Better, worse or the same? Coordinator Joe Barry the deciding factor for Packers' defense

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Joe Barry wasn’t supposed to make it to 2023. In fact, there were some who thought the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator wouldn’t even get to finish out the 2022 season.

But here is Barry, back for his third season. And just like the two before this, he is armed with a legion of highly regarded players who for a variety of reasons -- scheme, playcalling, injury and individual performance among them -- have never played well enough collectively to match their potential. While the Packers' offense could be greater than the sum of its parts, the defense was just the opposite last season.

This season, Barry will have at his disposal -- when they’re all healthy -- eight first-rounders, including this year’s No. 13 overall pick, outside linebacker Lukas Van Ness.

Another 17th-place ranking in total defense like last season could spell the end of Barry and force Matt LaFleur to hire the third defensive coordinator of his head-coaching tenure.

Coaching aside, here’s a position-by-position look at whether the defense is better, worse or the same as last season:

Defensive line

Returners: Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt, T.J. Slaton, Chris Slayton, Jonathan Ford

Losses: Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed

Additions: Colby Wooden, Karl Brooks, Jason Lewan, Antonio Moultrie

Better, worse or the same? Worse

Unless 2022 first-rounder Wyatt becomes a star, the dependability of Lowry and Reed will be missed after the Packers decided not to pay them in free agency. Without a significant jump from Wyatt or someone else, this group will be one-dimensional, with Clark as the only proven player. Wyatt, the 28th pick in 2022, showed signs of his potential at the end of an otherwise unproductive rookie season. Throw in two more rookies in Wooden (Round 4) and Brooks (Round 6), and this is a much less experienced position than it was last season.

Inside linebackers

Returners: De’Vondre Campbell, Quay Walker, Eric Wilson, Isaiah McDuffie

Losses: Krys Barnes

Additions: Tariq Carpenter, Jimmy Phillips Jr.

Better, worse or the same? The same

Campbell and Walker return as the starting duo, but last season, Campbell didn’t come close to matching his 2021 All-Pro performance. Walker, the No. 22 overall pick last year, played well when he kept his emotions in check, but two ejections marred his rookie season. The only significant addition to this group was Carpenter, who isn’t new to the team but is new to the position. The Packers tried him at safety last season, but he got only 16 snaps on defense. They want to find a position for him because he’s a core special teams player.

Outside linebackers

Returners: Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Justin Hollins, Kingsley Enagbare, Jonathan Garvin, La'Darius Hamilton

Losses: None

Additions: Lukas Van Ness, Brenton Cox Jr., Keshawn Banks, Kenneth Odumegwu

Better, worse or the same? Worse

They’ll be better when Gary returns from the torn right ACL he suffered in November, but it seems unlikely he’ll be ready for the season opener. The Packers' pass rush was much less effective after Gary went out in early November. It had a 40% pressure rate when Gary was on the field, but that dropped to 32% without Gary, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Van Ness, the 12th defensive player taken in the Packers’ past 13 first-round picks, will need to contribute immediately.


Returners: Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Keisean Nixon, Eric Stokes, Shemar Jean-Charles, Corey Ballentine, Kiondre Thomas

Losses: None

Additions: Carrington Valentine, Tyrell Ford, William Hooper

Better, worse or the same? Better

Even without Stokes, whose recovery from foot and knee injuries might prevent him from being ready at the start of the season, this group looks stronger. That’s because Douglas will return to his natural outside position after a failed experiment with him in the slot. Nixon will take over inside and Alexander will likely get to cover the opponents' No. 1 receivers from the get-go rather than waiting until halfway through the season to make that adjustment like last year. Valentine, a seventh-round pick, looked good during offseason workouts.


Returners: Darnell Savage, Rudy Ford, Dallin Leavitt, Innis Gaines

Losses: Adrian Amos

Additions: Jonathan Owens, Tarvarius Moore, Anthony Johnson, Benny Sapp III

Better, worse or the same? Worse

Amos was a rock in the secondary, starting every game during his four seasons with the Packers (2019-22). Maybe this will allow Savage to play more at strong safety, where he is better-suited. The other safety spot is wide open. Ford had a turn as a starter last season but was up and down. Owens, a regular starter for the Texans last season, could be a valuable addition.