Detroit Lions, NFC North 2019 preview: Edge defenders

Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Green Bay Packers

Key Returning Players: Kyler Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert

New Additions: Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary (R)

Key Losses: Nick Perry

With their hefty front line featuring budding star tackle Kenny Clark in the middle, Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be looking to generate pressure with a new crop of edge rushers. Despite totaling 44 sacks in 2018, the Packers dedicated serious capital to bolstering that unit in hopes of disrupting the talented quarterbacks in the division.

Preston Smith previously of the Washington Redskins, and Za’Darius Smith previously of the Baltimore Ravens, were each given rich free agent deals to join the Packers’ front seven. Neither has ever hit double digits in quarterback takedowns in a single season, but they are young enough (both will turn 27 this year) that their best years could be ahead of them.

In addition, both Smiths weigh in between 265-275 pounds and are in the 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-5 range. In Pettine’s scheme, they could line up with their hand in the dirt next to the Packers’ stout defensive tackles or stretch out to an outside “JACK” position from down to down. Green Bay gave a combined $36 million guaranteed to these two. They will be expecting them to produce early.

The Packers also spent their first round selection in April’s draft on Rashan Gary, an intriguing piece for their front line. Gary oozes talent and untapped potential with an athletic frame and explosive speed. The common complaint with Gary though, is his meager production at the University of Michigan. With the veteran holdovers and additions on the edge for the Packers, they won’t need Gary to chip in immediately, but they have high hopes for the former Wolverine.

Former third round draft pick Kyler Fackrell ranks as one of the most under-appreciated defensive players in the division. He broke out with an impressive 10.5 sacks last season including a pair of three-takedown games  against the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. He may not approach that impressive mark again in 2019, but count on Fackrell remaining an important member of the Packers’ pass rush packages going forward.