Green Bay Packers

Jeff Hafley’s Recent Comments Bode Well For Devonte Wyatt

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been bamboozled before, and nothing is concrete until we see the on-field product. Still, it’s hard not to get excited every time new Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley steps up to the podium.

Hafley has massive energy and a teaching mindset. And he’s saying everything Packers fans have wanted to hear about their defense.

Hafley promises a more aggressive approach meant to “hit and run” and is looking to build on fundamentals. In addition to getting “fast and physical,” Hafley wants to get to know his players, see their strengths and put them in the best position to succeed. Hafley won’t stick to a “color-by-numbers” defense. Rather, he’ll seek to maximize his players’ strengths and craft the best defense he can.

For the defensive line, Hafley said, “That group has to attack. That’s not gonna be passive read-and-react.”

All of this is excellent news for former first-round pick Devonte Wyatt. We saw Wyatt start to become a factor last season, and he learned to turn pressures into sacks and disrupt the ball. Hafley’s system should better cater to Wyatt’s strengths and allow the former Bulldog to take a big Year 3 jump.

Wyatt took advantage of a starting spot in 2023 and built on a limited rookie season, more than doubling his snaps from 2022. On the season, Wyatt had 36 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 11 QB hits, six tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery.

Early in his career, Wyatt showed great hustle but an inability to finish the play. He drastically improved as the 2023 season went on, better converting pressures into sacks, with three coming in the final six games of the regular season.

“I hate when coaches say he could have had three or four sacks,” former DC Joe Barry said in January. “But when you look at it, D-Wy missed a legitimate five sacks this year. He was very close to having a 10-sack year. It was great to see the way he finished.”

The Packers drafted Wyatt to be a menace to opposing quarterbacks, and the flashes are there. With 45 total pressures, Wyatt was ranked third by PFF for interior defensive lineman pass-rushing productivity. Wyatt will need to build on his strong end to the season and keep consistently affecting opposing QBs.

Wyatt’s stock may be rising, but he still has areas to work on.

As a pass-rusher, Wyatt is trending the right way. But he needs work as a run defender. According to ESPN’s Bill Huber, the overall run defense was 19 yards worse when he was on the field. His missed tackle rate of 23.9% was the league-worst among qualifying interior defensive linemen. Part of his issue in converting pressures to sacks came from that poor tackling technique.

As an older prospect, Wyatt must take his game to the next level sooner rather than later, and there are good reasons to believe he can.

Year 3 tends to be a moment of truth for many young players, where everything starts to click, and the game slows down. While the Packers were already hoping for that leap for Wyatt this season, Hafley’s defense should help.

Vice president of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan brought up Wyatt, unprompted, while discussing Green Bay’s draft.

Devonte Wyatt, I think he’s going to thrive in this defense,” he said. “Where you can kind of just pin your ears back, get off the ball. That’s what he was at Georgia — quick, work edges, penetrate, disrupt. I think there’s a bunch of guys who are going to benefit from what we’re doing.”

Hafley’s switch to a 4-3 defense and his focus on fundamentals and physicality will be a boon for Wyatt, allowing him to do what he does best.

“Some [defensive linemen] are going to have their hand down on the ground more,” Hafley said earlier this week. “But when it comes to getting off blocks and tackling, those guys have all done that. It’s just sharpening it, making it better.”

While there may be some different responsibilities, Hafley and his coaches are set on making these fundamental changes second nature to allow his players to play quickly and instinctively.

“I think that’s going to be a process,” he said, “and our job is as we go just to keep getting better and faster and get better at it and get faster at because they have to be comfortable.”

The Packers clearly like their core group of defensive linemen, choosing not to bring in any new members through the draft. Kenny Clark is the foundation, as always, and Karl Brooks and Colby Wooden showed a lot of promise as rookies. The team is clearly high on Wyatt and thinks that he’ll take the next step this season thanks to his efforts and being in a defensive system that better plays to his strengths.

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