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Packers 2020 Roster Grades: Defensive line takes a step backwards

The defensive line took a bit of a step back this season, creating a domino effect that hurt the pass rush and the run defense.

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Over two weeks, 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 2020 season. Today, we examine the defensive line.

Last season, the Packers’ run defense was very suspect and the defensive line was a part of the issue. While Green Bay lacked linebackers to chase down opposing running backs, the defensive line wasn’t exactly moving the line of scrimmage or making it more difficult to allow opposing offensive linemen get to the next level.

In 2020, the Packers defensive lined ranked 23rd in Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders, and rank 14th in Open Field Yards. According to FO, this means the D-Line allowed runners to get past the line of scrimmage more often and had the linebackers cleaning up behind them (to varying degrees of success). Good defense starts in the trenches and that was proven this season as the pass rush from the edge looked anemic at times and the run defense still struggled.

Kenny Clark is a true star on the defensive line, but one player along the line in a 3-4 defensive scheme can only go so far. Calls for the Packers to sign J.J. Watt this offseason are loud and warranted for needed improvements and the in-season signing of Damon Harrison was considered a win at the time.

A new defensive coordinator is coming to Lambeau to help give the Packers defense a boost and will hopefully pull a little bit more out of the young pieces already in place.

Starters: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke

Clark is already one of the premier nose tackles in the league and he does more than just clog the middle of the line of scrimmage. He’s a penetrating nose who can collapse the pocket up the middle, but he needs a little help along the front to help him out. His three tackles for loss, 42 tackles, and six QB hits this past season were down compared to last year. He did only see the field 13 times this year, but those numbers are still down from 2018 where he also only played 13 games.

Clark finished 42nd in PFF’s pass-rushing metric and 23rd in their run-stop metric. This is a stark contrast from 2019 when the ranked sixth and seventh in those metrics, respectively. He wasn’t bad this year, but he wasn’t great either. More help is needed.

Keke showed some promise this past season, but needs to show more consistency at the 3-technique position to see more consistent starts. Only in his second season, Keke took a big step forward, but this third year will be crucial for his development.

Dean Lowry doesn’t tend to miss any games, but he also doesn’t seem to make a significant impact. His run defense was spotty this year and his pass rushing capped out at four QB hits and three sacks. Lowry could be a cap casualty this offseason, but it might not be worth releasing him to save around $3 million.

Backups: Tyler Lancaster, Damon Harrison, Montravius Adams

Lancaster had shown some promise as a good run defender in 2018 and 2019, but like many in this unit this past season, he took a step back. He finished second in run-stop percentage, per PFF, in his rookie season, 22nd in 2019, and 69th in 2020. Lancaster can carve out a role for himself in future iterations of the Packers defense, but he needs to get back on track in the run game and provide a better boost in the pass defense than he has.

Montravius Adams has been a pretty tough miss for the Packers defense since he was drafted four years ago. He’ll be a free agent this season and likely won’t make his way back to Green Bay. He’s started three games in four seasons and only saw the field for eight games this season. He’s a 6’4” 300 lbs. monster of a human being, but that hasn’t helped him make a significant impact. Any street free agent or rookie will be able to supplant his production.

Lastly, Snacks Harrison was a fun free agent signing towards the end of the season, but we never truly got to see what he could contribute to the defense. He only saw the field for one regular season game in green and gold, and didn’t make a blip on the stat sheet, but added a few tackles in the playoffs, despite limited snaps. In the playoffs, he looked very much like he could be an asset in the run game, but if the Packers want to bring him back this season, they’ll have to hope he comes at the discount he did in-season.

Overall Grade: C