Green Bay Packers

Enagbare's Return Is Huge For Green Bay's Edge

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2024 NFL Draft, edge looked like a sneaky need for the Green Bay Packers.

The team spent their 2023 first-rounder on Lukas Van Ness, signed Rashan Gary to a mega deal, and has reliable veteran Preston Smith. However, edge is a tough position on the body and requires a good rotational group.

It seemed like the Packers would need some rotational depth after Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare. The former 2022 fifth-round pick looked like he tore his ACL during Green Bay’s playoff rout of the Dallas Cowboys. Surely, the Packers needed some additional depth if one of their promising rotational players was going to have a long road to recovery.

But surprisingly, that wasn’t needed. While Enagbare told the media he “tore it” following that game, Matt LaFleur revealed in his post-draft media appearance that it wasn’t confirmed. LaFleur didn’t say much more, but he indicated that the former fifth-rounder looked good.

That was confirmed at the start of OTAs this week. Enagbare suited up and participated fully in team drills, seemingly recovered from his late-season injury.

LaFleur said on Tuesday that Enagbare is “full go” and that the team “dodged a bullet there.”

With Enagbare back in the mix, edge depth looks a little better. It should be a strength entering the 2024 season.

The 2023 season was a mixed bag for Green Bay’s edge group. In some games, they would dominate and smother opposing quarterbacks. In others, they’d seemingly vanish. And it wasn’t necessarily because some quarterbacks are better than others. The group would seemingly struggle against some of the league’s worst QBs.

Overall, Green Bay’s defense was good at pressuring the quarterback, ranking seventh. However, they weren’t great at turning those pressures into sacks, where their rank dropped to 16th.

Rashan Gary spearheaded the unit, returning from a torn ACL quickly and earning a big payday. Gary led the team in sacks, with nine. He also had 44 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 22 QB hits, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. In the games where Gary is hot, he’s scalding. However, he’ll need to be more consistent moving forward, especially in the run game.

Preston Smith is the team’s lone player over 30 and continues to earn his place among the young core. Smith’s best qualities are his consistency and reliability. The veteran had eight sacks, 48 tackles, four TFLs, 21 QB hits, two forced fumbles, and even four passes defensed. Not a bad performance from the team’s CB1 (this joke will not get old).

Rookie Lukas Van Ness is a classic Packers pick. He’s a physically gifted young player with a sky-high ceiling, but he needs some polish. Van Ness had a strong start in Week 1, chasing down Justin Fields for an impactful sack, but then had a dry spell. However, he improved weekly and developed into a more consistent force by season’s end, adding three more in the regular season. Van Ness showed grit in the run game and was a solid tackler. He should see a bigger role in 2024.

Enagbare played well last year, gathering two sacks, 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and six QB hits over 452 snaps. It’s hard to find reliable pass-rushers in the later rounds of the draft, but Enagbare has shown a lot of promise.

Brenton Cox was the final edge rusher on the 53-man roster but saw only a few snaps.

Jeff Hafley’s defense is meant to be aggressive, constantly affecting the quarterback. The switch to a 4-3 front will suit some of his edge guys, who are now considered defensive ends rather than outside linebackers. That’s especially true for Gary and Van Ness, who have a lot of college experience playing with their hands in the dirt.

It’s a fair bet that all five of those guys on last year’s main 53-man roster will form the core of 2024’s group.

Consistency will be key. Opening the season against two highly mobile quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts and Anthony Richardson, should offer a good test.

Having Enagbare back for those early games is crucial to keep the group fresh and constantly being mean to those quarterbacks. The hope is that Cox or one of the practice squad guys can make a leap and become a rotational piece. Still, having a more proven commodity like Enagbare back on the field has to make the coaching staff breathe a little easier.

Enagbare is probably the most talented EDGE4 the team has had in a while, so finding out that he avoided a major injury is huge for this defense. He was already taking second-team reps with Van Ness on his first day back. We’ll see just how big of a leap the third-year pass-rusher can take.

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