Packers positions of need: Top performing edge rushers from NFL Combine

Edge rusher is an under-the-radar need for the Green Bay Packers. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if this was their first-round selection.

At a position where athleticism is at a premium, and those athletic testing numbers play a key role in who Brian Gutekunst selects, here are the top NFL Combine performers at edge rusher.

It’s probably safe to say that the Packers do not use Relative Athletic Scores (RAS) as part of their evaluation process. However, there has been a fairly strong connection between RAS and Gutekunst’s picks over the years, giving us on the outside looking in, some additional perspective into who might really interest the Packers.

Gutekunst now has six drafts under his belt as general manager, and 54 of his selections have registered on the RAS scale. Of those 54 prospects, 40 have scored at least 8.0 or higher, including 25 above 9.0. Only 18 percent of Gutekunst’s picks have scored below 7.0, and only two of those selections have come within the top 100 of the draft.

To learn more about RAS and its connection to the Packers’ draft classes, click here.

Gutekunst has made five selections at edge rusher during his tenure, and four of them scored above 8.97, including Rashan Gary (9.95) and Kendell Donnerson (9.89) being the elite of the elite. The only pick to score below a 7.0 was JJ Enagbare with 6.25.

Following the NFL Combine, below you will find all of the edge rushers who posted a RAS of 8.0 or higher.

Myles Cole, Texas Tech: 9.96
Chop Robinson, Penn State: 9.69
Cedric Johnson, Ole Miss: 9.65
Jared Verse, Florida State: 9.52
Dallas Turner: Alabama: 9.49
Laiatu Latu, UCLA: 9.16
Jalyx Hunt, Houston Christian: 9.13
Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Notre Dame: 9.09
Gabriel Murphy, UCLA: 8.96
Adisa Isaac, Penn State: 8.77
Chris Braswell, Alabama: 8.63
Mohamed Kamara, Colorado State: 8.49
Brennan Jackson, Washington State: 8.47
Trajan Jeffcoat, Arkansas: 8.39
Eric Watts, UCONN: 8.18

The Packers just signed Rashan Gary to an extension late last season. Preston Smith will be back for 2024, and they drafted Lukas Van Ness in Round 1 of last year’s draft. It’s easy to see why edge rusher may not register as an early round need.

However, this is a heavily rotated position with oftentimes four or even ive players seeing snaps each week. JJ Enagbare’s time table to return is unknown as he recvoers from an ACL injury, while Brenton Cox is an unknown and the other players on the roster were practice squad players in 2023.

On top of that, the draft is also about planning ahead, and with this possibly being Smith’s last season with the Packers, the depth of what is a very important position could take another hit next offseason.

Despite having invested heavily into edge rushers over the years, both in cap space and draft capital, this position group was quite hit or miss last season. According to PFF, in seven games, the Packers pressured the quarterback on greater than 45 percent of his dropbacks–which is an elite rate.

However, there were also seven games where they created pressure on fewer than 30 percent of the quarterbacks’ dropbacks, which over the course of a season, would rank among the worst in the NFL.

More consistency is needed from this group – both in terms of rushing the passer and helping out in the run game – especially on early downs under Jeff Hafley. While we can’t say with certainty that what Hafely did at his previous stops will translate in Green Bay, as Bill Huber of Packer Central mentioned, Hafley, relatively speaking, didn’t blitz very often on first or second down, putting more of an emphasis on the four-man rush to get home.

As the Packers transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 style defense, whether it be Gutekunst, Hafley, or Matt LaFleur, each of them believes that Green Bay has the personnel already on the roster to make the switch relatively easy. Gutekunst also doesn’t expect that it will greatly impact the evaluation process either.

There are going to be times, particularly when in their base defense, that we will see the edge rushers with their hands in the dirt – which will be new – but it’s not as if we won’t see the edge rushers standing up anymore either. And as Gutekunst said earlier this offseason, this is a nickel league, so with roughly two-thirds of the snaps coming in nickel, from a personnel standpoint, there is going to be overlap with what we saw in previous seasons.

During the playoffs, we saw Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks taking some snaps at defensive end, not to mention that Kenny Clark has the ability to line up anywhere. This is one alternative that the Packers have to bolster their pass rush depth, and we could see those alignments at times.

But with that said, my guess is that ideally, Brooks and Wooden will be rushing from the interior, with the Packers having a regular edge rusher rotation. If we look at San Francisco’s defense, which the Packers’ under Hafley will look somewhat similar to, they play with two edge rushers on the field for most of the game.

In terms of what Gutekunst typically looks for early on in the draft, edge rusher checks those boxes. It is a need, both in the short and long term. It’s also a premier position, and as listed above, a number of players tested very well. That’s a recipe for a Packers pick.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire