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 series, here for quarterbacks, here for running backs, here for wide receivers, here 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:
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.
Another issue is that it becomes difficult to determine what position a player truly plays; considering that most 3-4 defensive ends play defensive tackle in the 4-3. For example, BJ Raji played the majority of the 2009 season at defensive end while Ryan Picket played as the starting nose tackle. In 2010, the Packers flipped the two leading to BJ Raji playing the nose (his natural position) and Ryan Pickett playing defensive end. For the sake of analysis, players will be listed under what position they are likely to play in a 3-4 defense, as such most defensive linemen drafted pre-2009 are now are slotted as outside linebackers, even though they may not truly match what the Packers like in their outside linebackers.
To compound issues even more, Dom Capers has used exotic packages extensively that feature defensive linemen in strange situations, the most notable are the “psycho” package that features 1 defensive linemen (sometimes not even as a down linemen) and the “big 3” package where the defensive line consists of 3 players who could play nose tackle (usually Howard Green-BJ Raji-Ryan Pickett). Needless to say, defensive linemen are required to be very versatile for the Packers.
On the flip side, with the sole exception of maybe Aaron Kampman, the rest of the defense has done a pretty remarkable job during the transition; Cullen Jenkins had two of his more productive seasons in the 3-4 defense and Johnny Jolly became a force in 2009 at defensive end as well.
Due to the vast differences between 3-4 defensive ends and 4-3 defensive ends, its not surprising that only two drafted players managed to make it onto the 53 man roster in 2010, which happen to be the two 2010 rookies (Johnny Jolly would have been a lock to make it had he not been suspended). Jarius Wynn and Mike Montgomery also made appearances due to injuries but are not likely to return.
Based on the players above, who the majority again are not suited for 3-4 defensive end, the drills that defensive ends have the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying highest importance) are 3-cone and vertical. 3-cone makes some sense as it evaluates agility and flexibility, which are important when dipping under an offensive lineman to get to the quarterback, but 3-4 defensive linemen aren’t usually asked to get to the quarterback, so while this might be helpful everyone once in a while, the majority of the time they are suppose to eat up blockers and let the outside linebackers make players. On the other hand, vertical is not very useful for any linemen, conceivably batting down balls might have something to do with a vertical jump, but again it doesn’t seem as if that would be very important for a defensive end. Either the fact that switching defense has coincidentally lead to players being drafted with very similar verticals or some other factor, such as lower leg power has lead indirectly to very similar workout numbers.
As for specific skills, the Packers are looking for defensive ends that are usually converted from defensive tackles that can hold up the point of attack, usually while double-teamed. The main purpose of a defensive end is to clear up the lanes for the outside linebackers to make plays. Being stout against the run is vitally important while being able to get to the quarterback is a nice bonus. Defensive linemen as a whole must be very versatile and have a high football IQ, Dom Capers often dials up exotic blitz packages and usually that involves defensive linemen being in strange positions and situations. Strength is a pretty important factor considering that both Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson, the two defensive ends picked benched 31 and 32 times respectively.
Comparable offensive tackles in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):
Stephen Paea Oregon State/6’1”/303 lbs/5.14 40-yard dash/ 49 bench press
- Incredibly strong
- Good toughness and stamina
- Good use of hands
- Very raw as a pass rusher
- Not big enough to play nose tackle
Ian Williams Notre Dame/6’1”/319 lbs/5.14 40-yard dash/31 bench press:
- Quick first step
- Good against double teams
- Powerful bull rush
- Lacks the speed to get to the quarterback
- Poor use of hands
- Recovering from an MCL injury
Conclusion: The defensive line is perhaps the position most in flux during the offseason since Johnny Jolly will almost certainly never play in the NFL again and Cullen Jenkins is a free agent who seems to be on the way out, Mike Neal has to play catch up after being on IR for the majority of the season and C.J. Wilson is raw at best. Needless to say there isn’t much quality depth at defensive end and that may prompt Thompson to draft heavy in the area just like he did in 2010. Thompson does however have a lot of play when it comes down to picking defensive ends as almost everyone fits the Packers scheme in some regards, the Packers have shown that they can use players who look like nose tackles (Ryan Pickett) all the way to players who look like outside linebackers (Mike Neal).——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.