Unpacking Future Packers: No. 60, South Carolina DL Zacch Pickens

The Unpacking Future Packers Countdown is a countdown of 100 prospects that could be selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 2023 NFL draft.

Green Bay’s run defense yielded 2,372 yards on the ground, which ranked 26th overall. They gave up five yards per carry, which was tied for 29th in the league. 

The Packers need to improve against the run next season and if past history is any indicator, Brian Gutekunst will pour resources into fixing the leaky run defense.

Last season the Packers needed to vastly improve on special teams. Gutekunst attacked the issue with great vigor. The Packers went out and hired one of the best special teams coordinators in the league. They signed players like Keisean Nixon and Dallin Leavitt. They drafted players with plenty of special teams experience like Tariq Carpenter.

It’s reasonable to expect that Gutekunst will add a player or two up front to help shore up the run defense.

A player that Green Bay’s general manager could target in the 2023 NFL Draft is Zacch Pickens. The South Carolina defensive tackle checks in at No. 60 in the Unpacking Future Packers countdown.

Pickens, a South Carolina native finished his career with 32 career starts for the Gamecocks. During his sophomore season in 2020, Pickens recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. In 2021, Pickens recorded five tackles for loss and four sacks. This past season, Pickens recorded 42 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and three pass deflections.

“Pickens was the heart of a defensive line that went through several changes and lineups due to injury,” David Cloninger, a reporter for The Post and Courier said. “As the bedrock in the middle of the defensive line, he had his most productive and best season at USC. He was one of three players I picked as defensive MVPs.”

Pickens is well-built with long arms (34). He has a lot of power in those long limbs and when he plays with proper leverage he can bullrush with the best of them. He has good initial quickness off the snap to quickly get upfield.

The South Carolina defensive tackle really showcased his potential as an interior pass-rusher during the Gamecocks matchup against Kentucky this past season. Pickens recorded one sack and five pressures against the Wildcats.

He can really get his hands and arms up quickly, to either get above the offensive lineman’s hands or to get his hands up quickly in a quarterback’s field of vision,” Cloninger said. “He has a lot of just straight raw power.”

Against the run, Pickens controls his gap. He’s strong at the point of attack and is difficult to uproot. Pickens has strong, active hands to help him to poke through gaps. He has the short-area quickness and lateral agility to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage.

The former five-star recruit finished his career with just 11.5 tackles for loss. While not eye-popping, Pickens clogged or blew up running lanes that allowed teammates to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. 

“The Gamecocks were bad against the run last year and he shares some blame,” Cloninger said. “I can’t say he was the cause of it, because that would be inaccurate. I can’t say the rest of the line held him back because that would be inaccurate, too. It was group blame. A lot of teams double-teamed him, as he seemed to be the guy they had to take care of first, and as a result, Pickens would easily get frustrated and perhaps give up too quickly. I don’t think it’s any kind of alarm bell, though; more of a “we’ll get that out of him” once he reaches the NFL.”

Fit with the Packers

Get Kenny Clark help. That’s probably what Gutekunst hears when he walks into Woodman’s Food Market. 

Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed are both set to hit the open market this offseason. That leaves Clark, Devonte Wyatt, and TJ Slaton as the notable defensive lineman on the roster.

With those two veterans on their way out, Gutekunst could look to add a defensive lineman or two in the upcoming NFL Draft. 

Pickens could be a potential day two or early day three target for the Packers. The South Carolina defensive tackle has the size, power, and pass-rush upside to develop into a potential interior force for the Packers. 

“He was plenty effective with what he had, and the potential is limitless,” Cloninger said. “It’s often said that Pickens hasn’t yet reached his full potential, and if he’s doing this now at half or 75 percent of what he could be, imagine what he could do when he doesn’t have to worry about school and such. Just football all the time. He could be a starter in year one.”

Clark has needed help upfront for quite some time. Wyatt played limited snaps during his rookie season and has the tools to develop into a dominant defensive lineman for the Packers.

Pickens isn’t as twitchy as the former Georgia Bulldogs. The South Carolina defensive tackle wins with his power. Adding him to the mix with Clark and Wyatt could give Green Bay a potentially strong group up front for Joe Barry. 


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Story originally appeared on Packers Wire