Last summer, it was Jake Hanson. This year, it is Jonathan Ford who is the biggest surprise to make this Green Bay Packers’ initial 53-man roster.
The Packers’ interior defensive line room was pretty well set coming into training camp with five of the roster spots already accounted for. The big question that unfolded over the last month, however, was whether the Packers were going to keep a sixth interior defender.
With each passing week, that idea seemed more likely, but it was because of the play of Jack Heflin and Chris Slayton. Heflin was consistently in the backfield blowing up running plays, with his five run-stops ranking as the seventh most out of all interior defenders this preseason. Meanwhile, Slayton finished second on the team in quarterback pressures with five.
Ford, on the other hand, a 2022 seventh-round pick by the Packers from Miami, didn’t have those same splash plays, or at least not with the same frequency. He finished the season with two pressures, one run-stop, and for what it’s worth, he was the Packers’ lowest graded defender by PFF.
As a run-stuffer, Ford’s impact isn’t always going to show up on the stat sheet. Instead, it will more often be felt by his teammates with the double-teams he occupies, and the space he eats up, which will help others along the front-seven stay clean to make plays while also creating fewer double-teams for them to fight through.
In addition to his defensive performance, Ford was also on the field for only four total special teams snaps in three preseason games, which likely ensures that this will end up being a red-shirt year for him, as it was for Heflin in 2021. In terms of immediate impact, specifically on special teams, this roster spot could have been better utilized elsewhere.
Being a draft pick may have helped Ford’s case for being on the roster, but the Packers are clearly banking on Ford’s upside as a young defender to help them out down the road, with Brian Gutekunst telling reporters that his potential in comparison to that of Heflin and Slayton was the deciding factor.
Ultimately, while this move was surprising to some degree when it comes to determining any of the final roster spots, upside should be a key component in that decision.
It’s not as if Heflin or Slayton were going to play a ton of snaps on defense with how deep the interior defensive line rotation is, so the Packers chose to utilize that roster spot as a developmental role. We saw Green Bay take a similar approach with Yosh Nijman on the offensive line in 2020.
Ford could potentially be in a position to assume a larger role in 2023, as long as he continues to develop, with Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed both hitting free agency.
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