Green Bay Packers confident in Raji’s return and Defensive Line
By Dan Dahlke
Green Bay Packers defensive tackleB.J. Raji
(left) and defensive linemanDonte Savage
(right). Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
We are now a few weeks removed from the 2015 NFL Draft and it’s time to take a close look at how the Green Bay Packers roster is shaping up for the upcoming season.
This past weekend, I began a series that took a look at how the Packers feel about their roster based on the way they drafted, which may be contrary to how fans see the team’s needs and strengths.
In part one I discussed how the Packers don’t seem too concerned with the inside linebacker position, and in part two I pointed out how Green Bay set out to create competition at defensive back with their approach to the draft.
To continue this series, I would like to look at another insight we gained about the Packers roster from their 2015 draft class.
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Based on the way they drafted this spring, Green Bay seems confident in what they have on the defensive line, and they must feel B.J. Raji can return to his old self and be a dominant nose tackle once again.
Many thought, including myself, the Packers would target a big run-stuffing defensive lineman in an early round. Green Bay not only needs to improve their run defense, but they’ll also need to find an eventual replacement for Raji if he can’t return to his younger self and become an anchor in the middle of their line.
Both Raji and Letroy Guion also only signed to one-year contracts this offseason, so their futures in Green Bay remain uncertain.
Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion (98) sacks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez (3). Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
There’s a possibility the Packers could start from scratch at the nose tackle position next offseason, so it was reasonable to assume going into the draft Green Bay would target a top nose tackle prospect in order to secure the future of the interior defense line.
However, the only defensive lineman the Packers drafted was sixth-round pick Christian Ringo, who at 6-foot-1 and 295 pounds is a better fit at defensive end.
The Packers had a shot to draft highly talented nose tackle Malcom Brown at the end of the first round, but they passed on him to take defensive back Damarious Randall. They also passed on Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips, Iowa’s Carl Davis, and Henry Anderson out of Stanford.
There was plenty of defensive line talent available at the end of each round, but the Packers stood pat and addressed other areas of their team. They could have even gotten Davis or Anderson with the 62nd overall pick, but instead, Green Bay went defensive back again, showing little worry about their future at defensive line.
This tells us one thing–the Packers feel confident in the group they currently have.
They must feel Raji can return to form. If they could get him to play like he did in 2010 then they’d be in good shape, but it has been several years since Raji has played well, not to mention he’s coming off a major injury. There are a lot “what ifs” with his game going into this season, and at 28, he’s not getting any younger.
But, the Packers offseason moves show nothing but complete trust in the six-year veteran out of Boston College. If he has a solid 2015 season Green Bay will offer him a contract extension.
Outside of Raji, the Packers also have some young emerging talent on the defensive line they can try to build around.
Mike Daniels is a budding star and by far their best player on the defensive line, and Guion looked like a solid acquisition last season, recording four sacks and eight hurries in his first season with Green Bay. Daniels and Guion are also 26 and 27 respectively and seem to just be coming into their own.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) reacts after he sacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
However, Green Bay is still waiting to see if former first round pick Datone Jones will ever develop into a reliable starter at defensive end, and the jury remains out on 2014 third-round pick Khyri Thornton.
Jones has shown flashes in his first two years, recording five sacks and 25 quarterback hurries. However, Jones still needs to develop as a run defender and can be a liability in base defense.
He enters his third season as a pro, and the Packers are banking on him taking the next step and really solidifying himself as one of their starting defensive ends. It’s definitely a make-or-break year for him.
Reserve players like Josh Boyd and Mike Pennel offer some quality depth on the line, but they could also lose roster spots to newcomers, like Ringo, second-year man Bruce Gaston out of Purdue, or undrafted rookie Lavon Hooks.
Overall, the Packers have good depth on the defensive line and some young emerging talent, but the success of the position this season depends on whether or not a nose tackle emerges between Raji and Guion.
However, the fact the Packers didn’t add a young nose tackle to their roster this offseason shows Green Bay is confident at least one of the two–if not both–can be stalwart nose tackles in their defense.