Packers D-line Dilemma – Draft Choice vs Free Agent

The Green Bay Packers are hoping for a major step-up this season with their defense. There will be make-overs in the secondary as well as inside linebacker. But it will be up to the Packers defensive line to make the biggest jump this year in order to earn a trip to Super Bowl 50.

The experts argue that the lines on both offense and defense dictate the game. The Packers have developed a quality offensive line which resulted in the highest scoring offense in the league. Pro Football Focus ran its dynamics which show the Packers as the number-two overall ranked NFL offense.

The defensive line, if it contains properly and gets pressure on the short game, allows for greater flexibility in the backfield and a more effective pass rush from the edge. If they cannot stop the run, everything else begins to fall by the wayside.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 2014 version of the Packers was the second worst run defense in the league. Even after improving the second half of the season by moving Clay Matthews to the middle, which somewhat limited his pass rush ability, it was a sub-par outfit. In terms of overall defense, the Packers ranked 12th from the bottom. You simply cannot win championships with performance like that.

The defensive line has been an issue for years with only one true star in Mike Daniels. The remainder of the players are either untested or unfilled-promises. The depth chart as it now stands:


93 Boyd, Josh 13/5
95 Jones, Datone 13/1
94 Thornton, Khyri 14/3
78 Hooks, Lavon CF15


90 Raji, BJ 09/1
98 Guion, Letroy CC/Min
64 Pennel, Mike CF14
77 Ringo, Christian 15/6


76 Daniels, Mike 12/4
99 Gaston, Bruce P/Arz

In breaking down the defensive line statistics further – at the inside tackle positions the Packers had only one player, Letroy Guion (61), rank in the top 80 players according Pro Football Focus.

The team fared better on the outside where Mike Daniels was ranked 8th and Datone Jones ranked 22nd among 3-4 defensive ends. Yet Jones (who was a high acclaimed number one draft pick) was largely supplanted by years’ end at his position by free agent Josh Boyd who ranked considerably better in run defense by PPF than was Jones.

It can certainly be argued that the return of NT BJ Raji from injured reserve into the inside-role which he is most comfortable will help the team’s run game. But it has been four years since Raji seemed on his way to stardom only to play diminished roles ever since. It is not a given that Raji will be, or for that matter ever be, an inside force for the Packers.

The Packers carried six defensive lineman last year and given the increased emphasis on special teams and athletic play-makers, you can probably count on the same number again this year.

But the Packers have a dilemma on their hands. As a draft and develop team they give special emphasis and opportunity to their draft picks. But if their recent draft picks are not producing, then what?

So who will stick?

Daniels, of course, will and is due a contract extension soon. Raji and Guion are also players who should make the final cut as will Datone Jones. That is four.

Ringo is a recent draft choice so he will earn a roster player and that makes five.

I will likely come down to a choice between under-whelming Khyri Thornton and hard -charging and high effort players Mike Pennel and Josh Boyd. The Packers will give Thornton every opportunity to show he belongs especially after being selected so high in last years’ draft (3rd).

Thornton has a lot of catching up to do and given the need for run-stopping support and high energy players I like the chances of Pennel and/or Boyd.

The defensive line personnel will be one of the several key match-ups to watch in upcoming training camps.


Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .


64 thoughts on “Packers D-line Dilemma – Draft Choice vs Free Agent

  1. I beg to differ, but Pennel is Not a high energy player. He’s an uber talented underperformer who stands in place and gets pushed around, which is why even at Co-Pueblo he didn’t dominate the vastly inferior talent on the field.
    Raji was a stud NT in ’10 and the Packers inexplicably moved to DE and suffered in silence for the team. Does anyone else wonder why the ILB Hawk and Bishop were excellent playing behind Raji in ’10 and went downhill every year since playing behind Pickett?
    Datone has played w/ a sprained ankle which severely limits his ability to take on blockers. It may seem counter-intuitive but its easier to rush the passer w/ an ankle injury than hold ground vs the run.
    This will be the year the Packers will get the best from the DL. Daniels, Raji, Datone, w/ Guion backing up and spelling RDE and NT.
    Boyd is a good bet not to even make the roster, Pennel needs to get his head out of his A** and start playing to his talent, which is considerable if he decides to play w/ some heart and technique.

    1. I tend to agree on Pennel. He might have tools, but I don’t think he’s the answer. Even if he has a mediocre camp, he might stick because of the unknown futures of Raji and Guion for 2016.

    2. You’re harsh on Pennel. Your comments align with Pennel’s scouting report. McGinn’s ratings were generally that Pennel was so-so last season during real NFL action. He is uber-talented, but don’t forget that many defensive linemen take a year (even two) to develop. For some reason you find plenty of reasons for Datone’s lackluster play.

      Raji’s recent level of play also corresponds well with his scouting reports: namely terrible grades for work ethic and character. I just read Demovsky’s article on how Raji has seriously taken up Yoga to improve his flexibility, unlike his previous HALF-HEARTED efforts at yoga. I have a harsh opinion of Raji, I grant. I don’t think he suffered in silence, I think he’s been dogging it. It appears that he has recently realized that in order to con some befuddled GM into giving him a long term contract with a big fat signing bonus, he actually has to produce on the field. Since I think Raji has immense talent, I expect him to play well this season. But I would suggest that the player that most needs to extricate his head from his rear is Raji.

      1. And what has Pennel done since the the draft to change any of that? Nothing… A recent article on this site showed Pennel getting manhandled in the run game, unable to hold the POA and allowing explosive runs.
        Datone’s play has been hampered by the ankle injuries. I’m not saying he’s a Pro Bowler or anything, but his play vs the run has definitely been affected. We have yet to see Datone’s game on full display. It will be interesting to see how he looks w/ healthy wheels.
        I don’t know what character issues you think Raji may have had, he got suspended at BC due to a transcripts issue that Raji took accountability for. Since he’s been in GB, he’s been a tremendous team player. As shown by playing out of position and not complaining, by staying in GB when on IR. I don’t know what your issue is w/ him, other than when he was forced to play DE he wasn’t nearly as good as NT. That’s because he is a NT and absolutely NOT a DE.
        No need to try to site character, since that’s been proven incorrect.
        As for the yoga, when he realized his flexibility had suffered he went all in. If you don’t believe you need it any attempt is going to be half hearted. When he realized he needed it, he committed himself. WHat more do you want?

        1. We got side-tracked by Raji. BTW, I like Datone. Worried he is made of glass, but too talented to even think of giving up on him. Jones is already a pretty good pass rushing DE. My main point is and was that you’re pretty harsh on Pennel. Given the numbers game and draft status issues, it is true that Pennel better start playing to his talent.

          Pennel played community college, then 5 games for Arizona State, and then Div 2. As a UDFA, he made GB’s roster. He actually managed to go from Div 2 to actually getting on the field in real NFL games, playing 171 snaps (15.8%). The competition level between Colorado-Pueblo and the NFL must be vast. Those NFL snaps were all at NT, so his % of play for available snaps where GB actually uses a NT would be higher. I would point out that he played more than many drafted or more experienced players [Bradford & Goodson (0), Perillo (11), Dorsey (12), Gerhart (26), Bostick (32), Tretter (58), L. Robinson (65), L. Taylor (126), and those crowd-pleasers on this site and many others, Sean Richardson (119 snaps), Janis (15) and Elliott (53)]. BTW, I really like Bradford, Goodson, Janis, and Elliott. One could argue that at NT it was Guion, then Pennel, then ?

          Pennel’s scouting reports suggested that he is a little raw and needs technique work on keeping his knees clean, pad level, knee bend, core strength work, the usual stuff for a rookie DL, especially one that wasn’t a high pick. He certainly has well-documented issues with maturity. IDK how Pennel will do in TC and preseason. My eval is so far, pretty good. As for video of the play where Pennel gets buckled during the run game (something I’m sure we could find of Guion, Raji, Daniels, and Pickett even in his prime, and I would note that Pennel was better at pass rushing than run defense, per Thomas Hobbes), here is a link to a recent article with video of Hayward looking like a corkscrew. I admit that I picked this link out of laziness as I could immediately recall where to find it due to the excellence of the article, and not because I dislike Hayward. In part the reason is to suggest that showing one play is not necessary indicative of overall play.

          1. Wow Reynoldo, now I know for sure you are not Stroh. lol Stroh hated Pennel. I on the other hand happen to be one of his biggest fans. You see a lot of the same things I do with this kid. I think he could be special and this season he could really have a big breakout year. The Packers are loaded at nose tackle. No worries with Raji, Guion and the Penneltrator.

              1. You never know. The common wisdom is that good NTs are more often made than they are found…meaning that they develop very slowly. Pennel’s track record is spotty, but seems to be more a function of maturity (as you pointed out early), effort, and how he takes to coaching and adversity. Guys can turn themselves around, but those characteristics don’t argue in his favor.

              2. Exactly dobber. There is no doubt Pennel has talent, the physical characteristics and athletic ability are no hard to notice. But he played down to his college talent level, got dismissed from ASU and has done next to nothing since he joined the Packers. I do think he’s as likely, maybe more to make the Packers roster, than Boyd or Thornton, since he does have more talent than either IMO and plays NT, instead of DE which has more competition. With Guion likely to be heavily involved at DE, instead of just NT, there could be a job open behind Raji.
                Pennel has to get out of his own way and start playing w/ more effort, better technique and more professionalism in general.

    3. Desmond Bishop played well in 2010 because he was a talented player. Hawk was pretty bad in 2010. Note the recent article on this site that listed Hawk with a -6.0 PFF rating that year.

      1. Bishops Stats in ’10 were better playing behind Raji, than they were in ’11 playing behind Pickett. ’10 season was by far the best year for both Bishop and Hawk.

  2. No doubt the level of play from the Packer’s DL needs to improve. Without that we cannot expect to stop the run or to see improved play from whoever plays ILB. I also agree that Daniels, Raji, Guion and Jones will return for 2015. After that it is a bit of a crapshoot. Boyd has been inconsistent when he’s been on the field. Thornton needs to have a great camp to just make the team IMO. Unless Pennel takes a big step forward I don’t see him making it past Guion and/or Raji at NT. As a 6th round pick Ringo is no guarantee to even make the team. The rest are JAGs. If the Packers keep 6 I see Daniels, Jones, Raji, Guion, Boyd and Ringo. If they keep 7 it will be between Pennel and Thornton. If Thornton lives up to his 3rd round status he could be kept over Boyd or Ringo. Our DL could be solid if Raji returns to his 2010 form and if D. Jones not only steps up but also makes it through the season injury free. A DL of Daniels, Raji and Jones with some rotation from the rest could provide an improved level of play the Packers need, especially against the stronger offensive teams they face in the playoffs. Based on what we know today, with the exception of Daniels this group has a long way to go. Time will tell. Thanks, Since ’61

  3. “Even after improving the second half of the season by moving Clay Matthews to the middle, which somewhat limited his pass rush ability, it was a sub-par outfit. In terms of overall defense, the Packers ranked 12th from the bottom. You simply cannot win championships with performance like that.”

    We need to remember that the second half of 2014 featured few offensive juggernauts. Sure, the Packers played well against a very good offensive team (New England) but Philly? They were a shadow of their 2013 selves and laughable with Sanchez under center. Chicago was a joke even though Forte was good. Somehow (OK…we all know how) Atlanta ran up 37 points against the Packers.

    My point is that we know the Packer defense LOOKED better on the hoof and was statistically better over that span, but they really didn’t face a good running offense in the second half of the season and when push came to shove (literally) and they faced two really good running offenses in the playoffs, they got had on the ground…yes, even against Seattle, who they couldn’t stop on the ground in the second half.

    1. Philly was predicted by many to score over 30 points that game. We barely gave up 100 rushing yards to Shady McCoy and Sanchez had a lot of passing yards because the defense took the second half off if you remember correctly it was like 35-6 at halftime. Same thing with the Falcons game. The game was over at halftime and the Packers stopped trying to press their foot down on the pedal. Sure, they almost lost. But when you’re up by 30 points by halftime typically there’s no need to try and score 30 more points in the second half.

    2. Thanks Dobber. I feel like I have been saying the same thing on various other Packers discussions, but still get resistance.

      The Bucs, Bears, Lions, Falcons and Bills were some of the worst rushing teams in the league. I keep reading these articles that associate Clay Matthews’ move to the middle as solving all the Packers’ run defense problems, and yet, we could not get a key stop on Marshawn Lynch when it counted.

      1. Packers did not stop anybody in the last 3 and half minute of the game. And WR beat Packers D as I remember. Over Tramon Williams!

  4. If it comes down to Pennel vs. Thornton, it will likely be Thornton, given his high draft status.

    Pennel would be nice to keep on the practice squad, but I could see another team snapping him up.

  5. Absolutely no way is Pennel not making the team this season. The guy is going to be a monster this year after getting his feet wet last season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leap frog both Guion and Raji and become the starter this season at some point. Yes, the TT haters won’t like to hear this but it appears our legendary GM struck gold again with Pennel.

    1. “…..but it appears our legendary GM struck gold again with Pennel.”

      Aside from the speculative nature of your comment, when was the last time TT struck gold on the defensive front?

      1. Certainly Mike Daniels is at least silver, and while Guion might not be a world-beater, he sure saved the Packers’s bacon last year.

  6. Daniels could miss all of camp and have his spot on the DL.Raji and Guion are the most likely early guarantee’s no matter anything anybody says in favor or against Raji,less injury of coarse.

    The success of the defense will be decided via these three no matter who the other 3-4 are based on whether it’s a 6 or 7 DL squad.The others are to date inferior not only to their competition but certainly to their opponents come the start of the season and that will not bode well for the LB’s as a group.

    Lastly,with quill in hand and fresh ink and a touch of Game of Thrones…

    Regardless of whatever performance miracles many wish to bestow upon Sir Menace of Roving,Sir Elder of Age and their two squires named Perry and Neal,if the others fail to secure The Wall,all will likely be lost yet again when winter comes. 🙂

    1. I loved the last paragraph. My son loved it, too. May I suggest that what is needed is for the dragonets to grow to full size in time for the coming fray?

  7. It’s crazy that after 5 years TT couldn’t build an all star D-line… Instead he has built an underperforming heartless D-line.

    1. Yeah, cuz all other GMs in the league shake an “all star D-line” out of their sleeve at least once every 5 years. Oh wait… they don’t. Never mind.

      1. Almost every other GM in the league ranked higher than TT on the D-line. Read the article dude.

    2. 5 years? Try 10. Same story in SEA when he was there. We will all go to our graves waiting wishing for a vaunted GBP defense. But many here are thrilled with the current lot. Why? Because they love all things TT. Stranger than fiction if you ask me.

  8. In my opinion the defense will be lousy as long the defensive coach
    remains. Should have gotten rid of him years ago. Len

  9. This is the time for hopeful optimism. We hope that Raji will return to 2010 form. We hope that Guion won’t be suspended for too many games. We hope that the play of Datone Jones and Nick Perry will improve this year. We hope that Khyri Thornton will show us something. We hope that by drafting Jack Ryan CM3 will be able to go back to playing OLB. We hope that Casey Hayward isn’t injured intermittently throughout the year and a rookie or Demetri Goodson isn’t a regular starter at CB. In sum, we hope for the whole of the D, not just the line, for without an improved D, no SB. We have a defense based upon hope, one that has been patched together with chewing gum and stick pins. What distresses me most is that there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to improve it. If our hopes become reality, our worries at this time of year will be seen as unnecessary in retrospect. But, if our hopes are dashed and it all falls apart, who is to blame? Dom Capers?

      1. Wow! What more can I say? Except, all nasty trolls should be banned from this site.

        1. We have a defense based on hope? Really Nemo? You moron!! They were the best team in the NFL last season and are predicted to win it all by a lot of people this year and yes, their defense will be even better.

          I’m getting tired of people like you with your gloom and doom forecasts and stupid ass statements like this, ” What distresses me most is that there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to improve it”. Really Nemo? Really?

          I wish to hell I could ship you back to 1975 Nemo than you would know what hope and change is truly all about. Quit your whining and enjoy the fact you have the best GM in all of football you schmuck!!

          1. To respond to a nasty, name-calling troll, or not to respond to a nasty, name-calling troll? That is the question.
            The answer . . . (silence).

            1. You mess with the bull and you’ll get the horns Nemo!! You hear me!! Your name calling has gone far enough and I’ve had it. Just returning the favor. How does it feel Captain? That’s what I thought.
              I find silence to be your best attribute Nemo. Glad I could help bring that out. I actually find you to be this board’s no. 1 “troll” by constantly talking negatively about the Packers. You clearly are only here to say bad things against the organization and mock and name call the people (me) that support them.. That would be my definition of a “troll”.

              1. To respond to a nasty, name-calling troll, or not to respond to a nasty, name-calling troll? That is the question,
                The answer . . . (silence).

              2. To respond to a nasty, name-calling troll, or not to respond to a nasty, name-calling troll? That is the question.
                The answer . . . (silence).

              3. Now I have to wear my Roy Orbison glasses due to your silence Nemo. Thanks a lot. The only good news is I have finally prevented you from spewing your trollish negative views on the Packers. That’s called winning Nemo. I know I know, silence.

              4. To respond to a nasty, name-calling troll, or not to respond to a nasty, name-calling troll? That is the question.
                The answer . . . (silence).

              5. One man’s reality is another’s fantasy… TedTomsin are a homer, plain and simple. No harm in that unless you run amuck demanding that all see the world as you do. That my friend isn’t going to happen. The stats show this defense has sucked year after year under Teddy boy and is headed downward. Them’s the hard facts.

              6. Archie: Facts are stubborn things, as Mark Twain wrote, and I might add that only deluded fools refuse to see their reality. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The difference between ignorance and stupidity is that ignorance is curable.” IMO, Mr. Tomsin’s condition is incurable. Since I “do not suffer fools gladly,” I no longer read any of his comments, much less reply to them.. As for his replies (which I no longer read as well) to my comments, they will always be met with either no counter reply or one of “silence,” but nothing of substance. It’s a waste of my time to argue with him.
                Glad to see that there are other Packer fans out there who, out of loyalty to and deeps concerns about the team, are willing to express valid criticisms of the team’s management.

    1. ‘ Hope and If Only ‘…..The first is for what hasn’t come about and the latter for what has failed when it did come about.

      A problem for many with regard to ‘Hope’ is the inability to move on from it…denial of reality.

      The ‘If Only’ is for those who refuse to accept the finality and linger in the dream of what will never change…the loss.

      The Packers and their fans need to be more stringent in the reveling of one and the dwelling on the other.

      Shorten the length (time) of the leash of ‘Hope’ and let go completely the leash of ‘If Only’ so that neither becomes pitifully diluted. 🙂

      1. I remember similar problems with the o-line, and then voila, greatness. The packers have the best coaching in the league and believe that with the right coaching talent will tell. They keep drafting potential, and at some point that potential will win out and they will have a defensive line as good as the o-line. Sometimes it takes a year or two in the weight room, a year or two of maturity and coaching for these players to shine. I look for improvement this year, who knows where it will come from, but potential and coaching are definitely there.

        1. Welcome aboard the mother ship Rich. I like what you have to say. I agree when you said “at some point the potential will win out.” TT has this team loaded and it will be no different on the defensive line. Pennel, Daniels, Jones etc all have a ton of room to get better and will. Hell, even Raji will. It will be icing on the cake if Thornton or Ringo can help out.

    2. Well stated. Blame always lies at the top =TT. It is a stretch to imagine this group playing any better than bad on defense. And like you say, that means another year of AROD’s great abilities and career pissed down the drain. Can’t wait to hear Ted Tomsin’s spin on this.

      1. They weren’t bad last year Archie. They were average. Which is all they need to be with the best offense in football. Unfortunately NO ONE is dominant on both sides of the ball for an extended time like the 60s Pack, 70s Steelers, 80s Niners or 90’s Cowboys anymore.

        You can only pay so many people.

  10. I’d suggest that the only defensive linemen we can have good reason to expect good production from on the field this season would be Daniels. The others to some degree are question marks. I expect Datone to not regress and to be at least a pretty good pass rushing DE. IDK whether he will improve his run defense enough to be a complete player. I expect Guion to be a quality back-up at NT, and I have hopes that he will prove to be a better DE than NT. I expect Boyd to play the run reasonably well, but IDK and tend to doubt whether he can improve his pass rush enough to become a complete player. I expect Raji to play very well in his contract year due to his talent, maybe even dominate, but I would not be surprised at inconsistency and/or underwhelming production. I have the highest hopes for Pennel due to his talent but I don’t know whether he will make a jump. I have no clue what to expect from Thornton or Ringo, other than that it would not be surprising if they each needed a year to develop. [The article lists Ringo as a NT – I am pretty sure that he is not and never will be a NT.] I was intrigued by Gaston. It does appear that there will not be roster space for at least two or three of the above (including Gaston).

    1. My hope is that Raji and Pennel play well enough to allow Guion to moonlight at DE and help take the heat off Jones in the run game.

      1. That’s probably exactly what’s going to happen dobber. Pennel will finally be released from his kennel and I expect a huge jump in his play this season. This will allow Guion to play more DE. Guion for being an ex Viking had one hell of a first year in Green Bay. I am glad TT kept him despite some people wanting him gone. TT usually knows what’s best.

  11. I thought that Ringo was drafted as alternative to Mike Daniels, not as NT! But I might be wrong….

    1. You are right, Croat. He is a DE. Probably just a typo. Ringo weighs somewhere between 277 lbs and 293 lbs, which is DE size, and no where near NT size.


  13. Glad to see an article focused on the d line. I’ve written several comments on here addressing the lack of need here. Everyone was clamorimg for a d lineman in the draft….. My answer was – who do u want to cut to keep him? It’s far to early to give up on jones, pennel shows to much promise, I think Thornton will be cut if he doesn’t flash serious ability, same with our rookie 6th rounder. Being drafted in the 6th round doesn’t mean much. Boyd is a guy that could be a solid backup on any team, u don’t get rid of those guys when they are on the cheap. Raji and Daniels are locks, Guion prob too. At this point, we need to find out what we have before dipping back into the draft along the d line.

    1. It would not surprise me that the following DE/OLB will not be Packers by this time next year:


      Leaving Daniels, Guion and Jones.

      Way to go Ted Thompson!

      Then again, maybe it will be addition by subtraction.

      1. Agree except why guion? He is on a 1 year deal and if he plays well might sign with another team. Doubt Boyd goes anywhere, I think he is still on the cheap for another year after 2015

  14. This is the fruits of 10 years of labor by our esteemed GM?! Pretty horrific by all accounts. And that doesn’t include other busts like Khyri Thornton, Jerel Worthy, Nick Perry and Mike Neal. Woe is TT when it comes to finding talent in the defensive front 7.

    1. I thought Harrell was TTs best….Ted sucks on the D front. What makes you think that Jones will be here next year? I think the only safe bet is Daniels .

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