Green Bay Packers

Don't Be Mad, But History Shows Packers Should Go Defense In the First Round Again

Photo Credit: Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Apc Pack Vs Patriots 25695 100222wag

With a week of reflection on the ifs, ands, or maybes of the 2022-23 Green Bay Packers season, one thought that just won’t go away is that the defense seemed to be an impact player away from disrupting games when they needed it most. Rashan Gary started the season as that player, but a midseason ACL tear left a vacuum at edge rusher. It might not be the most popular move come draft time, but Brian Gutekunst would be wise to use the 15th pick on a player who can make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball.

Anything you read about the Green Bay defense in the preseason was more than likely centered around Gary making the hallowed “jump” from enticing young player to full-fledged game-wrecker. It certainly seemed like that prediction was coming true. He not only piled up the individual stats with six sacks through the first six weeks of the season, but he helped raise the overall tenacity and effectiveness of the pass rush. However, a dreaded non-contact injury on turf not only derailed Gary’s season but also the trajectory of the Packers defense.

Players like Gary don’t grow on trees, which is why Gutekunst used the 12th pick in the 2019 draft to select him out of Michigan. Since drafting tight end Bubba Franks with the 14th-overall pick in 2000, whenever the Packers have selected inside the top 15, they’ve looked to the defensive side of the ball. Gary was the highest pick by Green Bay in a decade, dating back to when they took B.J. Raji ninth overall in 2009. That one worked out pretty well, I’d say. A.J. Hawk is the Packers’ highest draft pick this millennium, who they took with the fifth pick in 2006. It’s not perfect logic. Sometimes you end up with a Jamal Reynolds (10th overall in 2001) or Justin Harrell (16th in 2007). But expanding the range a bit yields selections like Jaire Alexander (18th overall in 2020).

Of the 11 players named to the 2022 AP All-Pro defensive team, most fit the mold of a player like Gary. The unit featured seven players drafted within the first 15 picks of their respective drafts, and all seven were taken within the last five seasons. From Roquan Smith and Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2018, Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams in 2019, Patrick Surtain II and Micah Parsons in 2021, and Sauce Gardner as a rookie in 2022, a sizeable portion of the top-tier talent on the defensive side of the ball didn’t last into the second half of the first round of their respective drafts.

There’s obviously no guarantee that having the 15th pick means you’ll have an All-Pro defensive player within the next few seasons. But acquiring someone with the game-wrecking type of skillset who might land you in consideration for such an honor seems to require this type of commitment. As tempting as another wide receiver or a new tight end might be at that point of the first round, Gutekunst would be hard-pressed to pass on a promising defensive prospect in that slot. If an All-American player like Tuli Tuipulotu from USC or Isaiah Foskey from Notre Dame is available to help right away on the edge, or top secondary talents like Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State or Brian Branch from Alabama, you have to make that call.

With Gary’s ACL injury coming mid-season, there’s no certainty that he’ll be ready to go once Week 1 of the 2023 season rolls around in September. With plenty of uncertainty and tough decisions that need to be made between now and then, it would be nice to have another new, young, and relatively inexpensive asset on the defense.

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Photo Credit: Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Apc Pack Vs Patriots 25695 100222wag

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