Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grading the Defensive Lineman At The 2013 NFL Combine

While it's not as bad as last year, the Green Bay Packers defensive line could still use some help.

NT B.J. Raji remains the best of the group, but he wasn't as good in 2012 as he was in 2010. DL Jerel Worthy might be looking at a lost 2013 season as he recovers from a serious knee injury. DL Mike Daniels showed some hustle as a rookie with 2 sacks but he didn't play much against the run last season. DE Mike Neal can't play every down either and his late season productivity (2.5 sacks over the last 3 regular season games) might have been a mirage. DE Ryan Pickett and DE C.J. Wilson can play against the run, but they can't rush the QB. The Packers still need a lineman like Raji who can play the run and lineup alongside Raji as a pass rusher when the Packers go with only two lineman.

Yes, the Eagles just released DE Cullen Jenkins, but the Packers aren't known for signing veterans in their 30s. And they showed little interest in re-signing him after the 2010 season. However, his 2012 season was his typical 4 sacks and 20+ tackles, and Pro Football Focus gave him a positive grade. The same risks he had in 2011 (age, injury concerns) are still there although he played in every game over the past two seasons. He could help, if the Packers had any interest in re-signing him, but he'd be a one or two year solution, at best.

In general, the players who worked out at the combine as defensive ends aren't going to play on the Packers' defensive line. There might be a candidate who could move to outside linebacker, but it seems unlikely they'd go that route again with a high draft choice after selecting LB Nick Perry in 2012. So I'm looking at the defensive tackles, who can play anywhere on the line for the Packers. With one exception.
Here are all the combine results for the defensive lineman, courtesy of SB Nation. I'm a little reluctant to endorse SMU DE Margus Hunt, he seems more like a workout warrior than an every down player, and at 6-8, 277 lbs., he's small for the Packers' line. But completing 38 reps on the bench press is notable. However, with all the great defensive tackle prospects available, the Packers should be able to find someone with more size.

All the top defensive line prospects appeared to helped themselves at the combine, with the notable exception of Utah's DT Star Lotulelei who might have been flagged only because of dehydration. Not all of them are natural pass rushers but the Packers may find someone they feel they can develop. You can teach pass rushing tips but you can't teach a 6-5, 300 pounder to run like a tight end.

Maybe Purdue's DT Kawann Short would be a good candidate, and he's projected to go in the late first round. The good news is that NFL Draft Scout compared him to Bengals DT Domata Peko, which would be great. He's under 300 lbs. and might be similar in size to Daniels, but having a rotation of Short and Daniels on the defensive line next season might work well.

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