When evaluating how the Green Bay Packers built their roster, it’s hard not to acknowledge the lack of edge depth. They released Za’Darius Smith, Whitney Mercilus retired, and general manager Brian Gutekunst hasn’t invested much in the position.
The only significant, yet limited, investment was taking Kingsley Enagbare in the fifth round of this year’s draft. The lack of alternatives has impacted the Packers in the first two weeks. It may also have a bigger impact down the road, overloading starters Rashan Gary and Preston Smith.
Through the first two games of the season, Gary and Smith have been the most disruptive duo in the NFL, combining five sacks and 18 pressures. But there’s nothing behind them. The other two edges with snaps, Enagbare and Jonathan Garvin, combined for zero pressures or sacks.
The abysmal difference in production between starters and backups has forced the Packers to overload Gary and Smith.
In the first game of the regular season against the Minnesota Vikings, Smith played 85% of the snaps, and Gary was on the field for 79%. Garvin and Enagbare didn’t surpass the 20% barrier. The difference was even more significant against the Chicago Bears. There were only 41 total defensive snaps, and the Packers played almost exclusively with Preston (90%) and Gary (88%), leaving Enagbare (10%) and Garvin (7%) with small roles.
It’s natural and obvious for defensive starters to play significantly more, but having good backups is crucial to preserve the health of the team’s best players. If Green Bay overloads Gary and Smith now, they might not be at the top of their games when it matters the most.
Defensive snap counts by Packers edge defenders since Gutekunst took over as GM (top four):
- Za’Darius Smith 83.54%
- Preston Smith 79.26%
- Rashan Gary 44.4%
- Jonathan Garvin 8.28%
- Preston Smith 63.86%
- Rashan Gary 63.11%
- Jonathan Garvin 36.61%
- LaDarius Hamilton 5.93%
Through 2 weeks in 2022 (103 total)
- Preston Smith 90 (87%)
- Rashan Gary 85 (82%)
- Jonathan Garvin 15 (14%)
- Kingsley Enagbare 14 (13%)
Gutekunst decided to wait for the conclusion of training camp to see how this roster was shaping up. Cornerback and off-ball linebacker depth players took advantage of that approach, and the Packers are in a good position for both spots. But edge defender and safety depth is a genuine concern. The problem is that, now, the market is thin for edge players. Because it’s such a valuable position, it’s natural that teams would sign the most useful players by September.
The last good options were signed during this week. Jason Pierre-Paul agreed to a contract with the Baltimore Ravens, and the Los Angeles Rams signed Takkarist McKinley off the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad.
Now the most recognizable name available is former Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers player Dee Ford. But San Francisco released him because of physical and injury issues. Old friend Kyler Fackrell is also available, but he doesn’t have the physical profile the current coaching staff looks for.
The Packers will probably have to handle the situation with the current players until they get near the trade deadline. By Week 8, bad teams will be more willing to trade or release veteran players, and the Packers might be able to add someone as they did last season with Whitney Mercilus.
Clelin Ferrell of the Las Vegas Raiders might be a good trade target. The former fourth-overall pick is far from what the Raiders expected when they drafted him in 2019 ahead of Rashan Gary and Brian Burns. But he might still be a valuable rotational piece under an affordable contract. The Bears may also want to trade Robert Quinn, but an intradivisional trade is not as realistic.
Green Bay’s plan for the position wasn’t great all along, and now they are in a precarious spot. They need Gary and Smith on the field to have production, but overloading them might be costly. If one of them is injured by December, Garvin and Enagbare will have to see a disproportionate amount of snaps, and they don’t look capable (in Garvin’s case) or at least ready enough (in Enagbare’s) to justify this approach.