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Packers 2019 Training Camp Roster: Kenny Clark has taken over as leader on defensive line

Though Mike Daniels remains on the team for at least one more year, Clark has surpassed him as the star lineman and the anchor up front.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Rams Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In 2019, the Green Bay Packers’ roster looks very different from how it appeared at the end of the 2018 season. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and a role on the team’s regular season 53-man roster. Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position-by-position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster.

It’s Monday, which means that we’re shifting our focus over from the offense to the defense in our look at the Packers’ roster. Today we begin up front on the defensive line, a position that has both star power and excellent depth on paper. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will surely use a few of his edge rushers on the interior on passing downs, but the true down linemen will have plenty of work to go around.

In this writer’s opinion, the defensive line will be one of the most difficult positions to predict prior to and even at the conclusion of training camp. Three players are likely guaranteed roster spots, but another five or six will be jockeying for roles behind them and could end up anywhere from a key backup role on the 53-man roster to being cut outright.

Here’s a look at the linemen on the roster heading into training camp.

Mike Daniels

NFL Experience: 8th year
2018 Stats: 10 games played, 9 starts; 18 total tackles (10 solo), 2.0 sacks, 1 pass defended, 5 QB hits
How Acquired: Fourth-round pick in 2012 NFL Draft

Daniels just turned 30 in May and is in the final year of his second contract with the Packers. Once a stalwart three-technique tackle who could be counted on to suit up in every game and give maximum effort on every play, Daniels has missed some time with injuries in the past two years, sitting out two games in 2017 and six in 2018.

His injuries made the 2018 season was his most disappointing as a pro, as he tied a career-low in sacks after five straight years with at least four. He also failed to record a single forced fumble or recovery, and posted the first season with fewer than nine QB hits since receiving only rotational work in his rookie year.

Still, Daniels has an opportunity in 2019 to demonstrate that he deserves another contract extension after the season. However, odds are good that the team tries to keep his workload manageable, particularly on third downs, given the other players who look primed to contribute as interior pass-rushers.

Kenny Clark

NFL Experience: 4th year
2018 Stats: 13 games played, all starts; 55 total tackles (36 solo), 6.0 sacks, 3 passes defended, one forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 QB hits
How Acquired: First-round pick in 2016 NFL Draft

While Daniels is showing signs of slowing down a bit, Clark is truly coming into his own as arguably the premier nose tackle in today’s NFL. Pro Football Focus named Clark as the ideal player at the position for 2019, due in large part to his pass-rush ability.

Famously, Clark entered the NFL at just 20 years of age, and will turn just 24 years old in October. He has recorded 10.5 sacks in his last 18 games, and is equally adept rushing the passer from the nose as he is when lining up at three-technique in sub packages. Look for Clark to finally break through and receive some league-wide recognition as a Pro Bowl or All-Pro tackle in 2019.

Dean Lowry

NFL Experience: 4th year
2018 Stats: 16 games played, 8 starts; 44 total tackles (31 solo), 3.0 sacks, 3 passes defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 5 QB hits
How Acquired: Fourth-round pick in 2016 NFL Draft

While Clark draws the headlines from the 2016 draft class, Lowry has consistently been an effective player as both a starter and a rotational player. The signing of Muhammad Wilkerson a year ago seemed to push Lowry out of the starting 5-tech job, but Wilkerson’s broken ankle thrust him right back in and he had another solid season.

Lowry now has seven sacks in his three years as he continues to develop into a useful player. Now in the final year of his rookie contract, he will likely be the top 5-tech once again on the rare occasion that the Packers align in a conventional 3-4 while pitching in regularly as one of the team’s rotational interior linemen when the team sticks to a 2-4-5 alignment.

Montravius Adams

NFL Experience: 3rd year
2018 Stats: 16 games played, one start; 20 total tackles (11 solo), 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, 2 QB hits
How Acquired: Third-round pick in 2017 NFL Draft

Adams was Ted Thompson’s last third-round defensive lineman special, and he appeared to be a lost draft pick as a rookie. However, much of his rookie year struggles were due to a preseason injury, and he took some solid steps forward in year two. Now entering his third season, Adams is trying to impress his coaches and teammates as he fights for a roster spot and playing time. With a group of intriguing youngsters behind him, Adams will need to impress in training camp, but he already has caught the eye of Clark, who complimented him in a recent interview.

Fadol Brown

NFL Experience: 2nd year
2018 Stats: 12 games played (4 with Green Bay, 8 with Oakland); 20 total tackles (16 solo), one pass defended, 4 QB hits
How Acquired: Claimed on waivers from Oakland Raiders in December 2018

Late last year, the Packers found Brown on waivers as the team dealt with depth struggles and injuries to multiple starters. Brown had a pair of notable plays on back-to-back snaps against the Bears in week 15, when he stopped a midfield 3rd-and-3 rushing attempt and followed it up by sniffing out a fake punt by Benny Cunningham. He will be in the mix for a reserve spot this summer.

Tyler Lancaster

NFL Experience: 2nd year
2018 Stats: 12 games played, 5 starts; 26 total tackles (19 solo), 1 QB hit
How Acquired: Signed as UDFA in 2018

Lancaster was one of the Packers’ biggest surprises in 2018, when he earned a call-up to the 53 man roster from the practice squad in light of Wilkerson’s injury. In year one, he was almost exclusively a run-stuffing nose tackle, but he came on as the season went along and is focusing on improving his pass-rushing abilities this offseason.

If he can flash the ability to collapse the pocket from the interior, Lancaster should earn a return trip to the 53 as Kenny Clark’s primary backup to start 2019.

James Looney

NFL Experience: 2nd year
2018 Stats: 3 games played, no stats
How Acquired: Seventh-round pick in 2018 NFL Draft

Looney joined Lancaster on the practice squad after last year’s training camp, but the late draft pick did not get a call-up to the active roster until very late in the year. He only played a handful of snaps, and evidently did not show enough for the Packers’ coaching staff to feel that he could contribute regularly.

This year, he will look for a big jump in year two, both physically and mentally. Looney tested great at the 2018 Combine, showing excellent athleticism, but he measured in a bit undersized. A full season in the Packers’ strength program should help him improve on the latter while maintaining the former. However, he’ll need a big camp to earn his way onto the roster again.

Deon Simon

NFL Experience: 2nd year
2018 Stats: None
How Acquired: Signed to practice squad in November 2018

A former 7th-round pick of the Jets back in 2015, Simon has played exactly 16 games in his career — every contest in the 2016 season. A big nose tackle, he moves well for a 330-pound man but will likely be fighting for his roster life in camp.

Eric Cotton

NFL Experience: 1st year
2018 Stats: None
How Acquired: Signed to practice squad in December 2018

Cotton is a man without an obvious position, at least based on his measurements (listed at 6-foot-4, 272 pounds). In fact, his listed size is exactly the same as Za’Darius Smith, so unless he has bulked up in the offseason, he is probably limited to a role as an interior rusher only. With so many players able to play that role on this team, it’s tough to find a way for Cotton to make the team.

Kingsley Keke

NFL Experience: Rookie
2018 Stats (Texas A&M): 13 games; 51 total tackles (18 solo), 7.5 sacks, 11 TFLs, 1 pass defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
How Acquired: Fifth-round pick in 2019 NFL Draft

Keke has been lauded as one of the best value picks on day three of the 2019 NFL Draft, as he played largely out of position at Texas A&M — lining up on the nose as a junior before dropping weight and playing wide as a defensive end in 2018. However, the Packers got a look at him as a 3-technique tackle during Senior Bowl practices and came away impressed.

Another great athlete in a draft class full of them, Keke brings rare movement skills for a player his size and unusual versatility, with experience all across the defensive front. If he develops quickly, he should be a key piece of the line rotation in 2019 and could end up obsoleting Daniels when the time comes to decide on the veteran’s contract next spring.