Over the next two weeks, we will take a look at each position group on the Packers and provide grades and insight on how they performed in the 2014 season. Today, we'll be looking at the defensive line. Follow along with all of our positional breakdowns here.
In 2014, the Green Bay Packers' defensive line may have been the one unit on the team that was most affected by injuries. Losing one projected starter to a season-ending injury before the season could have been a death blow to this group, but one veteran carried the load in his stead and an emerging start continued his ascendance into becoming one of the better, more complete 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.
Here is our look at the Packers' defensive line as a whole.
6'0", 305 pounds
16 games, 16 starts; 47 total tackles (30 solo), 5.5 sacks, 41 total QB pressures
After taking a big step in his second year in 2013, Daniels continued to expand his leadership and his game in 2014. Though he made a name for himself last season as an interior pass-rusher, Daniels game translated well to a more full-time role, as he excelled both rushing the passer and against the run this year. He is the line's unquestioned leader, both on and off the field.
6'4", 315 pounds
16 games, 16 starts; 41 total tackles (26 solo), 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup
Left for dead in Minnesota, Guion was the biggest addition on the Packers' line as he took over at the nose for the injured B.J. Raji. Though inconsistent at times, he showed flashes of exceptional play and ended up playing the second-most snaps on the line behind Daniels.
6'3", 310 pounds
15 games, 4 starts; 22 total tackles (10 solo), 1 pass breakup
Boyd's second season as a pro was up and down; playing about 1/3 of the team's defensive snaps, Boyd was often mixed in and out of the Packers' plans in the nickel defense, and came up with only modest stats. He played okay ball, but will not be mistaken for an All-Pro; still, he played more snaps and held up better against the run than Datone Jones, who was also drafted in 2013 (and in the first round, at that).
6'4", 285 pounds
13 games, 3 starts; 27 tackles (19 solo), 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 2 pass breakups
Now two years into his NFL career like Boyd, Jones has yet to live up to the hype that accompanied him as a first-round pick. When able to rush the passer, he is able to impress, finishing second to Daniels on the line in quarterback pressures; however, his play against the run is what is preventing him from being an every-down lineman and is why Boyd has surpassed him in terms of snap count. Jones also struggled with some injuries again this season, missing three games and parts of a few others.
With all that said, Jones did play better down the stretch and had a few games in which he was a major contributor to the pass rush, and because of that, there is reason for optimism as he heads into his third year in 2015.
6'4", 332 pounds
13 games played; 9 total tackles (8 solo)
Everyone's favorite undrafted free agent had a chance to contribute when Raji went down, but Pennel only hit the 10-snap mark in five games this season, mostly in the middle of the year, down the stretch, he never exceeded 7 snaps after week 12 and did not even see the field on defense against Seattle. Pennel's size will continue to make him an intriguing option on the nose, but he'll need to improve in the run game.
6'3", 301 pounds
5 games; 2 total tackles (1 solo), 1 pass breakup
Robinson was signed off the practice squad a few weeks into the season and spent two months with the team before going on injured reserve. In that time, he recorded 66 snaps on defense (mostly during big wins against the Vikings and Panthers).
6'2", 310 pounds
Gaston was signed for depth late in the season, but was not activated on gameday.
6'2", 331 pounds
Pegged for a move back to nose tackle in training camp, Raji looked solid in limited action during three preseason games. However, a torn biceps in the third contest put him on the shelf for the season, as he was forced to wait out his one-year contract on injured reserve. With little interest in free agency a year ago, time will tell if he returns in 2015.
Position Grade: B-
Daniels continued to break out as a complete lineman in 2014, expanding his great play to the run game as well as pass rush. Raji's unfortunate injury forced the team to shuffle the deck, but Guion's presence helped at least stabilize the nose tackle position. The left end spot was quite a rotation; however, Jones' late surge as a pass-rusher helped, and the run defense's drastic improvement once Clay Matthews' moved inside is an indication that the line was not the problem in the first half of the year.