With the sudden retirement of BJ Raji, a 4-game suspension for Mike Pennel, and Josh Boyd returning from a significant ankle injury, the Green Bay Packers will likely look to bolster the middle of their defensive line in the 2016 NFL Draft. Letroy Guion will man the nose tackle position, but this draft is deep at defensive tackle. It will provide ample room for Green Bay to add some big bodies.
Many mock drafts have the Packers taking a defensive tackle with their first overall pick. Guion looks to be a serviceable starter, but he’s been used in tandem with Raji since coming to the Packers in 2014. It’s imperative that the team find some young players to groom behind him.
Another area in need of improvement is pass rush from the middle of the defensive line. While Guion has had some success when utilized consistently on passing downs (in 2014 he finished with 3.5 sacks), the team could certainly use a versatile defensive tackle that could generate more of a pass rush up the middle. Raji and Guion combined for just half a sack last year. But even if the Packers find someone to fill that role in the 1st round, they may decide to return to the position later in the draft. A 3-4 defense needs a good bevvy of big boys.
One prospect that may entice the Packers is DJ Reader, the 6’3, 335 lb defensive tackle out of Clemson. At 21 years old, Reader is nearly the size of Raji, with some chance to bulk up even a little more if teams think that it would help his play.
Not only is Reader big, he’s strong too. First round prospect Andrew Billings’ strength has garnered a lot of attention. He lead the position at the combine with 31 bench press reps, but Reader was just one behind him with an impressive 30 reps.
Readers’ draft stock probably took a hit early in 2015 when he decided to step way from the Clemson football program for personal reasons. He returned in October, however, and finished the last 9 games of the season, starting on defensive line. The film shows him playing everywhere from the 0 to the 3 technique.
Reader is projected to be somewhere between a 5th and 7th round pick. He could provide major value for the Packers if he’s still available toward the end of the draft.
I looked at all of Reader’s snaps against two major teams, Oklahoma and Alabama. Here’s what stuck out.
Reader does not generate much of a pass rush. In 9 games in 2015, he finished with just half of a sack. Reader struggles to get separation from an offensive lineman on passing downs.
Of the two games that I watched, Reader really only disrupted a pass once. When he did, he wasn’t able to finish the play and immediately get to the quarterback. He used his strength to bowl over the lineman in front of him, but he’s fairly limited in his ability to pursue a QB around the pocket. Most nose tackles are. I suspect that Reader could accumulate a sack or two in the NFL, but he’s certainly not going to be a pass rushing tackle.
This is really where Reader finds his strengths as a football player. The thing that he’s going to be able to do best is eat up blocks, allowing other players to come up and make tackles on a running back. Reader’s size and strength allow him to create traffic jams at the line of scrimmage, even when he’s doubled up.
Here Reader is pushed back by two linemen but still manages to get an arm in on the tackle.
Similarly, Reader gets both the center and the left guard here. He doesn’t make the tackle, but he plugs up the middle enough to disrupt the play.
When single covered, he shows the ability to get off his block and make a tackle.
Below is the most impressive snap that Reader had over these two games. At least at the college level, he did not have to rely solely on his strength. Reader has the ability to sneak into gaps and disrupt in the backfield. Here he shoots between the guard and tackle and puts a wallop on the running back.
The Packers are likely to use Reader at the 0 technique, where he’s shown the ability to over power a center and push into the backfield.
For his size, Reader has decent lateral movement. He also looks to play through the whistle, hustling to the sidelines or even down the field in an attempt to make a tackle. Below, Reader pancakes his man and bounces outside to make a nice tackle.
And here Reader shows impressive hustle for a big man, running all the way from the far hash mark to make a tackle on a WR screen near the sidelines.
Reader’s biggest weakness is that he too often gets blocked completely out of a play, especially when he’s lined up at the 0 technique. If an offensive lineman can turn his shoulders, Reader is moved around at the lineman’s will, giving up big holes up the middle.
Reader is a raw talent, but he’s a perfect fit for the Packers’ scheme. There are a lot of intangibles there for molding. For a guy of his size and strength, he doesn’t have to rely solely upon his strength to get into the backfield. Still, his strength is his greatest asset. If the Packers were to draft him, the goal would be to line him up at the 0 technique and let him eat up blocks in the middle. At the college level, teams often had to give their center help with him. I think that NFL centers will have an easier time with Reader 1-on-1, but he’d still command some double teams.
He’s undeniably nimble for his size. He’s not going to be chasing guys around the field, but he has a fairly wide tackling radius unlike some nose tackles who look stuck in the proverbial phone booth.
However, as a total player Reader seems to have produced less than the sum of his parts. His 2015 season was seen as a little bit of a let down. The potential is there, but Reader hasn’t shown that he’s capable of making the most of it.
There are also some character concerns over the missed half season, but that may have worked to the favor of whichever NFL team drafts him later than he probably would have gone otherwise. Reader is still young. Whatever the reason that he left the team temporarily, it’s unlikely to affect the rest of his career.
If Reader is still around when the Packers are picking late in the 5th or in the 6th round, he poses little risk. His ceiling isn’t high. He doesn’t look to be a future Pro-Bowler, but he does remind one of BJ Raji. If the Packers could get Raji-level production (even 2 or 3 years down the road) from Reader, he’d be well worth a late round pick.——————
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.