Injuries Could Mean Disaster At Outside Linebacker

The Packers made one thing very clear this offseason: the front office is fine with the pass rushing group currently on the roster.

After losing Julius Peppers and Datone Jones in free agency, Green Bay added only Vince Biegel to its pass rushing rotation, and praise for outside linebackers Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell has been strong from all levels of the organization.

On paper, the confidence does make some sense. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have been productive when healthy, and Elliott, Fackrell, and Biegel have all the potential in the world.

But there is significant reason for concern, and if those concerns come to fruition, the Packers will find themselves well past the point of being able to take any substantives steps to remedy the situation.

Potential disaster ahead

It’s possible that only a couple key injuries could derail the Packers defense in an enormous way, and we need look no further than the men at the top of the outside linebacker depth chart to see how.

As we said earlier, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have been productive when healthy. It’s just that their combined health has been exceedingly rare since Perry joined the Packers in 2012.

Since that season, Matthews and Perry have been on the roster for 75 total games, including playoffs.

In that stretch, both have only been fully healthy for 29 games. A quick look at their combined history reveals regular appearances on the injury report. Between them, they’ve only managed to participate in every game in a season twice, with Matthews doing so in both 2014 and 2015.

It’s fair to say there’s a very good chance either Matthews or Perry or both will be hampered by injury at some point this season.

Outside linebacker could mirror cornerback

Though the Packers have theoretical depth with both Matthews and Perry healthy, that depth would be challenged very quickly if neither manages to complete the 2017 campaign without missing time.

Both Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott have been productive in limited action, but there’s little reason to assume the same would be true in longer periods of time. We just haven’t seen it.

That could result in a situation among the outside linebacker in 2017 very similar to what we saw at corner in 2016. Last season, injuries up and down the depth chart forced inexperienced players into much higher profile roles than expected, and the results were disastrous.

If an injury to Matthews or Perry forces Fackrell, Elliott, or Biegel into a major role, the pass rush could be decimated quite quickly. If that happens, it may not matter how much the secondary is improved. A quarterback with all day to throw will find the soft spots in a defense, no matter how athletic the newcomers in the secondary might be.