After discussing the Green Bay Packers' candidates for playing time on the defensive line, it's time to take a look at who we think ends up on the 53-man roster and who will be sent packing. The defensive line will be one of the tougher positions to predict , in terms of who will make the roster, but we are comfortable with our predictions. Without further ado, here are your 2013 Green Bay Packers defensive linemen.
Projected Starters: Datone Jones, B.J Raji and Ryan Pickett
B.J Raji is coming off a mediocre 2012 campaign which saw him accumulate only 16 tackles, a year after having a career low 14 tackles in 2011. Raji also struggled in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers finishing with a final grade of -3.8 according to Pro Football Focus. Raji is in the final year of his rookie contract and will need to prove to the Packers organization that he is worth an extension.
Pickett is also in the final year of his four-year contract he signed in 2010 and will most likely be playing his last season in Green Bay. At 33, Pickett is clearly on the downside of his career, although he still has enough left in the tank to be the opening day starter. A season ago Pickett totaled 24 tackles and had an overall rating of +3.8 according to Pro Football Focus. Pickett is great against the run as he earned a +11.8 rating for the season by PFF, however, Pickett provides zero pass rush (-7.8 rating) to a defense that could use every pass rusher it can get. Look for Pickett to have another solid year as his Green Bay career comes to a likely close.
Datone Jones is the "sexy" pick to be the opening day starter, but Jones must understand the veterans, including Mike Neal, won't let it be that easy. Jones is a prototypical 3-4 defensive end who can play the 5 or 7- technique effectively full time. He has very quick feet and his hand strength is second to none. Neal will fight against him everyday in training camp and winning the starting job won't be a walk in the park for Jones. According to APC Jones wins the starting spot, but look for Neal to earn 40-45 percent of the plays at defensive end, with Jones getting 55-60 percent depending on how well he plays early on.
Projected Backups: Mike Neal, Johnny Jolly and Mike Daniels
Johnny Jolly hasn't played in the NFL since the 2009 season. When he played, Jolly was very effective for the Packers. In his best season with the Packers in 2008, Jolly accumulated 36 tackles (49 total) one fumble recovery, and numerous double teams eaten. People forget how solid of a player of Jolly was and had the potential to be a star in the NFL. It is unlikely that after missing three seasons Jolly will be the same player he was in 2009, but we still think he ends up making the team. If Jolly can be 75 percent of what he once was the Packers will have a nice little surprise on their hands.
Mike Daniels played in just 14 games last season and had 12 total tackles, but when he was on the field he made an impact. Who could forget the fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Lions at snowy Lambeau on Sunday night football? Daniels didn't grade out particularly well by PFF (-1.8 overall) however, he made enough plays as a team can expect for a rookie fourth rounder. Look for Daniels to keep improving in 2013 and make a big impact for the Packers in 2014.
Off The Roster: Jerel Worthy, C.J. Wilson, Gilbert Pena, Josh Boyd, Jordan Miller
Jordan Miller almost has zero chance of making the team. The bad news for Miller is there are just so many other talented players on the roster that he doesn't stand a chance of separating himself. His one saving grace is that few other backup lineman fit the mold of true nose tackles. Worthy will be on the PUP list for most of the season and depending on how well he recovers from the torn ACL suffered in week 17, he may end up on injured reserve.
Wilson is a veteran whose role appears to be diminishing. Since he provides minimal help for the pass rush, we project him to be among the final cuts.
Josh Boyd will make the practice squad at the very least. Boyd has a lot of potential and as a fifth round pick the Packers have a nice little project player on their hands who will have the chance to contribute in a season or two. Boyd has great feet and even when locked up with an offensive linemen he keeps them moving. Boyd has a nice swim move that stuns offensive linemen at times and has a tremendous motor — a true Green Bay Packer, in time.
Gilbert Pena unfortunately starts his NFL career at a disadvantage due to his age (26). During his senior year of high school, Pena's mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, due to this Pena decided to skip college and get a job to help out his family. After working a number of different jobs for four years, Pena accepted a Junior College scholarship to play football at ASA College in Brooklyn at the age of 23.
After one season Pena transferred to Ole Miss where just three months later his daughter was born. Just days before the season was set to open, Pena broke his hand in practice and Ole Miss struggled at Ole Miss going 2-10. The next season Pena slimmed down shedding 15 pounds and the team improved to 7-6, but Pena went undrafted.
Now a 26-year-old rookie, who is older than 62 of his teammates in Green Bay, Pena has another obstacle to overcome, making the 53-man roster. Pena could sneak onto the roster, however, we left him off the 53-man roster. If you cheer for one individual player in the NFL to make a roster this offseason make it be Gilbert Pena.
The APC training camp preview continues Wednesday when the one and only Evan "Tex" Western takes a look at outside linebacker position.