk
CB: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams
S: Morgan Burnett, Nick Collins
FLEX: Charles Woodson, B.J. Raji and Casey Hayward (tie)