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Packers 2019 DL Acquisitions: Undrafted rookie Tyler Lancaster makes the biggest impact

Instead of a high-profile free agent signing, it was an undrafted rookie who had the best season among the Packers’ new faces on the defensive line.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-Organized Team Activity Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Over a two week span, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2018 season. Today, we examine the defensive line.

Exiting the 2017 season, the Green Bay Packers had one star on their defensive line and another player in the midst of a breakout. With Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark leading the way, the front line was poised for a good season in 2018, provided that they got good health.

Then, after Brian Gutekunst took over as general manager, he signed an unrestricted free agent to start at the other spot on the line. The new face seemed like a perfect match with the established starters, sliding in comfortably at the 5-technique spot and likely providing additional interior pass rush.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well. As APC discussed earlier on Monday, injuries hammered this unit, with all three of those players ending the season on injured reserve. Instead of the big-name signing making a big impact, it was a surprising undrafted rookie who stepped up down the stretch.

Here’s a look at the new faces on the Packers’ line in 2018 and how they fared.

Muhammad Wilkerson

How acquired: Signed as unrestricted free agent
Contract: One year, $5 million ($1.5 million signing bonus)
2018 Stats: 3 games played, 3 starts; 5 total tackles (2 solo)

Reunited with his old coordinator Mike Pettine, Wilkerson was supposed to revive his NFL career in Green Bay after an ugly falling out with the New York Jets in 2017. Instead, Wilkerson looked like a player trying to find his footing for two-and-a-half games before a gruesome broken ankle ended his season early. In signing Wilkerson, Brian Gutekunst found a high-potential player for a fairly low dollar amount and only a single year on the books; it’s just unfortunate that injury derailed his chance to become an impact player.

James Looney

How acquired: 2018 seventh-round draft pick (#232 overall)
Contract: Two years, $1.05 million
2018 Stats: 3 games played; no stats

The first of three seventh-round draft picks that the Packers had in 2018, Looney is an athletic project on the defensive line who needs time to develop and bulk up for the NFL. Therefore, it was no surprise when the team released him at the end of training camp and brought him back on the practice squad.

With injuries hammering the defensive line, Looney finally received his call-up to the 53-man roster late in the season, but he failed to make any impact. He received just 19 snaps in his three games, playing behind the next two names on this list as well as second-year pro Montravius Adams.

Tyler Lancaster

How acquired: Signed as undrafted rookie free agent
Contract: Two years, $1.05 million
2018 Stats: 12 games played, 5 starts; 26 total tackles (19 solo); 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit

The Packers brought Lancaster in for a visit before the 2018 NFL Draft, and when the team made its initial round of undrafted free agent signings, Lancaster was on the list. However, given the perceived depth on the line, it seemed unlikely for the former Northwestern Wildcat to crack the roster, despite a solid Pro Day workout and decent tape as the anchor in the middle of Northwestern’s line. It was a lack of big plays that likely resulted in him going undrafted, and that contributed to him starting the season on the practice squad.

But when Wilkerson went down with his injury, Lancaster was the player called up rather than Looney. After seeing just a few snaps per game early on, by the end of the year Lancaster was in the starting lineup and was making those splash plays, particularly in the run game.

Lancaster may never be a pass-rusher, but he’s also not just a player who can hold his own at the point of attack — he showed an ability to shed blockers and make some athletic plays at the line of scrimmage. As such, he’ll be in line to earn a key rotational role once again in 2019.

Fadol Brown

How acquired: Claimed off waivers from Raiders
Contract: One year, $480,000
2018 Stats: With Packers — 4 games played, 3 total tackles (2 solo), 2 QB hits; With Raiders — 8 games played, 17 total tackles (14 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defended

After signing with the Oakland Raiders in 2017 as an undrafted rookie, Brown spent that entire season on the practice squad before making the 53-man roster in 2018. However, Oakland waived him in early December, which was fortuitous timing for the Packers, who scooped him up.

Brown played 39 snaps on defense over the final month, but he flashed a bit of pass-rushing ability on occasion. He also alertly made a stop on a fake punt against the Chicago Bears, tackling Benny Cunningham for a one-yard loss near midfield after a big run stop on third-and-short the play before. There’s some potential here in Brown, who moves well for his size. However, his contract expires in March.