McGinn Wrap, Part 8: The Green Bay Packers' defensive/ST career arcs
Bob McGinn's look back at his four decades covering the Packers continues with this deep dive on the defense. The arcs of A.J. Hawk, Tramon Williams, Aaron Kampman and others are all examined.
Our review of the Green Bay Packers over the last 40-plus years today centers on career-long looks at players from the defense and special teams.
As with last week’s coverage of players on offense, the 22 players forthwith were required to have spent at least eight seasons with the Packers in one capacity or another, and with at least one of those seasons falling within my 31 years of grading the team.
The largest share of the 22 spent the majority of their Packers’ career in the 2000’s. The most represented position was defensive line with five. No punter could be included because not one fit the eight-year requirement.
Although I was covering the team on a full-time basis from 1984-’90 for the Green Bay Press-Gazette (and covered part-time from 1979-’83), I never did year-end grades. From 1986-’90, however, I did write brief summaries of every player that remained on the roster at season’s end, and some of those remarks are excerpted here.
The 22 players are listed alphabetically by position with their grades for each season since 1991 and excerpts from two of those seasons. There are no excerpts here from A, A-minus or F seasons because those were detailed in previous installments of the series. In many cases, the selected excerpts included one from early in a player’s career and another from late in his career.
The excerpts were drawn from my summations in the Press-Gazette (1986-’90) and my grades in The Milwaukee Journal (1991-’94), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1995-’16), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2017-’18), The Athletic (2019-’20) and GoLongTD.com (2021).
Gilbert Brown (1993-’99, 2001-’03)
1996: B-plus. (“On a team with two rather small inside linebackers, his ability to attract two blockers meant almost everything for the interior run defense … A load of loads with two distinguishing trademarks: the imaginary shovel stroke after his big plays and the cocking of his neck just before the snap … Superior athlete at 6-2 and 350 or thereabouts, stayed healthy and improved his stamina enough so he didn’t have to take off many downs … Re-signing him is a priority.”)
2002: C-minus. (“Had some strong games in the first half of the season but then missed three full games and portions of two others with ankle and hip injuries … Available for 13 of 18 games in 2001 and 13 of 17 this year, which simply isn’t enough … Immovable when he wants to be and showed some of his old range at times, too … A tower of power in short yardage but tuckers out late in games … Will be 32 in February. The Packers can’t bring him back again, can they?”)
Robert Brown (1982-’92)
1987: NG. (“Seldom blown out against the run … Probably a better early-down pass rusher than Alphonso Carreker.”)
1992: D. (“Seventh year as a starter might have been his poorest with lows in solo tackles (17) and sacks (one) … Still hard to uproot at the point of attack, but ’92 scheme change placed more emphasis on playing into gaps and that isn’t his strength … Respected team leader has played in 165 consecutive games, third in team annals.”)
Cullen Jenkins (2003-’10)
2003: Cut Aug. 26, spent spring ’04 in World League.
2004: C-plus. (“Third on the club in pressures 24 ½ despite averaging only 30.7 snaps … Did most of his damage from tackle in the dime defense … Quick off the ball, times it well on stunts and seems to give superior effort … On the small side and was buried and/or walked back on a consistent basis against the interior run … A tremendous worker who lets his playing talk for him … Kris Jenkins’ little brother did the family proud.”)
2010: B. (“A recurring calf injury limited him to 15 games and 44.9% playing time. Still, he led the D-line in pressures per snap for the fourth time in five years … With Mike Neal waiting in the wings, it would appear as if the Packers are going to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent. Jenkins should get an enormous pay day … Very few inside players rush the passer as well as him … He can play DE or 3-technique in a 4-3, RE in a 3-4 and DT on passing downs … Scouts from the NFC North and around the league have always had an extremely high opinion of Jenkins … He’s 30 and has a fairly long history of injury, but interior pass rushers are hard to find.”)
Aaron Kampman (2002-’09)
2002: C. (“Surprisingly effective fifth-round pick … Started six games for the injured Vonnie Holliday and made more plays than his ability level should allow … Finds the football against the run because he’s strong and smart … Applies decent pressure because he is more than just a thrasher and never stops trying … A relentless rookie whose entire season went south with a broken hand in Week 10.”)
2009: B. (“Kampman is 30 and, despite knee surgery Dec. 4, remains in control of his future … If he wants to go back to being a 4-3 DE, he will have an opportunity. If he wants to remain in Green Bay as the LOLB in a 3-4, he probably will have an opportunity … A proud man, Kampman isn’t looking to work cheap … He improved each week (standing up) … He had 25 ½ pressures in nine games … It’s entirely possible he could get a lot better in the 3-4.”)
Ryan Pickett (2006-’13)
2006: B. (“Found a home in Green Bay after five underappreciated seasons in St. Louis. Was a worthy successor to Grady Jackson … Dominated most single blocks, had a knack for stacking and then shedding double teams, and really hustled in pursuit for a 335-pounder.”)
2012: B-plus. (“Played 645 snaps, his highest total since he had the same number in 2006 … He was more valuable against the run than anyone else on defense … Early in the season he was on fire, not only tying up double teams but also using his keen instinct to find the ball carrier … To do his job Pickett must remain a wide body, but there’s a fine line between and he has learned over 12 seasons how to push away from the table and remain in shape … Few big men get off the ball faster in short-yardage and goal-line than Pickett, 33 … With his contract expiring in March 2014, he’ll be playing (2013) for an extension.”)
Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (2000-’08)
2002: B-plus. (“Averaged 19 snaps in the first three games and then 52.1 when Joe Johnson’s season-ending triceps injury made him a starter … Established himself as a premier pass rusher leading the team with 41 pressures (12 sacks) after leading with 34 in ’01 … Almost carried the rush for long stretches … A purist who doesn’t have a celebratory or self-promoting bone in his body … The problem is he’s too small and at times too undisciplined to play the run, which was all so obvious too often.”)
2007: B. (“With his cap salary rising from $6.6 million to $7.7 million, the Packers might seek the reduction in ’08 that they haven’t previously sought … For 10 ½ games “KGB” flourished in his old role as designated pass rusher … He flew off the edge, helped win two or three games with fourth-quarter pressure and had four sacks against Minnesota LT Bryant McKinnie in two games … Then he damaged an ankle and wasn’t the same again … Led the team in pressures per snap with one every 13.2, surpassing his career best of one every 13.8 in ’01.”)
2008: Cut Nov. 1.
Clay Matthews (2009-’18)
2014: B-plus. (“Matthews took one for the team moving inside in Game 9 and playing 345 snaps there in the final 10 weeks … With all the bouncing around he settled for 36 ½ pressures, well below his average of 50.5 from 2009-’12 … What he brings to this defense in terms of explosiveness, athleticism and energy is immense.”)
2018: C-plus. (“Health isn’t the reason why the Packers aren’t expected to re-sign Matthews ... He played all 16 games, and even at 32 remains in excellent shape. Obviously, his genes are world-class. No, the reason the Packers almost certainly will move on from their 10-year former superstar is lack of production … He was responsible for one takeaway, the lowest total of his career. He didn’t bat down a pass for the first time since 2009. His 23 ½ pressures were the lowest total of his career other than 2013, when he had 21 in just 11 games. His 10 missed tackles were a career high. His 3 ½ sacks were a career low … Some in the league maintain that Mathews still could do just about whatever he wants: set the edge, chase from the back side, even play inside linebacker. My view is that he wouldn’t want to play inside because of all the coverage, collisions and full-field reads involved … Matthews would have to become reenergized to restart his career, and with the millions he’s banked it’s unlikely to happen, especially in Green Bay.”)
Nick Barnett (2003-’10)
2003: C-plus. (“Led the team in tackles … Played almost every snap … Added speed to a semi-slow defense and was a big improvement over Hardy Nickerson … Needs considerable refinement in coverage and must be protected against the run … Lacks bulk and strength at the point of attack and must spend time in the weight room during the offseason … Was primarily at fault for vacating the middle for no good reason on the fateful fourth-and-26 play against the Eagles in the playoffs.”)
2010: C-plus. (“His season ended in Week 4 with a wrist injury that was repaired by surgery Oct. 13 … Dom Capers was featuring Barnett on cross blitzes and pressures off the edge … When he’s right, Barnett is reckless on the blitz and a physical-for-his-size presence against the run … He runs better than the other inside linebackers but he’s just OK in coverage … He has two years left on his contract. In 2011, he has a $5.5 million base salary and a $400,000 roster bonus.”)
A.J. Hawk (2006-’14)