Free agency is underway and some major developments have unfolded for every team, including the Packers. Though they aren’t active in free agency compared to others, they have done some work and lost some really good players.
So we now continue our look through the roster with the defensive line. Talented and disruptive when healthy, they took some hits in the offseason, but we can look at the ending roster and break down what will happen.
And a quick disclaimer: I apologize for the long break between articles. I just moved back to Wisconsin and am still adjusting to life here again. But I plan to get the rest of the series up by the end of the week. So with that said, on with the D-Line
Daniels has been a revelation since he was drafted back in 2012, starting all 16 games each of the last two seasons and recording 18 career sacks. Last season was his best yet as he recorded 49 tackles including 4 sacks and a forced fumble. He also picked off a screen pass in Arizona. But even beyond the stats, he was a disruptive force who consistently lived five yards or so in the backfield. He opened up a ton of opportunities for guys like Julius Peppers and Nick Perry to get sacks, even at the expense of his own personal stats. Throw in his leadership in the locker room and on the field and we have a building block for this team. His extension signed in November was a steal, especially compared to the money given to the big name tackles last week. Daniels will be a Packer for life.
We also can now say the same for BJ Raji, as the veteran nose tackle has called it quits on a career after a solid season citing health concerns in his family. When he played though, he was an effective run stuffer and was able at times to get a push into the backfield on passing downs. He only was credited with half a sack, but it was pretty obvious to see how he effected the defense when he was off the field. When he had to sit out with a groin injury, the defense was significantly worse, especially against the run. A big, mobile tackle when he was in shape and healthy, Raji was a difference maker no matter what the stat sheet said and he will be missed.
The heir apparent to Raji, Pennel was a big and talented prospect who fell out of the draft over character concerns, but has been a model citizen in Green Bay itself. Back home in Colorado, not quite. He is facing a four game suspension for a substance abuse violation, which could really handicap the Packers line. When he played, he made some big plays, especially in the run game. He was very reminiscent of Raji when he jumped off the snap, able to penetrate double teams quickly and was a sure tackler. He should be a key member of the line for a long time.
If Pennel can learn from anyone, it would be Guion who faced the same thing last season, albeit on a larger scale. But Guion is a respected member of the locker room and someone who is capable of mentoring a young guy like Pennel. When he was on the field, he was able to be stout at the point of attack, but not much of a pass rusher. Only starting 4 games last year, he didn’t record a sack and regressed from his good 2014 season, but part of that is the reduced role with the return of Raji. When he is on, Guion is a good, solid starter who uses his size to great advantage. And he will be a part of the team for the next three seasons after re-signing before free agency began.
Much like Nick Perry last year, this is a “prove it” season for Datone Jones. The former first round pick has never fully recovered from his rookie year ankle injury and the psychological aspects of it and has been inconsistent throughout his tenure in the NFL. Sometimes he shows flashes of being a dominant force as a pass rusher, but other games he disappears from the game tape entirely. As he started to move outside to linebacker during passing downs later in the season he was more effective and showed some more consistency. Hopefully he can step up more this year as a pass rusher as a hybrid guy, because he has shown himself to be a man of good character who is respected in the locker room.
Drafted in 2013, Boyd is basically “just a guy” in my eyes. A big, strong run stuffer, he takes up a lot of space and holds the point solidly, but that remains to be seen whether he can continue that role after suffering a serious knee injury in week 2 last season. When healthy, he was a starter for this team but appears to have been passed by Pennel and Guion after they stepped up in his absence and the defense inproved. Boyd also is in the final year of his contract.
The only draft pick to be cut from the roster, Ringo showed potential as a poor man’s Mike Daniels in the preseason. He is significantly undersized for a 3-4 at only 6’1” and 298 lbs, but he showed good strength and surprising burst for a small-school prospect. He was a force at Louisiana-Lafayette with 21 sacks in 45 games. He hopes to be a rotational player for this team in 2016 and he looks like he can be that after getting a raise partway through the season to main roster money.
Practice squad guy who got cut by Philadelphia in the preseason last year. Started 8 games in college and didn’t make a huge impact. Camp body.
Huge nose tackle from prospect (6’5” 330 lb) from Michigan was was drafted by the Jets in 2013. Jets tried to convert him to offensive line, but released him in 2014 and he was picked up in 2015 to be on the practice squad. If he can use his size well, a prospect is there, but it is likely he is a practice squad guy again.
Signed a couple of day ago, Drew was a four year letterman and captain for Georgia, recording 39 tackles as a senior. He also used his impressive size (6’4”) and wingspan to block three kicks, something that could be useful for the Packers. Didn’t make a roster out of the preseason last year and spent some games on the Cleveland practice squad.
Not too much out there in free agency, but some intriguing prospects remain. The biggest (in every way) in Terrence Knighton aka “Pot Roast” but he will give Washington a pick and Ted Thompson doesn’t usually do that. Other tackles to keep an eye on would be Steve McClendon and Sammie Lee Hill. For defensive ends, I would be intrigued by Randy Starks. The veteran is immensely strong and someone who has proven to be a good player in the league. Other guys to watch are Jason Hatcher, Jared Crick, Mike Martin, and Chris Canty.
This is a deep draft for defensive linemen which would significantly help the Packers in April. There are numerous guys to be had in each round, starting with Andrew Billings in Round 1. The Baylor product is a massive prospect who was a disruptive force in the Big 12. Other guys in round 1 who could fall are Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) and Jarran Reid (Alabama). Reid would be a nice guy to have. In later rounds are Vernon Butler (LA Tech, Rd 2), Chris Jones (Mississippi State, Rd 2-3), Mallek Collins (Nebraska, Rd 4), CJ Reader (Clemson, Rd 6), Nile Lawrence-Stample (Florida State, Rd 7).
For ends, the best is DeForest Buckner but he is a Top 10 pick and will not fall to 27. In Round 2, there is a possibility of Jonathan Bullard from Florida to come to Green Bay. He is a good pass rusher with a dynamite first step. Other prospects include Carl Nassib (Penn State, Rd 2-3), Shawn Oakman (Baylor, Rd 3), Jihad Ward (Illinois, Rd 4), Ronald Blair (Appalachian State, Rd 5), and Lawrence Thomas (Michigan State, Rd 7)
PROJECTED 2016 TRAINING CAMP ROSTER
Daniels, Pennel, Guion, Boyd, Campbell, Drew, Vernon Butler*, Chris Jones*, Shawn Oakman*, Ronald Blair*——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.