As many fans would attest, the Green Bay Packers could use an infusion of talent along the defensive line. Kenny Clark is a stud, and Dean Lowry had a breakout year in 2021. However, there is little quality depth behind those two. Drafting a defensive lineman is certainly a possibility, but rookies often don’t contribute immediately. However, there is an alternative. With the shocking trade of Davante Adams, Green Bay has cleared up a fair amount of cap space. They may decide to use this money to pursue a free agent defensive lineman or two. One such lineman is Morgan Fox, recently released by the Panthers in a cap-saving move.
Morgan Fox’s Bio
In 2021, Morgan Fox recorded 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 TFLs, and 34 total tackles with the Carolina Panthers. He arrived in Carolina after recording 10.5 sacks over four years with the Los Angeles Rams. In 2020, he recorded a career-high 6 sacks while playing for Brandon Staley and his coaching staff – a staff that Joe Barry was also a part of. While his stats in 2021 may not be mind-blowing, his tape reveals an intriguing skillset that could add value to a defense.
Film Review: Pass Defense
Morgan Fox possesses several highly useful traits. His primary role in Carolina and Los Angeles the last few years has been as a 4i or 3-technique interior lineman. However, he has also taken a significant number of snaps on the edge. He is a fairly light defensive lineman (Pro Football Reference lists him at 260 lbs., but based on his tape I’m more inclined to believe the weight of 275 lbs. listed on the Rams website.) As an interior pass-rusher, he wins with a silky-smooth swipe move, finishing plays with great quickness and agility. The following video provides some examples of his play style.
In Clip #1, Fox beats the LG with an inside swipe and swim, flushing the QB out of the pocket. On the second play shown, he wins against the LG in a similar fashion. In Clip #3, he beats the LG again, this time with an outside swipe and rip. He beats the RG with an inside swipe on the fourth play, barely missing the sack. Finally, he beats the LG with an inside swipe, then powers through a second blocker for the pressure.
Fox has several secondary moves besides his swipe. On this snap, he knocks the right guard’s hands away to gain control of the lineman’s chest, then uses a great bull-rush for the pressure.
As mentioned previously, Fox is light for an interior defensive lineman. Because of that, he doesn’t have the requisite mass to hold up against double-teams. However, both Brandon Staley and Phil Snow (the Panthers’ defensive coordinator) regularly trusted him to play on the interior on base downs. They usually used him as a 4i, 4t, or 5t in 3-4 packages or as a 3-tech in four-down looks. These alignments minimized the double-teams he faced. When faced with one-on-one blocks, Fox usually performed quite well. He did a fantastic job playing with excellent leverage, accurate hand placement, and an outstanding anchor. As demonstrated by the following video, this allows him to hold his own in many situations.
On the first play, Fox drives Pro Bowl left guard Andrus Peat into the backfield, then sheds Peat to make the tackle as the RB cuts back. On clips #2 and #3, Fox does a fantastic job squaring up and anchoring against 2021 All-Pro RG Zack Martin, forcing the zone runs to cut back inside. In Clip #4, he again shows off his anchor facing the RG on a zone RPO. On the final play – one of the few I saw where he was playing inside the guard – he does a great job playing his primary gap against the center, then shifting over to his secondary gap as the RB crosses his face.
Despite that last clip, it should be noted that I didn’t observe Fox playing much primary-secondary gap technique – an important skill in the Packers defense, which often utilizes light boxes – in his time with the Panthers. However, this may have more to do with the Panthers defense than Fox’s ability. Carolina often played single-gap defense – in other words, they had enough players to account for all gaps. Thus, Fox was often tasked with simply playing one gap and letting second-level players fit the run around him. Brandon Staley was clearly comfortable letting Fox play a significant percentage of snaps in a defensive system very similar to Green Bay’s. It seems doubtful that his ability to defend the run from a light box is completely non-existent.
Another part of Fox’s skillset against the run is his speed. When defending runs going away from him, he has the capacity to respond accordingly. He employs excellent quickness to maintain his gap responsibilities against zone runs, as seen in this clip. Playing the 4i over the Cowboys’ LT, Fox uses block recognition and a good first step to stay in his gap.
In a similar vein, Fox possesses the athleticism to cross the face of blockers and pursue runs from the backside. Against this Counter play, he demonstrates his ability to gain ground on the down-blocking RT, ripping across to help make the tackle.
While his primary role in the Rams and Panthers defenses was as an interior defender, Morgan Fox also displayed the potential to contribute on the edge. In these situations, he was generally used as a heavy defensive end/outside linebacker, rushing the passer and defending the run rather than dropping into coverage. Carolina sometimes used him in this capacity to help defend heavy run formations. This next compilation is a good summation of his capabilities on the edge.
In Clip #1, Fox is aligned as a 7-technique. He engages the left tackle’s chest then follows through with a rip for the pressure. On the second play, he is lined up as a standup rusher over the LT. After his rip move is stopped, he transitions to a club-stab-swim combo as he reaches the level of the QB, almost causing an interception. In Clip #3, Fox sets a great edge against the left tackle as a 7t, forcing the outside zone run back inside.
While he may not be a 300+ lb. gap-eating nose tackle, I believe that Morgan Fox can positively contribute to the Green Bay defense. He may not cost much either. According to OverTheCap, his 2021 contract with Carolina only had a cap hit of $2,495,000. It seems likely that the Packers could make room for a similar deal. With his speed and pass-rushing ability, Fox could provide quality depth on the defensive line. Joe Barry’s familiarity with Fox would allow Green Bay to play him according to his strengths. His ability to flex out to the edge could open up new options for the defense. It may have to wait until Green Bay completes its in-house moves, but signing Fox could address multiple needs at a relatively cheap price.
For More Great Wisconsin Sports Content
Follow me on Twitter at @Sam_DHolman and follow us @WiSportsHeroics for more great content. To read more of our articles and keep up to date on the latest in Wisconsin sports, click here! Also, check out our merch store for some amazing WSH merchandise!