The Packers Defense Could Have Seven Starters Who Were First-Round Draft Picks This Season

The Green Bay Packers have emphasized defense in their recent NFL Drafts. Since 2012, the Packers have selected 12 players in the first round of the NFL Draft and 11 of them were defensive players. The only exception was quarterback Jordan Love who the Packers took in 2020.

But a quick look at the Packers potential 2022 starting defense shows the team could line up with seven former first-round picks this year. This indicates the potential that the defense has at all positions.

The defensive line features two-time Pro Bowler Kenny Clark. The former UCLA star is one of the few interior defensive linemen who can both occupy blockers to stuff the run and penetrate the backfield to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

For years, Clark was considered the only elite talent at a position the Packers lacked depth at but this year, GM Brian Gutekunst added Devonte Wyatt with the 28th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Wyatt is likely to become a starter before the season is over and should be a part of the defensive line rotation before that.

The former Georgia star has a great first step off the ball and has the versatility to line up in different places along the line. His presence should prevent offenses from concentrating exclusively on blocking Clark and will help defensive coordinator Joe Barry line up players in different spots along the line to create favorable matchups.

At outside linebacker, the Packers have Rashan Gary. The Michigan alum is entering his fourth year in the league and has improved each season. Gary has a strong work ethic, football intelligence and the desire to get better. He led the team with 9.5 sacks and got consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Gary seems primed to earn his first Pro Bowl berth this season if he continues to develop.

On the inside, the Packers added Quay Walker with their first selection in the first round this year. Walker is expected to start next to De’Vondre Campbell who became the Packers first All Pro at inside linebacker since Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke back in the Lombardi Era.

Walker has great quickness and is a sure tackler. He reminds many scouts of Campbell when it comes to physical tools. Barry is hoping to play with two inside linebackers on the field much more often this season, resulting in fewer light boxes. That should keep offenses guessing more often and improve the Packers run defense which still gave up 4.7-yards per rushing attempt last season.

The secondary features three number one draft picks as starters already. Jaire Alexander had become one of the best cover corners in the league with his speed and coverage ability. The former Louisville star earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020 despite intercepting only one pass all season. His speed and confidence help make him a shutdown cover corner and his attitude sets the tone for the defense as a whole.

Unfortunately, Alexander suffered a shoulder injury in Week 4 last season when tackling Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris. He returned for the Packers playoff game against San Francisco last season but only played a handful of plays. His return should give the Packers an outstanding trio of corners this season.

Second-year man Eric Stokes is another former first round pick starting on defense. He will join Rasul Douglas and Alexander as the team’s top trio of cornerbacks. Stokes has blazing speed and the desire to improve.

Stokes was forced into the starting lineup after early-season injuries to Kevin King and Alexander. He started 14 games and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 49.5 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by the former Georgia star according to pro-football-reference.com.  He also broke up 14 passes last season.

If Stokes can improve his ability to track the ball in the air, he has the potential to become a strong starter for the Packers secondary for years to come.

Darnell Savage is the third former first-round pick starting in the Packers secondary. He was selected the same year as Gary and has been starting at safety since his rookie campaign.

Savage played his best football in the second half of the 2020 season. He was making plays close to the line of scrimmage when he was put in the box and had a knack for making big plays in the secondary.

In 2021, Savage took a step back and was more inconsistent in his first year in Barry’s defense. If the Maryland alum can be more comfortable in Barry’s defense in year two, he may be able to return to the higher level he was playing at in 2020.

Obviously, having seven former first round picks as starters on defense means the Packers should have raw talent and athletic ability throughout the lineup. But potential does not necessarily equal production.

As Jaire Alexander said during mandatory minicamp, “We’ve got to play a game first, but we’ve got all the pieces.”

Now it’s up to the coaching staff to make sure all those pieces come together. If they do, the Packers could have their strongest defense since their last Super Bowl-winning team in 2010.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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9 points

Comments (13)

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splitpea1's picture

June 18, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Everyone is expecting big things from our defense, especially with most of the players having a year under their belt in the new system. Still, as impressive as the overall talent is, you're still only as strong as your weakest links--and that would be depth at edge and safety. I actually can't wait to see Enagbare in action, because I think we got a real steal here. But beyond the two starting safeties...that makes me a little nervous.

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Willj4F0X1's picture

June 19, 2022 at 01:48 am

Splitpea keep an eye on Shawn Davis. I think he is a baller that has improved and waiting in the wings. He lacks starting experience however I think he will fill in nicely if needed. Potential future starter in the league.

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packer132's picture

June 18, 2022 at 03:54 pm

I can't wait to see this defense play. Many times in the last few years the defense would do a good job only to give up a first down on 3rd and short. That kept a drive alive and often produced points. On paper, this roster looks to be the best in 12 years as Gil pointed out. To me, the key was trading Adams and getting $20 million plus a 1st and 2nd. (Walker & Wyatt) That allowed GB to bring back Campbell and Douglas and get Reed. If Adams was a Packer for 2022 at $30 million, the defense would be just ok again. Most likely no Douglas, Campbell, Wyatt. Funny how things can work out for the better.

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GregC's picture

June 18, 2022 at 02:09 pm

I'm looking forward to it too. If this works out, it won't be because the front office had a great master plan. They tried like hell to re-sign Adams, but he turned them down for less money with the Raiders. This is a pretty good plan B, though. I was more relieved than disappointed when I learned about the Adams trade, and now I'm really intrigued that they invested most of the windfall on defense. It was time to modify the formula.

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Vforrest's picture

June 18, 2022 at 02:52 pm

When was the last time the D was good enough to pull out a couple wins when the O was just not clicking? They might need that early in the season as the passing game figures things out…or vs a really good hot opponent on the schedule.

Could this be the defensive combination that can do it…I’m more optimistic then I have been in a long time about the D 🤞

7 points
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wildbill's picture

June 18, 2022 at 08:13 pm

They played well enough in the 49er playoff loss to win that game. Anxious to see what this D can do if they stay healthy this year

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Jonathan Spader's picture

June 18, 2022 at 11:58 pm

When Zadarius Smith and Preston had breakout years with the Packers. The camera showed Aaron Rodgers jumping down on yhe sidelines screaming we finally have a defense.

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PhantomII's picture

June 19, 2022 at 12:21 am

That's what I'm looking forward to also, along with some turnovers on Defense that score also. When we where in the playoffs last year and the offense kept falling on it's ass. It would have been good to get a turnover score from the defense because that's what we needed to happen. Let's hope our offense fires on all cylinders for once instead of sputtering.

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HarryHodag's picture

June 18, 2022 at 03:41 pm

All I can say at this time of the year is I'm excited about the defense this fall. For many Packers fans this could be the first time in more than a decade when you will see what a dominant defense can do for a team.

Give me 20 victories of 3-0. You will have the league's worst offense and win the Super Bowl undefeated.

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SpikeHyzer's picture

June 18, 2022 at 04:53 pm

That's exciting. First time I've felt that about the D since the Super Bowl win.

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Stroh's picture

June 19, 2022 at 12:12 am

It's hard not to be really excited about the D. I didn't want to lose Adams for it to happen, but paying 27M or more to sign him would have been foolish. The QB makes the WR better, not usually the other way around. So the Packers got a good return for him and devoted the money to bring back what was a quality Defense.

Using 2 1st rd picks should put them over the top. I love the Wyatt pick especially! If he becomes an interior disruptor who makes plays in the backfield, like he did at UGa, it unlocks the LB to make plays sideline to sideline. Then having a top secondary in addition?! Just WOW!!!

There really are no holes on D anymore and the only concern might be Edge depth.

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croatpackfan's picture

June 19, 2022 at 03:12 am

This time of the year I also believe Packers D is the most exciting unit, with high hopes of their dominancy in all games.

Second interesting unit is ST. I'm also keen to see what will RB do and how he improve their status.

On offense it will be interesting how new additions to WR, OL & TE will manage their tasks.

So many novelity on Packers roster that makes all of us impatient to see how will TC pan out and how good Packers can be in the new season, because there is just a few old faces that fills the roster...

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GreenBaySmacker's picture

June 19, 2022 at 10:56 pm

To those worried about Safety depth, let's remember whose being replaced there. Henry Black. Who I would say it's reasonable to believe we can find a replacement to produce as well, if not better than him.

I'm not worried about Edge depth either. With Enagbare and also Ramsey, who the Packers seem to be high on. At least for the rotational role he'll be asked to play. Also as I've said before. Don't be surprised to see Quay Walker playing some Edge.

They have Barnes to fill his spot if needed. Also, if they play with 1 inside LB like they did quite often last year, then they'll have an Edge defender whose a very capable pass defender as well. Which could open the defense up to be able to blitz Campbell more up the middle or just make it more unpredictable in general.

I think Walker's size, speed and versatility to play different spots. As well as his pass coverage skills are why they didn't hesitate to take him, an ILB, at #22. Over an IDL, Wyatt, who was rated higher by many "experts" and also could be argued the bigger need. He can play the Edge, and also cover well enough to eliminate the need for a 3rd Safety.

It's crazy we could have 7 1st round starters on defense. Yet most still consider the offense the strength of the team. That may change this year. Which Gute's success at drafting 1st round players on defense, gives us reason to be excited for that to be possible.

Looking forward to watching a well-rounded Packer team this year. Also an unpredictable one. Except of course for the prediction that they'll be damn good! GPG!

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