The 2022 squad is shaping up to be as good as any team the Green Bay Packers have fielded in years. That’s a bold statement to make considering Green Bay made the NFC Championship game two out of three seasons and had the NFL MVP quarterback for two consecutive years. There aren’t a ton of gaps on this team.
Never mind the supposed lack of receiver depth. The true strength of this iteration of the Packers comes from the defense. Brian Gutekunst has done a great job of blending free-agent additions with homegrown talent to create one of the most feared units in the league. One need look no further than the heroics of Rasul Douglas and the All-Pro season of De’Vondre Campbell to know that this unit, under defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s tutelage, is squeezing every ounce of talent out of the roster. It is truly a sight to behold.
As opposed to the offense, where the weak spot can be singled out rather easily, there is no obvious deficiency in this defensive unit. Investments have been made at every positional group, and the impending return of players from injury will further bolster the unit. Considering Green Bay ranked as a top-10 scoring defense just last season, it is tantalizing to think how they will perform with a fully fleshed-out personnel group.
The weak link surely isn’t anywhere in the secondary. With Jaire Alexander returning and hopefully fully recovered from injury, his presence in the cornerback room alongside Eric Stokes and Douglas will make things tough on opposing quarterbacks all season long. Getting Alexander back also helps solidify positional depth at CB. Alexander himself has much to prove as he looks to establish himself as an All-Pro for the first time in his young career.
Adrian Amos has been flying up people’s lists of respected safeties after consecutive solid seasons in Green Bay. His partner, Darnell Savage, has a bit to prove on that front yet, but the two of them work well together and are still one of the better tandems in the league. Not much gets past the aforementioned trio of CBs, but Amos and Savage have proved that they will consistently be there to clean things up. Pass defense should be a strong suit for the Packers this season.
The defensive line should see an uptick in performance as well. The addition of Jarran Reed bolsters what is already a deep and talented group of players that should excel in both pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run. Dean Lowry, who was rumored to be a cut last season, stepped up alongside Kenny Clark. Youngsters T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt have showcased solid potential, so depth should be intact for this unit in the event that anyone goes down.
Perhaps one of the most exciting development of 2022 is Gutekunst’ investment in inside linebacker. This has been a weak position for Green Bay for the last decade. The last truly solid inside linebacker the Packers had was Desmond Bishop, who was a key cog in that magical 2010 Super Bowl run. Ever since, that position has been filled with journeymen and converts (see: Clay Matthews) who haven’t quite gotten the job done.
Enter Campbell and this year’s first-round pick, Quay Walker. Gutekunst knows the rushing defense was an issue last season, so he doubled down on his free-agent investment last season and picked an inside linebacker with high upside. This moves Krys Barnes to a reserve role, one which he is likely more suited for after starting the last two seasons for the Packers. Now the team has depth while also guaranteeing playing time and a development path for Walker.
Rashan Gary and Preston Smith return after resurgent seasons as established threats at outside linebacker. They combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Both were dramatically improved over 2020, as each doubled or nearly doubled their previous season’s total. Gary and Smith are firmly entrenched in the starting positions and, barring injury, stand to have successful campaigns once again.
As for the initial question: Where exactly is the weak spot on this defense? It sure doesn’t look like it’s in the starting lineup.
The answer lies in the depth of one positional group: safety.
Behind Amos and Savage, the pickings are slim. Dallin Leavitt was recently signed from the Las Vegas Raiders as a free agent because his 42 games of experience are more than double that of the 19 combined games of 2021 fifth-round pick Shawn Davis and 2020 seventh-round pick Vernon Scott. Amos and Savage do not have much injury history to speak of, but the depth at these positions will be reliant on a four-year backup and two young players with minimal NFL experience.
One could make the argument that there is also suspect depth among the outside linebackers, but Tipa Galeai filled in adequately when called upon last season. The jury is out on 2022 fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare as well, but these players should be solid enough behind an already effective starting tandem.
Green Bay will be hoping that Amos and Savage can once again stay healthy for an entire season. If they are unable to, the inexperience over the top could stand to undermine what is otherwise a talented and effective secondary.