Packers In-Depth Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

Packers In-Depth Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

NFL

Packers In-Depth Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

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The Packers will open training camp for the 2021 season in less than a week. This is the next in a series of in-depth articles previewing each position group for the Packers. We will discuss each player at the position, provide a depth chart and analysis of each player on the 90-man roster, their skill set, what they need to improve on and what is expected of them in 2021.

Today we will look at the team’s outside linebackers. Click here to see our look at the tight end position, here for an in-depth look at the defensive line, here for our analysis of the running backs, here for inside linebackers, here for safeties, here for wide receivers, here for cornerbacks and here for quarterbacks.

The top three OLB/edge rushers are clear entering camp. Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are locks to get the bulk of the playing time once the season gets under way. But the spots behind the “big three” are wide open and a host of players are fighting for those roster spots.

The pass rush is a key for the overall defense and the edge rushers will be counted on even more in Joe Barry’s defense which is expected to feature fewer blitzes than they had under Mike Pettine.

Here is a look at the Packers depth chart at outside linebacker entering training camp:

  1. Za’Darius Smith

Za’Darius Smith earned Pro Bowl honors and had double digit sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Packers. He enters training camp as the team’s undisputed number one edge rusher.

Still, 2019 was a more dominant season for Za’Darius than 2020. His sack total fell from 13.5 to 12.5 while his quarterback hits went down from 37 to 23. The Packers are hoping he can have a season closer in production and consistency to his first year in Green Bay.

In addition to his pass rush ability, Za’Darius is a vocal leader in the locker room and his enthusiasm helps set the tone for the defense and the entire team.

Za’Darius will turn 29 in September and is in the prime of his career. The coaching staff is counting on another big year from Z this season.

  1. Rashan Gary

The former first-round pick out of Michigan continues to develop and push for more playing time. Gary saw the field more often down the stretch in 2020 and finished the year with five sacks, five tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. At OTAs, he looked like one of the best players on the field.

Gary has outstanding athletic ability and a good work ethic. He is a real student of the game and works hard to turn his talent into productivity.

This season will be an important one in Gary’s career trajectory. If he continues to develop and improve in his third season, he can become a dominant player for the foreseeable future. If not, he could be labeled as someone who never lived up to his potential.

Expect Gary to assume the second starting job opposite Za’Darius Smith this season. He played 44 percent of the Packers defensive snaps in 2020. Look for that number to go up to at least 65 percent in 2021 if Gary is healthy enough to play all 16 games.

  1. Preston Smith

Preston Smith’s numbers fell off dramatically last year after a career best 2019 campaign. His sack total dropped from 12 to four and his quarterback hits dropped from 23 in 2019 to just 11 last season. By the end of the year, his starting job was being threatened by Gary.

Preston Smith reported to training camp last year out of shape and it clearly hurt him early in the season. At OTAs last month, he appeared to be in better condition and looked ready to start the new year.

The Packers reworked Preston’s contract in the offseason, making this essentially a one-year deal with void years and a lot of incentives. That means Preston has a lot of motivation to put up strong numbers as it will determine his income this year and his next contract whether that’s with the Packers or elsewhere.

Look for Barry to try to get Gary and the two Smiths on the field more often in obvious passing downs. Both Za’Darius and Gary can move inside which will allow the Packers to put all three of their top pass rushers on the field at the same time.

  1. Randy Ramsey

Ramsey is entering this third season with the Packers organization. He spent 2019 on the practice squad and played in 12 games in 2020 on both defense and special teams.

The former Arkansas star was credited with 11 total tackles last season. He was on the field for seven percent of the Packers defensive snaps and contributed a lot on special teams where he was one of the team’s better coverage players.

Ramsey needs to show more productivity on defense to take the next step forward in his career and clinch a roster spot this season. His strong play on special teams may help him survive the final cutdown this season, but there is a lot of competition at the position.

  1. Jonathan Garvin

The Packers drafted Garvin in the seventh round of last year’s draft. He appeared in eight games as a rookie and was credited with five total tackles.

Garvin was on the field for eight percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season but didn’t show much in the way of pass rush when he did see the field.

The Packers are hoping Garvin can take a step forward in his development this season after getting a regular offseason under his belt.

If the former Miami (Florida) star can do that he can earn more playing time this season. If not, he may not make the final roster.

  1. Tipa Galeai

Galeai signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Utah State last season. He spent the season on the practice squad and was elevated to the active roster in Week 1 at Minnesota. He did not play in another game the rest of the season.

At 6’5”, 229-pounds, Galeai is tall and lanky. He has the size and speed you want coming off the edge. He has a variety of pass rush moves and uses his hands well to disengage from blockers.

His lack of bulk may make him a liability against the run and may make it tougher for him to get around the bigger and stronger blockers in the NFL.

Galeai needs to show progress this season if he hopes to make the final roster this season. He may be a candidate to return to the practice squad as well.

  1. Delontae Scott

SMU alumni Delontae Scott was signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and spent last season on the practice squad before being placed on the injured reserve in mid-December. He did not see any game action as a rookie.

Scott had 18 career sacks in college and has the speed to turn the corner and pressure the quarterback off the edge.  Scott also has good technique and a few different moves to use against blockers. He needed to get stronger to excel at the NFL level and hopefully, he did that in the offseason.

Scott faces a challenge to make the roster and will have to take a step forward in his second season to stick with the Pack.

  1. Ray Wilborn

Wilborn spent last season on the practice squads of both the Falcons and Steelers. The Packers signed him to compete for a spot in training camp in January 2021.

Wilburn played both linebacker and safety at Ball State. He has good instincts against the run and has enough speed to drop back in pass coverage or rush the passer.

His lack of size (225 pounds) may limit his ability to play on defense in the NFL and to release from blockers. Wilborn needs to play well on special teams to have a chance to make the roster this season.

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