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Packers 2016 Defensive Line Additions: Clark and Lowry show potential in rookie seasons

Green Bay added a couple of linemen through the draft, and both showed reasons for fans to be optimistic about their futures.

NFL: Houston Texans at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Today, Acme Packing Company continues the examination of the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 roster. We continue to break down a different position on the roster throughout the week with examinations of the players on the 53-man roster in 2016, the contributions of new additions and players who signed new contracts, and players who have contracts expiring this offseason.

The Green Bay Packers spent significant resources on bolstering their defensive line during the 2016 offseason. They used two draft picks on linemen - including their first-round pick, and they also brought back a veteran on a new contract.

The vet is pretty much what he is at this point - a solid enough run defender who provides little help as a pass-rusher. However, both rookies showed flashes of reasons to think that they can be key contributors for years to come.

Kenny Clark

How Acquired: 1st-round draft pick (#27 overall)
Contract: 4 years, $9.36 million ($5 million signing bonus)

Regular Season stats: 16 games, 2 starts — 21 total tackles (13 solo), 1 TFL, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 pass breakups
Playoff stats: 3 games — 6 total tackles (5 solo)

The Packers’ first pick in 2016, Clark came along very gradually this season as he was worked into the rotation along the line behind Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion. By season’s end, however, he was regularly taking more snaps than anyone else besides Daniels, though largely on early downs.

A large body with good athleticism, Clark projects to be a plus defender against both the run and the pass, and he was the youngest player in the NFL in 2016, turning 21 in October. A full offseason in the Packers’ strength and conditioning program will help him greatly, and should allow him to be a solid anchor in the middle moving forward.

Dean Lowry

How Acquired: 4th-round draft pick (#137 overall)
Contract: 4 years, $2.72 million ($383k signing bonus)

Regular season stats: 15 games played — 8 total tackles (6 solo), 3 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 pass breakup
Playoff stats: 3 games played — 1 tackle (1 solo)

While Clark was better as a run defender in 2016, Lowry began to earn snaps as an interior pass-rusher. He made a handful of big plays, including a couple of sacks late in the season, and his elite athleticism shined through on those two plays. Like Clark, he’ll benefit from bulking up a bit this spring; he has the height and bulk to play the 5-technique end position on the few occasions that the Packers do line up in a base 3-4, but he needs to learn to take up multiple blockers better and hold his ground against the run.

Letroy Guion

How Acquired: Re-signed as unrestricted free agent
Contract: 3 years, $11.25 million ($500k signing bonus); 2016 cap hit of $3.5 million

Regular season stats: 15 games, 15 starts — 30 total tackles (20 solo), 6 TFL, 1 pass breakup
Playoff stats: 3 games, 3 starts — 4 total tackles (1 solo)

Guion returned to Green Bay in the offseason on a nice deal for both sides - he got a decent amount of money overall on the deal, but only a half-million was guaranteed. Furthermore, the Packers structured his deal smartly, locking up huge amounts of his contract in roster bonuses to protect themselves against injury or suspension.

Re-signing Guion became absolutely critical when B.J. Raji announced his hiatus from football last offseason; the Packers needed a veteran to pair with Mike Daniels on the line, especially before the additions of the two rookies through the draft. Guion played his role well, remaining stout against the run and giving way to hybrid players like Julius Peppers and Datone Jones as interior pass-rushers on passing downs.

Based on the contract situation and the potential development of the rookies, Guion could end up getting cut this offseason, as he would cost $333k in dead money; however, our bet is he sticks around for one more year before being let go or restructured in 2018.