Packers Roster Countdown: Part 19

Our list of the Packers' most important players continues with two defensive linemen: No. 6 B.J. Raji and No. 7 Jerel Worthy. The addition of Worthy potentially will get Raji's career back on track after a subpar 2011.

As we've done in past years, we're counting down the Green Bay Packers' roster, from No. 90 to No. 1.

These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players were ranked on their importance to the team. Skill, a player's position, the depth of his position group, the odds he contributes, salary and draft history all play a part in how a player is ranked. More than the ranking itself, hopefully you will learn a little something about each of the 90 players in the process.

No. 6: Raji's rebound

Give B.J. Raji a break.

Literally.

Raji, a Pro Bowler last season despite not being nearly as good as he was in 2010, played in 79.3 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps last season. The year prior, it was 85.2 percent. Of the Packers' defensive front seven last year, only Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk played more snaps.

"B.J. probably played more than we'd hoped the last couple years," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "But that was more out of necessity. I just think if you can have a group of guys to where you can keep guys fresh heading into that stretch towards the end of the season, and big guys like that, if you're playing them every play, they're not going to be as effective for a higher percentage of those plays."

Raji wasn't effective last season, especially when compared ot 2010, when he lined up next ot Cullen Jenkins. Last season, he had three sacks and 20 total pressures on 499 passing plays, meaning he impacted the passing game 4.0 percent of the time. In 2010, he had 6.5 sacks and 35 total pressures on 485 passing plays, giving him a pressure rate of 7.2 percent. It was a similar tale in the run game, where Raji had seven run stops last season compared to 21 in 2010.

"Being a defensive linemen, there's always things you can work on because the margin for error is so small," Raji said. "You take one false step and the guy has you blocked. If you don't come off as hard, you're going to get pushed back. So, you can always do things better. We watch film every day and there's always little things you can do better. My goal is to keep the energy up."

No. 7: Worthy addition

Second-round pick Jerel Worthy is another piece to the defensive puzzle, both as a potential starter at defensive end in the base defense but as a much-needed upgrade as an interior pass rusher in nickel.

It's more than Worthy improving the defense at his position. The Packers' decision to let Cullen Jenkins depart in free agency was a mortal wound that kept getting picked open every gameday. If — and it's a big if — Worthy can become a force on passing downs, he'd become Raji's best friend. With an active Worthy, Raji can get more than an occasional breather. With an active Worthy, the interior offensive line will have a choice to make — put two on Raji or put to on Worthy.

It's the same premise that worked so well when Jenkins was in Green Bay. In 2010, Jenkins had seven sacks and, by the Packers' count, 21 quarterback hits by himself. In 2011, the entire defensive line combined for six sacks and 18 quarterback hits.

"We liked him as a player and we thought that he could add some juice to us," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "We liked his quickness off the ball and stuff like that. We thought he played the run pretty well. We thought he was a complete player and he had some rare movement that's of his size."

If you missed ...

Jennings and Nelson: 8-9

Defining season for Shields: 10

Finley, Burnett and ...: 11-15

Three O-linemen: 16-20

Some surprises: 21-25

Safety dance: 26-30

Bush and four on offense: 31-35

Two DL and Driver: 36-40

Make-or-break camp for two vets: 41-45

Going hog wild: 46-50

Rookies at key positions: 51-55

Gurley's detours: 56

Fighting for jobs: 57-60

Five defenders: 61-65

Don't be surprised if ...: 66-70

It's Noah's Ark: 71-81

Roster long shots: 82-89

Longest of long shots: 90


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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