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Hole Left By Cullen Jenkins Remains for Packers' Defensive Line

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Hole Left By Cullen Jenkins Remains for Packers' Defensive Line

Both age and monetary concerns were behind the Green Bay Packers' decision to let former defensive end Cullen Jenkins walk in free agency following the team's win in Super Bowl XLV.

After the lockout ended in late July of 2011, Packers general manager Ted Thompson wasn't even remotely interested in giving Jenkins the kind of length (five years) and dollars ($25 million) he eventually landed, especially after Jenkins turned 30 years old in January of 2011.

Two offseasons later, Thompson and the Packers are still attempting to fill the hole on the defensive line left by Jenkins' departure to the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, defensive end remains one of the defense's biggest weaknesses as Green Bay limps into another offseason because of a defensive letdown.

With the free agency and the 2013 NFL draft quickly approaching, the position should sit high on Thompson's offseason priority list.

Finding another version of the versatile defensive end might be easier said than done, however.

At 6-2 and 305 pounds, Jenkins never fit the long, slimmer body type of some of the game's best 3-4 defensive ends. Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers is 6-4 and 285 pounds, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans is 6-6 and 295 pounds and Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals is 6-8 and 300 pounds. The top five finishers at the position this season—Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, Campbell, Jason Hatcher and Smith, according to Pro Football Focus—averaged out at 6-5 and 290 pounds.

Despite a shorter, stockier stature, Jenkins still possessed the kind of agility and quickness needed to collapse pockets as a five-technique in the 3-4 defense. He was also powerful enough to anchor against the run, giving Jenkins an ability to play all three downs regardless of scheme.

The Packers simply don't have a player like Jenkins on the defensive line currently.

C.J. Wilson (6-3, 290) can anchor against the run in the base defense, but he provides next to nothing in terms of a consistent pass rush. Over nearly 1,200 career snaps, Wilson has just 26 quarterback disruptions and 3.5 sacks. While fine as a rotational player, Wilson is nothing more than a below-average starter.

Rookie Mike Daniels (6-0, 290) is far too short to be a three-down player at defensive end. As a situational pass rusher, Daniels can shoot gaps and disrupt passing plays using his quickness. But he isn't nearly big enough to hold up for 30-plus plays against the run, meaning he'll always be somewhat of a limited player.

Fellow first-year player Jerel Worthy (6-2, 290) still has a chance to develop into a Jenkins-like player. His quickness may always be Worthy's go-to attribute, and it was clear that he cut weight to ensure that remained. But he doesn't currently have the height or power in his game to be a regular in the base defense, and an ACL injury that required surgery now clouds his immediate future. He was disappointing as a pass rusher in his first season. What he becomes is still very much up in the air.

Most will view Mike Neal (6-3, 295) as the best hope at the position. He was miles ahead of any other defensive lineman in pressure ratio this season, and his length and power might be the best of any defensive lineman. That said, he struggles to anchor against the run and always seems to be one play away from the training table. The Packers can't be confident that he'll ever be anywhere close to the kind of player against the run that Jenkins was, which limits how often he can be in the base defense.

The numbers support the difference a rare player like Jenkins made.

According to PFF, from 2008-10, Jenkins provided 98 total quarterback disruptions (15 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 62 hurries) over 927 pass-rushing snaps. He also provided 45 "stops" in the run game, or plays constituting a negative play for the offense.

In the two years since, Green Bay's production from Jenkins' replacements has been mostly lacking against the pass and run.

Over 1,473 (or 546 more) pass-rushing snaps, a combination of Jarius Wynn, Wilson, Neal, Worthy and Daniels has produced just 66 total quarterback disruptions (16/7/43). The five players also combined for 65 stops over nearly twice the amount of overall snaps than Jenkins had over a three-year span.

In comparison, Watt combined for 76 disruptions and 72 stops in 958 snaps over 16 games this season. Jenkins, over 642 snaps at both defensive end and defensive tackle for Philadelphia, recorded 30 disruptions and 18 stops.

The overall defensive ranks also supports Jenkins' impact.

The Packers defense finished the 2009 season ranked seventh in points (18.6), second in yards (284.4), 11th in sacks (37.0) and first against the run (83.3). The next season—Jenkins' last in Green Bay—the Packers finished second in points (15.0), fifth in yards (309.1), second in sacks (47.0) and 18th against the run (114.9).

The first season without Jenkins saw drops across the board. Green Bay finished 2011 ranked 19th in points (22.4), 32nd in yards (411.6), 27th in sacks (29.0) and 14th against the run (111.8). In 2012, the numbers improved slightly. The Packers were 11th in both points (21.0) and yards (336.8), fourth in sacks (47.0) and 17th against the run (118.5).

While hundreds of factors go into the final ranks of a defense, the absence of an impact player at defensive end certainly contributed to such a precipitous drop off.

In the last handful of drafts, Thompson has just missed on the opportunity to land an impact 3-4 defensive end such as Kendall Reyes (6-4, 300), Corey Liuget (6-3, 300) or Wilkerson. Mike Neal shows flashes but remains a work in progress, Worthy struggled in his first year and Daniels is probably nothing more than a rotational player.

While the Packers have a number of personnel issues that need fixing this offseason, possibly no position needs to add an impact player quite like defensive end. Finding a suitable replacement for Jenkins—whether its in the first round of April's draft or elsewhere—is a must if the Packers are going to survive and thrive in the 3-4 defense.

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Fan friendly comments only: on Comments (36) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

Good read, Zach.

It would also be helpful to know how Jenkins has played since leaving the Packers. Though I guess I could always look those stats up myself...

Zach Kruse's picture

He was better in 2011 than 2012. And I'm not trying to argue here that the Packers should have re-signed Jenkins. Just that they still haven't replaced what he was in the 3-4. Maybe Jenkins would have regressed had he stayed in GB. But the Packers need someone as good as he was from 2009-10 at DE if they want to get back to that level on defense.

Evan's picture

Oh, yeah, I totally get your point. And I agree 100%.

I was just curious since that's been one of TT's most controversial decisions.

CSS's picture

Didn't Jenkins play in only 8 games during the 2010 season? Also, I realize you said there are hundreds of factors that go into final ranks, but 2011 is a tough one to measure with so much 'garbage' yardage being yielded as a byproduct of massive leads and a defensive philosophy that was built to burn clock (i.e. - give the middle of the field).

They certainly missed Jenkins as a nickle rusher when he was healthy, no doubt about it. PFF liked to say he was great against the run while with the Eagles, but it's deceptive as hell. The Eagles just asked Jenkins to sprint up the field in their 'wide-9' defense, and he really did so with a lack of discipline. Sometimes he made a big play against the run, other times he was scorched for being so far out of position. Falls under, 'even a blind squirrel finds a nut', when looking at his run-defense productivity.

Denver's picture

I always watched Jenkins when Philly was on TV. It was pretty amazing how often he was the first guy off the ball including the O-Linemen. But, like you mention, quite often he would penetrate himself right out of the play.
I wouldn't mind seeing the Pack draft 3 DE's this year. Seems like some good quality prospects this year and Lord knows they need help.

Chris's picture

OLB and OLine (depth for the Tackle position) is a big need too, and the Packers don't have a game changing Safety on the roster right now, especially none who can also help stop the run if needed.
And if Finley leaves they need a pass catching TE too.

Denver's picture

Yeah, probably should have said I hope the Pack takes 3 DE/OLB types. Agree on S plus I'm hoping for an ILB pretty high.
Haven't given up hope yet on Sherrod even if it's not looking good. Plus Barclay looked pretty damn good, IMO. Gotta get Bulaga back, though.

IowaPackFan's picture

I think TE is one area that we might be able to get by without. We've got Quarless who was on PUP all season whou should be healthty enough to compete for a starting spot this year. Remember, he was basically our starting TE for the SB run. He was a rookie that year, and while he had some hiccups he made some big plays, too. He showed real progress in his game in 2011 before tearing his ACL late in the year. I'm willing to bet he's a decent replacement for Finley if we choose to forego a TE in the draft.

Evan's picture

That's why cutting Finley makes so little sense - it's a self-inflicted hole on a roster that has other, more pressing needs on defense and the o-line. Let him play out the year and see what happens with Quarless. Go TE in the 2014 draft if necessary.

FourEyesBrewing's picture

How has Raji done in his handful of snaps at DE? Later in the season he and Picket switched spots and it looked like he had more success. To that end, and considering that Picket is aging, should the Packers consider drafting a new NT instead?

imfubared's picture

Raji's ass expanded to the size of a small Buick. He is done put a fork in him.

Brian's picture

Like the Jenkins kid from Georgia

bryce's picture

Good stuff.

lebowski's picture

man, how awesome would it have been to get Watt on this team.

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

Everyone said I was dumb when I said cutting Jenkins was a mistake.... no comment!

Evan's picture

Maybe because he wasn't cut?

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Lol. Don't let those pesky little facts get in the way Evan!

imfubared's picture

Not me. Big mistake. Loosing Wells, big mistake. Aint got the money fold up the tent

Evan's picture

Losing Wells was not a mistake. Signing him to that contract would have been a HUGE mistake. Not adequately replacing him, THAT was the mistake.

pooch's picture

2011-no Jenkins,no Collins,Woodie and T.Williams,S.Sheilds all had subpar years.2012 No Jenkins,No Collins/T.Williams dont like to tackle replace with Hayward,Aging Woodson hurt all year.So we need D.E. safety for starters,throw in inside linebacker D should be set

scottm's picture

Did we miss his pass rush in 2011, yes. Did we miss it in 2012, no. We got pressure from our rotation inside. Jenkins was never more than just ok against the run. Premise of the article is off. Cj never was or is a run stiffer, penetrating pass rusher when in his prime. Which is in his rearview now.

imfubared's picture

Wrong a mundo. We drafted that top pick named Neal to replace Jenkins. Whats the problem? Just because he has only played a handful of games in three years, that's like. hey maybe someday he will pan out. Maybe

imfubared's picture

Mike Neal was a poor choice but when your picking 26th or higher that's what you get, leftovers. I think Perry is one of them too sorry to say. I have no aspirations he will do much. The word bust already is in my vocabulary for him and Worthy

leo's picture

The guy was a physically gifted DE learning a new position, played 8 games half of them injured and you are already labeling him as a bust. Come on imfubared be a little more patient.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Now that that one guy supposedly isn't a huge douche anymore (can't "act" like that for 4 months without having a lil Douche deep down), are you like trying to pick up the slack?

Hofschneider's picture

CMIII was picked at 26th.

MarkinMadison's picture

Exactly. This defense, this team, needs playmakers. I don't care if they play DL, LB or S (or OL or RB) they need a guy (or three) who is just flat out a playmaker. You can find them in any round, but obviously they get harder to find the deeper into the draft you go. I'm really less concerned about what position TT drafts first or how many bodies he gets in this draft than I am with whether he is being aggressive, trading up, and getting players who are potential playmakers.

Worthy and Neal are both great examples. Neal will be a playmaker if healthy. Worthy can be a playmaker if he gets his azzz in gear this off-season and commits to the conditioning necessary to play like a Pro Bowl player on every down. You gotta break a few eggs to make an omlet.

BK's picture

Great read. Looking at possible FA acquisitions, Richard Seymour IMO would be a great stop gap until we find a long term at DE. Bared, I'm also worried Perry will be a disappointment but he at least adds a physical presence to this defense that hasn't been seen since Atari " Play No Games" Bibgy was roaming around. We are a drag down tackling defense that lacks pop at the point of contact and when we can't generate turnovers we look so average. I understand injuries have ravaged our line up for 2 years . However , TT has missed in FA in past 2 offseasons but I think Seymour has enough left to make a difference.

PadLevel's picture

There were 7 head coaching vacancies and numerous assistant coach/coordinator openings in the league the last few weeks and the only Packers coach to even get so much as an interview was Tom Clements - from the Offense. No matter who we draft this coaching staff is average at best - they are good at bringing the backup players up to snuff, but cannot take the good players (Mathews, Raji, Tramon) to the next level. (Mathews was completely owned by 49ers left tackle Staley in the last game). My point is that while a good draft will provide the foundation, the coaching is what will keep us in games against 49ers, Giants and Falcons

MarkinMadison's picture

Remember that this D lost Nick Collins at virtually the same time Jenkins left, and that even if he had stayed the D would not be the same, because Jenkins' production has declined in each of the last two years. It's a little too simple to pin this all on Jenkins leaving. Also, I think that there was a hint of regret on TT's part when he found out what Jenkins signed for with Philly.

madmanJack's picture

Margus Hunt.

Chad Toporski's picture

They also miss Johnny Jolly, the first to go.

bomdad's picture

They were 4th in sacks or something like that, so I'd say they replaced Cullen adequately in 2012. Neal played 9 games, and as mentioned, Jenkins played like 8 in 2010.

The overreaction of Kapernick running is getting to the fan base, it wasnt lack of pass rush or "push up the middle", it was losing gap control on top of man coverage with all the LBs and DBs with their backs turned to him.

Has anyone figured out how to wipe Jim Hairball's spit off the inside of the TV?

Lars's picture

Sorry, Zac makes an excellent point backed by statical analysis. Blame Walden all you want, if the Packers had somebody like Jenkins to set the edge, SF wouldn't have run wild for 324 yards.

Thompson just missing on three quality DE's while trading up several times for other defensive players in the past few years is very telling. TT seems just as stubborn and stuck on Neal as he was with Justin Harrell and Johnny Jolly.

CSS's picture

Jenkins strong suit was always an inside pass-rush, especially when the defense went to nickle he was capable of pushing the pocket. I think you're misremembering his run-defense. He was far from a stout 'edge setter'. He was ok at his best, not as good as C.J. Wilson is playing this year. He was not a very good, or even consistent run defender.

TXCHEESE's picture

anyone know the status of Jolly? Has he been reinstated. He was really good against both the run and the pass. Seemed like he swatted a pass down once a game. I know he didn't but he did do it pretty consistently. He would probabaly come very cheap.

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