Green Bay Packers

Preston Smith Is Quietly Having An Excellent Season

Photo Credit: Dan Powers via USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers enter 2024 in control of their destiny thanks to a dominant performance on New Year’s Eve. With a win over the Minnesota Vikings, only the Chicago Bears stand between the Packers and the postseason.

A playoff appearance would mean a lot for a young team carving their identity. But even if the defense can hold out through the remnants of the season, a change in defensive coordinator and philosophy seems imminent.

Thankfully, the victory over Minnesota highlighted some exciting young building blocks for Green Bay’s next coordinator. The Packers’ youth movement gets most of the attention. But the next DC will have a valuable veteran leader in Preston Smith, who is somewhat quietly having a fantastic season. Smith may have had his best game of the year on NYE, which should put him on the radar for the future defense.

The nine-year veteran has been an impact player for the Packers since joining the team in 2019. Often overshadowed by Za’Darius Smith and then Rashan Gary, Preston Smith has been a solid second edge rusher.

Since joining the Packers, Preston Smith has 41.5 sacks (including 12 in his first year with the team), six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one touchdown, and one interception.

Smith tends to have his best seasons in odd-numbered years. That’s holding true for the 2023 season, where he has eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and 21 QB hits. Smith’s PFF grade is a solid 73.5.

He was the most dominant player on defense against the Vikings, taking advantage of the double teams Gary faced. Smith consistently dominated Christian Darrisaw and made life difficult for Minnesota’s QB carousel. He had four pressures, one sack, and forced a crucial fumble. Smith was the highest-graded defender for PFF (90.3) and Andy Herman (+0.75).

Green Bay’s pass rush has faltered against some weak offensive lines in recent weeks, so having one of the team’s highest-paid players showing up in a big way in a must-win game was delightful.

If teams focus on covering Gary, we need to see these kinds of performances from Smith.

It feels imminent that Joe Barry’s time in Green Bay will soon come to an end. The defense was excellent against Minnesota, and Matt LaFleur praised it. But Barry’s overall body of work isn’t impressive. LaFleur’s comments don’t seem like a coach dedicated to keeping his lackluster coordinator around.

We don’t know exactly what LaFleur will seek in his next coordinator. He could stick to a similar scheme with a better coordinator or could (and probably should) consider a different scheme and philosophy.

Whatever route he goes, that new DC will need skilled pass-rushers, something a team can never have too many of. And a nine-year veteran in the room will make that person’s life much easier.

Pass rush coordinator Jason Rebrovich has always lauded Smith’s leadership and value in the locker room.

“He’s got nine years of experience in this league,” Rebrovich said in December. “That’s a lot. I put my arm around him and ask him questions about what his daily routine is and how he does it. How he’s seen it.”

The team just signed Gary to a massive extension and has a promising first-round talent in Lukas Van Ness. Ideally, the Packers want that duo as their starters.

Green Bay has Smith signed through the 2026 season, but the team has a potential out this offseason. Smith is the sixth-highest-paid player on the roster, which might feel too high for the EDGE3 role.

But even if Van Ness takes a big leap next season, you still want a reliable veteran like Smith around. A modern defense needs to harass the quarterback as much as possible. Injuries happen, and a savvy coordinator could find ways to get all three edge rushers on the field simultaneously.

While the Packers have embraced the youth movement, Smith is still producing in his early 30s. His leadership is valuable, especially considering the Packers are likely bringing in a new coordinator. Whether the Packers keep Smith on his current deal or try to restructure his contract, Preston Smith should be a valuable piece for the next regime.

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