Packers.com is taking a look at the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft. The series continues with the linebackers.
GREEN BAY – The Packers have youth and depth on their side at both linebacker positions after losing just a single player, veteran Christian Kirksey, this offseason.
Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, and ascending edge rusher Rashan Gary, are all back after combining for 261 tackles, 48 sacks, six forced fumbles and 108 quarterback hits the past two seasons.
Infamously “snubbed” in 2019, Za’Darius Smith left no doubts last season when he made All-Pro for the first time, garnering second-team recognition after posting 12½ sacks with four forced fumbles.
Smith’s 26 sacks with Green Bay are the most by a Packers player in his first two seasons with the team and are third most in the NFL since 2019.
And he’s lined up pretty much everywhere to do it, whether it’s as a traditional outside rusher, a roving linebacker behind the line of scrimmage or a three-technique defensive lineman with his hand in the dirt.
Green Bay was able to get more creative with Za’Darius’ deployment thanks in part to the maturation of Gary, which, in turn, created more opportunities for the former first-round pick.
Still only 23, Gary enjoyed a 53% spike in playing time and parlayed it into setting career highs across the board. He registered 35 tackles, 11 QB hits and five sacks in 15 regular-season games before adding another 1½ sacks in the Packers’ divisional playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Preston Smith is looking to bounce back after reuniting with former defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, who had a hand in helping develop Smith as a rookie in Washington back in 2016.
Although Preston’s sack numbers declined this past season, both Barry and General Manager Brian Gutekunst have expressed confidence in the 28-year-old pass rusher, who posted a career-high 12½ sacks in his first season with the Packers in 2019.
The Packers used a short rotation at outside linebacker during their charge to the NFC Championship Game, with the Smith Bros. and Gary combining for more than 2,100 snaps last year.