1

June

B.J. Raji: Next in line, when will he sign?

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Despite being predictably quiet throughout free agency, the Packers have successfully locked up perhaps their two most valuable players.

The team locked up quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to long-term contract extensions. Matthews signed a five-year deal that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in football, while Rodgers became the highest-paid player in league history.

The next guy in line for a new deal may be defensive lineman B.J. Raji.

The Packers spent the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft on Raji–a player they hoped would anchor the defensive line as they transitioned to the 3-4 alignment.

One Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl and four years later, Raji is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Since becoming a weekly starter in 2010, he has started all but two regular-season games for the Packers. Statistically, Raji’s best season was in 2010 when he racked up 6.5 sacks and scored the deciding touchdown in the NFC Championship Game in Chicago. Following Raji’s breakout year in 2010,  he was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011 despite an inconsistent season.

Pro Football Focus gave Raji a +15.1 season grade in 2010, -20.8 in 2011 and a +6.5 last season. And now, Raji has high expectations for himself as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

“I want to get back to the Pro Bowl,” said Raji, according to JSOnline.com. “I think that I have that ability. And I want to help other guys get to the Pro Bowl who haven’t been there. I want to obviously help us get back to being a top-five defense. And I just want to dominate the game, from Week 1 to whenever we’re done playing and just have an impact in every football game.”

Raji’s agent, David Dunn, also represents Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. Both Rodgers and Matthews signed contract extensions earlier this offseason.

“I’m not really going to talk contracts,” Raji said, per the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “Obviously, the Packers are a great organization and I’m sure they’ll do right by me. I’ll leave it at that.”

In 2012, Raji’s play improved dramatically after the team’s Week 10 bye.

Pro Football Focus: B.J. Raji in 2012

Pro Football Focus: B.J. Raji in 2012

18

March

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: John Jenkins, DL Georgia

John Jenkins

Georgia DL John Jenkins.

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft prospect profile: DL John Jenkins

Player Information:

John Jenkins, DL Georgia
6-4, 346 pounds
Hometown: Meriden, CT

STATS

NFL Combine:

Bench: 30 reps

News and Notes:

Weight fluctuated between 336 and 376 pounds at Georgia. … He says he’s now educated on how to keep his weight down and weight will not be an issue in the NFL. … Body type screams nose tackle, but he played several positions on the D-line at Georgia. … Totaled 78 tackles and four sacks over four years at Georgia. … Credited with 14 QB pressures in two seasons, a lot for a guy his size. … Compares to B.J. Raji, both in his body type and tendency to get wiped out by double teams.

What they’re saying about him: 

  • NFL.com: “Jenkins is a massive junior college transfer with great upside as a run-stuffer, but is limited to being a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme because of his lack of quickness. His impressive size and strength will likely make him coveted, but needs to improve his balance and pad-level.”
  • Doug Farrar: ”Will dance through trash in tight spaces and keeps the effort toward the ballcarrier even after he’s blocked out of a play. Comes off the snap with good intensity and gets into “fighting stance” quickly. Can play well enough in multiple gaps, though he’s ideally an interior defender at the NFL level. Played some end at Georgia and did it well enough for it to be a part of his NFL palette.”

Video:



Video Analysis:

  • Size immediately stands out, even before the film starts rolling. I have visions of a marketing campaign featuring Raji, Jenkins, Ryan Pickett and a cameo from Gilbert Brown.
  • Very quick in space. When he’s chasing down a play, I can’t believe how fast he is for his size.
  • Not as quick off the ball as I’d thought he’d be, especially when double-teamed. At times, it seems like he senses the double team before the snap and gets tentative.
  • Seems to get chopped down fairly often. Some scouting reports said all of his mass is in his upper body, making him easy to cut-block.
  • Really hard to move when blocking one-on-one. Just his sheer size makes it necessary to double-team him.
  • Showed some burst pass rushing inside, escially when getting leverage with his initial move.
6

October

Packers News: Team activates Neal, releases Merling

Packers DE Mike Neal

Packers DE Mike Neal

Defensive end Mike Neal served a four-game suspension to start the 2012 season. And now that he’s eligible to return to the field, the team has activated him to the 53-man roster.

Neal practiced with the team this past week, and he’s now available to play tomorrow against the Indianapolis Colts. Sunday’s game will be a bit of a homecoming for Neal, who was born in Merrillville–about 150 miles north of Indianapolis.

The Packers selected Neal in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but he’s appeared in just nine games in two NFL seasons. Still, Neal remains one of the Packers’ most athletic defensive linemen, and the team hopes he can provide a push up the middle.

Green Bay’s pass rush has registered 15 sacks through four games this season. However, the interior of the defensive line has been unable to generate much of a pass rush. None of the Packers’ six defensive lineman to play this season currently holds a positive grade in the pass rush department, according to Pro Football Focus.

To make room for Neal, the Packers cut veteran defensive end Phillip Merling.

The Packers signed Merling this summer as an unrestricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins. After an impressive training camp, the coaching staff decided to keep Merling over defensive lineman Daniel Muir while Neal served his suspension.

With Neal back in the fold, he and Jerel Worthy will likely be the Packers’ two down linemen in their 2-4-5 nickel alignment. Stay tuned on Sunday for the team’s inactive list to see whether or not Neal is active for week five.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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9

April

According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Defensive Ends (Defensive Linemen)

Defensive Ends (Defensive Linemen): Here’s the seventh of a series of articles and first for the defense, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this serieshere for quarterbackshere for running backs, here for wide receivershere for tight ends here for offensive tackles and here for offensive interior linemen).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what defensive ends are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two defensive ends in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of offensive interior linemen drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
Mike Montgomery 6’5” 276.00 5.05 7.39 4.33 34.50 115.00 19.00
Johnny Jolly 6’3” 310.00 5.41
Justin Harrell 6’5” 300.00 5.04 7.63 4.79 30.50 108.00 24.00
Jarius Wynn 6’5” 273.00 4.94 19.00
Mike Neal 6’2” 294.00 4.95 7.53 4.53 33.00 113.00 31.00
C.J. Wilson 6’4” 271.00 4.93 4.77 33.00 116.00 32.00
Average 6’4”
287.33
5.05 7.52 4.61 32.75 113.00 25.00
StDev 1.26
16.24
0.18 0.12 0.22 1.66 3.56 6.28

 

What the Packers are looking for: Obviously one of the biggest differences between the offense and the defense in regards to drafting is the switch to the 3-4 defense under Dom Capers in 2009.  As a result some players were slotted into other positions, such as Aaron Kampman moving from defensive end to outside linebacker.  Ideally this article would only analyze players drafted from the 2009 season and beyond, but unfortunately there haven’t been enough drafts and picks to make a good analysis.