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Packers Friday Musings: Can TJ Slaton help reverse misfortunes with D-line selections?

The past decade of draft choices along the defensive line has been sketchy in terms of finding reliable rotational pieces.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week, the Green Bay Packers have learned their upcoming season schedule and begun to lock up their latest draft selections one-by-one. While the uncertainty and rumors continue to swirl around who the team’s starting quarterback will be in 2021, the same type of unknown can be applied to a few of the Packers’ latest rookie additions.

Today’s musings center around a trio of players who are trying to answer questions about which roles they can play early on in their time with the Packers and just exactly what kind of long-term promise they can bring to the team at positions that have been yearning for meaningful depth.

Packers could use a luck reversal with most recent defensive line selection

Green Bay signed fifth-round pick Tedarrell (T.J.) Slaton on Thursday, officially adding the Florida defensive tackle to the roster. With the Packers’ need for increased depth up front, particularly in the middle of the line behind Kenny Clark, Slaton has an opportunity to make an impact immediately as a rookie. However, it is hard to place high expectations on a day-three selection to make significant rookie contributions, and the Packers have had plenty of trouble finding diamonds in the rough in that position over the past decade.

The table below provides a listing of the Packers’ defensive line draft choices since 2011, including Jonathan Garvin, last year’s seventh-round pick who played exclusively outside linebacker as a rookie. Outside of Clark, Dean Lowry, and Mike Daniels, Green Bay has failed to find anything more than occasional rotational players despite the team drafting at least one lineman every year. Besides Clark, the Packers have had their share of busts on the first two days of the draft, while day three has been an avenue by which the Packers have accumulated a number of players with the hope that one sticks as a steady contributor. So far, the logic has not played to the team’s favor with players that have proven to be unproductive or injury-prone.

For the Packers, Slaton offers yet another opportunity to find a reliable depth player, if not more, to bolster a defensive line unit that has struggled mightily to provide much of an impact over the past two seasons. Even if Slaton can offer a two-down, run-stopping presence as a rookie, the Packers would benefit greatly after giving up on Montravius Adams and continuing to wait on Kingsley Keke to take the next step.

Packers’ Defensive Line Draft Choices Since 2011

Year Player Round
Year Player Round
2021 Tedarrell Slaton 5
2020 Jonathan Garvin 7
2019 Kingsley Keke 5
2018 James Looney 7
2017 Montravius Adams 3
2016 Kenny Clark 1
2016 Dean Lowry 4
2015 Christian Ringo 6
2014 Khyri Thornton 3
2013 Datone Jones 1
2013 Josh Boyd 5
2012 Jerel Worthy 2
2012 Mike Daniels 4
2011 Lawrence Guy 7

Isaiah McDuffie draws comparisons to Packer inside ‘backers of the recent past

Green Bay has been productive at finding starting linebackers on day three of the draft that outperform their draft slots. Although they have ultimately been temporary stop-gap solutions for three or four years at a time, the Packers have built the inside ‘backer position with this kind of inexpensive depth that offers special teams value. The question for 2021 sixth-round pick Isaiah McDuffie is whether he can become more than that for the team over the long haul or if he is the next in line of tackling machine linebackers with athletic limitations.

The Boston College product falls fairly in line with players such as Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, and Ty Summers in terms of height-weight measurables, while having a nearly identical 10-yard split time to Ryan and Martinez. In fact, the MockDraftable for McDuffie lists Ryan as one of the seven closest matches with a 72.4% comparison. In many ways, McDuffie’s pre-draft profile is also comparable with some of the limitations that the Packers saw in Ryan - somewhat undersized with struggles disengaging from blockers and dropping back into coverage. He also has some of the major intangible pros of Ryan and others, displaying a great motor on the field and great character on and off. Effort will never be a question.

The value the Packers have placed on building the inside linebacker position is very clearly lower than that of other positions, rarely drafting an inside player higher than round four. Utilizing late picks and undrafted players to fill varying roles depending on the down has been a persistent theme between Ted Thompson and Brian Gutekunst as general managers, and the selection of Kamal Martin last year is still too early to assess. In McDuffie, Green Bay likely will find another contributor in time, but can the team find that one standout player it’s been waiting to sign to a second contract?

The return of a healthy Josiah Deguara will be like owning an extra draft pick

One position that the Packers certainly did not have to upgrade during this draft season was tight end after the breakout of Robert Tonyan. His return as a restricted free agent, the re-signing of Marcedes Lewis, and hopeful improvements from Jace Sternberger and Dominique Dafney in 2021 provide additional promise for the unit. But last year’s third-round pick, Josiah Deguara, should factor into the offense quickly in his own right as a healthy sophomore.

After a year of waiting and speculation, Deguara’s versatile role in the Matt LaFleur system will add a new wrinkle in each facet of the offense. His role in the backfield as a blocker will be especially interesting as the Packers continue to search for the right combination of offensive line stability up front and break fellow second-year player AJ Dillon into an expanded role. Without the better pass-blocking option Jamaal Williams on the roster, the Packers may need additional help from Deguara on third down.

It may take some time for Deguara to adjust back to football and the pro game after losing last season to injury, but he showed flashes of what he could mean to the offense in Week 1 before the ACL injury. Deguara represents one of the handful of players from the 2020 and 2021 draft classes that could carve out meaningful playing time, almost acting as an extra high-value draft selection this year. And while he may not be an All-Pro, Deguara should only increase the potency of the Packers’ offense, lining up from multiple positions in a variety of formations that should make him a valuable decoy by the end of the season.