2015 Packers Position Group Analysis: Defensive Line

Green Bay Packers defensive line

Packers defensive line:  While we’re all clamoring for the Packers to finally fix their gaping hole at inside linebacker through the draft or free agency, let’s not forget that the defensive line needs some work, too. Potentially, a lot of work. When opposing teams decided to come at the Packers with a power-running attack in 2014, Green Bay’s smallish defensive front often resembled a squirrel that ran out in front of an 18-wheeler and looked up just in time to see the rig’s headlights bearing down before getting flattened. The Packers’ d-line has some good athletes. It also improved later in the season. But it could use more bulk and grit.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects;

Mike Daniels
Datone Jones
Josh Boyd
Mike Pennel
Luther Robinson
Bruce Gaston
B.J. Raji
Letroy Guion

Mike Daniels: Need someone to wreck a running play? Daniels can do it. Need QB pressure on an obvious passing down? Daniels can do it. Need endless energy and 125 percent effort at all times? Daniels brings it. Need a tough-guy attitude and a physical style of play? Daniels is your man. Daniels flies under the radar of most non-Packers fans, but he’s exactly what the Green Bay defense needed last season. I see no reason why he won’t continue playing at a high level, and maybe even get better.

Datone Jones: 2015 will be Jones’s third in the NFL. It’ll also be the year we find out if Jones was yet another first-round bust for Packers general manager Ted Thompson. Jones was playing well early in the 2014 season, then got hurt for a month and was never really the same player. Injuries and a lack of production have slowed Jones his first two seasons. He needs to make a Mike Daniels type of leap in year three.

Josh Boyd: Is Josh Boyd Just a Guy (JAG)? Or is he young and athletic enough to shed his current JAG status in 2015?

Mike Pennel: It’d be a total Ted Thompson move to enter training camp with Pennel as the top option at nose tackle — causing every Packers fan to scream, yell and panic — before the 2014 undrafted rookie free agent has a breakout season. I doubt Thompson will go that route, and I’m not sure Pennel is good enough for a breakout season, but I do think he can provide necessary depth up front.

Luther Robinson/Bruce Gaston/Khyri Thronton: If one of these three emerges as a contributor, I’ll be happy.

B.J. Raji: Expectations were high that Raji was going to bounce back last season. Then he got hurt and those hopes ended. In a perfect world, Raji returns and plugs up the middle of the Packers d-line like a 340-pound former first-round pick should. But let’s not forget that Raji was awful the second half of 2013. If Raji is back with the Packers, will we be getting the version of Raji that splits double teams and regularly stakes out territory in the other team’s backfield? Or will we be getting the version of Raji that ends up on the ground far more often than a 340-pound guy should?

Letroy Guion: Let this be a lesson to the younger readers of ALLGBP.com: If you just had a nice season where you exceeded expectations, and there’s buzz about the team you’re playing for offering you a multi-year contract extension, don’t drive around with a bunch of weed, cash and a gun in your truck. Guion’s arrest might actually end up working in the Packers’ favor if it means they can bring him back on another one-year deal at a reduced rate.

So that’s where we are. Next let’s look at…

Where we want to be: Every season, the Packers have one or two position groups that look a little shaky on paper. In the salary cap era, having one or two position groups labeled as “shaky” before the season starts is actually pretty good. Most teams have at least three. Anyway, the Packers stock their roster with young talent and count on that young talent to step up and shore up whatever doubts we have about that position group. The defensive line very well could be that “shaky” position group once training camp starts. Will players like Jones, Pennel, Boyd, Robinson/Gaston/Thronton or Raji and Guion step up and alleviate our fears? We’ll see.  

How do we get there?

If Thompson doesn’t bring back Raji or Guion, and if he’s not confident in the younger players on his roster improving enough to make a difference, look for the GM to draft at least one big d-lineman.

Or maybe Thompson will just sign Ndomukong Suh.

(LOL)

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Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .

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  • Big T

    Donkey Kong Suh would be awesome in Green Bay. He would create some toughness and attitude on the Defense. And the best part… the dirty bastard couldn’t stomp on Rodgers anymore.

    • barutanseijin

      I don’t really want to root for Suh.

      • Don’t worry. TT would sooner declare BF the starting QB of the GBP in 2015 than pay Sue 100m to come to Titletown. 😉

        • Neal Richter

          I think Suh is over-rated. You’re laughing, I assume. But I’ve watched him many times — not only against the Packers. He often takes plays off and his dirty play has gotten him far more publicity than he deserves.
          Tell me the great game where he completely dominated it against the Packers, because I have yet to see it.
          I’m not saying he’s not a good player. He is a very good player. But great? No way. And worth the money he wants? Again, no way.

          • I think he’s a punk and I wouldn’t want him on my team. No DT is worth that much. That said – to answer your question, Suh completely owned Lang and Sitton – two all pro guards, by himself, on 3 games out of the last 9 that I can remember off the top of my head. That’s impressive.

            1. Week 14 in 2010.
            2. Week 3 this year
            3. Thanksgiving of 2013

            He’s a great player.

            • Neal Richter

              What did he do in the other 6 games? I am basing my comments on the amount he will be trying to get and some team will probably pay him in conjunction with how I’ve seen him play. He is nowhere near that “great” of a player. He has had great games at times, but many times he has had average games. That’s my point.
              J. J. Watt is a great player. Suh couldn’t shine his shoes.

              • Watt is an all timer. He’ll be in the HOF in 15 years. Is that your standard of “great” If so, then sure, Suh isn’t a great player.

                What he does do is consistently control the interior run game and provide a pass rush. There are perhaps 5 DTs in the game at any time that can do that. Regardless of your discipline, I’d call being top 5 in the world at any time in your career pretty darn “great.”

                Someone will pay him. The problem is, with the way the NFL is set up to pass the ball and protect QBs and WRs, his position just isn’t worth 25 mil a year.

              • Neal Richter

                Appreciate your comments, Bearmeat. I am very close to the vest in handing out the word “great”. I just think that it gets handed out far too much today.
                I did say that Suh is a very good player and I have seen him have great games. But I have also seen him play very pedestrian games.
                But knowing the old saying that any press is good press, I think Suh’s bad boy reputation has enhanced his media attention and that’s helped him achieve the stauts of “great” in their eyes.
                If you want some fun, check in on a Lions web board and read some of the comments from them on Suh. I did that, and I am being kind compared to some of the things I read about him from them. LOL

  • funcrusher

    A roster position full of mediocre players, with the exception of Daniels. Wonder if you put ten pounds on Greg Hardy, if he could be a JJ Watt sort of 34 DE? Not that the Packers would ever sign him, but it would be interesting.

  • Nice analysis. ILB and DL (in that order) are what HAS to be shored up going into next year. T and TE would be nice, but not necessary.

  • Thegreatreynoldo

    GB usually only keeps 6 DL. We’ve got Daniels and JAGs in Boyd, Jones, and possibly Guion if re-signed. I am not a fan of Raji, but people disagree about him. I have no idea what Pennel, Thornton, Luther Robinson might look like next season. It depends on how the draft falls and whether TT re-signed Raji and/or Guion, but I would not be surprised if TT spends a Rd 1 or 2 pick on a defensive lineman, and probably 2-3 picks for the front 7.

  • montana83

    Again, I would like to congratulate this group. All year many correctly saw what was wrong and said so every week.
    Said AJ Hawk was past his prime – Gone
    Bard Jones made too many mistakes – Gone
    MM play calling poor too often – Delegated
    Special Teams terrible – Slocum gone
    We now have a hug cap to pay a) Cobb and anyone else, b) our draft picks and c) maybe 1 or 2 free agents although not TT style.
    I see TE as pick one if anyone left they really like which may surprise some and a ILB if anyone they want is left if no TE. Who knows.

    • croatpackfan

      One of the best NFL play caller made play calling poor to often?????? My God, how is with the rest of the league then!

      • funcrusher

        McCarthy isn’t a great play caller. He has the best quarterback alive making him look good.

        • Neal Richter

          I agree. McCarthy has never been a great game day coach. He’s been so busy studying his play board, he loses focus on the rest of the team and what’s going on on the field. I think he is a very good X’s and O’s coach, and very good player developer. I think now that he can focus on every aspect of this team, we’ll see a much better head coach. Time will tell.

        • croatpackfan

          Yea, and who made that QB to be the best QB? And, yes, who asking that question? An NFL expert? What is with you people, why you need to hate anyone? Mike McCarthy has the second best win/lose ratio among all NFL active Head Coaches. And that is calculation which involves his beginning as well as today records. Also, if you do not believe to statistic, why you do not believe to Aaron, who said that he thinks Mike McCarthy is the best play caller today in NFL?

          • funcrusher

            In no way did McCarthy make Rodgers. If he did than why aren’t Flynn, Tolzien, Coleman and Brohm Pro Bowlers?

            The win percentage is deceiving because Rodgers could join any team and they’d immediately be a playoff team. He’s that good.

            As far as Rodgers saying McCarthys the best play caller in the league, what else is he gonna say? That he sucks? Of course not. But it’s been written many times over the last few years, that Rodgers has been unhappy with the play calling and they’ve had many blowouts between them.

            I don’t think McCarthy’s a terrible coach but his play calling and scheming against good defenses has killed this team the last few years. I’m glad he’s giving up play calling duties, and although the organization is stating this is McCarthy’s decision, I’m not convinced it wasn’t forced.

            • croatpackfan

              The best cook can not make even good meal from rotten food…
              That what you wrote just make me firmer in my believe that you are just Mike McCarthy hater, nothing more, nothing less… End of the discussion!

              • funcrusher

                We can agree to disagree. But, but the Patriots scored 28 points against Seattle with their only turnover coming in the final seconds. The Packers only scored 22 points against them with five turnovers. So either the Patriots have much better players (which they don’t), or their scheming/play calling was better.

  • Tundraboy

    Man I am excited for this year. Now that the cuts we all wanted have been made,the coaching staff changes and roles made, my biggest fears have been removed. Holding onto to them as long as we did made me feel that at times, the lack of decisiveness was our biggest obstacle. Only thing that has bothered me so far was Zook’s comments

  • packett

    Great analysis…and love your squirrel-n-truck lights analogy. Agree fully on shaky, but not hopeless, and belief in young guys stepping up. But, hope is one thing, and past evidence warrants TT has to get at least one DL upgrade from free agency or the draft, then see how the JAGs work themselves up into starting roles or stay JAGs.

    • Thegreatreynoldo

      You said it better than I did in my post. If Raji and/or Guion are re-signed, we have enough quantity to get by, especially if Boyd or Jones, or someone else, improves. The quantity is good, the quality needs improvement.

  • Since ’61

    Adam – you basically nailed it when you said the DL needs bulk and grit. I couldn’t agree more. I like the Packer’s rotational approach to keep players fresh but some of the players in the rotation need bulk, especially on short yardage and they all could use an infusion of nasty attitude. The question now is where does the bulk and grit come from? Hopefully a combination of draft and FAs. Thanks, Since ’61

  • NemoOutis

    The Rams released DT Kendall Langford yesterday. TT had an interest In him back in 2012 when he left Miami for St. Louis. He’s played in a 3-4 scheme as well as a 4-3. The Rams let him go for cap space. Another possibility?

  • Razer

    I see a lot of projects. Aside from Daniels, these are not starters on most good teams. If we want our ILB play to improve, then we will need better trench play. If we want better play on the DLine, then we need some better players or better play from some of these guys. Datone Jone and Raji could help – if they show up. Since we didn’t release any of these guys, I guess that the coaches think enough of the potential.

  • dobber

    My bet: TT takes DT Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma at #30 if he’s available. The guy can be a monster if he wants to be and will have his college coach as his position coach in GB. Supposedly, he underwhelmed at the combine, but guys with his measurables on the DL are a rarity. Nobody is going to mistake him for Haloti Ngata, but he’s got the size and some of the tools.

    AND…he already has a history of back problems (supposedly repaired). We all know how TT loves 1st round DL with a history of back trouble.

  • Neal Richter

    In the same paragraph, you cite that Datone Jones got injured and was never the same player, and then you add that he could be another 1st round bust for Ted Thompson.
    Can’t you see the contradiction there? How can any GM predict injuries to any player?
    I think 1st round picks — especially by an organization which is usually drafting in the lower third of the 1st round where blue chip prospects are harder to find — are vastly over-rated.
    To judge a GM fairly (key word) you must look at his over all body of work. That includes the complete draft — not just the 1st round –, street free agents, free agents from other teams, re-signing key players already on the roster, keeping the salary structure solvent so the team has money to work with, how the team assembles it’s coaching staff, and how the team does on a yearly basis.
    Anyone who judges Ted Thompson using those guidelines, has to come away impressed. I think it’s easy to sling mud at him and we all know that he’s not perfect. But I’ve never seen a GM who has been perfect in watching the NFL for 50+ years, and it’s also wise to keep in mind just how hard it is to first win your division, then win playoff games, and then just getting to the Super Bowl, never mind winning the Super Bowl. After all, every team in the NFL is trying to do exactly the same thing.
    I equate the GM to the head pit crew guy on a race team. He assembles his crew, and they build the car to the best of their ability. He trains them to be as efficient as they can be. But on race day, if just one member falters even slightly, it could mean the difference between victory and losing. And, he has zero control over his driver or the other drivers and their pit crews who are also trying to do what he is doing.
    Ted Thompson is doing a great job in my view, and we’d be wise to appreciate what he is doing now, because it could get a lot worse if and when he decides to leave. Those of us who remember the 70’s and 80’s will attest to that.
    We all know that the smartest people in sports are fans. They know everything. Just ask them. That’s fine, because it’s what fans do and it helps them enjoy their sport. But the reality is, fans are clueless about a lot of what goes on. I include myself in that.

    • dobber

      “I think 1st round picks — especially by an organization which is usually drafting in the lower third of the 1st round where blue chip prospects are harder to find — are vastly over-rated. ”

      I think you’re right…on a couple counts: 1. we fans are a fickle lot, and always seem to know what’s best…even though we don’t work in talent evalution, game planning, or player development. Even now, I spend way too much time on scouting pages thinking what I would want to do if I were calling the shots at draft time. And 2. draft position and round really don’t matter. In the end it really doesn’t matter where you find the players. Just find them. But drafting is about probability: what is the probability of a given player becoming a contributor (or a star) for your team? Even when you’re drafting at #30, you’ve got all but 29 players in the draft field to choose from, and there’s bound to be several Pro-Bowlers lurking out there in the morass. Can you locate that guy?

      I always wonder about those GMs who seem to regularly strike gold in rounds 3-6, but end up with tin in rounds 1-2. The bar there is different for a guy taken in rounds 3-6 as opposed to a guy taken in rounds 1-2. Take AJ Hawk, for instance. If you find a guy who ends up with a career like AJ Hawk in round 6, you’re frickin’ Nostrodamus. Find him in round 1, and people scratch their heads.

      Maybe it’s an issue with talent evaluation…maybe it’s an issue with the decision-maker’s instinct…maybe it’s bad luck. The probability of finding a red or blue chipper in those first two rounds is much higher. Find one there and you’re taking care of business. Find a red or blue chipper in the middle rounds and you’re a genius. But when the odds are high you’ve got to be able to strike gold…and you better be able to do it when the odds aren’t so high if you want that chance to be a very good or elite team.

  • Archie

    Nowhere has TT failed to draft quality over the last decade moreso than at DL. High round busts abound. That said, we have no choice but to continue to swing away at drafting DL. What we have is about as bad as there is in the NFL.

  • Peter Maiz

    They need a monster free agent nose tackle to stop the run, not a draftee. If you want the best, pay for the best.