Gone are the days when the Green Bay Packers had multiple playmakers on their interior defensive line. The Packers have been looking for a replacement for Mike Daniels since he left in 2018. And during that time, Kenny Clark’s been a man on an island along the interior.
The Packers tried to find some replacements for Daniels in players like Montravius Adams, Kingsley Keke, Damon Harrison, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, and Jarran Reed. None of those dudes are still around, and the revolving door next to Clark continued to turn.
In what may qualify as good news for Clark and the Packers, the youngsters the Packers have put next to Clark this year may have jammed that door. The only players who have seemed to stick next to Clark have been hulking 2021 fifth-round pick T.J. Slaton and second-year defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt.
We’ve seen some meaningful progress from Slaton and Wyatt as run-stoppers and pass-rushers. The Pack also added Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks, two late-round defensive linemen from this past draft. Both of these picks have flashed as rookies.
Green Bay’s pass rush was annihilating one of the NFL’s best offensive lines on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. Jared Goff was under constant pressure all day. Rashan Gary led the way with three sacks, and Wyatt, Brooks, and Clark all had great games.
Starting with Wyatt, the former Georgia Bulldog had one of his best performances of the year against the Lions. Wyatt is a better pass rusher than a run stopper. He has three sacks on the year and a 74.3 pass-rush grade, which ranks 25th out of 111 defensive linemen.
Wyatt is PFF’s 53rd-ranked interior defensive lineman out of 127 qualified players. In the Detroit Lions game, Wyatt had his highest pressure grade all year. The clip below is just one example of the havoc he wreaked on Thursday afternoon.
Wyatt is not the only returning interior player. The former Florida Gator is a primary run stopper in the middle. Slaton lined up as nose tackle has allowed Kenny Clark more freedom to work as a pass rusher over guards and tackles more than centers. Slaton is tied for 12th among interior linemen in tackles and has been responsible for 23 stops this season.
PFF did not like his game against Detroit, but Slaton still made some good plays. For example, the play below shows Slaton using his speed and leverage to create a good interior pass rush. When Jared Goff saw a 6’5”, 330 lb. pass rusher coming straight at him, he had to have gotten flustered and threw the ball higher than intended.
But rookie Karl Brooks may be Green Bay’s most surprising performer. The Bowling Green alum has also collected three sacks and was a huge difference-maker in Detroit. Brooks forced a critical Goff fumble that set the Packers up in a great position to score. In the game against the Lions, Brooks had nearly the same elite grade as Gary.
Brooks plays with the mentality of a sixth-rounder. Look at the hustle play below to force the fumble.
While Brooks does not have the greatest measurables and is not known for being that much of an athlete, he can make some pretty impressive plays. He has done an incredible job of getting his hands on the ball, which is a great way to affect the play without needing to put pressure on the quarterback.
Brooks is fourth among rookie interior defensive linemen in pass-rush win rate. All of these players ranking around him were either first- or second-round draft picks. These dudes are expected to be where they are. Brooks is a sixth-rounder who is playing better than some Day 1 picks.
The Packers also have another rookie in Wooden, who has been okay in his first season. Wooden was recently passed on the depth chart by Brooks and has not nearly been as much of a playmaker. While Wooden was selected two rounds earlier, Brooks has earned a spot ahead of him.
While the Packers may not have found a single player to fill the void Daniels left, the current group is proving themselves effective. Between Wyatt, Slaton, and Brooks, the Packers finally have the necessary support for their star, Kenny Clark.
All stats and data via PFF, ESPN, and Football Reference.