While there are many interesting players on the Packers' defensive line, none of them is truly an impact player yet. The Packers may need to look for one this off-season.
Unlike most of the positions we have looked at so far (and will look at the rest of the week), the defensive line goes into the 2013 off-season with every player on the 2012 roster signed through next season. The Packers' defensive line went through last year in a bit of flux, with several players rotating through the three positions. All will likely return for training camp this season, but with one player in particular aging and another with a major injury concern, look for the Packers front office to address the depth on the line in the next few months.
Signed for 2013:
Raji and Pickett, the two pseudo-stars of the D-line, are both signed for one more season. Raji benefitted from a mid-season switch back to defensive tackle with Picket playing nose tackle, and it appears that Dom Capers would do well to keep the two players at those positions. However, with Pickett turning 34 and playing his 13th NFL season in 2013, it seems likely that his time as a productive player is inching closer to its end.
One possible candidate to take Pickett's spot would be Jordan Miller, but he was signed off the Chicago Bears' practice squad late in the year and isn't likely to provide much punch in the middle. Therefore, as Devin mentioned last week, it seems logical to being looking for Pickett's long-term replacement at the nose in this year's draft.
The depth at the end position is intriguing, however. Mike Neal finally played a full season and showed signs of what Packers fans had hoped for: pass rush from a 3-4 lineman. In fact, he led all Packers' linemen in sacks with 4.5. The question remains if he can have an impact on every down, a question which we can't answer until we see him in more game action. C.J. Wilson remains as a run-stuffer, but doesn't provide much else; occupying blockers is his primary skill. Worthy needs to progress somewhat, but his status for 2013 is very much in doubt due to his knee injury at the end of the season. Mike Daniels looks decent in rotation, but isn't an impact player, either.
It's easy to say that the Packers need a player in the mold of a J.J. Watt, who can have an equally big impact in both run and pass defense, but an impact player like that isn't likely to be present at 26th overall. As such, Ted Thompson may be forced to bring in another player or two to compete for multiple depth roles, much as he did before 2012 with Worthy and Daniels.
Position Grade: C+
Two positions seem locked in, with Raji and Pickett, and Neal's progression (and health) gives some hope for him on the other side. However, Pickett's age is a concern, as is Worthy's availability this season.
Need for improvement: 7 (out of 10)
Looking ahead to 2014, a nose tackle will be critical. Finding that player in the lower rounds would be great, but not extremely likely. If an impact player isn't available, the team will likely need to use a draft pick or two to improve the depth on the line instead.