19

April

2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Defensive Line

In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the defensive line currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.

This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.

CURRENT PLAYERS:

#90 B.J. Raji [NT]
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#79 Ryan Pickett [DE/NT]
31 yrs. old / 10 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#95 Howard Green [DE]
32 yrs. old / 6 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#91 Justin Harrell [DE]
27 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#94 Jarius Wynn [DE]
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#96 Mike Neal [DE]
23 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#98 C.J. Wilson [DE]
24 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#68 Jay Ross [NT]
23 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract

#60 Curtis Young [LB/DE]
24 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract

#77 Cullen Jenkins [DE]
30 yrs. old / 7 yrs. exp.
Free Agent

#97 Johnny Jolly [DE]
28 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
(Currently suspended from the NFL)

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com

POSITION STRENGTHS:

If there is one player I would have to call the foundation of the Green Bay Packers defense, it would undoubtedly be B.J. “The Freezer” Raji.

Throughout the season, Raji was a constant force to be reckoned with. He excelled in his role as the anchor of the defensive line, eating up blockers and pushing the pocket when needed. Plus, it’s hard not to be impressed with a nose tackle that amassed 34 solo tackles, 7.5 sacks, and a pick-six all in one year. To top it off, he played over 85% of the snaps during the season. I don’t think it’s too much to expect more of the same in 2011 from such a young, motivated player.

Ryan Pickett seemed to be somewhat of a specter last season, but that, by itself, is nothing to be concerned about with a 3-4 defensive end. Pickett is a big-bodied veteran who excels against the running game and helps open pass-rush lanes for the linebackers behind him. He also serves as the back-up nose tackle when needed.

In addition to these two, the Packers have a few younger players who seem ready to take on increased roles next season. Mike Neal currently has the inside track to a starting job in 2011, as his (limited) opportunities had coaches and fans alike giddy about his performance.

C.J. Wilson is another young player that will probably see some increased playing time, since he had some bright flashes while filling in for Cullen Jenkins last year.

Overall, the defensive line was incredibly solid in 2010. The depth at this position really proved its worth with Johnny Jolly gone, Mike Neal on IR for most of the season with a shoulder injury, Ryan Pickett missing two games, and Cullen Jenkins also out for five weeks due to injury. Howard Green was an important, if unspectacular, mid-season signing in this regard, and he could fill a similar role next season.

POSITION WEAKNESSES:

Make no mistake about it, the (probable) absence of Cullen Jenkins will be felt on the line. Without him, the Packers will be missing an elite pass rusher who can give opposing offenses something to really worry about besides Clay “Bloodline” Matthews.

Sure, Mike Neal is the heir apparent to Cullen Jenkin’s position and C.J. Wilson showed some bright flashes during the season; however, Neal still carries some uncertainties with him and Wilson is more of a run stopper than a quarterback mauler.

The departure of Jenkins also reduces the veteran presence on the line.

Next year’s group will be a lot of young bucks who haven’t had a lot of practice in the system. Neal missed a lot of experience time due to his shoulder injury, and Wilson and Wynn both saw limited snaps throughout the season. These three, in addition to next year’s rookies, will also see their progress reduced due to the labor dispute and lack of offseason programs, such as OTA’s.

Finally, the depth along the line could be a factor next season. While the Packers were able to overcome the myriad injuries last season, they are going to be a little more shorthanded this season if they don’t add some more talent to the roster.

Besides, T.J. Lang probably would not prefer to see his number called again this year in goal line formations where more big linemen are needed.

POSITION UNCERTAINTIES:

Before we get into anything else, let me just state that resigning Cullen Jenkins is pretty much a pipe dream at this point. While the possibility remains that he could return, that chance is very slim. His skills at defensive end will come at a high price – a price higher than Green Bay would be willing to match. There is going to be some fierce competition from other teams to acquire him, and if I know Ted Thompson, he would rather have a compensatory draft pick in 2012 than spend a bunch of money on an aging veteran who’s seen his fair share of injuries.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to some bigger uncertainties:

1) How much longer is Ryan Pickett going to be around? Pickett was a major free agent acquisition by Thompson in 2006. (You know it’s serious when Thompson signs a free agent.) In fact, the franchise tag was placed on him after the 2009 season, after which the Packers signed him to a 3-year deal. He was important in fulfilling the role of nose tackle during the transition to Capers’ 3-4 scheme, but now his value seems to be diminishing.

In 2011, Pickett is slated to earn $2.7 million. That figure jumps up to $4.5 million in 2012 and $5.4 million in 2013, the last year of his contract. It’s not too crazy to think that his pay could be higher than his worth after this next season. He’s already 31, and if the Packers were willing to let Cullen Jenkins hit free agency this year, then there’s a good chance Pickett could be traded or even cut if they can find a younger, cheaper, more effective player to replace him.

(Actually, they probably already have this player in C.J. Wilson, in which case they would still be looking for added depth.)

2) Will Mike Neal be the answer at defensive end? The answer could very well be a resounding “yes,” but the uncertainty here is his susceptibility to injury. During college, he missed time with both a knee injury and turf toe. Neal also played through a torn labrum during the final games of his 2007 season. It was also a (same?) torn labrum that Neal had to have surgery on this past season with the Packers, landing him on injured reserve. This was after a rib injury caused him to miss the first couple games of the year.

Mike Neal is no Justin Harrell – or so we hope – but there are definitely some concerns with him. Add to this his limited time and experience in the system, and the uncertainties surrounding him are significant for next year.

3) Speaking of Harrell, what will the Packers do with him? And here you thought we had seen the last of Harrell after he left the Week 1 Eagles game with a torn ACL. No, the ill-fated 2007 first round draft pick is still a member of the team and could very well be competing for a spot on the roster next year. It’s not clear whether the front office and coaching staff is as frustrated with the situation as the fans are, but it will be something to monitor as we get closer to the season. Also, how they feel about Harrell could be a factor in how high the place their needs on the defensive line.

URGENCY OF NEEDS: Medium

After all the roster cuts were made, the Green Bay Packers kept six defensive linemen on the 53-man roster in 2010. This is also the same number they ended with, as Howard Green was signed and Jarius Wynn was elevated from the practice squad to replace both Harrell and Neal.

Without taking any potential rookies into consideration, the line-up for next year will probably be Pickett, Raji, Neal, and Wilson, with Wynn, Harrell, and/or Green filling in the final two slots. This being the case, there are no glaring holes that need to be filled immediately.

In the upcoming draft, Ted Thompson should be looking more for depth along the line than first-year starters. Though he’ll certainly nab any “value picks” to upgrade over players like Green and Wynn, he has the time to develop some of the later round prospects.

Despite the loss of Jenkins, the needs of the defensive line are moderate. Some greater talent would be welcome, but it’s not necessary, and the starting line-up is pretty much already set.

*** For further reading, check out “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Defensive Ends (Defensive Linemen)” by Thomas Hobbes. ***

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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17 Responses to “2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Defensive Line”

  1. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    I lean toward medium-high for need here.

    Raji-played in 85% last year and many clamour as being a great feat and will expect no less.To expect no less is ignoring the danger that can/may come from it.Fatigue and over use increases injury possibility.

    Neal-already has a high injury rating

    Harrell-unluckiest guy in football

    Wilson-late rd gems are great but,all that glitters doesn’t always shine

    Green-been kicked to the street a few times.

    Pickett-If we let Jenkins go and will/may do same here next year…

    Wynn-unless he is related to the Wynn in Las Vegas,not betting big on him.

    Last year was…the year of the Packers version of “Etch-a-Sketch”.
    Turn it over,shake,erase,redraw the lines.

    Actually,I’m going high in this need.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • FireMMNow says:

      i agree Taryn. In the last two years the packers have lost their two best DEs (assuming Jolly is still locked up and Cullen Leaves) Wilson and Neal looked pretty good in limited opportunities, but I have concerns about Neal’s injury and his ability to play a lot of snaps. Luckily this draft is deep with 5 techniques. Looking at the packers roster I would put DE above all else for next season. Without quality D-line play this defense is a shell of itself. Those guys are not going to get a lot of pub, but when this defense is running on all cylinders it is because the D-line is killing the run game and pushing the pocket. Keep the cupboard full TT.

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      To be completely honest, I was actually wracking my brain trying to decide whether to go medium-high or just medium. And I can really see both sides.

      I don’t see this as a high urgency, though, because none of the starting positions are in dire need of a player to fill them. As I said, Thompson needs to draft for depth more than finding a starter.

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      • FireMMNow says:

        if cullen leaves and neal is not ready to play, both of which are very real possibilities the packers will need a starter. Wilson looks like a nice player but I hate to depend on him to start and Green is a nice rotation player but not real starter material.

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  2. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    The views,whether from the writers at Jersey Al’s or we the commentors(fans) of the site,though travel in different idea/thought directions,we all begin from the same point,what may be best for the Packers.

    I said in the post concerning the OL that it cannot be treated the same as the DL,in regards to the OL needs a startable guy in general and the learning class is full.

    In contrast,I won’t say we do/don’t need a startable DL guy with the 1st pick but,it would be more re-assuring if we had someone on the bench with little to no bandage scars that can be startable.IMO
    Keep writing Chad as it’s a pleasure I enjoy.
    .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Pete Kliman says:

    KISS,keep it simple stupid,is my motto here.Barring some great athlete falling to them,TT has to pick up some serious talent for both lines.He has his wish list of lineman whoever is there at 32 will get drafted.A scenario similar to the following might appear:Watkins or Haywood,Clayborn or Sherrod.I pick Haywood 1st,OT in 2nd round. Then again if Cobb is still available do I move up in the 2nd round to get him,Ugh! See how simple that was . Any other possible draft situations

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  4. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    Moving up in the 2nd for a WR has way too many “KISSES” for me.LOL

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  5. FireMMNow says:

    not a huge fan of cobb personally. if i was going to take a WR in the second round it would be greg little for sure. he is a beast.

    i took another look at all of the top OTs in this draft and I do not think any of them can be a LT at the next level. Sherrod and Carimi have the best shot. But questionable feet. Castonzo probably has the best feet but just does not look strong enough. peppers, allen, suh, van den bosch would throw him around like a rag doll. I am just hoping newhouse develops because i do not see a LT in this draft and I think Bulaga is a RT.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      The Packers think Bulaga is a LT.

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    • Pete Kliman says:

      Cobb would be a lethal weapon in our offense with his rec.,running ,and throwing ability not to mention that he is an excellent returner and has a great character.

      I agree that Bulaga is a RT,I hope I’m wrong ,time will tell.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • You made a number of nice points there. I did a search on the subject matter and found the majority of people will go along with with your blog.

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  6. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    This is the DL post but,I’ll take the natural feet and good hands over strenght at OT.Power can be obtained where as feet and hand movement teachings may become the flaw by over-thinking and the need to constantly remember.
    You can’t beat natural fluidity.IMO,Costanzo is it for LT in 1st.

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  7. Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

    There is expected to be a big run on DLs in round one. So, by the time the Packer’s pick comes along, DL may not be a good positional value. Would be better to wait for round 2 or 3 and get a similar level player.

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    • Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

      Thanks for the opening AL and where I say,lets get Lawrence Guy.Yeah!

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      • FireMMNow says:

        I am not sure what to think of Lawrence Guy. Probably under rated prospect, but kind of like Christian Ballard he has a strange body type for the 5 technique. But I like his personality for what his role will be on the team. I think he is a rotational player, but could be more if Trgo can teach him a few things.

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  8. Dan says:

    I think picking as late as we are that any of the so called LT’s in this draft will be long gone. As for picking up a 5 tech with the 32nd is a bit of a reach in my opinion because by that time the only player i could see being there are two guys i am not sold on in Wilkerson and Cameron ( can’t think of his last name at the moment ) from Ohio State just screams Vernon Gholston to me. But i have full faith in TT . Who thinks the pack goes WR in the 3rd maybe that Titus kid from Boise?

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