The Green Bay Packers built the foundations of something special on defense in 2021.
There’s currently a lot in flux for the Packers as they look ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft and subsequent season. That’s what happens when you trade away arguably your best player in Davante Adams.
Still, one thing is certain for the Packers as they prepare for 2022, and that’s the fact that the defense should be elite.
The Green Bay Packers re-signed two key contributors from 2021
Both All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas were free agents this offseason. Both very well could have walked out the door.
Campbell was a journeyman and role player (at best) before Brian Gutekunst swooped him up and gave him a shot to lead Green Bay’s defense. He responded to the biggest opportunity of his career with the biggest year of his career, with 102 tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks, and two interceptions.
Douglas was an equally unlikely hero for the Packers.
Green Bay signed him off the Arizona Cardinals practice squad midway through the season. He quickly went from a practice squad player to a brand new three-year, $21 million contract this offseason. Douglas came up huge for the Packers time-after-time and finished with five interceptions in 12 games. That included two interceptions taken back to the house.
Considering Green Bay’s cap crunch to start the offseason (at one point they were nearly $50 million over the cap), it seemed likely that both Campbell and Douglas would have to search for their big paydays elsewhere.
Gutekunst needed to perform some salary cap magic in order to get them back, and somehow and someway, he pulled it off.
Both Campbell and Douglas now have to prove that they can replicate their incredible 2021 seasons, but just the fact that the Packers were able to keep these two playmakers on the roster was a massive win for the defense in terms of continuity and chemistry.
Green Bay has the makings of an elite cornerback room
Speaking of Douglas, he’s now officially part of a trio of cornerbacks in Green Bay that could make a case for being the best unit in the NFL.
We’ve already gone over Douglas’ production in 2021, and if he can be even half as good in 2022, he’ll be a great third cornerback to have on the roster.
Green Bay’s genuine hope for improvement (without even making another move) lies in the recovery of Jaire Alexander, though. The Pro Bowl cornerback missed all but four games last season due to a significant shoulder injury he suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Alexander was able to come back for Green Bay’s playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers but played minimal snaps and didn’t have much opportunity to make an impact.
Here’s the thing though: When he’s healthy, Alexander is a true lockdown corner and one of the best in the game. He hasn’t put up the stats of, let’s say, Jalen Ramsey, but that’s simply because offenses have been scared to throw the ball his way and would have instead picked on the Kevin Kings and Chandon Sullivans of the roster.
Things are bound to change for Alexander in 2022, though,
Making his life easier and providing him more opportunities to snag interceptions will be Eric Stokes, who’s heading into his second year as a pro. The Packers took Stokes in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and though at the time he seemed like a reach, Gutekunst proved yet again that he has an eye for talent that many scouts can’t match.
Stokes wasn’t perfect, but he flashed elite speed and sticky coverage that you usually don’t see from a rookie cornerback. He was thrust into a starter’s role much sooner than anticipated because of the injury to Alexander, but by the end of the season, he looked like an old pro.
The combination of Alexander, Stokes and Douglas is a potent one. Even more intriguing is the idea that defensive coordinator Joe Barry may be able to flex Alexander into the slot and use him in the “star” position that has made Ramsey such a force with the Los Angeles Rams.
Having two more than capable boundary corners in Stokes and Douglas allows Barry to get Alexander closer to the ball, where he has an opportunity to make more of an impact.
Green Bay should continue to have a fierce pass rush and can still improve it
The Packers showed faith in Preston Smith by offering him a four-year $52 million contract extension a few weeks ago. They have reason to believe in the 6-foot-5, 250-pound outside linebacker as well. He’s an almost underrated pass-rusher on the edge but is also big and strong enough to be a force against the run.
Pair Smith with Green Bay’s breakout superstar on the other edge, Rashan Gary, and the Packers have an extremely tough one-two punch collapsing the pocket from the outside.
Here’s the thing, though: Green Bay’s front seven can and should only get even better this offseason.
With five picks in the Top 100 of the upcoming NFL draft, including two first and two seconds, the Packers have a real opportunity to add even more weapons upfront.
They could choose to draft one of the top edge pass rushers with one of their first-round picks, or they could even add massive size and explosion to the middle of the defensive line by drafting someone like Jordan Davis out of Georgia. That is, if he’s available at pick No. 22. He’s a 6-foot-6, 341-pound superhuman athlete who plays defensive tackle yet can run a 4.78 40-yard dash. He would be incredible next to Kenny Clark, and Green Bay’s defensive front would potentially be unblockable.
A player like Davis, or even his teammate, Devonte Wyatt , would even be worth packaging a few of those picks to move up and go get in round one.
The point is this:
The Packers had a borderline elite defense in 2021, and not only have they kept that core group together, but they now have a real opportunity to add to it in a significant way via the 2022 NFL Draft.
Green Bay’s defense may be able to drop the borderline in 2022 and just be elite.