Fully healthy, Kingsley Enagbare’s continued success will be key for Packers’ defensive front

By: Paul Bretl 7/10/24

After what was thought to be an ACL injury that Kingsley Enagbare sustained in the Green Bay Packers’ playoff win against Dallas, to the surprise of many, Enagbare was on the practice field during OTAs and minicamp.

“It was great news,” said Enagbare. “I’m on my 10 feet walking.”

During the draft, Matt LaFleur confirmed that Enagbare never had surgery on his knee and that, internally, they were optimistic about where he was at in the rehab process. Still, I’m not sure anyone outside of the building expected to see Enagbare on the practice field at this stage of the offseason, and we still don’t know exactly what the knee injury was.

For roughly half of the offseason, Enagbare was limited in what he could and couldn’t do as he went through his rehab. But for the second half, he was able to return to form.

“I was pretty limited for probably like half of it,” said Enagbare, “but the other half, I was back running, pressing, basically where I am now.”

And now? As we saw during practice with Enagbare participating in both individual and team drills, he’s a full-go.

“100% 100%,” said Enagbare when asked how he was feeling.

During the second half of the 2023 season, Enagbare’s production really began to take off. Of the 27 pressures he recorded last season, 18 of them came in Week 12 and beyond. During that span, Enagbare ranked 28th in PFF’s pass-rush win-rate metric out of 128 eligible edge rushers. He would rank 36th in run-stop rate as well.

In addition to his contributions on defense, Enagbare would also play the eighth-most special teams snaps on the Packers, routinely playing across three different units.

“He’s been outstanding,” said LaFleur about Enagbare. “You talk about a guy who comes to work with the right mentality each and every day, he’s the epitome of that. And I think we’ve seen the growth.

“We saw it last year, the growth from Year 1 to Year 2, and I think we’re still seeing that growth as he develops his body and continues to learn the game. And certainly we’re asking these guys to do a little bit different things from a front standpoint but he’s somebody that’s certainly capable of it. He just brings an edge to your defense.”

Having Enagbare fully healthy provides a big boost to the Packers’ defensive end depth. Under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, where the job of the defensive front is to attack and get into the backfield, rotating defenders often to keep them fresh will be important, which puts an added emphasis on the unit’s depth.

Compared to what the defensive front was asked to under Joe Barry, this new system is a bit more simplified and puts the emphasis on being disruptive. Rather than having to defend two gaps and reading what the offense is doing before reacting, Hafley’s defense asks the defenders to get off the ball and into the backfield as quickly as possible.

“At least for the D-line aspect, we’re being preached or being talked to just go upfield and pretty much create havoc, whether it’s sack, TFLs. Just go vertical,” Enagbare said.

“That itself it’s very simple. Really nothing to think about. See ball, get ball type of thing. It’s pretty much I guess how we all essentially kind of want to play… Just look forward and make a play.”

As the new defensive coordinator, one of the key tasks for Hafley will be getting more consistency out of the defensive front. This was a unit last year that ranked 23rd in yards per carry allowed and had four games where they surrendered 200-plus rushing yards–a league-high.

The pass rush was also very hot and cold. While there were seven games where the Packers pressured the quarterback on 45-plus percent of his dropbacks–which is quite good–there were also seven games where they failed to pressure the quarterback more than 30 percent of the time. That was not very good.

Hafley’s attacking play style in the trenches will help provide that consistency through increased disruption, but also playing a key factor in those results will be Enagbare, who is healthy and continuing to ascend as he enters his third NFL season.

“Man, coming back, I’d seen him walking around and jumping around, and I’m like, ‘What?,’ said Rashan Gary. “We heard the same thing that we heard last year and I’m like, ‘Man, God is good.’ He understands that it could have went either way for him, so having that mindset and having the way that he’s attacked this offseason.

“Because he’s talked to me and he’s like, ‘I felt like I let you guys down at the end of the season with not being able to finish with the 49ers.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ but having that mindset, he should be that hard on himself. Me being an older player, I’m trying to take some of that off him but man he’s hungry and he’s gonna have a hell of a year for us.”