Former Packers LB D.J. Smith Coached Ty’Ron Hopper at Missouri

Packers third-round pick Ty’Ron Hopper is a four-down player with the potential to be an elite blitzer and excellent coverage player, Missouri assistant coach D.J. Smith said.
Ty'Ron Hopper
Ty'Ron Hopper / Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – University of Missouri linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator D.J. Smith has little doubt Green Bay Packers draft pick Ty’Ron Hopper is going to be a hit in the NFL.

Smith would know.

He was a sixth-round pick by the Packers in 2011 who started three games as a rookie and the first six games in 2012 before suffering a knee injury that ended his season and, ultimately, his time in Green Bay.

“The film doesn’t lie,” Smith said this week in a phone interview about Hopper, a third-round draft pick. “You know, old coach saying, ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’ And he can do it. He’s a four-down player. He’s got a lot of versatility, and his size and speed is what the new linebackers look like. He’s the prototypical 6-2-and-some-change, 230-plus pounds than can run 4.5.”

Hopper spent his first three seasons at Florida. In 2022, with Smith having risen to recruiting coordinator and co-defensive coordinator, Hopper joined the Tigers. In 13 games in his debut season, he had 78 tackles and a team-high 14 tackles for losses along with 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and five passes defensed. In 10 games in 2023 (he missed three with a shoulder injury), he had three sacks, six tackles for losses, 55 tackles and three pass deflections to earn second-team all-SEC.

Where did Hopper grow the past two years?

“I would say overall from a physicality standpoint, his body,” Smith said. “When we got him in 2022, I think he could probably hold maybe 220, 222 pounds. Going into last season, he was up to about 238 pounds and didn’t look any different, wasn’t any slower. Just from his overall body standpoint, he’s come a long way.

“Just his overall development as a player. You want to talk about his movement skills in the box and his man-to-man things, the things he can do from a blitzing standpoint. I think he’s the best one-on-one pass rusher in the draft, in my personal opinion, just from the standpoint of being able to rush on the edge, rush as an off-the-ball linebacker. He just has it, man. He’s slippery in there. He’s slippery.”

Best pass rusher among linebackers?

No, Smith thought he was the best pass rusher, period.

“I’m talking in general. When you’re talking about sending somebody and getting home, he can do it. In my opinion. And I could be biased.”

The coach-to-player bias is understandable. However, according to Pro Football Focus, Hopper ranked sixth in the nation among all off-the-ball linebackers with 32 pressures in 2022.

“I’ve seen it for two years. He can definitely get to the quarterback,” Smith said.

In 2023, Hopper had 17 pressures and his TFL count was cut in half.

“We didn’t send him as much early on in the season,” Smith explained. “Last year, we wanted to show a little bit of versatility and we were doing some different things scheme-wise based on how teams were playing us. But as we got later in the year, we kind of cranked him up a little bit. He definitely can get to the quarterback. That’s one of his best traits, for sure.”

While Hopper’s big-play numbers fell in 2023, his missed-tackle count was up. According to PFF, his missed-tackle rates went from 11.4 percent in 2021 to 17.0 percent in 2022 to 22.7 percent in 2023, which was one of the worst marks in the nation.

“I think tackling is all based on just angles,” Smith said. “The more chances, the more opportunities you have, the better tackler you’ll be. It’s not something that you just roll out of bed and just tackle. You talk about guys like Luke Kuechly and Ray Lewis and Thomas Davis, some guys who have done it at a really high level, they’ll probably tell you, if they’re being honest, ‘Hey, it took a lot of reps to be that sure tackler.’ So, it’s just set the reps and understanding the angles.”

Smith called Hopper a “good dude” and used phrases like “humble” and “down to earth” in describing him. With continued growth, he believes Hopper can become a real X-factor on defense.

The Packers, obviously, think the same after picking him in the third round.

“He’s a four-down player,” Smith said. “The size, speed, athleticism, the ability to play multiple spots. I mean, on third down, he can come off as your edge rusher. First and second down, he can play your inside backer. He can line up and cover. Confidently, he can line up and cover the slots, he can cover the Travis Kelces of the world, those big-time tight ends, those Christian McCaffrey’s out of the backfield.

“If you just watch his tape, he can do it. He can do it.”

Ty'Ron Hopper
Ty'Ron Hopper / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Bill Huber


Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.