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Packers 53-Man Roster Prediction: Outside Linebacker depth remains a question

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The starters of the outside ‘backer unit are set, but the group must replace departed veterans with unproven youth.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing our series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster prior to training camp, we examine the outside linebacker position and reveal our pre-camp predictions for the team’s 2017 53-man roster. Ten APC contributors submitted full roster predictions, and we will present the consensus predictions drawn from those individual guesses over the days and weeks leading up to the start of camp.

After several years of mainstays at the position, the outside linebacker corps will undergo a youth movement as it looks to replace Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. APC writers sense that six outside ‘backers will make the final 53-man roster in 2017.

Starters

Clay Matthews

Still an impact player when healthy, Matthews is under contract for the next couple seasons and should be lined up both inside and outside throughout the 2017 campaign. A clean bill of health for Matthews is critical to a pass rushing group undergoing a rebuild, as well as for the 31-year old veteran looking to bounce back from just five sacks in 2016.

Nick Perry

Perry cashed in on a career season in 2016, but the Packers’ organization is counting on him to at least maintain that production this season. Perhaps Green Bay’s most effective pass rusher right now, Perry, like Matthews, must stay healthy to create chaos in the backfield and take the pressure off a young and inconsistent cornerbacks group.

Backups

Jayrone Elliott

A player of outstanding character nominated for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award the past two years, Elliott has a one-year contract to prove his worth on the defensive side of the ball. Although Elliott has been a special teams standout for Green Bay and shown glimpses of pass rushing athleticism, Packers fans have yet to see the full, consistent package. Signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, Elliott will have every opportunity to provide Green Bay with some much needed depth and sack potential on the outside. He will be pushed by a few of the younger players listed below.

Kyler Fackrell

A third round pick a year ago, Fackrell must take a step forward from the eight tackles and two sacks he registered in 2016. With a 6’5,” 245-pound frame, Fackrell has the size and length to be a playmaker on the outside. An offseason in the weight room may help Fackrell better take on offensive tackles at the NFL level and give him an additional tool to utilize with his above-average ability to bend. He should be a regular rotational player this season.

Vince Biegel

The fourth-round pick from Wisconsin is an instant fan favorite, but expectations may be dampened for Biegel after surgery on his foot this offseason. An injury that also plagued him in college, Biegel should be ready for training camp but is well behind other rookies on the roster. If Biegel is ready for camp, he should be at least a steady special teams contributor this season. If not, he may land on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Reggie Gilbert

All but one writer at APC believed Green Bay would keep six outside linebackers on the roster. A member of the practice squad as a rookie last season, APC writers gave Gilbert the final nod over a couple of undrafted rookies. Spending a year on the scout team gave Gilbert the valuable opportunity to learn special teams, as well as adjust to the linebacker position after playing defensive end in college. Suited for a hybrid role like Peppers and Jones, Gilbert should have a real opportunity at winning a roster spot.

Missing the Cut

Johnathan Calvin, Josh Letuligasenoa

Overall

The 2017 outside linebackers group is one of the Packers’ true under-the-radar positions of intrigue. Perry and Matthews are established veteran starters, but after them, Green Bay’s depth is in a state of unknown. Will Elliott become a sack artist? Will Fackrell take the second year leap? Will Biegel stay healthy? Will Gilbert or one of the rookies have a notable training camp? Stay tuned.