When discussing the Packers’ defensive shortcomings, most fans will immediately point to safety as the area the Packers need to improve on this season, and that may be true, but defensive line play is a close second.
In 2013, the Packers ranked 25th in the league in run defense and were often manhandled by opposing offensive linemen. And with the exception of Mike Daniels, all the Packers’ defensive linemen received a negative grade from Profootballfocus.com .
The Packers currently have 10 defensive linemen on their roster and I have put them into one of the following categories.
Impact Players – A potential Pro Bowler who opposing teams need to game plan for.
Solid Starters – An average to slightly above average starter.
Quality Backup/Role Players – A player who can start if needed and may also contribute on special teams. These players may also have some upside and untapped potential.
Not Guaranteed a Roster Spot – A player who may be fighting to make the final 53 man roster or the practice squad.
Here is how I currently rank the Packers’ defensive linemen.
- Mike Daniels – There were those who were critical of the Packers selection of Daniels in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. At just 6’ tall, he does not have the prototypical size that teams look for in a defensive lineman, but Daniels uses his speed and power to overcome his lack of height and length. Daniels led the defensive line in sacks last season with 6.5, and he could see a jump in that number with an expected increase in playing time.
- BJ Raji – After an excellent 2010 campaign, Raji looked like a future star, but now after 2 consecutive mediocre seasons it’s hard to figure out what the Packers have in Raji. However, his inconsistent play could benefit the Packers this season. Raji should be motivated by the fact that he did not have any blockbuster contract offers in free agency, and instead had to settle for a 1 year prove it deal with the Packers. In their base defense, the Packers plan on moving Raji away from defensive end and back to nose tackle this season, a change that should be beneficial to both the Packers and Raji.
- Datone Jones – Expectations are high for Jones entering his second season. 2013’s first round pick looked explosive in OTAs and early in training camp during his rookie season, but an ankle injury suffered late in training camp hampered his performance the rest of the year. If he can stay healthy, and Dom Capers is able to put him in a position that maximizes his talents, Jones could have a huge season.
Quality Backup/Role Players
- Letroy Guion – The signing of Guion didn’t grab headlines the way the Julius Peppers signing did, but he could play a large part in fixing the Packers defensive line woes. Guion won’t be expected to put up big numbers, but having started 31 games over his 6 year career, he should add a veteran presence to a defensive line group that is very young.
- Khyri Thorton – One of two third round picks in this year’s draft, Thorton should not be counted on to be a major contributor this season, but he should have a spot in the defensive line rotation. Thorton started 28 games at Mississippi State and had 116 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, and 5.5 sacks.
- Jerel Worthy – Worthy, like so many other Packer defenders as of late, has seen his career slowed by injury. The 2012 2nd round pick showed some promise his rookie year, but a knee injury suffered very late in the season cost him much of his second season, and he has not been able to participate in OTAs yet this season. The Packers rarely give up on early draft picks this soon, so I believe Worthy’s roster spot is pretty secure, but if he is unable to participate in training camp, that could change.
Not Guaranteed a Roster Spot
- Josh Boyd – During his rookie year, Boyd saw just 103 snaps on defense and recorded 6 tackles. The 5th round pick out of Mississippi State reported to OTAs at 328 pounds, almost a full 20 pounds over his listed weight of 310 pounds. The weight gain may add to Boyd’s versatility and allow him to play both end and tackle in the Packers’ scheme. I expect Boyd to make the Packers’ final roster, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he is a roster casualty at final cut downs.
- Mike Pennel – Pennel’s size makes him an intriguing prospect. Although he weighed in at 332 pounds at the combine, Pennel was listed at a massive 363 pounds while in college. Pennel had some off the field issues, twice being suspended at Arizona State, which caused him to transfer to Colorado State-Pueblo his senior season.
- Carlos Gray –ESPN’s Rob Demovsky has mentioned Gray as a player who has stood out during OTAs. Gray played 2 years at North Carolina State and was never a full time starter, making his decision to enter the draft as a red shirt sophomore a little puzzling. Gray had 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a senior. Gray probably doesn’t have much chance of making the Packers’ 53 man roster, but he might be worth stashing on the practice squad for a year.
- Luther Robinson – A tryout player that was signed by the Packers after the draft, Robinson only started 3 games during his career at Miami and did not record a sack. Most likely a camp body, Robinson is a long shot to make the Packers roster or practice squad.