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Packers 2021 Roster Preview: Rashan Gary & the Smith Bros lead a young OLB unit

Behind Green Bay’s top three edge rushers, the team is searching for situational contributors among its group of athletic but youthful options.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers report for training camp on July 27th, with the team’s first practice coming the next day. In the week leading up to camp, Acme Packing Company will break down the Packers’ 90-man roster and give our predictions for who will make the initial 53 at the end of camp. Seven APC contributors submitted their 53-man predictions, and we have combined those picks into our annual consolidated prediction.

Today’s breakdown of the Packers’ 90-man roster continues with the outside linebackers, where Rashan Gary will look to blossom into a star in year three for the Green Bay defense.

OLBs on the 90-man roster

Za’Darius Smith

NFL Experience: 7th season
2020 Stats (16 games): 52 total tackles; 12 TFL; 12 Sacks; 4 FF; 2 FR
2021 Cap Hit: $14,620,000

The versatility of Za’Darius Smith to play in multiple fronts and packages has been an asset to the Packers since signing him two years ago. Smith continued his pass-rushing prowess with another double-digit sack season, though his total quarterback hits dropped off considerably (37 to 23) from his first season in Green Bay to his second. Effort seemed to wane at times and perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Smith’s campaign came in the postseason where he registered just two hits and one sack in three games.

Still, Smith was a Pro Bowler once again for Green Bay and remains one of the team’s most impressive pass rushers in recent memory. While Rashan Gary and Preston Smith will look to assert themselves in different ways this upcoming season, Za’Darius is more consistently reliable and a surefire bet to man one of the edges for this unit. For the Packers to contend again in 2021, it will be as important as ever for the defense to create pressure for opposing quarterbacks and Smith is at the center of that task.

Preston Smith

NFL Experience: 7th season
2020 Stats (16 games): 42 total tackles; 7 TFL; 4 Sacks; 1 FR
2021 Cap Hit: $8,750,000

If history indeed repeats itself, then the Packers should have plenty of excitement for Preston Smith in 2021. Over his career, Smith has consistently been inconsistent in terms of sacks and quarterback hits from one season to the next, beginning during his time in Washington. Every other season, including last, Smith has tallied around four sacks before rallying for eight-plus takedowns the following year. If Smith can return to his 2019 self, the Packers will receive a much-needed boost in pressure from the outside linebackers as a whole.

An incentive-laden restructured contract helped keep Smith in Green Bay after hitting the quarterback just 11 times last season. Later in the year, Smith’s energy and productivity seemed to increase after a very low statistical output through the first eight weeks, and the Packers will be looking to recapture some of the Smith Bros magic. Smith’s spot on the roster seems fairly certain and there are two years left on his contract. But much more is needed in terms of overall pressure.

Rashan Gary

NFL Experience: 3rd season
2020 Stats (15 games): 35 total tackles; 5 TFL; 5 Sacks; 1 FR
2021 Cap Hit: $4,330,176

Gary’s second season after the position change to outside linebacker was significantly more promising than his first and gives the Packers great optimism heading into year three. While he showed flashes throughout the season, Gary’s best game may have been the Divisional Round matchup against Los Angeles in the postseason, totaling three quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks on a season-high 67% of the team’s defensive snaps. That coincides with Gary’s pressure percentage stat (18.7%) from Week 10 and beyond that represented the highest of any pass rusher in the league.

The athletic Gary has earned rave reviews from Outside Linebackers Coach Mike Smith on multiple occasions and there is plenty of ceiling remaining to be reached. Ever since college, Gary has been the player credited with making the plays that result in stats for teammates but not necessarily himself. By the end of last season, Gary was doing a little bit of both and starting to supplant Preston Smith as the team’s second-best edge rusher. With a more typical offseason of development and more anticipated snaps this season, Gary could truly take off for the Green Bay defense.

Randy Ramsey

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (12 games): 11 total tackles
2021 Cap Hit: $780,000

The Packers chose to hold Ramsey over from the practice squad a year ago and saw him appear in most games during his first full season. However, most of Ramsey’s snaps came on special teams (204 to 75) and he did not register a quarterback hit as the team’s fourth edge rusher.

Athleticism has been the calling card for Ramsey, a former high school cornerback, and the Packers have been patiently waiting on some of the pass-rushing traits to develop since the position change. This training camp should provide a bird’s eye view for Ramsey’s progress and give him some of the valuable preseason reps that figure to be available if the Smiths’ exhibition snaps are limited. Like last year, Ramsey faces uncertainty for a 53-man roster spot and will be competing directly with each of the youngest players on the roster.

Jonathan Garvin

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (8 games): 5 total tackles
2021 Cap Hit: $799,820

A seventh-round pick in 2020, Garvin was only active for half the team’s games as a rookie. Still, the former Miami Hurricane eclipsed five sacks in each of his final two college seasons and posted some good-to-elite measurables as seen in his RAS card below, particularly in those that signal explosion.

As a raw pass rusher that was just 20 years old when the Packers drafted him, Garvin missed out on enormous learning opportunities during a pandemic-affected first offseason that included the entire preseason. With a more normal second offseason of workouts, technique building, and exhibition reps, Garvin will have a chance to begin blending some of the pure athleticism into on-field skill as a pass-rusher. Of particular note is Garvin’s lack of production on special teams as a rookie with just 22 total snaps, and his ability to work his way on to those units will be critical in beating out comparable talents on the Packers’ roster.

Tipa Galeai

NFL Experience: 1st season
2020 Stats: 1 game, 9 defensive snaps
2021 Cap Hit: $660,000

With a thin frame for the position, Galeai will be looking to use his height (6’5) and length to improve upon his time on the Packers’ practice squad a year ago. As a collegian, Galeai registered 15.5 sacks over his final two seasons with Utah State but appeared in just one game for Green Bay as a rookie. As a former defensive end for the Aggies, Galeai has pass-rushing experience but will need to prove that his body can hold up against blockers at the NFL level. It is likely that a roster spot for Galeai will come down to showing flashes as a fifth edge rusher and special teams contributor in training camp.

Delontae Scott

NFL Experience: 1st season
2020 Stats: N/A
2021 Cap Hit: $660,000

After spending his initial season on the practice squad, Scott enters 2021 with upside and opportunity as mentioned by APC just a couple of weeks ago. The 6-foot-11 wingspan is the standout trait for Scott, who transitioned to the outside linebacker group this offseason after playing as a defensive end at SMU and with the Packers’ scout team. With limited media availability last summer, it was difficult to see Scott in action but he was a developmental player the Packers were particularly interested in after the draft.

Experience in multiple roles and formations along the line could be a benefit to Scott in his quest to earn a role on Sundays with Green Bay. He could stand to add bulk to his 246-pound frame but may be one of the more intriguing members of the outside linebacker meeting room. Outside of the Smiths and Gary, the Packers have quite a few unknown and unproven edge rushers fighting for minimal spots. Scott, an unknown himself, could be one of the dark horses to emerge by the end of the summer.

Carlo Kemp

NFL Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats: N/A
2021 Cap Hit: $661,666

Kemp represents a second former Michigan outside linebacker on the team’s roster, alongside Gary, and likened himself to the Packers’ former first-round pick prior to the draft. The word “versatility” can often be one of the most overused terms to evaluate a prospect, but it might fit Kemp to a tee. On a given play, Kemp could be seen playing a more traditional end position in a four-man front for the Wolverines, at the three-technique, or even directly over the center at nose tackle.

While some of the players listed above may need to add weight to their frame, the 281-pound Kemp is not one of them. For Kemp, who does show some initial burst off the snap, there will be some transition to standing up on the edge and he may be best served on the practice squad following training camp. But the Packers love the ability to play multiple positions and Kemp’s five career college sacks do not completely tell the full story of the impact he made on individual plays along the line.

APC 53-man roster prediction

Starters: Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary

Backups: Preston Smith, Jonathan Garvin

APC sees Gary and both of the Smiths as locks to make the final roster as regular contributors, and it is likely that all three find time on the field together once again this upcoming season on pass-rushing downs. Expecting a second-year jump, Garvin also received a final nod from the staff for the fourth edge-rushing position among a fairly large group of young players.

Competition abounds for final roster spots at the outside linebacker position, specifically, in 2021. If one of the many roster hopefuls can step forward this summer, Gary continues to surge, and both Smiths return to their usual levels of production, this could be a dynamic unit to watch over the course of the regular season.