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Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The Defensive Line

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Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The Defensive Line

Welcome to the fourth annual best and worst case scenarios for every player on the Green Bay Packers roster.

I attempt to take a look at what is the very best possible season a player is capable of producing, and on the other hand, what would happen if a player fell flat on his face (without assuming they suffer a season-ending injury). These are intended to be extreme scenarios on both sides of the spectrum. More than likely, each player is going to fall somewhere in the middle, but every now and then, they just so happen to come to fruition. Think Charles Woodson last year.

I also try to take a look at what these scenarios would be from an individual standpoint and not what’s best for the team. For example, parting ways with Justin Harrell may eventually be what’s in the best interest of the Packers. I’m more interested in looking at what’s in Justin Harrell’s best interests (or worst interests for that matter).

Yesterday we looked at the offensive line. Today we’re onto the defensive line…

Cullen Jenkins

  • Best-case scenario: What was a good season for Jenkins in his first year of learning the 3-4 defense in '09, turns into a great season in 2010. Helped largely that he's entering a contract year, Jenkins has what's considered a great statistical year for a 3-4 defensive end. He finishes with just a shade under 10 sacks, amps up his overall tackle numbers and is a general nuisance is opposing backfields. With Johnny Jolly gone, he's all but required to play the most snaps along the defensive line, being equally effective from both the end and as an inside pass rusher in the nickel and "Psycho" packages. Pro Bowl alternate.
  • Worst-case scenario: Jenkins has another solid but unspectacular season. His low sack numbers are a victim of playing in a 3-4, but he's still the best pass rushing option on the team. Thanks to strong efforts by the rookies and Justin Harrell, Jenkins plays a lot less snaps as part of a rotation than in the past. Close observers of the team know he plays a valuable role on the team, he just doesn't get the publicity for it. That might help the Packers sign him to a bargain contract the following offseason, however.

Ryan Pickett

  • Best-case scenario: Pickett is as good a defensive end as he was a nose tackle. He's not any more of a pass rusher, but he's good at holding down the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to do their jobs. Pickett sets a career high in tackles, however, with the move. He's very active and disrupts what the offense wants to do with the running game. And it helps that he stays fresh by being frequently subbed in and out of games.
  • Worst-case scenario: The five-technique position doesn't fit Pickett's skill set. He's not very good at playing in more space as he was a lot better playing in close quarters at the nose. Fans become annoyed at the long-term contract the Packers dished out to Pickett when he ends up playing very few snaps. The Packers start subbing Pickett out of the game even on first downs, and he becomes somewhat of a short-yardage specialist.

B.J. Raji

  • Best-case scenario: Raji is a big part of the reason the Packers defense goes from No. 2 in the NFL in '09 to No. 1 in 2010. He's every bit the run stuffer that Ryan Pickett was, but he becomes perhaps the preeminent pass rushing nose tackle in the NFL. He only tallies somewhere around five sacks, but the push he provides up the middle is enough to collapse the pocket and disrupts the timing of opposing quarterbacks. He logs major playing time when he and Cullen Jenkins team up to become the team's primary pass-rushing tackles in nickel situations.
  • Worst-case scenario: Raji is no better than he was last season. He shows flashes of big-time playmaking every once in a while, but more often he's rather invisible. It's not like he plays poorly, but he just doesn't live up to the first-round billing people expected out of him. The Packers re-evaluate the arrangement with Pickett and Raji. Maybe they were better off the way they were before.

Mike Neal

  • Best-case scenario: Ted Thompson demonstrates he knows what he's doing when Mike Neal proved to be an effective second-round draft choice. While only a rotational player, he's equally effective at stopping the run and rushing the passer as far as 3-4 defensive ends go. He occasionally plays the part of pass-rushing tackle in the nickel and is able to get surprising push into the backfield now and again. Better things are expected in future years.
  • Worst-case scenario: Neal isn't a flop, but he makes people think he was over-valued as a second rounder. He's okay against the run, but he doesn't show anything resembling a pass rush. He makes the 53-man roster, but he doesn't particularly play a lot. Fans, coaches and front office personnel alike can only hope he improves as he gets older and more experienced.

C.J. Wilson

  • Best-case scenario: Wilson just might have been the best seventh-round draft choice in the 2010 draft and surprisingly fares even better than Mike Neal. He plays the most snaps of any player on the defensive line not named Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji or Ryan Pickett. Like in college, Wilson shows to be pretty good at rushing the quarterback, but he does unexpectedly well at at the duties required of a 3-4 defensive end. There's a small possibility that he could be a starter as soon as the 2011 season should Cullen Jenkins leave in free agency.
  • Worst-case scenario: Wilson is miscast as a five-technique defensive end, much less an interior pass rusher. He probably was better suited as a 4-3 defensive end and just never stood out at all during training camp. He seems like a good guy that everyone wants to cheer for, but results on the field are what matters in the NFL, and Wilson doesn't have it in Green Bay. The Packers keep only six defensive linemen and Justin Harrell and Jarius Wynn are better options at this point in their career. The Packers would be happy to keep Wilson on their practice squad, but more likely, some other team picks him up off waivers.

Justin Harrell

  • Best-case scenario: At long last, Harrell finally puts together a fully-healthy season. People are going to continue to bash him because he hasn't lived up to his first-round status, but he quietly has a very good season as a reserve role. He shares snaps with the other defensive ends on the roster, has value as a third-string nose tackle and has a penchant for batting down passes with his long levers. It took a while, but Harrell finally plays a meaningful role on the team.
  • Worst-case scenario: Yup, you guessed it. Harrell has another setback when his repaired back just can't take the everyday pounding of training camp. Harrell makes it a few days through camp, but sooner or later, it becomes clear that football just isn't in his future. Another season on injured reserve isn't going to happen. The Packers pay the injury settlement and cut ties with Harrell.

Jarius Wynn

  • Best-case scenario: Wynn packs on a few more pounds and doesn't get pushed around anymore. Other pundits will point to bigger names being the most-improved players on the team, but the real winner of that title might just be Wynn. Unpredictably, he jumps ahead of the rookies and Justin Harrell on the depth chart. The stats aren't impressive, but he becomes the first player off the bench inserted into the defensive line.
  • Worst-case scenario: The second-year defensive end is no better than a year ago. And now that the Packers drafted two defensive ends in this year's draft, Wynn's services are no longer needed. He was one of the last cuts to be made, but even if he made the team, he wasn't going to play anyway. And that was the deciding factor.

Ronald Talley

  • Best-case scenario: After another promising preseason, Talley makes the practice squad for two years running. And if there's an injury ahead of him, he just might be signed to the 53-man roster at some point in the regular season. While he excels at no particular phase of the game, he's a consistent, solid performer that can be relied upon. He shows no ill effects from offseason ankle surgery.
  • Worst-case scenario: Talley is the biggest loser when the Packers drafted two defensive linemen in April. He's no worse than last year during training camp, but he's further down the depth chart with the additions of Neal and Wilson. Talley's not even a candidate for the practice squad, however. He's plain old let go and left trying to find a new NFL team, or maybe even the UFL.

Anthony Toribio

  • Best-case scenario: There's always going to be room for a third-string nose tackle on the practice squad but not on the 53-man roster. Toribio fills that same role as a year ago, and once again, if either Ryan Pickett or B.J. Raji gets hurt, only then will he have an opportunity to be promoted to the big time.
  • Worst-case scenario: Toribio is passed up by rookie Aleric Mullins being the third-string nose tackle. And that means there's no room for him on practice squad this year. Toribio is just another roster casualty.

Aleric Mullins

  • Best-case scenario: Mullins picks up where he left off at rookie orientation camp when he convinced the Packers to offer him a contract. He steps ahead of Anthony Toribio and is able to earn a spot on the practice squad for his efforts. He too just might be able to earn a job with the Packers if either Pickett or Raji get hurt.
  • Worst-case scenario: Training camp body. Mullins tries as hard as possible, but he shows why he wasn't originally signed as a priority free agent after the draft. He's cut and not offered a spot on the practice squad.

Johnny Jolly

  • Best-case scenario: Jolly's suspension serves as a real wake-up call. He keeps his nose clean, serves any jail time or community service passed down by the court of law, and even manages to show up on trial in a sport coat. There's many reservations about bringing Jolly back, but he's rewarded by the Packers for his behavior and patience by being brought back into the fold next season.
  • Worst-case scenario: There's no change in Jolly's behavior. He continues to hang out with the same crowd in Texas and displays the same thug persona. He's a talented football player, but the Packers deem him too risky to bring back to their locker room environment. He's let go when his suspension is done. With his obvious talent, someone's liable to give him a second chance, but it's not going to be Ted Thompson.

Check back tomorrow for a preview of the inside linebackers.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Asshalo's picture

It would be an amazing comeback for Harrell to make the team and even contribute as a role player. He's been told multiple times he'll never play again. It might be one of the biggest feel-good stories on the team in 2010. Maybe an entire season off will do the trick-- maybe the team should have done it in 07 or 08 though. Again, even if he does stay healthy, he really doesn't have much experience for me to believe he would even be good enough to contribute.

Oppy's picture

Who would have expected Brad Jones to have had enough experience to contribute?

Harrell has has the advantage all these seasons of being around the facilities, the pro environment, the players and the coaching/playbook compared to any incoming rookie. It's got to be at least feasible he could contribute as much as any rookie would be expected to.

While that may not be much, there's no question some rookies do actually contribute to the team... Although I agree, I'm not expecting much from Harrell, but I'm pulling for him. His performance this season- assuming it's not an unlikely inspired one- will probably either break his NFL dreams or just show enough that he'll win an NFL minimum contract with the Packers or somewhere else next season.. Probably somewhere else.

The yooper's picture

Harrell's whole deal is injury not performance I'm confident if healthy he will perform.

Asshalo's picture

This one's for The yooper. Harrell's deal hasn't been performance because he hasn't played enough to make that call. And if you go off of when he has played it doesn't bode well for him. Again, he hasn't played a lot of football in the past four years. Has his development been stunted? We will see.

Asshalo's picture

"Who would have expected Brad Jones to have had enough experience to contribute?"

I'de say that's more of the exception than the rule, even with Thompson's efficient drafting. Not saying he can't, just as you said-- it's unlikely.

I should have clarified on what I meant by "experience". He's missed a lot of time as a football player (senior year of college to his NFL career). I'm sure he's up to date on the playbook, but has his development been arrested due to inactivity?

Oppy's picture

Ryan Picket:

If he holds the point of attack and allows the LB's to do their job, how is it possible for him to set career marks for tackles in a a season? First off, that's really the LB's job that he's allowing them to do in the 3-4, and secondly, I believe that Ryan Pickett posted more tackles than any other D-lineman in the league in St. Louis as a 4-3 DT (a play-making, tackling position compared to a 3-4 DE) the year or two before the Packers picked him up. Just my $.02 worth on the Pickett assessment.

Johnny Jolly:

Your worst case scenario here is far, far brighter than the possible reality, where Jolly could actually be found guilty as charged of the possession of as much codeine as was originally reported- 200 grams. If there is legitimacy to the claims he has been involved in drug running and financing the Coke trade as well, believe that the judge will take that into account (right or wrong) before sentencing While not likely, it is still possible Jolly isn't available to the Packers after serving time in one season- he may end up being locked up for up to 20 years.

The yooper's picture

There supposed to move Pickett to end where he'll get more tackles than a nose typically does

Oppy's picture

Understood, but the "Best Case Scenario" made a statement that Pickett could rack up a career high tackle total. I'm simply pointing out that is highly unlikely in his case, since in a prior season (2005) he led all Defensive linemen in the league in tackles with 115- something a 3-4 DE almost assuredly won't do. It's not impossible, but it is very unlikely.

The yooper's picture

I doubt 115 that's a good season for a linebacker

Oppy's picture

You can doubt it all you want, But Ryan Pickett posted 115 total tackles in 2005.

DAWG's picture

First- Not sure I like the switch of BJ and Pickett, not sure Pickett likes it either, he's getting a little long at the tooth, and doesn't have the motor that he used to, which he's gonna need on the outside. BJ has a great first step which is good on passing downs, but on running situations when he gets DBL teamed seems to quit, or maybe lack of leverage, which hopefully can be corrected.
I think Neal has a better chance than BJ @ nose, Neal is a rock, one of the strongest in the draft. Just saying-guess we'll see in the PRE. Watch Wilson!
The biggest thing we need is rotational players who can perform! This group is going to be very pivotal to our success!

Oppy's picture

Neal is an Adonis body type, for sure- he's strong and cut and lean. He also doesn't even tip 300 on the scale. You can be as strong as you want, but you still need at least -some- weight to anchor against those double teams in the middle.

Neal would need 2 years of mass building to even consider playing NT in our scheme under Capers, and that would be the kind of mass building a gym rat like Neal probably wouldn't want any part of. Raji has the build, and the strength, to effectively play NT. He's practically the ideal body type, plus he has extremely rare quickness and lateral mobility for a guy his size. Raji "giving up" when double teamed? Are you sure you weren't watching a 350 lbs. kid playing on a bad ankle?

Also, I do have some concerns about Pickett having the speed to make plays on the edge, but two things keep me collected: First, as long as he controls the edge, the LBs should be free to make the plays, and Second, he is getting long in the tooth and moving him to the edge will reduce the punishment he was taking with constant double teams at NT and may increase the length of his career by a few years.

Any time there is a shake-up on a defensive front that ranked #1 against the run, it's cause for concern, so I guess we just have to have faith in the players and coaches and see how it all works out.

CSS's picture

What Oppy said^^^.

Also, outside of Cortez Kennedy or Warren Sapp name the last defensive lineman rookie that had anything more than a negligable impact as a rookie, or even an impact in their 2nd season (crickets chirping).

It's a difficult transition for almost all rookies and few if any have an impact their rookie seasons...ever.

FITZCORE1252's picture

If Cullen and BJ live up to your 'best-case', we will be a really tough D to deal with. The great thing is, I think they can both accomplish what you said, BJ could even get 7 or 8 sacks (dude can crush a pocket). I better start comparing airfare for li'l d... say somewhere around... Feb!


jay's picture

Just out of curiousity, has anyone considered the possibility of using CJ Wilson in a four man front package, perhaps like the Cardinals did on occasion last year?

CSS's picture

I was under the impression/understanding that the justification for drafting both Neal and Wilson was their ability to provide an inside rush when the defense gives '4' man looks (4-3 looks), especially their rookie year. They wanted guys/depth that provide a little 'wiggle' inside at tackle and could get verticle on passing downs.

Hopefully both fit the bill, Jarius Wynn too.

andrew's picture

harrell needs to be let go.. i dont even see him as a 3-4 dt.. pickett at dt is an odd decision. i feel raji and pickett rotation at nt would be better.. but i think this is more in response to the loss of jolly. jenkins is and will be solid... wynn wilson and neal will be rotation to give the starters a blow and i think we will see wynn become useful as a added dynamic to the defense (like how aaron kampman was) where he can be used as a linebacker or a down lineman neal and wilson will be important to keep pickett going he is not going to be able to take all the snaps and raji isnt going to want to take them all either especially coming off of his injury last year.. harrell is up in the air.. has potential to get worked in.. cant see him becoming a regular contributor even if he is healthy cause injury prone players are always injury prone.. if he comes out strong in preseason you might even see him get traded cause he is expendable at this point doesnt really add any dynamics to the defense and has spent to many years on the pine and has to many younger guys at the spot.. if a team puts up a decent offer for a DT id expect to see him go if not he will be used sparingly to keep other players fresh cant imagine Ted still seeing a future in harrell at this point

pitts's picture

my feelings the same andrew i dont have to pay him the packers do i just pay to watch on tv.

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