Aug. 14, 2018
Packers Training Camp by Position: Edge Rusher
In the modern era of NFL defenses, it's pointless to categorize players rushing off the edge as Defensive Ends or Outside Linebackers and then try to differentiate them. Especially with a Defensive Coordinator like Mike Pettine, who likes to run a lot of hybrid packages and different looks, it makes more sense to simple call them "edge rushers". Since the Pack run a 3-4 base, they'll be classified as Outside Linebackers, but backup players like Chris Odom and Reggie Gilbert are built more like Defensive Ends.
Nick Perry and Clay Matthews are the undeniable starters, but Green Bay had one of the worst pass defenses even with both of them on the field. It's time for some of the younger players to start fighting for reps. This will either push Clay Matthews to Inside Linebacker or make Green Bay realize he's not worth keeping around after his hefty contract expires at the end of this season. With both Matthews and Perry's injury history, it's safe to assume plenty of rotational reps are there to be had this season, so let's look at which backups will make the 53-Man Roster and give the veterans a run for their money - literally.
Clay Matthews - 32, 10th season, 121 starts, $11.37M Salary
It's crazy; I remember vividly the night we drafted Clay Matthews and now it's already his 10th season with the team. 80 sacks in 9 seasons is a decent feat, and despite many considering his 7.5 Sacks last season to be low, that actually led the team. If you watch the tape and look at where Clay regularly beats guys, it's actually rushing the "B" gap - not on the edge. This is why I and a good amount of other Packers pundits believe he's better suited at Inside Linebacker. Until they find another player to start full-time opposite Nick Perry outside, that won't happen. If Matthews stays healthy, he'll be a productive, veteran leader once again in 2018. Plus, his nose looks pretty good after getting smashed by a softball line drive earlier this summer!
Nick Perry - 28, 7th season, 39 starts, $10.8M Salary
It's the former first-rounder's seventh season, but he wasn't a full-time starter until two years ago. That year, he exploded on the scene with 11 Sacks, earning a huge 5-year, $59 Million extension. Last year, he totaled 7 Sacks, but also seemed to completely disappear in certain games. Perry has a knack for picking up little injuries here and there, hence why he's never started more than 12 Games in a year. The way his contract is structured, Green Bay has potential outs every year along the way, so if he suddenly doesn't become productive or starts picking up career-challenging injuries, the Packers aren't totally screwed. It's a long leash for Perry as a starter, but the leash is still there.
Kyler Fackrell - 26, 3rd season, 2 starts, $837K Salary
Fackrell seems to have little bright blips on the talent radar here and there, but never enough for anyone to ever consider him starter-worthy. This is only his third season, but he is already 26 and there are many younger players fighting for his back-up reps. Across 29 games, Fackrell has started 2 and picked up 5 Sacks, a Forced Fumble and a Fumble Recovery. With guys like Vince Biegel and Reggie Gilbert showing up big time early in camp, Fackrell's job security is lessening by the week. Still, he's good enough to be a back-up option again in his third campaign.
Reggie Gilbert - 25, 3rd season, 0 starts, $480K Salary
Gilbert went undrafted in 2016, played the past two seasons on the practice squad and made his NFL debut in the last two games of the year in 2017, racking up a handful of pressures and a sack. He's been mauling people all camp and did the same against the Titans in the pre-season opener. Gilbert just seems to be more and more of a terror off the edge as time goes by, and he's done more than enough so far to make his first September active roster. If I was Mike Pettine, I'd currently have him slotted as my #3 Edge Rusher behind Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. That's how much I like the guy.
Vince Biegel - 25, 2nd season, 0 starts, $728K Salary
Biegel quietly returned from a bad foot injury in 2017 to play off the bench in 9 games, totaling 16 tackles. Coming into camp, he didn't look like anything more than a back-up talent with some extra hype due to him playing college ball in-state at Wisconsin. However, in the pre-season opener against the Titans, Biegel was all over the field making plays, highlighted by an impressive fumble recovery. If he stays healthy, he's a decent backup option with room to grow behind the veterans Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. It should be noted that Kyler Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert started above him in the season opener.
Chris Odom - 23, 2nd season, 0 starts, $550K Salary
Odom went undrafted last year, missed the cut in Atlanta's training camp and then played in 7 games for Green Bay. He's appeared decent in training camp so far, and was an average back-up for the Pack in 2017, but this is a deep Outside Linebacker class and there may not be space for him behind Perry, Matthews, Fackrell, Gilbert, and Biegel. If he wants to guarantee making an opening roster for his sophomore campaign, he better step it up in the three remaining preseason games.
Kendall Donnerson - 22, Rookie, $498K Salary
Donnerson was taken 248th overall back in April as a sizable project. He's made a big play in both the Family Night scrimmage and the preseason opener, so some may think he's ready to produce off the bench sooner than later, but watching him in everyday drills will assure most scouts that it'll take a year on the practice squad to develop him into an active roster-caliber player. He's definitely the most likely to make the practice squad out of all the edge rushers, and a good second half of camp will only further his case.
James Hearns - 22, Rookie, $480K Salary
Hearns went undrafted this spring, and the Packers claimed him off waivers after the Cowboys didn't want him anymore. He's even more of a project than Donnerson, and at this point, his best bet is to find a practice squad desperate for edge rushers come September. It's not going to be in Green Bay.
Clay Matthews: Starting 3-4 Outside Linebacker
Nick Perry: Starting 3-4 Outside Linebacker
Kyler Fackrell: #4 Outside Linebacker
Reggie Gilbert: #3 Outside Linebacker
Vince Biegel: #5 Outside Linebacker
Chris Odom: 50/50 odds of making the cut, excellent practice squad candidate
Kendall Donnerson: Misses the cut, solid practice squad candidate
James Hearns: Misses the cut, mediocre odds of making another team's practice squad