Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Anthony Hargrove for 8 games last week for his part in the Saints bounty scandal, and just like that the Packers are in danger of lacking sufficient depth on the defensive line for the second year in a row. As of now, Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and second-round pick Jerel Worthy figure to be the starters when the season opens in September, with C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn, Daniel Muir, Lawrence Guy, Johnny Jones and fourth-round pick Mike Daniels fighting for backup spots.
That’s not exactly a plethora of talent. So unless one or two of the young returnees make great strides in the next few months, general manager Ted Thompson would be wise to get on the phone and see if he can procure a proven veteran to, at the very least, help out until either Mike Neal returns from his own suspension (for PEDs) in week 5 or until Hargrove re-emerges sometime in November. If not, we could be in store for more Wynn and Wilson in 2012.
Besides a lack of depth, there’s one other thing that sticks out about the current group of defensive linemen. Besides Guy and Jones – neither of whom was on the active roster for a single game in 2011 – there’s not a legitimate 3-4 end to be found. In fact, the last legitimate 3-4 end to play for the Packers was Johnny Jolly. The former Texas A&M star and current inmate had the prototypical size (6’4, 325) and power to do what 3-4 ends are supposed to do – stuff the run and disrupt passing lanes. Remember how tough it was to move the ball on the ground against the defense in ’09? Remember how many balls were batted down at the line of scrimmage? A lot of that was due to Jolly’s presence.
Raji and Worthy would make a great 1-2 punch at tackle in a 4-3, but I don’t love either one at end in a 3-4. Raji’s best season as a pro came in 2010, which was not coincidentally the one season he played nose tackle. The further he gets away from the football, the less effective he becomes. As for Worthy, his struggles with double teams and penchant for wearing down will only be exacerbated at end. Wilson, Wynn and Daniels are also better suited to play tackle in a 4-3.
Thompson could’ve added a more prototypical 3-4 end in round two, but he chose Worthy over Devon Still, the former Penn State standout who stands nearly three inches taller and played the run far more consistently in college. But Still isn’t much of a pass rusher, and after watching Wynn, Wilson, an overused Raji and an injured Neal feebly attempt to rush the QB in 2011, it’s obvious Thompson’s No. 1 priority this offseason was to add players who could create pressure in obvious passing situations. Worthy and Daniels should be able to do just that. Thompson couldn’t solve all the problems on defense in one offseason. Ideally, he’ll be able to beef up the base with the 32nd pick next April.