Grading on a Salary Cap Curve: Defensive Line

In Part 6 of our series, we grade the performance of a defensive line led by Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion. Daniels, in particular, continued to outplay his rookie contract by showing he's more than just a situational rusher.

We’re taking a different spin on everyone’s favorite end-of-season exercise — player grades — by grading on a curve. Building a roster means building around the restraints of the salary cap, so our grades are based relative to the players’ salary-cap worth on the roster.

Part 6 of our “Grading on a Salary Cap Curve” series continues with the defensive line. Salary cap figures are from a source with access to NFLPA salary data. Stats are regular season only unless noted. (Note: Pro Football Focus has a stat called “run stops,” which is used frequently here. It measures impact tackles and mirrors the Packers’ win/loss grading system. A run stop is defined as a solo tackle that results in an offensive failure: a first-and-10 tackle that holds the play to 3 yards or less, a second-down tackle that holds the play to less than half of the required yardage and any third-down tackle that prevents a first down.)

DT Mike Daniels

2014 cap number: $645,146.

2014 recap: How would Daniels fare as a starter after being a situational pass rusher for his first two seasons? Quite well, was the answer. He started all 16 games and had 69 tackles, by the Packers’ count, which tied for fourth on the team and was tops among the club’s defensive linemen. Daniels checked in as the eighth-best 3-4 defensive end in the league, according to ProFootballFocus.com’s player rankings. He had 25 run stops in 300 run snaps for a run-stop percentage of 8.3, which ranked 16th among 49 3-4 defensive ends who played 25 percent of the snaps. His run-stop total was more than the rest of the team’s defensive ends combined (23). Even with the added burden in the run game, Daniels made his presence felt in the passing game. He ranked third on the team with 5.5 sacks and first with 19 quarterback hits, according to the coaches’ tally. According to PFF, he was the sixth-best pass-rushing 3-4 defensive end, with 41 total pressures in 354 pass-rushing snaps. Without question, Daniels — with his combination of power, passion, pride and intelligence — is a building block on defense.

Season grade: B-plus.

DT Letroy Guion

2014 cap number: $985,000.

2014 recap: The Packers looked sunk when B.J. Raji went down with a torn biceps tendon in the third preseason game. At that point, Guion had barely broken a sweat in training camp and appeared in jeopardy of not making the team. Raji’s injury solidified Guion’s spot on the roster and, once he knocked off the rust, he became one of the team’s top defenders. A 16-game starter for the first time in his career, he tallied a career-high 62 tackles. According to league data, teams averaged 0.58 yards less per carry with Guion on the field compared to when he was on the sideline. That was the top rate among the Packers’ defensive linemen. He even added surprising impact in the passing game with 3.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits (fourth-most on the team), according to the coaches’ stats. (Raji hasn’t had a sack since Thanksgiving 2011). The Packers and Guion’s agent, Seth Katz, continued their negotiations at the Senior Bowl. Guion doesn’t want to go anywhere. Most likely, he won’t.

Season grade: B-minus.

DE Datone Jones

2014 cap number: $1,753,773.

2014 recap: Jones, a first-round pick in 2013, played in 13 games (three starts) and tallied 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks. That was an improvement over his disappointing rookie season, when he had 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 games. After not playing well enough against the run early in the season, Jones played mostly on passing downs, and he flashed his versatility by lining up outside and inside. His eight quarterback hits ranked fifth on the team and third among the defensive linemen, according to the team, and ProFootballFocus.com had him for 19 pressures, behind only Daniels among the linemen. Opponents averaged 0.02 yards more per rush with Jones in the lineup — a negligible amount. He had a run-stop percentage of 6.3 (five in 80 run snaps). That’s just not good enough for a first-round pick.

Season grade: D-plus.

DT Josh Boyd

2014 cap number: $531,140.

2014 recap: In 15 games (four starts), Boyd, a fifth-round pick in 2013, tallied 34 tackles and four quarterback hits. When the Packers needed to stop the run, more often than not they went with Boyd over Jones. And for good reason: Opponents averaged 0.44 yards per rush less with Boyd in the game than when he was on the sideline. Among the aforementioned 49 3-4 defensive ends, he finished 19th in run-stop percentage (14 in 180 run snaps, 7.8 percent).

Season grade: C.

DT Mike Pennel

2014 cap number: $421,166.

2014 recap: Pennel turned his career around after getting run out of Arizona State in 2012. The undrafted rookie from Colorado State-Pueblo played in 13 games (175 snaps) and tallied 18 tackles. At 6-foot-4 and 332 pounds, he’s a run-stopper by trade, and that showed as opponents averaged 0.42 yards per rush when Pennel was on the field. He also flashed by recording three quarterback hits. However, he played almost as many snaps in the final seven games (28) as he did in Week 10 vs. Chicago (26). As Ted Thompson would say, the Good Lord doesn’t make many men with Pennel’s size.

Season grade: D.

DT Luther Robinson

2014 cap number: $293,647.

2014 recap: Robinson, an undrafted rookie, signed with Green Bay as a tryout player at the rookie camp. He started the season on the practice squad, was promoted to the active roster on Oct. 2 and was placed on season-ending injured reserve (calf) on Dec. 8. In five games encompassing 66 snaps, he recorded four tackles and his pass deflection vs. Minnesota was turned into a pick-six by Julius Peppers. It was a limited sample size, but opponents averaged 1.54 yards more per rush with Robinson on the field. At 6-foot-3 and 299 pounds, he ran 5.04 with a 28.5-inch vertical and 30 reps on the bench at Miami’s pro day. Season grade: D-minus.

DT Bruce Gaston

2014 cap number: $98,824.

2014 recap: With Green Bay dealing with some aches and pains up front, it grabbed the Purdue product off the Cardinals’ practice squad in December. The undrafted rookie didn’t play a snap but his combination of size (6-foot-2, 310 pounds), athleticism (4.95 in the 40, 34-inch vertical) and strength (34 reps on the 225-pound bench press) add up to an intriguing package.

Season grade: Incomplete

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.


Packer Report Top Stories