Position Grade: B+
After 2018, the Packers’ edge rush was in a state of despair. The addition of Za-Darius and Preston Smith did much to improve the Packers’ pass rush in 2019. Twelfth overall pick Rashan Gary did little to impress, but has potential to make a large step forward in 2020. Overall, the Packers’ edge rush is in decent shape entering the season, but depth will be an issue.
Edge Rush Leader A: Za’Darius Smith
An obvious snub for the Pro Bowl last season, Za’Darius Smith emerged as one of the premier defensive players in the entire NFL last season. After invitations were turned down, Smith was eventually added to the Pro Bowl roster. After four seasons in Baltimore in which Smith had totals of 119 tackles and 18.5 sacks. In 2019, Smith exploded for 13.5 sacks and 55 tackles. His 13.5 sacks were sixth in league. In addition, his 17 tackles for loss ranked fourth in the league. Finally, Smith recorded 37 quarterback hits, which led the NFL. If Za’Darius can maintain this production, he will be a lethal force in 2020 as well.
Edge Rush Leader B: Preston Smith
Not far behind Za-Darius in production on defense was Preston Smith. Preston Smith spent the first four seasons of his career in Washington, recording 24.5 sacks and 168 tackles. In 2019, Preston had 12 sacks and 56 tackles, both career highs. He added 23 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss. Despite not being related, Preston and Za’Darius were dubbed “The Smith Brothers,” and have become one of the best rushing teams in the league.
Edge Rush with Something to Prove: Rashan Gary
Rashan Gary was drafted with the twelfth pick in the draft last season. However, he struggled to be consistent. He recorded just two sacks and 21 tackles in his rookie year. However, he has released many videos via Twitter, show casing his workout regimen this off-season. His clips have raised the eyebrows of many players, fans, and coaches. Most notably, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has high hopes for Gary this year.
Edge Rush Concern: Depth
Beyond the Smith Brothers and an improved Gary, the Packers do not have many play-makers on the edge. If the Smith’s remain healthy, the Packers’ edge rush will remain at an elite level. If not, the Packers will be looking for substantial contributions from players who have not yet had the production required to be regular NFL starters.
Rumors have swirled about possible reunions with Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels, but the Packers do not have much cap space available. It is likely going to be up to other players making substantial steps forward in order to provide the depth the Packers need at this position.
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