The Green Bay Packers’ haul of draft picks this offseason was supposed to keep the team afloat while they figured out their passing attack in 2022. While the breakout of receiver Christian Watson has officially come, the Packers are sitting with a 5-8 record during the bye week due to their inability to fill in the gaps elsewhere before their offense finally settled.
One of Green Bay’s biggest weaknesses has been stopping the run, which we wrote about yesterday:
The Packers have struggled on defense this year, particularly in the run game. They’ve allowed 109 first downs on the ground under defensive coordinator Joe Barry, which leads the league. They have also conceded 2,012 rushing yards (second-most), 5.0 yards per carry (fourth-most) and 15 rushing touchdowns (fifth-most) in 2022.
Despite all of the defensive failures the team has faced this year, the Packers have still yet to make a change on the defensive line and allow first-round rookie Devonte Wyatt to crack into the consistent rotation. That must come to an end, as Green Bay has to figure out what they have in him before the offseason process ramps up.
Wyatt, a 24-year-old who was picked 28th overall out of Georgia in the last draft class, has only played 125 snaps of football this season. Since 2012, when Pro Football Reference first documented snap count numbers, 34 interior defensive linemen have been picked in the top round of the draft. The only defensive lineman in that group to play fewer snaps than Wyatt has in his rookie season was Robert Nkemdiche, who played 82 snaps in just five games (16.4 snaps per game).
On a per-game basis, Wyatt’s 10.4 snaps per game ranks dead last among the 34 first-round picks. Only four other players in that group played fewer than 20 snaps per game (double Wyatt’s current rate) as rookies: L.J. Collier, former Packer Datone Jones, Nkemdiche and Taven Bryan. None of those players would be considered as “hits” in the draft.
When you look at rookie first-round defensive linemen from a raw snaps basis, with the exception of Jonathan Allen, it also paints a poor picture for Wyatt’s future. From 2012 to 2021, the only first-round defensive linemen who were unable to play at least 290 defensive snaps (two-and-a-half times Wyatt’s current count) as rookies were Nkemdiche (82), Collier (152), Allen (159), Vernon Butler (225), Jones (256) and Dominique Easley (262). Allen should be excluded from this list because he was averaging 31.8 snaps per game over five games before he was placed on injured reserve for a Lisfranc injury.
Aside from Allen, the five other interior defensive linemen who were unable to hit the 290 snap mark as rookies averaged just 8.4 career starts for the remainder of their NFL careers following their rookie seasons. Yikes.
Top @pff Grades Vs. CHI— Jacob Morley (@JacobMorley) December 5, 2022
1. Devonte Wyatt: 87.7 (High Quality/Elite)
2. Keisean Nixon: 83.5 (High Quality)
3. Rasul Douglas: 79.0 (Above Avg/High Quality)
4. TJ Slaton: 76.8 (Above Avg)
5. Jaire Alexander: 76.5 (Above Avg)
Despite the lack of playing time, Wyatt has graded out fairly well in limited performances, according to Pro Football Focus. Still, the Packers are treating his playing time like a player who won’t last in the league much longer. Enough is enough.
At some point, getting evaluation reps for Wyatt needs to be a priority. This isn’t the 1960s when teams were going live in practice on a consistent basis. To know what you have in a player, you have to get him reps in games. That’s just the era of the NFL that we’re living in.
Going into next season, Green Bay’s only interior defensive linemen under contract are nose tackle Kenny Clark, backup nose tackle T.J. Slaton, reserve nose tackle Jonathan Ford and Wyatt. Realistically, the team needs to add another 3-4 defensive end to the starting lineup even if they assume that Wyatt can start next to Clark. But what if Wyatt is a Nkemdiche/Collier/Butler/Jones/Easley, as his playing time suggests? Then we have to do the same “they can’t stop the run” song and dance until the 2024 offseason comes around?
It’s time to figure out what Wyatt has in the tank. Enough of Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry. They aren’t making a difference anyway and they aren’t under contract for next season. The Packers need to get it over with and see if they can hang their hat on Wyatt being on the first line of the depth chart in 2023. If they can’t, they need to adjust accordingly. At this point, what do they have to lose?