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Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator candidates to replace Joe Barry in 2024

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator candidates
Credit: MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry has been given three seasons to turn one of the most talented defenses in the NFL into one of the league’s best defenses. With his group getting progressively worse each year the organization decided to fire him on Wednesday.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has invested significant resources into this defense. Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, and De’Vondre Campbell are some of the highest-paid players in their position. Meanwhile, Green Bay has spent first-round picks on Lukas Van Ness, Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, and Eric Stokes in the last three years. These are the results.

  • Green Bay Packers defense stats 2023: 22.1 PPG allowed (17th in NFL), 352.9 total yards per game allowed (23rd), 5.5 yards per play allowed (24th), 42.36% third-down conversion rate allowed (26th)

Related: NFL coaching candidates 2024

With the team beginning a search for their next defensive coordinator, we take a look at the best options on the market for the Green Bay Packers.

Top Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator candidates

Jim Leonhard, Illinois senior football analyst

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Credit: Mark Hoffman / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jim Leonhard is the fan favorite among Packers defensive coordinator candidates. He was the architect of one of the nation’s best defenses (2017-’22) with the Wisconsin Badgers and enjoyed a brief run as interim head coach. After spending the 2023 season as an analyst for Illinois, Leonhard is an outstanding pick to make the jump to the NFL in 2024.

Leonhard orchestrated one of the best defenses in the nation. It’s more than just a small sample size. From 2017-’22, outside of an outlier 2018 season, Wisconsin had a top-10 defense in the nation under Leonhard.

PPGTotal YPG3rd Down %Yards per Play
201713.9 (2nd)262.1 (2nd in FBS)29.1% (4th)4.2 (3rd in FBS)
201822.6 (27th)344.2 (24th)37.43% (48th)5.4 (50th)
201916.9 (8th)288.6 (4th)27.27% (1st)4.6 (6th)
202017.4 (9th)299.9 (4th)28.74% (5th)4.9 (19th)
202116.2 (3rd)239.7 (1st)29.34% (2nd)4.0 (1st)
202221.9 (24th)308.6 (9th)32.54% (15th)4.6 (11th)
College football statistics via TeamRankings.com

Related: Green Bay Packers draft picks 2024

This is who Green Bay should hire. Matt LaFleur considered him before hiring Barry, but Leonhard declined the opportunity to remain at Wisconsin. With top coaching jobs at the college level gone, the Packers offer him the best path forward in his career. If the Wisconsin legend can turn the Packers’ defense around, he’ll be an all-time legend in the eyes of Wisconsin sports fans.

Jesse Minter, Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

When the Baltimore Ravens needed a new defensive coordinator, they looked to the college ranks and hired the defensive play-caller for one of the top defenses in college football. Mike Macdonald is now running one of the best schemes in the NFL today. His replacement at Michigan, Jesse Minter, should be one of the top Packers defensive coordinator candidates.

While there can be risks in hiring a coach from the college level, Minter has NFL experience. The Arkansas native joined the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff in 2017 as a defensive assistant, eventually working his way up to defensive backs coach (2019-’20). After calling defensive plays at Vanderbilt for a year, Minter took the Wolverines’ job when Macdonald joined Baltimore.

PPG AllowedTotal YPG AllowedSack RateYPR allowed
202216.1 (6th)292.1 (5th)7.47% (33rd)3.3 (9th)
20239.5 (1st)239.7 (2nd)8.6% (14th)2.9 (6th)
Michigan Wolverines defense under Jesse Minter

Minter has also overseen the development of two of Michigan’s best defensive players, cornerbacks Mike Sainristill and Will Johnson. A defensive coordinator with a background of working with defensive backs is exactly what a team with Alexander, Stokes, Carrington Valentine and Corey Ballentine needs.

Related: Highest-paid NFL players

Mike Zimmer, former Minnesota Vikings head coach

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Packers fans know Mike Zimmer all too well. While he didn’t always beat Aaron Rodgers, Zimmer’s defense with both the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals gave Green Bay’s offense fits. It would only be fitting with the NFC North more competitive than ever in 2024 for the Packers to hire Zimmer as their defensive fixer.

PPG AllowedYards per Play3rd Down rateExp
201120.8 (11th in NFL)5.1 (6th)36.2% (14th)125.26 (11th)
201219.9 (8th)5.0 (5th)36.86 (10th)192.2 (2nd)
201319.5 (5th)4.7 (3rd)32.% (2nd)92.97 (3rd)
Cincinnati Bengals defensive statistics with Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator

While it’s been more than a decade since Zimmer was a defensive coordinator, he oversaw top-10 defenses in Minnesota from 2014-’18. He is still well-regarded as one of the game’s best defensive minds and he remains involved with football today. Joining an ascending team with the talent already in place, Zimmer could be the perfect hire to turn things around for Green Bay defensively in 2024.

DeMarcus Covington, New England Patriots defensive line coach

NFL: Preseason-Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Our top Packers defensive coordinator candidates all have experience as play-callers and that should be a part of the evaluation process. However, Joe Barry had years of defensive play-calling experience and fans know how that worked out. If Green Bay wants one of the up-and-comers, look no further than DeMarcus Covington.

Related: NFL defense rankings

Covington, who only turns 35 years old in March, began his coaching career in 2012 as a graduate assistant at UAB. By 2017, Bill Belichick took notice of Covington and hired him as a coaching assistant. Two years later, he was coaching outside linebackers and he’s now spent the past two seasons working with the defensive line. As far as Covington’s reputation goes, players rave about him and many around the league believe he’s a future head coach at this level.

“Most coaches in the league, they expect you to know (techniques) coming out of college. But if somebody doesn’t know it, you have to teach them. And he’s able to teach everything. Most (coaches) can talk about it, but they can’t do it. And my first year here, he was doing that. That amazed me and just tells you how smart he is.”

New England Patriots defensive tackle Montel Godchaux on DeMarcus Covington

Covington’s reputation as a teacher and his leadership are critical qualities to be a great defensive coordinator. It’s specifically that ability to coach up individual players in specific ways that matters. Of course, the results are most important. Under Covington’s tutelage, Christian Barmore has become one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL and New England has a top-10 defense with one of the league’s top run defenses.

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