Last season, the Green Bay Packers’ top four defensive linemen coming into the season were Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion, and Datone Jones. Two of those players no longer occupy spots on the line for the Packers, as Raji elected to take a hiatus from football while Datone Jones has been moved to the Elephant linebacker position.
This year, the Packers will have plenty of new faces on their defensive front, and they added a pair of draft picks to a mix that includes a couple of former practice squad players as well as undrafted free agents. However, Daniels earned a big contract before last season finished out, avoiding free agency but giving him job security. He should compete for Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors this season, and he should be part of a fearsome pass rush in Green and Gold.
Here’s a look at Daniels and the players who will be lining up around him in 2016, with an eye on how each player’s roster chances look at this point.
Letroy Guion, #98
6’4”, 322 pounds
College: Florida State
With Raji on hiatus, Guion becomes one of just two veterans who can man the nose tackle position (Mike Pennel being the other). With Raji on the team a year ago, Guion played fewer snaps than he did in 2014 as the team’s starting nose, and he was held without a sack. However, he also appears to be one of the team’s top options at the 5-technique end position, and following which spot he lines up at in the starting lineup will be something to monitor in training camp. Guion re-signed in the offseason on a new three-year deal, but it includes only $500,000 guaranteed.
Mike Daniels, #76
6’0”, 310 pounds
Although Guion has been in the NFL the longest, Daniels is the longest-tenured lineman in Green Bay, having been with the team since he was drafted in 2012. Last December, Daniels signed a new long-term contract to lock him up in Green Bay for the next several seasons. As the team’s premier interior pass-rusher and a great anchor in the run game from the 3-technique position, Daniels is the unquestioned leader on the line and will be counted on to bring his vocal form of encouragement to the youngsters on the line.
Mike Pennel, #64
6’4”, 332 pounds
College: Colorado State-Pueblo
If he were starting the season on the active roster, Pennel might be the starter at nose tackle with Guion at 5-tech. However, Pennel was suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He will still likely have a spot when he returns from suspension - if he has a solid camp - and projects to be an important part of the rotation early on. But he’ll be kept out of a few weeks of practice early in the season before he can contribute.
Christian Ringo, #99
6’1”, 298 pounds
First NFL season (on practice squad in 2015)
Last year was effectively a “redshirt” year for Ringo, last year’s 6th-round pick, who spent the entire season on the practice squad. This year, he projects as Daniels’ backup at 3-tech and as an interior pass-rusher. He’s got the pass-rushing skills to make an impact - his 11.5-sack senior year attests to that - but he’ll need to make a jump in his understanding of the Packers’ defense to get that chance.
B.J. McBryde, #77
6’5”, 303 pounds
First NFL season (on practice squad in 2015)
McBryde spent a brief stint on the Packers’ practice squad at the end of last season, and he has ideal 5-tech size. He’s also a pretty good athlete for his size. However, with a couple of rookies who can pitch in at the 5, McBryde will need a very impressive summer if he wants a spot on the 53.
Kenny Clark, #97
6’3”, 314 pounds
Clark was the Packers’ first-round pick this spring, and he’s a pretty typical Ted Thompson selection - he has size, excellent quickness, and positional versatility. Indeed, Clark played all over UCLA’s 3-man line, and did so with great success. He’s a lock to make the roster, of course, and with Pennel suspended it is possible that Clark is your day-one starter at nose tackle.
Dean Lowry, #94
6’6”, 296 pounds
While Clark is a great athlete for an interior linemen, Lowry is an even better athlete, ranking in the top 10% of defensive linemen based on his SPARQ score. However, despite his height, length is a concern; he had some of the shortest arms of any lineman measured at the Scouting Combine, and he will need to learn to become a great technician in order to overcome this challenge. If he does, he could be a future starter at the 5-tech.
Demetris Anderson, #60
6’1”, 312 pounds
College: Central Florida
Built similarly to Ringo and Daniels, Anderson was an undrafted free agent who spent some time at Western Michigan before ending at UCF. He did not test well at his Pro Day, but the Packers are hoping he can continue the upward trajectory that he displayed in 2013 and 2014 before losing his entire senior year to a knee injury.
Tyler Kuder, #90
6’3”, 307 pounds
College: Idaho State
Kuder has one of the better backstories in this year’s undrafted free agent class, and he inherited Raji’s #90. This former All-Big Sky player will need to stand out on the field in camp if he hopes to earn a spot on the team; he has enough raw ability to potentially land on the practice squad, however.
Brian Price, #96
6’3”, 318 pounds
College: Texas-San Antonio
Price was one of the better-heralded players in the undrafted free agent class, and he certainly looks to be a nose tackle at the NFL level. Like Kuder, a practice squad stint could be in his future, however; but if the Packers feel that they need another nose tackle to bridge the gap until Pennel’s suspension expires, Price could end up being the guy who gets that opportunity.