Next up in the AllGreenBayPackers.com’s positional group analysis is the defensive line, who while showed some improvement from their disastrous 2011 season was still probably the reason behind their playoff collapse this year.
Where Are We Now
Here are the current suspects;
- BJ Raji (1st round, 2009)
- Ryan Pickett (1st round, 2001)
- Mike Neal (2nd round, 2010)
- CJ Wilson (7th round, 2010)
- Jerel Worthy (2nd round, 2012)
- Mike Daniels (4th round, 2012)
- Philip Merling (2nd round, 2008, cut week 4)
So that’s where we are. Thompson has made quite an effort to shore up his defensive line, with three 1st or 2nd rounders in the last four years. However, despite Thompson’s focus on the defensive line, not much good has happened. BJ Raji hasn’t been as dominant a force as he was in the 2010 Superbowl season, Mike Neal is essentially starting his sophomore campaign with all the injuries he suffered and rookie Jerel Worthy looked like a raw rookie before suffering an ACL injury.
- Raji: Raji spent considerably more time as a defensive end this year than as a nose tackle (536 snaps at DE vs. 123 at NT) and overall as I’ve written in my previous articles this is probably the best move for the Packers as defensive ends are much more important to a 3-4 defense than nose tackles. While Raji definitely had a better season than his lackluster 2011 campaign, it still pales in comparison to his 2010 season where he earned the nickname “the freezer”. One distinct possibility is that Raji is starting to wear down due to all the snaps that he’s had to take since there were no other viable DL around, but the addition of Worthy, Neal and Daniels will hopefully allow the Packers to have a decent DL rotation.
- Pickett: Pickett again was a consistent performer in the middle, while he’s never going to really get the sacks or tackles to make fans notice, he does hold up double teams and do the dirty work for the rest of the defensive linemen and linebackers. However at 33 Pickett is certainly in the twilight of his career but surprisingly is playing more snaps ever year since 2009; this obviously can’t continue to happen for a guy at his age and size so chances are good with Raji perhaps spending the majority of time at DE, we could see the Packers look for a replacement at nose tackle.
- Neal: After a disastrous start to the season where he was banned 4 games for using Adderall without notifying the league Neal had a pretty decent season overall. Neal managed to rack up 5 sacks and finally started to look at home on the field (it certainly helped that he wasn’t seriously injured for once this season). While Neal does provide a good pass rushing option, he is still only acceptable at run defense, which is quite surprising given his supposed strength. Overall, I think the Packers like what they see in Neal, while his development was hindered due to injuries, he did play good football once things got going and I’d would think that the Packers will consider 2013 to be Neal’s sophomore season and look for him to rapidly improve.
- Wilson: Wilson is almost the exact opposite of Neal; while Neal excels in the pass defense, Wilson excels in run defense. Neal was a high draft pick who hasn’t lived up to his expectations, Wilson was a low draft pick that has certainly lived up to his. Wilson is the Packers most consistent run defender at DE and is basically a starter in the base formation (unfortunately the Packers don’t line up in the base formation all that often anymore) and outside of Raji and Pickett, logged the most snaps of any of the “rotational” defensive linemen.
- Worthy: While Worthy didn’t really show much during his rookie season, which isn’t all that surprising since most linemen on both sides of the ball struggle to adjust from the collegiate game in their first years, perhaps more unsettling is the ACL injury that he suffered in week 17 against the Vikings. Given that he sustained the injury so late in the season would seemingly dictate that at best Worthy begins the season on the PUP and at worst lands on IR for the entire season like inside linebacker Desmond Bishop did this year. Some speculation has already begun that the Packers are going to count off Worthy’s 2013 as over and are looking to draft another DL high, my feelings are the Packers aren’t going to jump the gun on the matter.
- Daniels: Mike Daniels is one of the stranger players on the Packers roster. At 6’0″ and 294 lbs, he’s too short to play anything other than inside linebacker in the front 7, while too heavy to play linebacker but too light to play any of the defensive line positions. In the end, Daniels ended up being a rotational pass rusher, though he did see starting action in week 16 against the Titans with mixed results. Going forward I’m not entirely sure what the Packers are going to do with him, presumably Neal, Worthy and Raji are their preferred starters in the nickel defense and obvious passing situations and presumably Daniels has neither the length or the size to really match up well in the running game. It will be interesting to see what the Packers ultimately decide to do with Daniels moving forward.
- Merling: Philip Merling was essentially a stop gap and a warm body for Mike Neal and only recorded 48 snaps over the entire season. He was cut after game 4 and did not resign to another team for the rest of the season.
Where We Want To Be:
Overall, the defensive line was average to below average in just about every regard, but considering that the line was atrocious last year the improvement on the line is actually a pretty surprising, hey Rome wasn’t built in a year. Still much improvement must be made in order to field an efficient defense. First and foremost is probably finding more playmakers for the defensive end position. As I’ve mentioned before, one common thread that link the better 3-4 defenses together is they have a star defensive end (SF-Justin Smith, BAL-Haloti Ngata, HOU-JJ Watt, ARI-Calais Campbell), while I believe Raji could be that guy and Worthy and Neal also have a smaller chance of being that guy; but at the moment the Packers don’t have “the guy” and it’s killing them in all aspects.
How Do We Get There?
Previously my assumption had always been that the defensive end position in the 3-4 was essentially irrelevant and basically any 3-technique 4-3 DT could probably be converted to a 3-4 DE without much penalty. However, in light of my recent analysis and the statistical trending of the NFL, this is almost exactly opposite; defensive end is one of the most important positions on the defense and it takes a special type of player to truly be dominant in the position. With that being said I’m not confident that the Packers will make DE one of their top priorities. For one there aren’t many players out there in the college system that would translate well from the predominate 4-3 scheme to a NFL 3-4 scheme (which might explain why some people believe the Packers overdrafted Mike Neal). Secondly, there is much more risk in drafting a 4-3 DT who has to make the transition to 3-4 DE than say drafting a safety. Finally, Thompson has already invested two high draft picks on Neal and Worthy, and before he knows how they will ultimately pan out, I doubt Thompson would be willing to spend any more high draft picks on defensive end. That being said, I do think that defensive end and nose tackle make a lot of sense in the mid rounds. Nose tackle in particular is probably a concern since Ryan Pickett is near the end of his career and curiously the Packers are double booked on the defensive depth chart (Raji is the backup to Pickett at NT while Pickett is the backup to Raji at DE) so adding another wide body would make a lot of sense. Also look for Thompson again to sift through the free agent “trash can” and see if he can find another player like Philip Merling to try out during the offseason.
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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.
37 thoughts on “2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Defensive Line”
The Dline is below average. In no way shape or form do they perform at the level required. Picket, one of TT’s few FA’s, is by far the best performer of the group. And as you point out at 33 he is on the downward slope of his career.
Raji is a mystery. I’m not sure his lack of aggressiveness is talent based or just the way Capers choses to use him. Every now and then you see how he can play on the other side of the LOS and create havoc. Unforunately, that is a relatively rare occurance. This makes me suspect this style is coached.
Neal, has been reminisent of Harrel until the end of this year. He started to show signs of his anticipated potential. It is critical he continue to improve and STAY HEALTHY.
Wilson is a backup at best. Rotate him in to give the starters a break is his role. Below average is the best I can say.
Worthy disappointed and then got hurt. Hope he can use his off-season rehab to strengthen his body as well as his knee. Also could be a good thing to develop a nasty attitude. Needs to have a very good year 2.
Daniels, ize is an issue preventing him from becoming a regular. He’s got a good attitude and decent speed. His role probably remains backup and situation player.
Overall, the line is not good enough going into 2013. This is an area where help is definetely needed. A couple of big nasties would be nice.
The 34 D that Capers uses doesn’t allow the DL to make plays. THey are used alot more to take on blockers and only allowed to really try to penetrate 10 or 20% of snaps at most. Those are called Jet plays for the DL and those opportunities are few and far between in Capers D. The coaches have said that Raji was every bit as good this year as in ’10 he just didn’t have the numbers to show it.
I like the DL as is and if we can find a great run stuffing DE similar to Jolly the DL would be a real strength. The guys we have right now, beside Raji, are all great role players. Pickett and Wilson as run defenders, and Neal, Worthy, Daniels are more pass rushers. Get one great run stuffing DE like Jolly and the DL is great.
Oh and it usually takes DL till year 3 to become really good. So its too early to give up on Worthy, Neal especially. Daniels will never be more than a role player (pass rush), and neither will Wilson (run defender).
Great analysis and I agree for the most part, especially that the absolutely need to carry a second NT other than Raji, whether or not the guy can do anything on ST. Backing up Pickett and providing another big body in the ‘elephant’ formation are becoming too important, and they have too many guys who are basically unsuccessful attempts replace Cullen Jenkins.
Two additional points to consider:
1) Daniels makes plays. I’d like to see a ‘per snap’ analysis of the overall line performance while Daniels was on the field — I think we might be surprised. That said, as you point out, he is not quite the right physical type for the job in the long term.
2) This is supposed to be a really strong year for DL in the draft. If a DL with a high grade is around at #26, or even #23 or 24, don’t be surprised to see TT pull the trigger.
That said they have a lot of needs. This will be a critical offseason if the team wants to get another championship with Rodgers behind center.
I think this draft is stong for 34 DL and NT, but the Packers need a true run stuffing 34 DE. A guy that is 6’4+ 310+ and can be a monster run stuffer. Those guys don’t have to come from the 1st round. You can find them in the mid rounds. Jolly was a 5th and someone like him would be exactly what the Packers need!
Rodgers has probably 8 years left, so this isn’t any more important a year as any other. Not that I want to wait that long for another SB.
Strong for 43 DL and NT, NOT for 34 DE. Ooops!
John Jenkins from Georgia. 6’5″ #350. I know some aren’t sold on him, but I am. Judging from his tape on Youtube, he’s extremely athletic for his size and holds up to double teams well. He’s exactly the space eater the Packers need to let the linebackers run free. And he’d be a replacement to Pickett whenever he decides to hang it up. If Raji or Pickett go down for an extended period, we’re in serious trouble regarding run defense.
I watched Jenkins some and came away unimpressed. He got single blocked and didn’t make any plays that I saw. He has great tools to be a great NT, but his performance isn’t meeting his ability… Not even close from what I saw.
Thomas, I completely disagree with your theory on DE’s being more important than the NT in a 3-4.. Correlation not equaling causation, and all that.
NT is paramount to the integrity of the 3-4, and I’m pretty sure every DC would tell you that.
But I digress. Good write up.
PS Mike Daniels is a whirling dervish. Give him another year and you won’t be questioning what his place is on this defense. The guy ended one of our UDFA’s careers on his first live rep in training camp. Witnesses said it was brutal. Beast.
Daniels place in the D is always going to be as a situational pass rusher. He won’t be a starter for the Packers DL IMO. I like him alot as a situational pass rusher, cuz like you said he’s a whirling dervish who can penetrate. But he won’t be a stout 34 DE or run stuffer.
I didn’t buy your statistical analysis on needing great DE to be a great 34 D and I still don’t. See your taking in this case 4 players ((SF-Justin Smith, BAL-Haloti Ngata, HOU-JJ Watt, ARI-Calais Campbell) who would be difference makers and impact players in any scheme and saying that because they are great 34 DE that you need great 34 DE to have a great D. Its flawed and backward logic. I’ll take the word of the experts that coach it, over a fan using flawed logic, when they say the NT is the most important player in a 34 D.
Pickett is 33, but he played as well this year as he has since he’s been in GB. Pat Williams played extremely well at a NT position for Minn, till he was 37, so I dont see the need to draft his replacement just yet. Pickett has lost some mobility, hence the reason he is playing NT and Raji, the more mobile player, is playing DE. Raji needs to play stronger against the run, but he will be like Pickett has been for the Packers in a couple years, when he loses his legs and can’t penetrate anymore. Pickett wasn’t a great run player his entire career before coming to GB.
What the Packers need is a traditional 34 DE that is great vs the run. You don’t need to draft a run stuffer in the 1st round. DL drafted in the 1st are guys that can rush the passer. You can find run stuffers later.
For as good as this draft is for the DL, I don’t think many of them are well suited as 34 DE. The one I like most is Kawann Short from Purdue. He’s strong in run support, has some pass rush and really long arms and knocks down alot of passes. I would be ok drafting him in the late 1st or early 2nd. But there aren’t any DL that are 6’4+ and 310. Seems alot are 6
3 and shorter. Alot of the others are better 43 DT and NT.
Best to wait till the 3rd or later to draft a DL this year. We have good role players and Raji is a very good DLman. DOn’t want to draft a DL in the 1st just cuz it MIGHT be a need. This isn’t the year for 34 DE IMO.
1. Raji is just a young Pickett. He can’t rush the passer, and for as many 3rd and longs that he was left in as a pass rusher…and didn’t get a sack….is ridiculous. He’s a NT, and the reason he plays DE is because we have nobody else.
2. Pickett is a stud….great signing…but aging.
3. Neal is a rotation guy and a pass rusher….AT BEST. He’s too small to hold up against the run….he also SUCKED against the 49ers.
4. Wilson is nothing more than an average player….should be a backup….just a guy.
5. Worthy is not going to play next year. He was a guy that needed to have a full offseason in the weight room to get his body right…he was a guy I was excited about when we drafted him…his career is off to a terrible start. He played average as a rookie, and this will be a major setback.
6. Daniels makes plays, but he’s still very short. Having him and Raji in there at the same time sucks, because we can’t affect passing lanes. My hopes have been higher for him than on Worthy since the preseason started. He’s going to be solid.
Sacks are way over-rated for 34 DL. Coaches said Raji was as good this year as he was in ’10, he just didn’t have the numbers. He can play better vs the run but he’s the best DL we have. Raji and Jenkins made a terrific pass rushing duo in ’10 that made them both really effective. Hopefully Neal and/or Worthy will help Raji in the near future. Its way too early to say Neal and Worthy are anything yet.
I think this draft SUCKS for D-Linemen. Show me a decent player Jersey Al in the first round…besides STAR of Utah.
Last year there were quite a few players I was excited for….this year I can’t find ONE decent player for the 1st round. I am just praying we can get Gholston or Hunt in the 2nd or 3rd round.
You want Gholston? His brother or is it cousin, is among the biggest draft bust in NFL history. That alone would scare me off, but that along w/ the fact that this past year he disappeard and wasn’t productive is more than enough to convince me not to draft him!
Hunt is less than 280 and at 6’8 he is too thin to play in a 34 D. He doesn’t play w/ leverage gets pushed around in run support and for as tall as he is doesn’t get his hands on many balls. Besides that as a former decathlete his frame isn’t thick enough to be a 34 DE and gain alot of weight to play 34DE. He’s also 25 so he’s a fully mature man and doesn’t have alot of growth potential anymore. He’s much more like Jared Allen (6’6 270 to Hunt 6’8 277) than he is Calais Campbell. As a 43 DE I might consider him, but definitely not as a 34 DE.
If you like this guy, go look at his picture on google of him sucking his thumb. He came off of my draft board immediately.
lmills….seriously…go check it out. It’s an embarassment for the human race!!
Jersey Al, I keep hearing the crap that this draft is FULL of great D-Linemen….please tell me who you think would help the Packers in the 1st round. They are all too short, or they all are just spot players and not good fits for the 3-4. We can’t afford to draft 6-1 players anymore, or players that are built like Mike Neal.
I’m hoping ONE FA can be signed to help out this area. Our D-Line is in really poor shape….it’s scary right now.
Raji is in a contract year, so he’ll pry show up in shape and have 5 sacks…but he has shown the last 2 years what he really is….a 2 down player….and a NT when Pickett is done.
I think its a great draft for 43 DL and NT, but I don’t think there are many quality 34 DE’s. Right now my favorite is Kawann Short. He’s very stong at the Point of attack against the run. He has some pass rush ability and he has really long arms and excelled knocking down passes and affecting passing lanes. Other than that I would wait till the mid/late rounds and try to find a Jolly type DE. We need a true run stuffing 34 DE, not another pass rusher.
Stroh, You have an excuse for all the underperforming players. This is what’s wrong, this player is playing better. Then to come on here and tell people how wrong they are, and how right you are. You are so full of BS that it’s getting hard to even respond. Lets try this, the D-Line underperforms at every position. Raji had one good year, and hasn’t played that well since. Picket plays the nose pretty well, but cannot go for 80% of the plays. Worthy may not even play until the end of next year. And the rest are just players. You talk about Capers defense, and how the linemen are there to just take up blockers. Then why did TT draft Worthy and Daniels? Both players are suppose to be pass rushers! I guess Capers is going to turn the pass rushers into players that just eat up blockers.
I didn’t tell anyone they’re wrong. Just the facts as I see them. Don’t take it so personal. if you wanna disagree I don’t care. You’re welcome to debate it if you like. Sheesh…
The DL in run D take up blockers, but against the pass you need some guys that can get pressure and collapse the pocket, even if they don’t get sacks. This seems pretty obvious to me. The guys the Packers have for the most part are role players. Some aren’t great vs the run, some aren’t pass rushers. If the DL get sacks its mostly a bonus. Pitts has had a great DL for many years and they didn’t get many sacks, that doesn’t mean they didn’t get a good pass rush from the DL tho. Raji this year is the only DL that needed any attention in pass rush. So he got alot of double teams.
I have strong opinions. I dont’ deny it. Sorry if you can’t accept that.
Go back and look at the grades I gave the DL. Feel free to tell me if you disagree and why. I’ll tell you why I gave them the grades I did.
I think I know as much or more as anyone and as a former strength and conditioning coach, w/ a background in sports performance I think I have pretty strong basis for having my opinions. It doesn’t mean I know everything tho.
From Pat Kirwan’s book, “Take Your Eye off the Ball”:
“The job of the defensive line in a 3-4 is not to penetrate into the backfield; it’s to occupy as much of the offensive line as possible, freeing the linebackers to make plays. Each lineman is responsible for two gaps – the nose tackle has to handle the A gaps between the center and the guard on both sides, and the defensive ends have to handle the B and C gaps. To do that, a team needs big, tall, strong defensive linemen with long arms…
…The ends in a 3-4 are not the pass rushers you find in a 4-3. They need to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the scheme…”
Stroh is not talking out his arse when it comes to the traditional role of defensive linemen in a 3-4.
Then why did TT draft D-Linemen who are suppose to be pass rushers, instead of linemen who are a little larger, and can take up more than one O-Lineman?
Have to ask TT but my guess is its easier to teach an athletic pass rusher how to play good run D than it is to teach a less athletic run stuffer how to become an athletic pass rusher.
..Because we hardly play in our base 3-4 alignment.
We’re constantly in sub packages- different defensive sets- and our pass rushing out of those alignments had been god-awful the previous year.
The Packers drafted interior pass rushers for all those “other” defensive sets we play outside of the 3-4.
Love the article and agree. I don’t see why so many media people are saying DL is such a concern. We don’t really have any roster spots available to add more, we are going to have to rely more on young players improving, and thats why i’m sick that Worthy got hurt at the end of the season. Even if Worthy ends up on IR, Raji, Picket, Wilson, Neal, and Daniels are all locks to make the team. That leaves 1 spot available and again, we are assuming Worthy is on IR. Do you waste a higher draft pick on a DL when you really only need your roster filled for 1 season? Picket is in the last year of his deal but it’s assumed he will resign at a cheaper price. As far as Raji, i see no way he leaves GB. You don’t get a better DL by letting your best DL player walk. No way TT drafts a DL in the first 4 rounds, Phillip Merling or something off the street will work. Improvement is going to have to come from Neal and Daniels this year, Worthy the year after.
I agree… I don’t want to see a DL taken too early. If we can find a big tough run stuffer like Jolly was in the mid rounds that would be ideal. IMO, that is clearly the need, but those kinda guys don’t have to be drafted in the high rounds. If we got the right guy I wouldn’t be opposed to using a 2nd, but I don’t see good 34 DE’s in this draft. They all seem much better 43 DT and NT.
Hell I wouldn’t even be opposed to signing Merling again and seeing if he can beat out Wilson or Daniels.
Another year to draft a DLineman high because so many of GB’s DLine draftees have busted—Harrell, Neal, Worthy. Yes, Neal’s a bust because he was drafted to replace Cullen Jenkins at 3/4 DE and he will never be Cullen Jenkins v. the run. The 49’ers destroyed Neal. Vikings. too.
Raji, meh. Pickett is a good NT and I love Daniels. I don’t think Short would be an ideal 3/4 end (though he makes plays. Your looking for a guy like Jonathan Hankins—a big run-stopper.
Too early to say Neal or Worthy are busts. DL usually take a couple years to develop, unless your a JJ Watt. But he’s the exception not the rule. Neal had 5 sacks in a little more than 1/2 the season and didn’t get many snaps in the offseason or training camp due to his pending suspension.
Short is about the same size as Hankins, maybe a 10 lbs lighter, but Short has long arms and knocks down alot of passes and affects the passing lanes, which I haven’t heard about Hankins at all.
I agree a tough run stuffer, but those guys don’t need to be high picks thats where you get pass rushers and premier NT. We’re good at NT, just need a tough physical 34 DE.
HAHAHAHA….Stroh….you are a joke!! Did you see our D-Line against Minnesota and the 49ers? When it had to step up…it didn’t. I’m not talking about just sacks, I’m talking about PRODUCTION. The 49ers were GASHING us up the gut with Gore and James….GASHING US!!
We need 1 roster spot on the D-Line Mike Sherman? WAKE UP. We have plenty of guys that can be replaced…and our two best D-Linemen are coming into contract years. Raji could be gone with the need to sign other players, so you need insurance. Pickett is getting older, and you saw what they just did with Woodson. CJ Wilson is just a guy, and Worthy won’t play next year. We have TONS of holes on the D-Line!!
STROH IS TALKING ABOUT BRINGING BACK PHILIP MERLING???
The guy was stiff and slow….there’s a reason he was cut you moron….
You were a strength and conditioning coach….who givs a sh!t….your opinions are awful….watch some tape and tell me we don’t need a D-Lineman in this draft!!
Minn and SF are two of the better OL in the entire NFL. They make ALOT of DL look like crap, especially SF! Hell it damn well should its got 3 1st round picks starting on the OL and 2 of them were drafted in the top 1/2 of the first round.
Your a fool if you think Raji is going anywhere! Pickett played as well this year as he has in any season w/ GB. He has a year left on his contract and could easily get another 2 years if its at a reasonable salary.
I didn’t say I was giving Merling a job you moron! I was saying bring him to training camp and give him a CHANCE to beat out Wilson or Daniels. Do you honestly think thats very outrageous? Wilson is a smaller run stuffer and Merling has ideal size for a 34 DE. Merlings main problem is his intensity, maybe a year off w/o NFL pay would motivate him. Funny when guys loose that 7 figure salary how motivated some guys get!
We do need a DL in this draft! I’ve said REPEATEDLY that we need a big tough run stuffing DE. Maybe you should try actually reading what I said! You would certainly learn a thing or 2! Next time you attack me you better come w/ a little better than that petty crap you just spewed outta your piehole!
Guess getting bitchslapped by Chad wasn’t enough for you. Had to come back for a 2nd helping?! Way to prove you don’t know squat. When someone proves you were wrong resort to name calling and baiting argumentsl. Reall f’in mature of you!
you are wrong: It is Daniels; It is Daniels. He is the key. He has something no other Packer lineman has: motor. Maybe it will be inside linebacker. But strange has it seems. It is this young man born in Jersey and experienced in Iowa that will lead us.
Right now this team could CUT Neal and Wilson and re-sign Johnny Jolly and be better off for it. Wilson’s no better than a backup and Neal hasn’t shown much except for one game against Redskins before his first injury–that’s been 3 years ago and he hasn’t shown that dominance since. Packers need a BIG D-lineman to replace both Pickett and Raji -neither can play a full game and last all season, when you look at bench and see Worthy, Daniels, Wilson and Neal-this is NOT a dominating line against even mediocre offenses.
Ok, so no one in the draft. If you were to look at FA…what one player would make this DL a significant upgrade? What position would you target and what available FA?
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