Packers' BJ Raji To Start at NT: What This Means for Their Defensive Line

Matt WellsCorrespondent IMay 20, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 20: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws the game winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter in front of BJ Raji #90 of the Green Bay Packers during the game on December 20, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers announced today that 2009 top draft pick BJ Raji will be the starter at NT for the 2010 season.

This moves comes at a bit of a shock, considering the success the defense had last year, finishing second in overall defense and boasting the top rushing defense. However, instead of keeping as much of the line the same as possible, now Raji will replace Ryan Pickett at NT and Pickett shifts over to left DE. Cullen Jenkins will remain at RE.

The odd man out here is Johnny Jolly, who was a pleasant surprise last season, leading all defensive lineman in pass deflections. Jolly faces potential suspension by the league on drug charges, and his contract expires at the end of this season

So what does this mean for the defensive line and who makes the 53-man roster? This move leaves only Raji and undrafted free agent rookie Aleric Mullins from North Carolina. This move greatly increases Mullins' chances of making the team.

At defensive end, Jenkins and Pickett are locks to make the team. After that, however, there are question marks. The Packers must then choose from Jolly, finally-healthy Justin Harrell, who has the chance to now live up to his first-round draft status, second year player Jarius Wynn, and rookies Mike Neal and CJ Wilson.

Neal would seem like a lock to make the team after getting drafted in the second round and considered by many to be a reach. Wilson, previous to this move, was looking impressive in workouts and was definitely impressive at East Carolina.

Harrell was actually a player I was looking forward to seeing this season, as he was on the verge of actually playing healthy. Wynn seems to be the first odd man out.

Altogether, that leaves Raji, Mullins, Jenkins, Pickett, Jolly, Harrell, Neal, and Wilson on the defensive line—eight players. My first opinion was that Raji and Mullins would make it at NT, Jenkins and Pickett starting at DE, and two from the remaining four backing up the ends.

Then I decided that the two players best for the backup positions were Neal and Wilson, given's Jolly's contract/legal status and Harrell's injury history. However, this gives us three rookie backups on the line and a second-year player in the mix. That's too much inexperience for a team with Super Bowl dreams.

So which should we keep—Jolly's aforementioned contract/legal troubles or Harrell's injury history? It comes down to Ted Thompson and his preferences. Given two facts, it becomes pretty simple who the odd man out is.

Fact 1: Thompson likes high-character guys that stay out of trouble.

Fact 2: Thompson, like any other GM, has a loyalty to his first round picks.

You guessed it. Justin Harrell has the upper hand in this battle. Now, granted, it will most likely be the last cut made, and ideally the Packers can try to find a trade partner for one of these guys, but if worse comes to worst and the Packers have too many DEs on roster, Jolly will be the guy to go.