Green Bay Packers

The Packers' Defensive Upgrade Could Be Trouble For Their Special Teams

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman via USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers used this year’s draft to remake two of their weakest position groups.

In addition to signing Xavier McKinney in free agency, the Packers drafted three safeties: Javon Bullard (second round), Evan Williams (fourth round), and Kitan Oladapo (fifth round). In the second round, Green Bay got the draft’s top inside linebacker prospect, Edgerrin Cooper, and later added Ty’Ron Hopper in the third.

Green Bay’s draft gave new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley some fun new toys to improve the Packers’ lackluster defense. However, Green Bay’s draft class created a challenge for another coordinator. Bisaccia frequently used veteran safeties and linebackers for most of his we-fensive stars. Many of Bisaccia’s core players from last season are playing for different teams.

Green Bay’s special teams were lackluster last season. Bisaccia retained a few of his best players, but he’ll have to rely on many of these newly drafted players for his phase of the game.

The Packers lost Jonathan Owens and Josiah Deguara in free agency, two of the top five players with the most snaps on teams last season. Rudy Ford remains unsigned, and he played 52 special teams snaps. He was viewed as a primary special teams player until circumstances led to a bigger role on defense. Dallin Leavitt also played a major role on special teams (192 snaps) before the Packers released him in November.

That means Bisaccia is missing his most frequently used player at safety, and there aren’t any role-playing veterans from last season. The snowball effect of rebuilding the safety room also means that Zayne Anderson, who played 127 ST snaps, likely won’t make the final roster.

Bisaccia has better retention with his linebackers. The Packers re-signed Eric Wilson and Kristian Welch, who had the first- and fourth-most special teams snaps, respectively. Wilson and Welch should remain primary special teams players. But Isaiah McDuffie played the fifth-most ST snaps, and the switch to a 4-3 defense and replacing De’Vondre Campbell means he will play a bigger role on defense. Therefore, he likely won’t spend quite as much time on teams as he did in 2023.

Last offseason, it felt like the Packers gave Bisaccia many new toys. But he’ll have to work with what he has this year. Special teams coordinators are often dealing with fringe roster players and rookies, so this isn’t new.

Let’s look at what Bisaccia got in the draft.

Green Bay’s first three rookies, Jordan Morgan, Edgerrin Cooper, and Javon Bullard, will likely find starting roles on offense and defense quickly. However, they should see some action on special teams while they adjust to life in the NFL. Cooper was a difference-maker on special teams in college.

But safeties Evan Williams and Kitan Oladapo as well as linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper should join Bisaccia as core special teamers immediately.

Williams had over 500 special teams snaps in college, including a blocked punt and a blocked extra point. The Athletic‘s Dane Brugler described Oladapo as a safety with great awareness who can make his paycheck on special teams. Hopper also played almost 500 special teams snaps in college and can earn his keep there while the Packers figure out their ideal inside linebacker configuration. The Packers clocked Hopper’s 40-time quicker than his official one, meaning his athletic profile may be better than his 7.42 RAS.

These middle-round picks should see considerable usage on special teams right away. With the experience to make a difference immediately, they’ll need to use their speed, vision, and tackling ability to help elevate Bisaccia’s underperforming unit this season.

The Packers didn’t draft a tight end, which is good news for Tyler Davis, Bisaccia’s prized contributor. Davis was a special teams star in 2022 but missed the 2023 season with a torn ACL. He re-signed with the Packers in March and should regain his role as a top special teamer.

Finally, the Packers brought Bisaccia some help by adding specialists.

In late March, the Packers signed former Minnesota Vikings kicker Greg Joseph as veteran competition for Anders Carlson, who struggled in his rookie season. Joseph had an 80% field goal percentage (with a long of 54) and a 94.7% extra point percentage. The Packers don’t want to give up on their chosen kicker. However, they hope a legitimate veteran threat pushes Carlson to the next level. The team also signed Jack Podlesny in January, providing further competition.

The Packers also recently brought in UDFA long snapper Peter Bowden. He has a good chance of improving the kicking operation and keeping Green Bay’s streak of having a UDFA on the initial 53-man roster alive. Matt Orzech was not good enough last season, and the Packers need to upgrade.

Bisaccia’s group has more unknowns than in his previous two seasons with Green Bay. He’ll have to rely more on rookies who weren’t handpicked for him, and some of his core players will play bigger roles on offense or defense. But Bisaccia has plenty of talent to build his core group, and the team brought in new specialists to improve the kicking operation. A new group of teamers, combined with the new kickoff rules, mean Bisaccia will need to do his best work to prove why he’s the highest-paid ST coordinator in the league.

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Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman via USA TODAY Sports

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