There is just over one week to go until the Green Bay Packers begin training camp, and as the calendar clicks over to Monday, we move on with our predictions for the team’s opening 53-man roster when camp wraps up. The second week of the series also marks the transition from our look at the offense over to the defense, and we begin on that side of the ball where we left off on offense: in the trenches.
The Packers’ defensive line is an extraordinarily young group, with only one player having more than two years of NFL experience and only two players having more than one. That puts a ton of pressure on Kenny Clark, the lone veteran in the room, to step up, both as a leader off the field and in his production on it.
Clark may have a new role this season as well, based on the best positional fits when the team’s top three linemen are all on the field together. If that grouping can get in sync and can stay healthy, perhaps the team’s defensive front will be in good shape. If not, however, there could be real issues for Joe Barry’s defense on the front lines.
Here’s how we expect the defensive line group to shape up when the Packers make their final cuts down to a 53-man roster in late August.
Starters: Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt, T.J. Slaton
Clark remains the Packers’ only truly good defensive lineman since Mike Daniels left. He’ll turn 28 years old in October, which seems ridiculous since he has already played seven excellent seasons in the NFL, making two Pro Bowls. The question now is whether the Packers have been able to successfully build a competent unit around him.
Perhaps the biggest question on that front in 2023 will be whether Wyatt, the second-year former Georgia Bulldog, can take a big step forward. He consistently flashed in his very limited playing time last year, and now will need to keep up those flashes on a play-to-play basis as a starter. Meanwhile, Slaton needs to take a step forward as well into a more prominent role, particularly if the Packers plan on putting this three-man line on the field with any regularity.
Early in summer practices, this did appear to be the top three-man unit, with Clark moving out from his normal nose tackle position to the 5-technique with Slaton being the nose. Clark’s past results as a 3- and 5-tech have been encouraging, so hopefully he’ll be unlocked a bit with fewer double-teams and can be even more consistent of a disruptor in the backfield.
Backups: Colby Wooden, Karl Brooks
While the team sticks with Clark and a couple of younger players on the top line of the depth chart, our picks for the second unit are both rookies, and both players will be adjusting to playing different positions. Wooden, the team’s 4th-round pick, and Brooks (6th round) will both need to play well in critical rotational snaps if this group stays healthy — or probably step into the starting line if it doesn’t. This group is already one of the shallowest defensive line groups in the NFL, and it can ill afford an injury to a key player like Clark or Wyatt.
Released: Jonathan Ford, Jason Lewan, Antonio Moultrie, Chris Slayton
The Packers kept Ford on the roster last year as a roster spot-filler after drafting him in the 7th round, but he was never active on gameday all season. Slayton returns after a stint on the practice squad but he’ll be fighting for a roster spot, likely with backups at other positions across the defense. Lewan and Moultrie are both undersized undrafted rookies who will all but assuredly need time on a practice squad before they’re prepared to contribute on Sundays.