2017 Packers Previews: OLBs Need Consistency

Outside linebackers are the key cog on a successful 3-4 defense. Athletic, versatile players, they’ll rush the passer, set the edge against the run, and generally cause all sorts of havoc for the opposing team.

On paper, the Packers should have plenty of players capable of filling that kind of role. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have a proven track records of success and Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell offer athleticism to spare behind them. Fourth round pick Vince Biegel figures to play a role as well, ideally continuing to build on his promising surge late in his college career.

Hopes and potential don’t do much on Sundays, though, and despite the theoretical success of this group, there’s very little to indicate a slam dunk season of success for this position group. A lot has to go right for the Packers to have success here in 2017. Will it?

Veteran to watch: Nick Perry

Though sacks don’t tell the whole story on pass rushers (or even most of it), it’s interesting to note that Nick Perry had more sacks in 2016 than in the three previous years of his career combined. Pressuring the quarterback in other ways is nice, but first round picks are expected to rack up the sacks, and Perry hasn’t done it consistently to date.

Now, armed with a lucrative contract extension, Perry will be expected to always perform as he did in 2016. Good health has always been a key part of Perry’s game (and a big part of his previous low outputs), so this season might come down to whether he can stay out of the training room.

Notable newcomer: Vince Biegel

When the Packers traded out of the first round of the draft, they picked up the first pick in the fourth round for their trouble. That pick ultimately became Vince Biegel, meaning that Ted Thompson essentially picked up two players he wanted (the first being cornerback Kevin King) for the price of one.

That one player, though, could become a bone of contention for Wisconsin-minded (as in the University) Packers fans. Former Badgers standout T.J. Watt was on the board when the Packers traded out of the first round, and although his teammate Biegel still ended up in Green Bay, fans will be sure to watch how Watt’s career plays out.

Biegel will already have a lot of work to do to succeed as an NFL player. He’s also going to be fighting expectations based on a player suiting up halfway across the country.

Big question: Is this it for Clay Matthews?

Yes, the Claymaker has two years left on his deal, but consider this: the Packers can cut him after the 2017 season and he’ll count exactly zero dollars against their cap moving forward.

Matthews hasn’t been the wrecking ball he was in 2010 for some time, and that’s fine. Players decline. But 2016 was more than decline: it was an injury-assisted plummet off a cliff.

Sure, he did end up fifth on the team in Total Pressures, but that’s far from what we’ve come to expect from Matthews. If Matthews can’t complete his return to form this year, it’s worth wondering if he’ll get a chance to try again in 2017.

Key number: 16.7%

The Packers have allocated 16.7% of their cap dollars to the outside linebacker position, the fourth most of any position group.