Green Bay Packers: Final 53-Man Roster Predictions
By Kenn Korb
* = starter; + = roster spot; ~ = suspended
* Mike Daniels
* B.J. Raji
~ Datone Jones
~ Letroy Guion
+ Josh Boyd
+ Bruce Gaston
* Mike Pennel
Aug 3, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji (90) warms up during training camp at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The defensive line has been the most lackluster position group on the Green Bay Packers’ defense for years now. That isn’t to say there haven’t been things to like or potential for improvement, but as a whole this has been a relative weakness for the Packers. It shows most clearly in the lacking run defense; since Green Bay won the Super Bowl after the 2010 season, we’ve seen the Packers struggle to rankings of 14th (2011), 17th (2012), 25th (2013) and 23rd (2014).
Green Bay is potentially poised to see a positive jump in that area this season however; as stated previously, they’ve accumulated plenty of talent that could surely take a step forward. If they do, this run defense issue may not fully disappear, but it’ll be dramatically improved.
That’ll start with Mike Daniels. Since being drafted in 2012, he’s shown steady development and become one of the better players on the entire defense; in fact, he may be the de facto leader of the defense at this point. At the least, he’s the most vocal player in that regard. His fiery demeanor makes an impact beyond pure statistics, and it locks him into one of the starting spots here.
After him everything is more lackluster, but there are some possibly intriguing possibilities left to fill the remaining defensive lineman spots.
B.J. Raji has been around for awhile, but he peaked pretty early on during his Packers tenure. In his first couple years, he looked to be the next great Green Bay lineman, backing up his high draft status (9th overall in 2009) with increasingly stellar play and timely playmaking (i.e.: his INT-return TD vs Chicago in the 2010 NFC Championship Game). He has tailed off since then, but it has been considered that maybe his dropoff has more to do with a positional switch (spending most time at DE instead of NT since 2011) than an actual lessening of his abilities. Had he not torn his biceps in the preseason, he could have already proven that to be the case in 2014; in reality, his resurgence was delayed. Whether or not that will be the case, it appears Raji will be given every opportunity to prove he still can contribute at a high level from his preferred spot at nose tackle. With that in mind, I expect him to make the roster as the starter in the middle for Green Bay.
Dec 21, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Pennel (64) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
As for the other DE spot…that is tougher. To me, it falls between Datone Jones and Letroy Guion. Both got to see plenty of snaps last season, but while Guion was a surprise factor in taking over at the nose for the injured Raji, Jones continued to disappoint. He was on the field for only 375 snaps (30.8%) last year –4th-most on the team — but was behind the less-heralded Josh Boyd (414; 34%) and rarely did much of note with those snaps he was given (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT).
Though he hasn’t done much to warrant it, the facts that Jones is a former 1st rounder (players with higher draft statuses are usually given more opportunities), there isn’t really anybody markedly better to turn to (he has the highest potential upside outside of Daniels or Raji on the roster…if he can ever start to scratch the surface of it), and the only person I’d expect to really challenge him for the starting gig once he returns from suspension (Guion) seems likely to rotate in as the main backup at NT for Raji, I expect the Packers to move ahead with planning for Jones to at least start 2015 as the starter.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem: both are suspended to start the year.
Dec 14, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Green Bay Packers nose tackle Letroy Guion (98) celebrates after sacking Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton (18) during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Bad news for Green Bay having their best options out there, but good news for the other potential defensive line options left to pick from; because they are suspended, those two don’t count against the 53-man roster number. Based on my thinking, that will give us three more players for the roster cutoff.
Despite being a relatively high draft choice in 2014, I think Thornton will not make the final 53. Based on how teams normally operate, this could be seen as somewhat of a shock — higher picks almost always are given more leeway in making rosters — but from everything I’ve come across, there isn’t much mention of Thornton at all. That’s a bad sign; unless you are talking about offensive linemen, when a player isn’t doing anything to get mentioned at all amounts to about the same outcome as if he were out there making bundles of mistakes. With some intriguing guys left to choose from, Thornton could (and should) see himself on the outs.
Mike Pennel, however, should.
Pennel is a guy that probably doesn’t get noticed much by casual fans, but he’s served notice to plenty of people who get paid to pay attention to all the little details throughout practices, camps and the preseason. One such guy is Vic Ketchman over at packers.com, who has been talking up Pennel all offseason as a guy to watch; suffice to say, he has not been disappointed. Pennel has done consistently well, and in my estimation locked himself into a roster spot. With the suspensions to Jones and Guion, I believe he can be seen as the third starter on the line (at least until those two return to action).
Dec 21, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Josh Boyd (93) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Green Bay Packers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Beyond him, Josh Boyd has been a nice backup option for two seasons, spending a decent portion of 2014 as a starter as well (as mentioned before, he garnered a higher percentage of defensive snaps than Datone Jones did). His work and proven ability to step in when needed will be needed not only for the time while Jones and Guion, but perhaps beyond (depending how things shake out once those guys count against the roster again).
As for the last spot, I think it has to go to Bruce Gaston.
Though Gaston isn’t a potentially dynamic option, he has shown more than either of the remaining options. He’ll be one of those effort-type players that every roster needs.
All said, while the names here may not be the most exciting group whichever guys are kept will provide the Packers with a nice base of talent that will hopefully help Green Bay continue their jump up the defensive standings that began in the middle of 2014.