With Raji and Guion re-signed, what’s next for Packers at NT?

BJ Raji

The Green Bay Packers defense in 2014 took a significant step forward. The unit didn’t suddenly morph into the second coming of the 1985 Chicago Bears or today’s Seattle Seahawks, but it was no longer an obvious weak spot on an otherwise sensational team.

Signing free agent Julius Peppers worked out great. So did bringing in Letroy Guion. Older players like Tramon Williams and Clay Matthews stayed healthy and productive while youngsters like Mike Daniels and Morgan Burnett improved.

So far this offseason, the Packers have done everything they could to keep their offense in top form by re-signing Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga. It’s been a different story on defense.

Willams and Davon House departed in free agency. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones were cut (although most people will agree that shedding these two players automatically upgrades the defense). It doesn’t look like general manager Ted Thompson is going to make a Peppers or Guion-type of outside free agent signing any time soon to bolster the defense.

Monday’s news that the Packers re-signed nose tackles B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion finally brought some good news this offseason to the defense. No, Guion is not an all-pro and Raji has several question marks after missing all of last season with a torn biceps. But bringing those two players back at least means the Packers don’t have another major hole to fill on defense with an untested player(s).

While Raji and Guion should provide an adequate mix of size, athleticism and experience at nose tackle, the Packers can still improve the position long term. Don’t be surprised if Thompson picks up a nose tackle early in the upcoming NFL draft.

Jordan Phillips (6-6, 334 pounds, Oklahoma) should be there at the end of round 1. Ellis McCarthy (6-5, 325, UCLA) and Leterrius Walton (6-5, 319, Central Michigan) have steadily climbed draft boards in recent weeks and should be there later in rounds 2 and 3. Let’s also not forget about Mike Pennel. The undrafted free agent didn’t do much in the regular season, but let’s see where he is in August now that he has a full season under his belt.

There’s no doubt the middle of the Packers’ defense could use some re-enforcements. Will Guion/Raji up front, combined with Sam Barrington and who knows what at the other inside linebacker, be enough to win a Super Bowl? Or will Matthews have to ride to the rescue once again at inside linebacker (a plan I’m actually ok with)?

No doubt there will be at least one player on the interior of the Packers’ defense that fans worry about. At least with Raji and Guion back, some of that worrying will be tampered a bit.


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 .


52 thoughts on “With Raji and Guion re-signed, what’s next for Packers at NT?

  1. By signing Raji and Guion at least gives the Packers a tad more flexibility in the draft this year. Without one or both the Packers almost have to go DT with their first pick don’t they? I think now they could wait until say round 4 to take McCarthy or Walton. The Packers now could take a CB, OLB, or ILB, depending who’s there and the BPA. I think Eli Harold would have a really good chance of being there at #30 and would be a excellent fit in Green Bay, I really like Harold. Or trading Ted does what he did in 2008, trades back about 8 spots and drafts a player like Anthony. Anthony at that spot isn’t a reach, fills a need, and could very well be the BPA on Green Bays board.

    1. Agreed that they don’t have to take a DT with a 1st rd pick. I hope they take BPA ILB. CB is a tricky position to draft in the 1st round. Remember Ahmad Carroll in 2004? What a bust!
      Not only that, but recent high picks like Dee Milliner and Justin Gilbert haven’t panned out. Shields and Tramon Williams weren’t even drafted, so I’ll trust in Ted to draft a CB at least by the 2nd round. I’m wary of the 1st round though and would prefer a 1st rd BPA ILB.

  2. I’m surprised with lack of confidence expressed for Mike Pennel. He was rookie last season and played well for his status during the season… He has all physical attributes to become good to excellent NFL player at NT/DT. At his level in college he was very dominant. And his working ethics (doubted at college level) is not in question. I expect him to show huge progress this year… Also, I would not forget Luther Robinson in the rotation of the Packers DL…

    1. Actually, Pennel did not dominate the way he should have in college. That is one of the red flags and why he wasn’t drafted. The measurables are all there.

      1. The only red flag was his attitude towards training and studying. He was sent to smaller college because of that, not because of his game…

        1. Sorry Croatpackfan, but the scouting reports concluded that he did not dominate. I am still high on him because he has a lot of talent. Here are two scouting reports:

          “Did not dominate vs. lesser competition. Has been disciplined for not following rules and must prove committed.” Source: NFL.com

          “Pennel never finished high school and ended up getting a GED. He spent his first two collegiate years playing for Scottsdale Community College. As a junior, Pennel got into Arizona State, played in five games and then promptly got suspended twice in the course of a month. He never played another game for the Sun Devils. Pennel transfered to Colorado-State Pueblo, a Division II program, for his senior season. I bet you’re thinking he dominated the competition there? Well, not really. In 2013, Pennel had 36 tackles, including six for loss and three sacks, and three forced fumbles.” Source Total Packers

          Those numbers are decent, but far from dominant.

          1. Right, anyone who thinks he will turn into something special is really being optimistic…another “JAG” for the Packers…

            1. OK, I will be here at the end of the 2015 season to either admit I was wrong, or to ask from you an apology…

              1. oh, we aint going anywhere either…if he becomes a starter it will be one of Ted biggest coups…..

          2. Well, you have links I had lot of videos where I saw guy who, when he decided, was unstoppable… And that lack of discipline was the worst weapon against him. That is why scouts saying “not so dominant” or similar. But, OK, whatsoever, let see what Packers can get from him!

            1. Croat, don’t worry about the critics. All that matters is I agree with you. I have never been wrong on a player so that means you are right on Pennel. I’m sky high on the kid. I think Pennel and Elliott both have bright futures.

              1. To be clear, Ted, I think Pennel can be a stud, and I think Elliott has a good chance to be a quality starter in the NFL.

            2. Dear Croat, I merely meant to indicate that by most reports Pennel did not dominate in college. Ted Tomsin and I have both been and I think we both continue to be high on Pennel, who I think has the talent to be a stud.

    2. Packers took on Pennel knowing he’d be a project. He has all the physical tools, but is raw. He’s 6’4″, 332 lbs., quite long arms at 33 3/8.” His attitude issues aside, Green Bay could be the best place for him to get himself together. I’m rooting for him, but he will need to show something in 2015 to warrant more playing time.

  3. Raji who hasn’t played in 2years and I am high as a kite Guion are back. No worries anymore… Defense is superbowl ready now. WINK, WINK Can you say false security blanket in place.

    1. Raji played 16 games with 16 starts in 2013,
      plus training camp and 3 preseason games before getting injured in 2014.

      So, I guess your idea of ‘two years’ is the same as 7 months (Aug 14 to March 15).

      In other words, just plain wrong.

      1. Sorry I don’t include preseason. 2013 was the last game he played in. As far as I know it is now 2015. Lets see 5 minus 3 equals yeah your right 7.

  4. Elsewhere I commented that apart neither Raji or Guion are this or that worthy of any esteem of much note, but as a team they should serve the cause.I don’t see how this erases any fret about the position long term,more than this season,unless one of the others of depth fame(Thornton,Pennel,Robinson) has been showing big strides in the off season in whatever way possible for that to be.

    IMO,the only way TT doesn’t draft a NT in the first two rds is if all with a chance to contribute this season are already gone.I’m not TT but I wouldn’t want to risk again the injury of either coming in preseason or early season without having a better option than has been afforded a viewing on field to date.

    1. If you force the selection of an NT in the first 2 rounds, when do you address ILB, CB, and TE?

      Let’s remember that Corey Linsley was a 5th round pick and still made quite an impact as a rookie. Granted that is an interior OL position, but the point is to not focus so much on one position that you ignore a better player at a different position where you also have a need

      1. …and Linsley was playing with the support of one of the best guard tandems in the NFL.

        1. …and managed to look a hell of a lot better than EDS did between the same tandem…

      2. ” IMO,the only way TT doesn’t draft a NT in the first two rds is if all with a chance to contribute this season are already gone.”

        This is not saying force a pick but to not pass up on one who is more apt to contribute this season and if not available…move on,trade out get another 2nd +,and get your ILB,CB,etc accordingly.

        1. Phillips has a history of back problems and is alleged to have a slow motor. Not exactly a guy I would waste a 1st rd pick on, given the depth that GB currently has at NT.

          1. I don’t believe the name Phillips was used by me….however,as someone mentioned that a #30 pick is akin to a second rd grade,where is the problem??? Unless of coarse it’s a reach pick for an out of position player as like with Nick Perry but I did say a NT that can contribute possibly this season and that isn’t limited to Jordan Phillips.

            1. Yes, I just mentioned his name because everyone seems so enamored with the guy. I still don’t see any urgent need at NT in either rd 1 or 2. We shall see. Let’s see how the players on our roster develop before we start freaking out and demanding an interior DL. I trust the GBP management to make those decisions accordingly

      3. Ed, I’d like TT to consider #30 to be a luxury pick and just pick the prospect he likes best, practically without consideration as to need. I think we can afford to do that now, and GB will be better both immediately and down the road. TT’s record on what I consider to be luxury picks is excellent.

    2. What to do if, by accident we lost B. J. Raji, Letroy Guion, player drafted in the 1st round and Mike Pennel. Who will be guilty than? Can we draft enough NTs to cover that possibility?

      1. “What to do if, by accident we lost B. J. Raji, Letroy Guion, player drafted in the 1st round and Mike Pennel.”

        Lower seasons outcome expectations severely!!!

    3. What am I missing? Guion was one of the better NT’s in the NFCN during the second half of last season. Raji was having a monster camp last year and after a year of rest and conditioning, the guy is strong as a rhino! I read somewhere that he was millitary pressing 275 lbs for 20-30 rep sets!

      1. Before you bestow too much praise on Guion and the DL/ defense as a whole,you may want to revisit that second half of the season scoreboard.Yes we got a big win vs Ne but lets not forget getting gashed for 37 vs Atl,loss to Buffalo and facing the all ready knocked out TB,Chi etc…not real offensive juggernauts to merit the worship of Guion and the NT depths of GB…just saying. 🙂

        1. Sure. Point taken. Players don’t make the schedule though. They just play who is on it. I thought our D played very well at the end of the season and a victory over the Lions & NE, in addition to one we should have had against SEA suggests to me that there is a nucleus of talent there that just isn’t given that much credit by the fans. I thought the D line played pretty well situationally during much of the last half of the season…except in the NFCC game during the last 5 minutes:( I’m fine being in the minority here. No worries.

      2. To me, there’s no way Guion was “one of the better NTs in the NFC during the second half.” I don’t think he was that even if we limit the discussion to the NFC north. I’d call him an average starter at the best.

        1. What was his PFF grade. I don’t know, the coaching staff seemed to value his contribution? I guess it just seems to me that he was a pretty solid player at the position. We would have been screwed without him after Raji went down.

        2. Daniels & Guion were a solid last year. Daniels probably more so. Jones was OK and I think had flashes of his potential. They just were not as bad as I think you guys are making them out to be. They have a few big fellas that may also develop. I still don’t think taking a NT in the first round makes a bunch of sense. I do not see anyone residing where the Packers are picking in rd#1 that we know will be any better than the NFL proven talent we have at the position. Rd 1 players are supposed to be immediate “difference makers”. Who is that gonna be at NT at pick #30? Even in rd.#2? I think ILB and CB are bigger needs and there is better talent in the first 2 rounds where the packers will be picking at those positions. I think most of the ILB’s will slide.If TT targets someone and moves up or down can’t be predicted but how often has that happened?

          1. Guys picked in the 1st rd. at #30 are not necessarily expected to be difference makers. Usually, there are 15 to 25 prospects with solid 1st rd. ability. Then maybe 10 or 15 guys with 1st/2nd rd. grades. at #30, barring someone sliding, those 10 to 15 guys are who we should choose from, assuming TT doesn’t reach. Take the best one, thinking he’ll be a solid NFL starter, and hoping the guy will be a difference maker.

            1. Sure, but in either case you would expect your pick at #30 to have a reasonably large impact in year #1. I realize those picking in the top half of the round are more likely to draft “star rookies”. That’s certainly not an absolute. Look at Linsley,HHCD, Hayward, Lacy, ETC. You never know who the rookie studs are going to be but certainly many panned out in much later rounds. I still think that a pick at #30 would have expectations to make a significant impact as a rookie. It’s also dependent on the position’s learning curve of the draft pick. Some positions much steeper than others.

    4. I highly doubt TT will draft a NT in the first couple rounds. They have so many on the roster as it is, how many can they really keep? If he does go DL early, I hope its for a DE with some pass rush since Daniels is the only D-Lineman that has any consistency rushing the QB. Maybe Michael Bennett or Xavier Cooper.

  5. “Jordan Phillips (6-6, 334 pounds, Oklahoma) should be there at the end of round 1. Ellis McCarthy (6-5, 325, UCLA) and Leterrius Walton (6-5, 319, Central Michigan) have steadily climbed draft boards in recent weeks and should be there later in rounds 2 and 3.”

    Scouts project Walton as being a DE in a 3-4, and that he lacks the functional strength to play on the nose. He might develop that, but they say he’s likely a year away from being a contributor on whatever team drafts him.

    1. I’m not a fan of Jordan Phillips. I worry he’d turn out like Justin Harrell.
      I know he has massive potential, but he’s the classic boom or bust guy. Only played one season with the Sooners. He’s had back surgery and admitted to having periodic flare-ups.
      For someone that young, years of punishment in the NFL is not going to make his back feel any better. I would avoid at all costs. If a team wants to gamble, they’d either win huge with him or lose big.

      The Packers aren’t a gambling team and with Raji and Guion back, I can’t see the Packers taking him, unless Jerry Montgomery (now on Packers staff, Phillips’ former D-line coach at Oklahoma) somehow sells TT and MM on picking him, but I’d say it’s a long shot.

  6. Anyone have a scouting report on PS player Bruce Gaston—310 lbs from Purdue?
    Pennel, Robinson, and Thornton are poised for the 2nd year jump. Jones hopefully can stay healthy and be a force. Boyd at times showed flashes. Daniels will be playing for his 2nd contract. W/ the re-signings the DL is stronger than we give them credit for. MM said the O-Line and D-Line combined will be the best yet under his tenure.

    1. Here’s what I could find from NFL.com:

      Played in all 50 possible games as a senior. 2013: Led team with three sacks after playing in all 12 games. 2012: Started all 13 games 2011: Played in all 13 games, making nine starts. Had a sack in three consecutive games. 2010: Played in all 12 games and started in final 10 as a true freshman. High school: Chicago Tribune All-State selection as senior after recording 99 tackles and 16 sacks.
      Eyes the ball. Good anchor strength and power to control the line and defend the run. Shows the ability to stack and shed. Can push the pocket. Flashes disruptive ability. Strong tackler. Nice balance, athletic ability and movement. Played multiple techniques. Durable four-year starter. Team captain.
      Does not overwhelm with his first step. Needs to generate more power through his lower half. Limited playing range to the perimeter. Inconsistent, sluggish hands — does not use his paws violently. Could stand to develop pass-rush moves and counters. Motor idles — leaves effort on the field. Does not show an innate feel for blocking schemes. Average agility and lateral quickness.
      Draft Projection Rounds 5-6 (went undrafted)
      Bottom Line Good-sized, experienced defensive tackle with a nice combination of strength and athleticism to contribute as a rotational player in a 4-3 or perhaps appeal to teams as a five-technique. Did not leave his stamp on enough games, however, and needs to ratchet up with intensity on a snap-to-snap basis in order to maximize his potential.

  7. I’m glad that both Guion and Raji are back, although the price paid for both may be a little steep. In any case, of all of these potential NTs the only one we really know anything about is Guion and while he did step in 2014 I don’t see him as a long term solution. Raji, will be a question mark until he gets back on the field healthy. My guess is that being out all of last season combined with not having played NT in about three years will take him 4-6 games to get up to speed against starting NFL interior linemen. A rotation with him and Guion may work out well. Maybe develop Pennel when the score justifies bringing him in. Luther Robinson was a non-factor but does provide depth. While I don’t think that the Packers need to take an NT in the early rounds now that they have resigned Guion and Raji, I would like them to draft an NT who could be developed into a starter for 2016. Maybe a 3rd or 4th round pick. Thanks, Since ’61

    1. Well said Since ’61. I’d have the Packers taking the best available DT or RB in the 3rd round, whichever player they like more or think is the bigger need. Mike Daniels was found in the 4th round, so there’s lots of value there.
      I think your point about rotation is key. The Packers saw what the Seahawks did in 2013 with the agile, lighter guys and in 2014, got rid of Jolly, Pickett, etc.

      It’s all about the rotation, not so much the old school days of guys staying out there for 3 downs and dominating like Reggie White once did. As long as these guys are somewhat fresh and can contribute on the rotation, then that is what seems to be the Packers’ intent going forward.

      We all have to be realistic too. Like you said, Guion and Raji are known commodities, albeit Raji has been out for quite awhile. What would the alternative have been? Terrence Knighton may have been a possibility, but that did not happen.
      Other names like Suh, Fairley, Wilfork, Odrick, etc. were far too expensive. Any speculation of the Packers landing those guys would’ve been pointless, but Raji and Guion absolutely make sense to me, and this is another year for them to prove it.

      1. No as to Wilfork and Knighton. Both were not any more expensive than Raji (but need to actually see his contract structure). Not sure whether signing Wilfork would have cost us a compensatory pick – I never saw an article on that issue but NE did not pick up his option. I expect 4th rd picks for Williams and House, and so I would not have signed Wilfork or Knighton if it meant losing a comp pick.

        1. Agreed. Plus you never know if Knight on or Wilfork would fit into the scheme. That’s one of the reasons to keep your own players as the Packers do. Consistency is a key to yearly growth.

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