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Pre-draft picture: Foundation in place across Packers' defensive line

Edge and interior boast plenty of experience, but adding a premium draft pick never out of the question

Rashan Gary, Preston Smith
Rashan Gary, Preston Smith

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2024 NFL Draft. The series continues with the defensive line.

GREEN BAY – The Packers' defensive line encompasses a lot more players now.

With the switch to new coordinator Jeff Hafley's 4-3 scheme, the Packers' edge defenders will now be treated as defensive ends rather than outside linebackers, adding them to the group of interior D-linemen in this roster examination.

The bottom line up front, both outside and inside, is this: For the most part, the Packers have what they need, but reinforcements via the draft certainly wouldn't hurt.

That's especially true on the edge, where the trio of Rashan Gary (6-5, 277), Preston Smith (6-5, 265) and Lukas Van Ness (6-5, 272) provide an enviable foundation.

In 2024, Gary will be coming off a nine-sack season and be another year removed from his 2022 ACL injury. Smith posted at least eight sacks for the third year in a row in 2023 and remains as durable as ever, still having missed just one game in his career. And Van Ness came on strong toward the end of his rookie year, as the first-round pick from Iowa had three of his four sacks in the last six regular-season games, and then added another sack in the playoffs.

Another edge rusher could be a high priority in the draft, though, with Kingsley Enagbare (6-4, 258) sustaining an ACL injury in the wild card playoff at Dallas in January that will sideline him for most (and possibly all, depending on rehab and recovery) of the upcoming season. On top of that, Smith is entering his 10th NFL season and turns 32 in November, so an eye toward the future would be prudent.

Developmental prospects in the pipeline include Brenton Cox Jr. (6-4, 250), an undrafted rookie a year ago who made a strong impression in training camp to earn a roster spot but was mostly a game-day inactive during the season; Keshawn Banks (6-3, 251), also an undrafted rookie last year who spent the season on the practice squad until being elevated to the active roster for the NFC Divisional playoff at San Francisco, when he got his first game action;Kenneth Odumegwu (6-6, 259), an International Pathway Program player from Nigeria who spent his rookie season on the practice squad; Arron Mosby (6-3, 250), a waiver claim during last summer's training camp who also spent the season on the practice squad after getting his first NFL action as an undrafted rookie with Carolina in 2022; and January future signees Deslin Alexandre (6-3, 264) and Deandre Johnson (6-3, 252), who both spent time as undrafted players with other NFL clubs.

On the interior of the defensive line, the Packers are as deep as they've been in quite some time. That said, dynamic big guys are difficult to find, and if a potential draft pick fits Hafley's vision for his defensive front, there won't be much hesitation to select him.

The group is anchored, of course, by Kenny Clark(6-3, 314), who's entering his ninth season but has yet to hit his 29th birthday. Clark is coming off, if not his best, one of his best seasons (7½ sacks, nine TFLs, 16 QB hits, two forced fumbles) and could be in line for a contract extension.

The rest of the unit is still relatively young but progressing nicely due to ample playing time. T.J. Slaton (6-4, 330) started every game in his third season and posted a career-high 49 tackles, and Devonte Wyatt (6-3, 304) made major strides in his second year to the tune of 36 tackles and 5½ sacks.

At the same time, 2023 draft picks Karl Brooks (6-3, 296) and Colby Wooden (6-4, 273) proved they belonged as rookies. Brooks wound up with four sacks and four deflected passes while Wooden had a half sack of his own and blocked a field goal in the playoffs.

Also waiting in the wings is 2022 seventh-round draft choice Jonathan Ford (6-5, 338), who has spent time on both the active roster and practice squad his first two seasons but hasn't yet played.

Pre-Draft Roster Series:

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