Green Bay Packers: Ranking the NFC North defensive lines

Nov 1, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) pushes Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) pushes Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /
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From a numbers standpoint, the Packers defensive line appeared rather ordinary in defending the run. The Boys from Packers News ranked only 21st in rushing yards allowed and opponents padded their stats against them by averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

Where Green Bay excelled was in keeping teams out of the end zone by giving up seven scores on the ground behind only the Steelers and Jets as the two defenses that allowed fewer.

In total, the defensive line finished with 22 tackles for a loss in 2015, a number that hadn’t been achieved since 2007.

While some may look at gaudy rushing yards put up by Matt Forte, Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson and Darren McFadden and not be all that impressed, several runs of 15-yards plus actually took place when the Packers were in their sub-packages.

This doesn’t completely exonerate the men up front, however. A number of performers didn’t come close to producing at their top levels starting with the currently retired B.J. Raji.

The round-bodied defender started the year off in grand fashion, but a Week 5 groin injury brought his resurgence to a grinding halt and prevented him from regaining his form until the last few weeks of the season.

Nagging injuries have become par for the course with Raji, who has yet to replicate his outstanding 2010 campaign when he led the team with 33.5 pressures, according to The Raji of recent vintage simply was getting moved off his spot far too often for a man weighing 337 pounds.

The 30-year-old nose tackle’s concerns with his physical well-being have caused him to take a so-called “hiatus” from football, which may only last one year.

The 2015 version of Letroy Guion also wasn’t at his peak powers for much of the season. It took the one-time Florida State Seminole about half the year to start showing some effectiveness once he returned to the team following a three-game suspension.

It was clear that the stout lineman was all the way back once he began making his presence felt in critical short-yardage situations by turning into an immovable force.

Guion’s ability to handle double teams makes him the best candidate to step into Raji’s vacated nose tackle role in base formations … at least early on.

Fifth-year pro Mike Daniels isn’t quite the prototype as a 3-4 end at about an even six feet, but he was week-in and week-out Green Bay’s most consistent player along with being a team leader who sets the tone both with his voice and his play.

The New Jersey-born difference-maker is a master at gaining leverage by jolting his blockers with his powerful hands and getting underneath them. On the season, Daniels posted a career-best 49 tackles along with forcing his first-ever fumble.

To the surprise of no one, Ted Thompson opted to shore up his defensive line in the first round of this year’s draft. The man he brought in was UCLA’s Kenny Clark, who comes into the NFL with a wrestling background that is always a plus in terms of helping linemen develop their leverage skills.

At six-foot-two, 310 pounds, Clark is stout with powerful hands and has also demonstrated excellent awareness during his days in the Pac-12.

He certainly looks and plays like a nose tackle and is the future at that position. How soon and how many snaps he’ll be able to take on are questions that will soon be answered.

Early on, Clark may need to put in more snaps than he’s ready for due to fellow lineman Mike Pennel’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Pennel was highly productive in 2015 by leading the team with a tackle per every 8.3 snaps. What helps the 332-pound grinder be a force against the run is the fact that he’s both light on his feet and possesses the instincts to anticipate plays.

Don’t be surprised to see Pennel get off to a slow start much like Guion did the year prior. During his league-imposed suspension, the 25-year-old will be prohibited from practicing with his teammates.

In now his fourth go-around as a pro, Datone Jones remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma surrounded by a riddle. Is he a down lineman or an edge rusher?

Based on level of play, the UCLA import seems better suited for an edge role where he shows an effective get-off and lateral agility. Conversely, Jones will too often get engulfed by behemoth blockers when he lines up inside.

One guy who seems to be born to play 3-4 end is this year’s fourth-round pick Dean Lowry, who at six-foot-six, 296 pounds has shown the knack for getting a good read on opposing passers and knocking down passes.

He’s neither remarkably quick nor agile, but Lowry comes off the ball quickly and knows how to stay low. He is active to the point where he will never stop coming throughout the course of a given game.

Second-year man Christian Ringo is still in the developmental stages of his career. The Packers loved his first-step quickness while scouting him in 2015.

Rounding out this group are Demetris Anderson, Tyler Kuder, B.J. McBryde and Brian Price. Of the five, Price brings an interesting skill set to the table in that he’s a country-strong, bull-rushing nose tackle with above-average quickness for a 315-pounder. The small-school standout acquitted himself well versus top teams from the Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences.

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