2012 Green Bay Packers Draft Wish List by Position: Defensive Linemen
This next installment transitions into another position that could boost the Packers anemic pass rush of last year.
Many immediately view the 3-4 LBs as the simplest way to improve the pass rush without realizing how important athletic big men on the defensive line can be.
Considering Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers will often use 3 nose tackles—men weighing over 330 pounds—on the field at the same time in base defense, it's likely the Packers would have an interest in some of the larger giants on the field described in this slideshow.
With Howard Green likely to depart, and DT Ryan Pickett entering the twilight years of his career, the Packers future at defensive line is at best, shaky.
In addition, late round picks C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn haven't really taken the next step to be anything other than depth fodder at this point.
Here are several profiles of defensive linemen prospects who could play in Green Bay's style of the 3-4, while either improving the pass rush or freeing up current players like B.J. Raji to make plays to disrupt the passing game.
For the sake of making it interesting, I tried to target a few guys from a variety of rounds, recognizing a gem can be found beyond the first and second rounds.
Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, 6'3" 310 Lbs
Positives: Immensely talented, great strength, ideal frame. Can generate pass rush from the NT position against top competition.
Question marks: Many say Worthy has yet to tap his true potential. Is that a sign of high-ceiling or a lack of work ethic? Some scouts claim Worthy takes plays off. Some claim Worthy's stamina is also a question mark.
My take from the Packers perspective: Worthy would continue to improve under defensive line coach Mike Trgovac's tutelage and add strength in the Packers program. He has the talent to be an absolute stud as a 3-4 DE, and even fill in at DT on occasion to spell Raji or Pickett. Worthy would be a great leap forward in athleticism for this defensive line unit, aside from Raji, and could bring the Packers back to being a top-ranked scoring defense like they were in 2010.
Worthy would definitely increase the Packers six defensive line sacks of a year ago. Worthy also adds his knack for blocking kicks as well, based on his impressive special teams performances in college.
Where would he go in the draft? Late-teens to mid-20s of first round is my prediction (as well as many other mock drafts out there). Giant linemen with his athleticism just don't come around very often and with more teams going to the 3-4 in recent years, Worthy will be a hot commodity.
If he slips past 22, I'd bet Ted Thompson will be on the phones considering trading up a few slots to grab Worthy.
Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, 6'4" 295
Cox has ideal 3-4 size and length and would be well above-average in terms of athleticism for NFL 3-4 DEs.
He'll most likely be available at slot 28 in the draft where the Packers pick unless New England nabs him first.
Aside from possibly having a high ceiling, many scouts feel he can add to his frame while remaining as athletic as he's exhibited at 295, there are few splash plays in Cox's time with Mississippi State that really stand out.
Cox's penetration against top teams seemed to allow his teammates to clean up. This is a great attribute for a defensive linemen, and his four blocked kicks show off his athleticism.
I think Cox would be a project for coach Trgovac. Cox may not have high yield as a prospect until his second or third year. I just don't see him as an NFL ready starter at this point since much of his stock is predicated on further physical development in strength and frame.
That said, much like other early round prospects, Cox represents an immediate upgrade over holdovers Wynn and Wilson—just don't expect Cox to light up NFL offensive tackles from day one.
Brandon Thompson, Clemson, 6'2" 310lbs
Why would this guy be a great pick late in the first round?
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush.
Though Thompson was overshadowed during his collegiate career by teammates, and recent NFL top picks that include Daquan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins, Thompson's strength and great burst off the snap would make him a wonderful 3-4 DE to provide pass rush while being stout enough to be a run stopper as well.
Packer fans may be wary of Thompson's Mike Neal-esque workout warrior accolades such as a 425 pound bench press and 30 reps at 225 pounds. But he hasn't missed time in his collegiate career due to injury in his three years playing in the SEC.
For immediate impact on this current Packers squad, I like Thompson's game more than some of his higher rated counterparts including Worthy, Cox and Winn. I think Thompson would be that hard-to-find true pass rush upgrade right out of training camp.
Jared Crick, Nebraska, 6'4" 285 Lbs
Though Crick wasn't an elite pass rusher in college, he was playing the nose tackle spot in Nebraska's defense and will be switching to defensive end in a 3-4 in 2012.
For recent Packers history, I liken this guy's attitude and under-rated quality to Aaron Kampman, a fourth rounder who went on to become an elite pass rusher. Both Crick and Kampman have similar size, length and approach to the game, using savvy and tireless work ethic to develop without elite speed or athleticism.
Crick would be an overall improvement in the defensive line, potentially opening things up for B.J. Raji on passing downs on the opposite side of Clay Mathews.
Crick brings many positive intangibles like work ethic, football intelligence and vocal leadership, when necessary.
The thought here is Crick could slip to Green Bay in the second round, though some mocks see him gone by the late first round (possibly even to the Packers at pick No. 28).
I'd project Crick to be a solid starter in a 3-4 defense, though never achieving superstar or elite status. In the short haul he'd be an upgrade over Wynn and Wilson and make the Packers rotation much stronger.
Billy Winn, Boise State, 6'3" 300 Lbs
Winn is coming from the second ranked defense in the country to the NFL with hopes of being picked in the first or second round.
While Crick's best asset is strength, it's likely Winn's calling card will be using his great frame with athleticism to get to the quarterback.
Winn has experience playing both DE and DT in Boise State's system, which would make him a great fit as a DE in the Packers system, similar to the skills and transition made by Cullen Jenkins of recent years.
I believe this comparison of Jenkins and Winn may go further, with the possible drafting of Winn making many Packers fans forget about the loss of Jenkins. The two are similar athletes of the same size. They have similar playing style as well.
If Winn further develops pass rush moves and his anticipation off the snap, he could be an elite 3-4 defensive end. In the immediate future, if drafted by the Packers, Winn would upgrade their overall rotation and add a physical pass rusher to their corps.
Alameda Ta'amu, Washington, 6'3" 337lbs
Getting a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle between the second and fourth rounds is a rare occurrence. For this reason alone, expect Ta'amu to be targeted in the mid second round. Though, a disappointing senior bowl performance may have caused his draft stock to slip.
Ta'amu has a lot to learn technique wise to maximize his strength and large block eating size expected of 3-4 DTs. I think he could fill in as a rookie at nose tackle on occasion, and allow Raji to capitalize on the outside at DE.
Ta'amu would need to be coached up and improve on shedding blocks and not getting knocked off balance by NFL offensive linemen to hold the point.
Ta'amu could be a top NFL nose tackle down the road, but would need time to develop behind a player like Pickett or Raji. Ta'amu clearly has nimble feet when you watch video of him in action and is very athletic for his size.
For 2012, if Ta'amu is wearing green and gold, expect him to rotate in as an early round luxury pick in the Packers deep, talented roster. Ta'amu would allow Raji and Pickett valuable time for a breather without significant drop off at the axis of the defense.
Mike Martin, Michigan, 6'1" 310lbs
Though it may be an over simplification, I see Martin as a third round version of Jared Crick. Both are high motor, high character guys that just seem to get results with a lunch pail work ethic.
These are the same traits General Manager Ted Thompson seems to take pride in finding throughout the Packers talented roster.
Martin doesn't do any one thing extraordinarily better than other defensive linemen ahead of him in the draft, but to his credit he has no apparent holes in his game and brings a wrestler's fighting spirit with great second effort in the pass rush.
Playing in the Big Ten, Martin faced numerous top tier offensive line talents weekly and was always a force.
As a true senior, Martin may be more NFL ready than many of his underclassmen counterparts in this year's draft despite only being 21 years old.
Will Martin's work ethic cause him to develop into a talented NFL starter one day? Time will tell. But as a mid-round prospect, Martin would be a great addition to the Packers roster and add depth to the line and an occasional pass rush presence.
Trevor Guyton, California, 6'3" 280
Trevor Guyton, another strength and effort style of defensive lineman to fit the profile of a 3-4 five technique or a 4-3 DT.
Guyton is likely to be available when the Packers pick in the 3rd round and could possibly slip to the fourth.
My prediction is Guyton would profile as a career rotational player. However, for this current Packers squad, Guyton would offer competition to late rounders Wynn and Wilson as well as newcomer Lawrence Guy.
Guyton is a coach's dream, playing and practicing hard with a workman's approach to his craft day in and day out.
Guyton's weakness is that he is not an especially talented pass rush artist at this point in his development.
3 Other Mid-Rounders
The middle rounds (rounds 3-5 in my book), can be a sweet spot between cultivating immensely talented athletes into NFL football players and not having to invest hefty top pick salaries.
These mid-round possibilities on the defensive line could be helpful to the Packers.
Hebron Fangupo, BYU, 6'1" 331: This ultra strong man with ideal 3-4 size for the nose tackle position probably won't improve the pass rush on his own.
Much like Ta'amu, the idea would be adding another true 3-4 NT to the mix to allow the dynamic, athletic freak in Raji to come out and play in a variety of techniques on the line.
At 27 years of age, Fangupo is like Brandon Weeden in Andre the Giant's clothing.
The Packers wouldn't be entirely turned away about Fangupo's reported weight fluctuation problems, considering they brought in Howard Green who had been cut numerous times for failing to control his weight.
Since the 3-4 nose is like the center of a beehive around which defensive playmakers swarm, having an uber-strong DT right at the center of the action is important for creating plays for others. If Fangupo's character is one of great work ethic and high-character, Ted Thompson would be interested in the 4th round or later.
Josh Chapman, Alabama, 6'1" 310 pounds : Given the Packers recent snakebite with injuries to talented, drafted defensive lineman, Chapman's recent ACL injury could cause many fans to balk at picking him.
However, if he slips to the fifth round or later, this guy is immensely talented and comes from a program in Alabama that has been nurturing the best DT talent in the land over the past few years.
Is it worth the risk?
Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati, 6'5" 286 pounds:
Wolfe has an Energizer bunny-esque motor in a hulking alpha male frame. Has experience making plays all over the line. For Packers and Badger fans, I think of Wolfe's size, temperament and playing style blend well with the Packers.
Wolfe is projected for the fifth/sixth rounds, but I think he will move up draft boards and likely be gone by the late fourth. Looking into a crystal ball, perhaps this will be another score in Thompson's impressive compensation pick resume?
Late Rounders: A No Risk Investment
While hitting the jackpot on sixth and seventh rounders is ideal, all GMs know the likelihood of having to cut a late rounder is fairly high.
It's simply impossible to guarantee a roster spot, and some teams don't have the time to develop talented, yet unseasoned late rounders. Or, they find that in training camp that the player isn't a fit for their system, or comes to camp out of shape and under-performs.
Thompson seems to have a knack for finding late round guys and unsigned free agents. He also taps into the small schools for prospects that others might not feel comfortable taking a risk on.
This year could be no different. If Thompson fails to land a defensive linemen or two in early rounds, expect to see some training camp bodies from the late rounds.
The issue I see in this late-round value approach is, Thompson has tried this method with several defensive linemen with little to show for it.
He also drafted Lawrence Guy in the seventh round last year who essentially redshirted due to injuries in his rookie year, keeping him in the fold for the Packers. Perhaps these six late-round prospects listed below would break the trend:
Travian Robertson, South Carolina, 6'4" 305: Was impressive at East-West shrine game, though coaches considered his technique sloppy. Likely a seventh rounder who would be another project for Trgovac to work on.
Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Baylor, 6'2" 315: Likely to project as just a plugger at NT but little scouting information is available on this guy who projects to be drafted in the seventh or as a UFA.
Mike Daniels, Iowa, 6'0" 280: Has an impressive 40 time for a big man, but may be a better fit in a 4-3 defensive system. Was invited to Senior Bowl, indicating he's no slouch for a late round pick.
Matt Conrath, Virginia, 6'7" 280: This would be a late round pick who Thompson could envision as a luxury on special teams, evidenced by his 3 blocked field goals in 2011. He would probably have to bulk up by adding muscle mass as a 3-4 DE. He has the same 40 time as Daniels at 4.84.
DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia, 6'2" 306: Flashed playmaking ability as a DT in the Bulldogs defense generating tackles for loss and a few sacks against talented SEC opponents. Hard to figure why he's projected as a seventh-UFA when he's generated impressive results in a top BCS defense, but I will keep researching this one.
Ryan Van Bergen, Michigan, 6'6" 288: This would be similar to playing the lottery on the premise that Van Bergen's production in college could translate to the NFL. Last year, Thompson used the same rationale with Elmore: would Van Bergen fit the Cinderella, size 18 men's slipper as an underdog success story? All fairy tale jokes aside, the Michigan linemen are impressive workers, motoring to make plays and playing with abandon.
Defensive Linemen Are in Need, but Will the Best Player Be Available?
If there's anything about recent Packers draft history to learn, it may be the fact that Thompson doesn't have to make any desperate moves to find talented players.
That said, Thompson is in a rare, fortunate situation to be able to trade up for that last giant piece of the Superbowl puzzle if he can pull off such a trade.
I don't see Thompson adding a big name free agent defensive linemen, but I won't be surprised if he goes for a veteran free agent whose stock is viewed as falling but Thompson sees potential in.
In the draft, I expect anywhere from 2-4 players to be chosen primarily as pass rush aids between the 3-4 OLB ranks or defensive linemen. Perhaps a few of these players listed in this slideshow will be wearing Green and Gold this summer?
Time will tell.
Look for my next installment of draft profiles to feature a Packers wish list for the secondary.