With the Green Bay Packers resigning Letroy Guion to a new three year deal, the writing may be on the wall for BJ Raji. Guion is receiving just $500,000 of guaranteed money, but that contract can expand up to $11.25 million if he keeps his nose clean and continues playing at a high level. Raji was sometimes an above-average option at the nose tackle position last year, but he will be 30 before the start of the 2016 season and also disappeared for long stretches on defense. It is possible that the Packers will look to go younger, especially in a draft that is stocked with top-level defensive line talent.
On average, teams might find somewhere around 2 or 3 true nose tackles in any given NFL draft. The 2016 draft class, however, features as many as 7 or 8 defensive linemen that could play the nose position within the Packers’ defense. Below is just a short preview of the players that could be targeted by the Packers to play nose tackle.
A’Shawn Robinson – Alabama (6-4, 320)
The Packers would probably love to be able to take Robinson. He’s a huge player that can play all 3 downs in the middle at the 0 technique or move out to play DE in a 3-4. He’s a very well-rounded player and one of the best defensive line prospects in this draft, but he’s also likely to be gone well before the Packers pick at #27 in the first round.
Jarran Reed – Alabama (6-3, 313)
There is a good chance that Robinson’s team mate Jarran Reed will be off the board before the Packers pick at #27, as well. While I do not suspect that the Packers will take a potential nose tackle in the first round, if Reed would happen to be available when the Packers pick at #27, they may be tempted to pull the trigger. Reed is one of the best run-stuffing defensive linemen in the draft, but he’s a little undersized for a first round selection at the NT position. While he could certainly bulk up for the pro game, he probably weighs about 25 – 30 lbs less than BJ Raji. For a first round pick, he doesn’t provide very much in pass rush, either.
Vernon Butler – Louisiana Tech (6-4, 324)
Butler has been shooting up draft boards recently. Depending upon which mock draft you look at, Butler or Reed will be the next NT-capable defensive linemen taken after Robinson. There is a good chance that he will be gone at #27 as well. If not, the Packers should seriously consider Butler with their first pick. Butler has more prototypical NT size even though he often played at the 3 or even 5 technique at Louisiana Tech. He was played at nose on passing downs, however, and showed raw but very intriguing pass rush ability. He has the long arms coveted by many scouts. He could make a very nice counterpoint to Guion, spelling him in passing situations. It’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t immediately be an upgrade over Guion on 3rd down. I suspect that Butler will continue to jump up the draft board, but if he falls, I can’t imagine that the Packers would let him fall any further. Personally, I find him to be the most exciting of the possible NTs that could be available to the Packers, but with his frame and athleticism you question whether you’d rather play him at DE.
Andrew Billings – Baylor (6-1, 311)
Billings is a popular pick for the Packers at #27 on mock drafts. Posting a combine high 31 reps for defensive linemen on the bench press, Billings has some serious strength to knock guys around. He’s pretty quick for his size, running one of the better 40 times at his position (5.05). He’s also a little on the small side for playing NT, and he is quite young. He will be only 21 in his first year of professional football. His age could be a deterrent or a silver lining for the Packers. While young players can be a character risk, Billings is a kid who already has NFL type power.
Austin Johnson – Penn State (6-4, 314)
Johnson racked up a good number of sacks in his college career, but he’s fairly slow for his size and doesn’t project out as much of a pass rusher. Still he has a very large frame. It will probably be easy for him to bulk up and play NT if he’s asked to do so. He can eat up blocks and play the run well. Johnson will likely be available sometime in the late 2nd or early 3rd round. He could provide great value and some height to a defensive front in Green Bay that is lacking that quality. Johnson looks to be a good example of the depth of this draft. One could imagine him going as early as late 1st round in other years.
Kenny Clark – UCLA (6-3, 314)
Another very young player (will not turn 21 until October), Clark has good run stuffing skills for his leaner stature. He looks to be a more athletically gifted player than some of the other guys on this list, but doesn’t have the pass rush skills that you would expect for someone with his quickness. Right now he projects to be primarily a two down player, which the Packers already have in Guion. He might be a project, but will also probably be available into the 4th or even 5th round.
DJ Reader – Clemson (6-3, 335)
Reader might be listed at 327, but most scouts have him somewhere closer to 335 to 340. In terms of sheer body mass, Reader could eventually rival even Raji. This dude is huge, and if you watch him play it almost looks as if he could somehow add some more weight onto his frame. Reader does not have much flash to go with his size, however. He can probably eat up blocks, but he doesn’t look to be a disruptive, penetrating force on the defensive line. He was likely a 5th or 6th round guy, but could slip due to character concerns. He probably has more upside than other guys that might be available in the latter rounds, however, if only due to his size alone. If the Packers are comfortable with his character, he could be a steal late in the draft. He would certainly be a huge body up front without the early round price tag, which is probably very appealing with other positions of need. His resemblance as a player to BJ Raji is definitely noticeable. His ceiling is probably at the 2015-Raji level, which would be fantastic in the 5th or 6th round. While Butler is the sexiest pick-up at NT for the Packers, I think that Reader is the most likely.
Nile Lawrence-Stample – Florida State (6-1, 320)
While not quite as huge as Reader, Lawrence-Stample also has good size for a nose tackle. He’s not going to be a major pass rush threat, but he can grab a sack or two here and there. He’s fairly inexperienced playing over center, however, having transitioned from playing linebacker for most of high school. This is a late round guy. He lacks ideal height for the position. There’s nothing too flashy here, but he could be a nice value pick for the Packers with a 6th or even 7th round pick.
Antwaun Woods – Southern California (6-0, 318)
Woods has good quickness for his size and the frame to be a good run-stuffer. At 6’0″, however, he wouldn’t be adding any height to the defensive line. He’s not a very rangy player, and doesn’t look like he can make many plays beyond the middle of the line. He’s pretty raw, but will likely be a 7th round pick or even an undrafted rookie.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.