Lack of rim depth overloads Rashan Gary and Preston Smith

When assessing how the Green Bay Packers have built their roster, it’s hard not to admit the lack of edge depth. They released Zadarius Smith, Whitney Mercellus retired, and General Manager Brian Gutkunst hasn’t invested much in the position.

The only significant, albeit limited, investment was taking Kingsley Enagbare into the fifth round of this year’s draft. The lack of alternatives affected the Packers in the first two weeks. It may also have a greater impact on the road, adding to the burden on newbies Rashan Gary and Preston Smith.

During the first two games of the season, Gary and Smith were the most troubled duo in the NFL, collecting five sacks and 18 presses. But there is nothing behind them. The other two rims with picks, Enagbare and Jonathan Garvin, combined for no pressure or bags.

The huge difference in production between starters and backups forced the packers to overload Gary and Smith.

In the first game of the regular season against the Minnesota Vikings, Smith played 85% of the shots, and Gary was on the field for 79%. Garvin and Enagbare haven’t crossed the 20% barrier. The difference was even more significant against the Chicago Bears. There were only 41 total defensive shots, and the Packers played almost exclusively with Preston (90%) and Gary (88%), leaving Enagbare (10%) and Garvin (7%) in small roles.

It’s normal and obvious for defensive starters to play significantly more, but having good backups is critical to keeping the team’s best players healthy. If Green Bay weighs on Gary and Smith now, they may not be on top of their games when it matters most.

Defensive hits by Packers edge defenders count since Gutekunst took over as GM (top four):

2018
2019

2020

  • Zadarius Smith 83.54%
  • Preston Smith 79.26%
  • Rashan Gary 44.4%
  • Jonathan Garvin 8.28%

2021

  • Preston Smith 63.86%
  • Rashan Gary 63.11%
  • Jonathan Garvin 36.61%
  • Ladarius Hamilton 5.93%

In two weeks in 2022 (total 103)

  • Preston Smith 90 (87%)
  • Rashan Gary 85 (82%)
  • Jonathan Garvin 15 (14%)
  • Kingsley Ingbar 14 (13%)
weak market

Gutekunst decided to wait for the boot camp to end to see how this roster unfolded. Corner-backs and off-the-ball full-backs have benefited from this approach, and Al Hazoon are well positioned for both positions. But the edge guard and depth of security are a real concern. The problem is that the market is now weak for high-end players. Since it is a valuable position, it is only natural to sign the teams with the most useful players by September.

The last good choices were signed this week. Jason Pierre Paul agreed to a contract with the Baltimore Ravens, and the Los Angeles Rams signed Tacharist McKinley from the Tennessee Titans coaching staff.

Now the most famous name is Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers player Dee Ford. But San Francisco released him due to physical problems and an injury. Old friend Kyler Fackrell is also available, but he doesn’t have the physical profile that the current coaching staff is looking for.

Packers will likely handle the situation with existing players until they come close to the trade deadline. By week eight, bad teams will be more willing to trade or release veteran players, and packers may be able to add someone as they did last season with Whitney Mercellus.

Clelin Ferrell of the Las Vegas Raiders might be a good business target. The fourth overall pick is far from what the Raiders expected when they drafted it in 2019 ahead of Rashan Gary and Brian Burns. But it may still be a valuable piece of rotation under an affordable contract. Bears may also want to trade Robert Quinn, but intra-division trading is not realistic.

Green Bay’s plan for this job hasn’t been great all along, and now they’re in a precarious place. They need Gary and Smith in the field for production, but overloading can be costly. If one were hit by December, Garvin and Enagbare would have to see a disproportionate amount of footage, and they wouldn’t seem able (in Garvin’s case) or at least ready enough (in Enagbare) to justify this approach.

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