The Green Bay Packers struggled to stop the New England Patriots’ running game in Week 4, as the Patriots were able to average 5.1 yards per attempt on 33 carries that saw four different ball carriers spring 14-plus-yard runs. Despite the fact that second-string quarterback Brian Hoyer and third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe combined for 104 net passing yards in the game, New England was able to take the Packers into overtime due to their ground game.
The talking heads have come up with plenty of solutions to Green Bay’s run defense woes since the Packers’ overtime win went final, with most suggesting defensive coordinator Joe Barry plays less split-safety defense or questioning what happened to inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell’s All-Pro presence. Still, a severely overlooked aspect of Green Bay’s defense is that first-round defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt has simply been unable to crack the rotation on defense.
Through four games, Wyatt has played 28 snaps on defense. He played just five snaps against New England. Outside of starting nose tackle Kenny Clark, the defensive line has struggled to make penetrating plays in the run game this year, which has extended drives. Despite playing 152 snaps, free agent signing Jarran Reed has only made two tackles for loss in 2022. Dean Lowry hasn’t made one in 136 defensive snaps and four starts.
Wyatt is currently fifth on the defensive line rotation behind Clark, Reed, Lowry and 2021 fifth-round pick T.J. Slaton, who primarily spells Clark at nose tackle. To say the least, this is highly uncharacteristic of a first-round pick — even this early in his rookie season.
Out of the 32 first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, Wyatt’s 28 offensive or defensive snaps rank 28th in the class so far this season. The only players with fewer offensive or defensive snaps than him are Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams, New Orleans Saints tackle Trevor Penning, Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine and Cincinnati Bengals safety Daxton Hill. Williams and Penning have yet to play games due to injury while Cine battled through an early-season knee injury and later injured his ankle in what is expected to be a season-ending injury.
That leaves just one healthy player, Hill, who is playing less than Wyatt among 2022 first-round picks. Hill is playing safety behind Vonn Bell, who is on the final year of a three-year, $18 million contract with the Bengals, and Jessie Bates, who is playing on the franchise tag.
For reference, the leader in defensive snaps among 2022 first-round rookies this season is Houston Texans cornerback Derek Stingley, who has played 284 snaps this year. That’s over 10 times as many snaps as Wyatt. Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Devon Lloyd, who was taken one pick before Wyatt, has played 262 defensive snaps. New England Patriots guard Cole Strange, who was taken one pick after Wyatt, has played 241 offensive snaps.
New York Giants pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who has only played two games due to injury, has played nearly three times as many snaps as Wyatt this season. Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie, who was placed on injured reserve after Week 1, has played more snaps than Wyatt. So has Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who saw the first action in his NFL career on Sunday when he came off the bench for Mitchell Trubisky in the second half against the New York Jets.
The running game can only struggle to make penetration plays for so long before fans start asking when we’re going to see some return on investment on Wyatt. Last week, the Giants, Green Bay’s next opponent, lost both of their quarterbacks and had to play running back Saquon Barkley as a “wildcat” quarterback to clinch their win against the Chicago Bears. In Week 5, you can assume that New York is going to give the Packers a healthy dose of Barkley, who is currently the leader in the Comeback Player of the Year race. There’s a good chance these questions linger, if not intensify, in London.
Compounded with Wyatt’s lack of playing time is the fact that Green Bay’s rookies have had a hard time seeing the field overall. While fellow first-round pick inside linebacker Quay Walker has played 175 defensive snaps, second-round round receiver Christian Watson has only played 80 snaps, in part due to a hamstring injury, and third-round guard Sean Rhyan has not played a single offensive snap this season, despite there being injuries on the offensive line. On Sunday, Watson played 18 snaps and Rhyan was a healthy scratch.