Vince Biegel’s rookie season didn’t go as planned for him or the Green Bay Packers. The Packers spent a fourth-round pick on the Wisconsin product in 2017. Biegel was a highly decorative Big Ten linebacker while playing for the Badgers. The Packers were hoping that Biegel would be a contributor on their defense in his first season or at the very least, maybe a key contributor on their special teams.
Unfortunately, that never transpired. Not long after being selected, Biegel underwent two procedures, one on a foot that had been injured while at Wisconsin and another as a preventative measure. Because of that, Biegel missed part of his rookie season while rehabbing. When he did make his way back, he was playing catch up. For the most part, his rookie season was a lost one for Biegel. Entering his second season with the Packers, he is now full healthy. As a result, the Packers will look for Biegel to contribute.
Expectations for Vince Biegel Will Be High in Season Two
Many expected that Brian Gutekunst would spend a high round draft pick on an outside linebacker in this year’s draft. Starting outside linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews have shown they are capable of playing at a high level. But they have also shown that they both struggle to stay healthy throughout a season. With both injury-riddled, the Packers have had to rely on younger and unproven players to step in and contribute. Unfortunately for the Packers, those players haven’t made the impact they expected.
Former third-round pick Kyler Fackrell has been a disappointment. When forced into action because of Matthews and Perry’s injuries, he’s been a non-factor. He has lacked the strength and burst to be a contributing NFL player so far in his career. Ahmad Brooks, who was signed prior to last season, was the only backup outside linebacker with experience. But he also dealt with injuries and was also a non-factor in 2017. Brooks is now a free agent and it appears the Packers won’t be him back this season. Former practice squad player Reggie Gilbert showed some potential last season. But curiously, he wasn’t promoted until late in the season from the practice squad. Most of his action came in the last two games of the regular season. Many are predicting big things out of Gilbert going into this season. But he too is an unknown commodity.
Up to the Young Players
Gutekunst and the Packers are going to have to rely on their young outside linebackers once again to provide depth. They don’t have much of a choice. The team didn’t sign any free agent outside linebackers this off-season and they only selected one outside linebacker in this year’s draft, seventh-round pick Kendall Donnerson out of Southeast Missouri State. Donnerson is blessed with exceptional speed and athletic ability, but he is more of a long-term project. It is going to take time for him to develop and it would be considered far-fetched to think he will contribute this season.
Gilbert might have some potential, but still, it isn’t a sure bet that he can contribute on a regular basis. It appears that Fackrell’s time is running out to prove something of himself and really, it is hard to depend on him in the outside linebacker rotation. With so many unknowns, the opportunity for is there for Biegel to step up for the Packers.
New Scheme, New Opportunity
To the delight of most Packers fans, head coach Mike McCarthy replaced former defensive coordinator Dom Capers with former Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine. Pettine is known for coordinating top-level defenses and should bring some new ideas to a stale defense. Pettine isn’t locked into running just one defensive alignment. He is known for running both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses and loves to have players who can be utilized at multiple positions. This could give Biegel more of a chance to contribute to the Packers defense this season.
While at Wisconsin, Biegel saw time rushing from the edge as an outside linebacker, but also spent time in the middle. In fact, when preparing for the draft, some scouts projected Biegel as a standup linebacker. With showing some versatility at both outside and inside linebacker, Pettine might be able to utilize Biegel several different ways.
In his opening press conference with the Packers, Pettine spoke about Matthews’ versatility. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Pettine line Matthews up at a 3-4 outside linebacker, but also utilize him as a standup inside linebacker role when he goes to a 4-3. Biegel isn’t at the same level Matthews is, but there are some comparisons between the two. Because of this, Biegel could be used as Matthews top backup. The Packers are hoping that Matthews can stay healthy throughout the season, but history has shown that could be difficult. If he does go down, Biegel could step in for him and be utilized in the same manner Pettine plans to use Matthews.
Comparison to Watt
It was always a dream of Biegel’s to play for the Packers. He grew up not far from Green Bay in Wisconsin Rapids and starred at the state’s top university. The people of Wisconsin expect a lot out of their local players and Biegel will be no exception. If that wasn’t pressure enough, there is also the shadow of T.J. Watt.
In the same year Biegel was drafted, the Packers had an opportunity to select Watt with their first-round draft pick. Besides being J.J. Watt’s younger brother, T.J. was a standout pass rusher and a teammate of Biegel’s for the Badgers. Although Biegel was a steady contributor with the Badgers, it was Watt who garnered most of the attention because of his exceptional pass rushing skills. But instead of selecting Watt, former general manager Ted Thompson traded out of the first round. This allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to grab Watt with their first-round pick.
Watt had a very strong rookie season for the Steelers. He registered 40 total tackles and chalked up seven sacks. While Watt was doing this, Biegel was struggling to get through his rookie season. Although not fair, Biegel will be compared to Watt throughout his career. Even with being selected three rounds later, Packers fans who pined for the Packers to select Watt won’t forget this and it will be mentioned throughout Biegel’s career.
Up to the Task
The shadow of Watt along with the pressure of being a local product will fall on the very broad shoulders of Biegel. Although he might not put up the same type of numbers Watt will during his career, he still could be a key contributor for the Packers defense. The opportunity is there for the taking, but he must show that he can stay healthy, as well as play to the level the Packers expect him to. The expectations will be high for him, but if he can play like he did while at Wisconsin, those expectations can be reached.