Get Kenny Clark some help has been a mantra for Green Bay Packers fans for years, and it looks like the team finally made an effort to do so this offseason.
One of the last great picks by the legendary Ted Thompson, Clark has developed into one of the league’s best defenders since entering the NFL at age 20. However, despite his Pro Bowl-level play, the team’s interior defensive line has been an overall weakness. The run defense, in particular, was prone to getting gashed by running backs and mobile quarterbacks. The name Raheem Mostert still gives Packers fans nightmares.
But as the 26-year-old Clark enters his seventh NFL season (absolutely wild), he’ll finally have some reinforcements. Former Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Jarran Reed joined the team in free agency. Then Brian Gutekunst went against his usual patterns and drafted the 24-year-old Devonte Wyatt in the first round of the 2022 draft. Jonathan Ford joined the team a few days later in the seventh round, and the Packers claimed Chris Slayton off of waivers.
Suddenly, Green Bay had significant capital invested in the D-line and a good amount of depth. With Clark’s draftmate Dean Lowry coming off a career year and the Packers expecting a Year 2 jump from T.J. Slaton, this is suddenly a fearsome group. Can this be the year their production lives up to its potential?
Last season, we saw Green Bay’s run defense go through ups and downs. They successfully contained Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson in the middle of the season. However, they got eaten alive by Tyler Huntley, and it took an injured Baker Mayfield throwing 19 interceptions to stop the Cleveland Browns’ dynamic rushing attack.
Despite a typically good Clark year and a breakout season for Dean Lowry, there is no reason to expect this group will be worse than last season’s. On paper, the new additions should be an upgrade over Tyler Lancaster and Kingsley Keke.
Reed fits the prototypical model of a Brian Gutekunst free-agency signing — a reliable, underlooked veteran with mostly good injury history on a team-friendly deal. Also, in classic Gutekunst fashion, he doubled down on the position of need in the draft despite making a veteran acquisition.
Reed had a down year in Kansas City compared to his time in Seattle, but KC’s overall defense wasn’t great. He can bounce back in Joe Barry’s scheme and play in any of the interior spots.
“I feel I can play anywhere, especially in this defensive scheme,” Reed said during minicamp. “I don’t like to have limitations on my game. I like to be able to move around, to be mobile up and down the line.” Barry will move Clark around, giving him more pass-rush opportunities and potentially allowing him to get more one-on-one matchups.
The other major addition, Wyatt, played for a historically great Georgia Bulldog defense capable of producing pro-ready players. It’s a lot to ask a rookie to come in immediately and contribute. But if anyone can, it’s a Bulldog defender. Wyatt has experience playing with a reliable teammate. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted his linemate Jordan Davis 13th overall, 15 picks before Wyatt.
Wyatt won’t have to be an every-down player or a focal point for the line. He’ll support Clark as he adjusts to life in the NFL. Green Bay drafts for the future, but there’s no reason not to expect a solid amount of playing time for the rookie. Barry can experiment by moving Wyatt around to set up good matchup opportunities for Clark and Reed.
With the new options, it can be easy to forget about Lowry, who many expected to be a cap casualty the past two seasons. He was one of the best and most underrated Packers defenders last season. His five sacks were good for third on the team after Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, and he made 24 solo tackles. At least once per game, Lowry got off the line and shot into the backfield like a canon.
Maybe it’s the scheme change, or perhaps it’s just everything falling into place, but if Lowry can continue the level of production he had last season, he’ll be valuable on this empowered line.
At its core, Clark runs this offensive line. He elevates the unit when he’s at his best, and it’s suffered when he’s had off games. Though he’s still the conductor of this D-train, his supporting cast should be much better. He shouldn’t have to do it all alone anymore.
The new additions along the line are versatile, and giving Clark the freedom to play in different spots on the line should give him new opportunities. As someone used to two-on-ones, it was hard for Clark to find clean pass-rush opportunities and get sacks consistently. More reliable brothers on the line should give him better matchup opportunities and let him further develop that part of his game.
A rookie and a veteran on his third team in as many years may not seem like a lot, but it’s Christmas morning for Kenny Clark. The potential is there for a dominant defensive line. It’s up to Joe Barry and interior defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to ensure the potential becomes production. But for the first time in a long time, Green Bay’s D-line has a lot to be optimistic about.