Monday, July 18, 2016

Did The Packers Do Enough This Offseason: Front Seven

It's been weeks since I've posted anything about the Green Bay Packers and I've been meaning to finish my look back at the 2016 offseason.
Rookie DT Kenny Clark and 4th year DE/LB Datone Jones are going to be two of the new faces to watch in 2016; Clark because he's a rookie and Jones because I expect he'll take over the elephant rusher role from LB Mike Neal.

Here are the 2015 snap counts from the returning defensive linemen and it's a short list:
Player Pos. Def. Snap Def. %
Daniels DT 706 67.2%
Guion DT 330 31.4%
Pennel DT 287 27.3%
The big departure is DT B.J. Raji, who played on 444 defensive snaps in 2015, but it's safe to assume that Clark can step into that role. Other than Daniels, the most notable thing about Guion and Pennel, and the two rookies (Clark and DE Dean Lowry) plus 2nd year DT Christian Ringo, is that none of them are known for their pass rush. The rush defense was ranked only 19th overall last season by Football Outsiders, but the Packers didn't do a whole lot to shake up their expected 2016 tackle rotation.

If the Packers were intending to improve their pass rush and the run defense, it doesn't look like the focus for the improvement was going to come from the trenches. Other than Clark taking over for Raji, and some combination of Guion, Ringo and Lowry filling in for Pennel while he serves his four game suspension, there aren't a lot of changes here, and no obvious improvements.

The big move was that Clay Matthews will be back outside. While he's good on the inside, he's clearly better, bigger play maker, on the outside. Moving their best defensive player back to his best position only makes sense.

Here's the 2015 snap counts for the returning linebackers:
Player Pos. Def. Snap Def. %
Matthews OLB 1020 97.1%
Peppers OLB 706 67.2%
Jones OLB 364 34.6%
Perry OLB 351 33.4%
Ryan ILB 260 24.7%
Thomas ILB 250 23.8%
Elliott OLB 174 16.6%
Matthews didn't leave the field in 2015 and nothing should change in that regard next season, though it's unclear what's going to happen with the Al Jazeera report. OLB Julius Peppers arguably played too much last season and as good as he was in 2015, he might be even better in a lesser role. Jones didn't play much (if any) linebacker last season but I've included him here, as he'll be asked to take over at least part of the 734 snaps that went to Neal last season. Maybe they plan on a bigger role for OLB Nick Perry too, but his re-signing just seemed like a value free agent pick-up. Everyone should expect a bigger role from ILB Jake Ryan in his 2nd season, and ILB Joe Thomas might still find himself a role on passing downs in a platoon with Ryan.

In addition to Neal's departure, the Packers also have to replace the 539 snaps that went to ILB Nate Palmer, however, those should go to ILB Sam Barrington, who appears to be set for a full recovery from a 2015 season ending foot injury. I'm not expecting much from 4th round rookie ILB Blake Martinez in 2016 but he should be a better option for depth than what they had to replace Barrington last season.

3rd round rookie OLB Kyler Fackrell isn't needed immediately and appears in line for a redshirt NFL rookie season, but OLB Jayrone Elliott didn't provide much in a limited role and might be only a preseason performer. While there's no guarantee he'll make the roster either, free agent LB Lerentee McCray should get a chance to earn playing time, if he can.

Though there are several new faces, this isn't a major change for the defense. Overall the defense was ranked No. 9 overall by Football Outsiders, so the step of moving Matthews back to his best position, and removing two of their worst regulars (Neal and Palmer) from the rotation might be all that they need for a unit that can compete for a Top 5 ranking next season.

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