Season in Review - Outside Linebackers
Another day, another position! In our seventh instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to our outside linebackers. In a year of dynamite play and personality, how did our free agent signings fair?
Smith was an off-season free agent signing (4yrs, $66m) who was the unquestionable Packers Player of the Year - leading the team with 13.5 sacks. His total was the fourth (equal) highest single season total in Packers' history and it included an outstanding week 16 performance in Minnesota where had 3.5 sacks and 9 QB pressures. As much as his sacks though, it was his ability to pressure the QB that made Smith stand out so much in 2019. His QB pressure rate was astronomical – more than 18% according to PFF and 14.8% according to NFL NextGen Stats. Either way, both had him ranked number 1 in the NFL in this category. Also, as per PFF, his 93 pressures and 37 QB hits during the regular season both led the league. Smith started all 16 regular season games, playing in 872 defensive snaps (83.9% of the team’s defensive total). He notched up 55 total tackles (41 solo), including 18.5 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
Smith was named 1st Team All-Pro by PFF (who had him ranked as the 19th best player in the NFL in 2019 regardless of position), but was inexplicably left off the AP All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams (he was later added to the Pro Bowl when Khalil Mack dropped out).
Packers – All Time Single Season Sack Leaders (since 1982) 19.5 – Tim Harris, 1989 16.0 – Reggie White, 1998 15.5 – Aaron Kampman, 2006 14.5 – Ezra Johnson, 1983 13.5 – Za’Darius Smith, 2019 (also 5 others have 13.5 sacks)
Close behind Za’Darius on the sack front was fellow free agent signing (4yrs, $52m) Preston who finished the regular season with 12.0 sacks. He also had 55 pressures, 23 QB hits, 12.5 tackles for a loss 1 interception (for 5 yards), 4 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble. According to NFL NextGen Stats, his QB pressure rate of 11.7% was 10th in the entire NFL. Smith started all 16 regular season games, playing 870 defensive snaps (83.7% of the team’s defensive total), notching up 56 tackles (36 solo). He committed 3 accepted penalties (all of the offside / neutral zone infraction variety).
Smith had an outstanding first year with the Packers and more of the same will be expected in 2020.
Gary, the Packers first pick (12th overall) of the 2019 draft, divided opinions both at the time of the draft and during most of the season. He entered the draft with a shoulder injury, suffered whilst at Michigan, that required Gary to wear a harness throughout his rookie season. Whether the injury impacted his performance in 2019 is not clear, but it surely couldn’t have helped. Gary played in all 16 games (but with no starts) and was in on 244 defensive plays (23.5% of the team’s defensive snaps). He had 21 tackles (13 solo), 2.0 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss and 1 fumble recovery. Gary committed a single penalty (roughing the passer) during the regular season.
The Packers will be expecting Gary to contribute more in 2020 than he did on gameday in 2019.
Fackrell played in all 16 games (no starts) and had 19 tackles (11 solo), 1 sack and 3 tackles for a loss. Despite the high levels of playing time for both Smiths, Fackrell was still in on 415 defensive snaps (39.9% of the team’s defensive total) and played a significant amount of time on special teams - 182 special teams plays (42.4% of the team’s total). Fackrell gave up 1 penalty (neutral zone infraction).
Fackrell became an unrestricted free agent in March and was signed by the Giants to a one year deal, $4.6M deal.
Ramsey was signed to the Practice Squad on 1st September, having been waived at the final cut-down to the 53-man roster the previous day – he may be considered unlucky not have made the final roster. Ramsey signed a futures contract with the Packers just after the season finished, meaning that he’ll be back in 2020 competing for a roster spot.
Sheldon had previously been with the Raiders and Browns before the Packers signed him to their Practice Squad late in 2018. He returned to Green Bay in 2019 to compete for a roster spot but was waived at the final cut-down to the 53-man roster. Sheldon was signed to the Packers' Practice Squad the following day (1st September) but was released on 1st October. He was later signed by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Roberts went undrafted in 2019 and was signed by the Packers shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in camp and was placed on the physically unable to perform list on 22nd July. He remained there for the whole season.
Roberts was highly thought of by the Packers and can be expected back in 2020 to provide strong competition for a roster spot.
After a 2018 season where he made a solid contribution Gilbert was again expected to compete strongly for a roster spot and likely secure one. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise when he was traded to the Tennessee Titans on 28th August (just 3 days before the cut-down to the 53-man roster). The Packers received a conditional 2020 draft pick in return – a draft pick which eventually became a 6th rounder.
Donnerson was waived/injured by the Packers on 8th August, although he went unclaimed through the waiver process and by rule, reverted to injured reserve. He was picked up in October by the Raiders and spent the remainder of the season on the Raiders’ Practice Squad.
Williams was claimed off waivers (from Baltimore) on 3rd October. He was waived on 5th November after playing in just 1 game for the Packers (no starts) in which he wasn’t on the field for a single defensive play and was in on just 2 special teams snaps (0.5% of the team’s season total). Williams was signed to the Packers' Practice Squad on 7th November - replacing OG Ben Braden who was released the same day.
Williams signed a futures contract with the Packers just after the season finished, meaning that he’ll be back in 2020 competing for a roster spot.
James Folston Jr.
Folston was signed on 25th August but had few opportunities to show what he could do and was waived at the cut-down to the 53-man roster (31st August). He has signed to play for XFL team the Dallas Renegades.
Bello had spent a little time with 4 other clubs before the Packers signed him to their Practice Squad on 1st October. He was released by Green Bay just 3 days later when TE Evan Baylis was re-signed to the practice squad. Bello was later signed, released and then re-signed by the New York Jets.
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