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Green Bay Packers activate OLBs Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus from IR

The team released DL Jack Heflin and CB Isaac Yiadom to make these moves.

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Despite Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur playing coy about their situations all week, the Packers activated pass-rushers Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus from the injured reserve on Friday. Smith has been on the injured reserve with a back injury since Week 2 while Mercilus was placed on the list for a bicep injury in Week 11.

Last week, APC wrote about why the return of the two pass-rushers, considering the depth at the position, could very well be more important than the return of cornerback Jaire Alexander or left tackle David Bakhtiari, positions where the Packers have developed quality depth this season. Below is a table of the efficiency of their outside linebackers to turn snaps into quarterback hits, for example, with Smith and Mercilus registering much higher on more volume than recent backups Jonathan Garvin and Tipa Galeai.

Packers QB Hit Stats

Name Status QB Hits Snaps QB Hits /100
Name Status QB Hits Snaps QB Hits /100
Rashan Gary Roster 28 681 4.11
Za'Darius Smith (2020) IR-DFR 23 858 2.68
Preston Smith Roster 17 638 2.66
Whitney Mercilus (2 TM) IR-DFR 5 312 1.60
Jonathan Garvin Roster 5 395 1.27
Ladarius Hamilton PS 2 64 3.13
Tipa Galeai Roster 1 152 0.66
Chauncey Rivers IR 0 54 0.00
Randy Ramsey IR 0 0 0.00

Do not expect a full workload out of Smith and Mercilus this week, but even if the Packers can get 15 snaps out of each of them, those 15 plays will go a long way compared to the 15 snaps a game that Garvin and Galeai seemingly play where the opposing offense can simply move the ball at will against Green Bay. Mind you, the Packers are playing the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday, who are averaging around 190 rushing yards per game in the playoffs under head coach Kyle Shanahan. (Thanks, Mike Pettine!)

The Packers released defensive lineman Jack Heflin and cornerback Isaac Yiadom to make room for these two activations. Both had been on the 53-man roster for the entire season.

Heflin only played 17 defensive snaps in the 2021 regular season, fewer than current practice-squadder Abdullah Anderson (49.) It’s worth noting that both Anderson and R.J. McIntosh were protected on the practice squad this week, leaving open the door that they could be called up for game day. The Packers also waived part-time starter Kingsley Keke earlier in the week, meaning the team only has four interior defensive linemen on their 53-man roster: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster and T.J. Slaton.

Yiadom got some early-season run as a cornerback but was quickly replaced by Pro Bowl alternate Rasul Douglas. Yiadom has played the third-most special teams snaps of any Packers player, though. He has been a key contributor as a gunner and vice player as well as on kickoffs. It’s possible that the plan, if Jaire Alexander is back in full force, is to play someone like Douglas or recent dime back Kevin King more on special teams this week.