Grading Thompson on the Defensive Line

Just how bad has it been on the defensive line? Take a trip down memory, err, nightmare lane as we examine one blown pick after another by the Packers.

Photo by Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY

This will be Ted Thompson’s 11th draft atop the Green Bay Packers, meaning there’s a decade’s worth of history to examine as this year’s draft approaches. We are taking a position-by-position lookback to see where he and his scouting department have turned up gems and where they have turned up fool’s gold.

Defensive line

Note: Team changed to 3-4 in 2009

2005, 6th round — Mike Montgomery, Texas A&M (6-5, 276): Montgomery played 58 games over six seasons with the team, though he played more than 10 games in just three of those seasons. All eight career starts came in 2008. He finished with five sacks for his career. He was the 22nd of 39 defensive linemen selected. C.J. Mosley, who was taken 11 picks later, remains in the league and has played in 129 career games. Grade: C.

2007, 1st round — Justin Harrell, Tennessee (6-4, 300): Without question the worst draft pick in Thompson’s tenure, Harrell played all of 14 games in his career — seven (with all two career starts) as a rookie, six in 2008, none in 2009 and one in 2010. His career, derailed by chronic back problems, ended with a torn ACL sustained in the 2010 opener. Harrell was the second of 20 defensive tackles selected. A dozen of those players have started at least 20 games. Eight of the next 15 first-round picks were selected for at least one Pro Bowl. Grade: Is there such a thing as F-minus? G? Z?

2009, 1st round — B.J. Raji, Boston College (6-2, 337): Raji had a breakout second season with 6.5 sacks and had three more sacks during a Pro Bowl 2011. He hasn’t gotten to the quarterback since then, however. After playing primarily end in the base defense for a couple of years, Raji returned to nose tackle last season and appeared poised for a big season but spent the year on IR with a torn biceps tendon sustained during the preseason. Raji was the first of 19 defensive tackles selected and the second of 38 defensive linemen overall. Taking the full defensive line into account, Raji is tied for first in Pro Bowls, is tied for third in starts and tied for 10th in sacks. So, Raji hasn’t been great but neither has anyone else at the position. Grade: C-minus.

2009, 6th round — Jarius Wynn, Georgia (6-3, 275): Wynn played in 36 games (four starts) during his three seasons in Green Bay. Since then, he’s seen action with four other teams, including 11 games for Buffalo last year. Like Raji, Wynn has 10.5 career sacks. Wynn was the 29th of 38 defensive linemen selected and ranks 15th with 69 games. Grade: B-minus.

2010, 2nd round — Mike Neal, Purdue (6-3, 294): Neal’s first two seasons were ruined by injuries, and he missed the first four games of 2012 with a league suspension. Neal cut weight — he weighed much less than his official 285 pounds — and successfully transitioned to a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive line position called elephant. In three seasons at end, he played 20 games (one start) and had 5.5 sacks. In two seasons at elephant, he played all 32 games (13 starts) and had 9.5 sacks. Neal was the 16th of 54 defensive linemen selected. While he’s 31st with 14 starts, Neal is 15th with 15 sacks. That sack total is more than any defensive lineman taken in the third round, showing Neal has been just fine considering his position late in the second round. Grade: C.

2010, 7th round — C.J. Wilson, East Carolina (6-3, 290): Wilson played 50 games (11 starts) as a solid run-stopper for four seasons in Green Bay. He signed with Oakland last offseason and played in all 16 games with seven starts. Wilson was the 45th of 54 defensive linemen selected but ranks 17th with 66 games played. He’s played in more games, started more games and recorded more sacks than any of the nine linemen drafted after him. Grade: B.

2011, 7th round — Lawrence Guy, Arizona State (6-4, 305): Guy didn’t play a snap during his one-plus season with the team. He’s found his niche, though, with the Ravens. He played in 11 games last season and re-signed with a two-year contract during the offseason. Guy was the 36th of 39 defensive linemen selected. Grade: F.

2012, 2nd round — Jerel Worthy, Michigan State (6-2, 308): If you want some vinegar in the wound, Thompson actually moved up eight spots to select Worthy. In two seasons, he played in 16 games (four starts). During camp in 2014, he was traded to the Patriots for a bowl of leftover chowder and a deflated football. He spent most of last season on the Chiefs’ practice squad and remains on their roster. Worthy was the 13th of 43 defensive linemen selected. Two defensive linemen (Devon Still and Vinny Curry) were drafted after Worthy in the second round. Curry has 13 sacks. Taken two picks ahead of Worthy, San Diego’s Kendall Reyes has played in all 48 games with 35 starts. Grade: F.

2012, 4th round — Mike Daniels, Iowa (6-1, 291): It’s a short list of good picks, of course, but Daniels has been by far the best of Thompson’s defensive line selections. In his three seasons, he’s got 14 sacks — including 12 in 2013 and 2014. He showed last year that he could be more than just a situational pass rusher by starting all 16 games. Daniels was the 26th of 43 defensive linemen selected. Of the final 18 defensive tackles selected, Daniels is tied for first in games, third in starts and first in sacks. Grade: A.

2013, 1st round — Datone Jones, UCLA (6-4, 283): Could Jones be an every-down defensive end? That’s the question everyone wanted to know when the Packers took Jones with the 26th pick of the 2013 draft. The answer to that question has been an overwhelming “no,” as he started three of the first five games of 2014 but zero after that. At this point, he’s merely a decent situational rusher with 3.5 sacks in 16 games as a rookie and 1.5 in 13 games in 2014. Of the 50 defensive linemen selected, Jones ranks 21st in starts and tied for 10th in sacks. Taken two picks after Jones, Denver’s Sylvester Williams has started 17 games but has been a fairly mediocre defensive tackle. Grade: D.

2013, 5th round — Josh Boyd, Mississippi State (6-3, 310): Boyd replaced Jones in the starting lineup when the Packers opened in their base defense last season. He played in 14 games (four starts) and has proven to be a sturdy run defender. Picked 141 spots after Jones, it’s clear who’s provided the better value. Boyd was the 35th of 50 defensive linemen selected. Only one player selected after Boyd has a vastly better resume. Chris Jones went No. 198 — 31 picks after Boyd — to Houston. He failed to make the roster but started most of last season for New England. Grade: B-minus.

2014, 3rd round — Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi (6-3, 304): Thornton did almost nothing during training camp. Thompson was spared a difficult decision on the No. 85 overall selection when Thornton had a bum hamstring and went on season-ending IR. Thornton was the 15th of 41 defensive linemen selected. If there’s any consolation, only 16 of those rookies started a game. The 26 defensive linemen drafted after Thornton combined for 32 starts. Grade: Incomplete.

Overall grade: Thompson has drafted three in the first round with Harrell, Raji and Jones, two more in the second with Neal and Worthy and one in the third with Thornton. If Raji is the best of those six, then Neal is second — and that required a position change. With one miss after another, Thompson was forced to bring back Johnny Jolly a couple years ago and sign Letroy Guion last offseason. Only Daniels delivers some salvation. Grade: D.

What it means (if anything) for 2015: “There’s always next year,” goes the saying. For the Packers, “next year” is less than three weeks away. Daniels, Raji and Guion all will be free agents after the 2015 season, so the need is more over the long term. This probably is just a coincidence, but it’s interesting to note that every defensive lineman selected by Thompson was invited to the Scouting Combine.

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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