After a 2018 season that resulted in a cleaning of the house, the Green Bay Packers must begin a rebuild of sorts as they prepare for the 2019 season. New head coach Matt LaFleur has been given the reins of the franchise and understands that for the Packers to win NFC North titles and contend for Super Bowl berths the team must improve its ability to rush the passer – especially from the edge.
A year ago, third-year linebacker Kyler Fackrell somehow managed to come up with 10.5 sacks to lead the Packers. Six of his sacks came against Seattle and Buffalo. Not surprisingly, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was among the most-sacked quarterbacks (51) in the league and Allen (sacked 28 times) finished with a QB rating of 67.9, which was better than only Arizona’s Josh Rosen. The bottom line is Green Bay needs edge rushers …stat!
2019 Crop of Pass Rushers
One positive for the Packers is that the 2019 draft is loaded with edge rushers. The Packers, who will pick at No. 12, will miss out on Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, the two top defensive ends in the draft. Bosa, at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, is expected to go No. 1 even though he missed most of last season recovering from an injury. Ferrell (6-5, 260) was part of Clemson’s outstanding defensive line. He wound up with 11.5 sacks for the national champion Tigers. There are plenty of others left for Green Bay to focus on though.
Josh Allen, Kentucky
Allen was one of the big reasons why Kentucky’s defense was among the best in the nation in 2018. Allen stands 6-4 and weighs in right around 260 pounds. His best quality is his burst at the line of scrimmage. He gets off quickly and can wreak havoc on offensive linemen. Allen was able to use his talents to record 17.0 sacks in 2018 and remember that’s against SEC talent.
Allen plays consistently with a high motor and will battle through contact though he needs to improve his lower body strength. It will be interesting to see whether Allen will play as a standup outside linebacker or a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. Or both, of which he is certainly capable.
Jachai Polite, Florida
Polite might be exactly what Green Bay is looking for – a speedy edge rusher – and the Packers might be exactly what Polite needs to become a first-round draft pick. Polite was used extensively at Florida as a pass rush specialist. He parlayed that role into 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last season. While Polite is an outstanding speed rusher, his lack of size makes him a liability as a point-of-attack defender.
At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Polite has the type of speed that makes him a dangerous pass rusher, a throwback to a Dwight Freeney-type coming off the edge. Polite has plenty of pass rush moves too knowing that his overall lack of size and power result in him getting beat when he gets tied up with an offensive lineman.
He will likely test high at the combine and a pro day and because of his fit in a 3-4 system, could be the perfect choice for a Packers defense looking for pass rush help.
Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
The edge rush sleeper just might be Ferguson, who recorded 17.5 sacks in 2018 and 45 for his career at Louisiana Tech. Yes, questions will come up about the level of competition, but anyone that watched Ferguson against LSU will realize he can play with the best.
Ferguson is all of 6-5 and 270 pounds and has man hands. He has tremendous strength, which allowed him to toss around an LSU right tackle like he as a high school player. Ferguson is an average athlete with limited flexibility, something he will have to improve. He has good explosiveness off the ball and is rock-solid at the point of attack. Ferguson is a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end who might be a stretch as a first- or even second-round pick.
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
In two seasons at Mississippi State, Sweat recorded 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. A transfer from Michigan State, Sweat plays with tenacious aggressiveness and has a wingspan that is massive. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Sweat has the size, range, and toughness to become an elite pass rusher in the NFL.
Sweat could use some weight, but projects as a 4-3 defensive end. Can he fit in the Packers scheme? If he is good enough, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will find a way to use Sweat’s talents.
Outside the Box
After Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald led the NFL in sacks last season with 20.5, the Packers could find some pass rush help from a source other than an edge rusher. It has been said more than once that Houston’s Ed Oliver is the most talented player in the upcoming draft. Oliver is 6-3 and 290 pounds but is a rare athlete with Donald-like traits.
While Oliver may be gone by pick No. 12, the Packers could find a similar prospect in Michigan’s Rashan Gary. Coming out of high school, Gary was considered the nation’s top prospect and at 6-5, 280 pounds Gary was used at every position on the Wolverines defensive line.