Grading the Packers’ Defensive Line on a Salary Cap Curve

The Packers' best defensive unit was led by standout Mike Daniels and veteran B.J. Raji. Raji and Letroy Guion, however, are headed to free agency.

Player grades are a tried-and-true staple at the end of every season. We put our usual spin on them by grading the players on a salary-cap curve. Stats are from STATS , the NFL and the Packers’ coaches. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com.

Defensive Line

Mike Daniels: The Packers didn’t wait until the offseason to take care of a major piece of the offseason to-do list. By signing Daniels to a four-year, $41 million contract extension that will keep him in Green Bay through the 2019 season, the Packers kept a building-block defender and young leader. His cap number wound up rising to $4.02 million for 2015, 13th among 3-4 defensive ends. Other than perhaps Clay Matthews, Daniels is the Packers’ top defender. Daniels is power, energy and attitude. He led the unit with 67 tackles, four sacks, seven tackles for losses and eight "stuffs" (defined by STATS as a tackle on a running play at or behind the line of scrimmage). According to STATS, he tied Matthews (and tied for 30th in the NFL) with a team-high 21 pressures. According to the Packers, he finished third on the team with 12 quarterback hits. Teams averaged 0.35 yards less per carry when Daniels was in the game and he averaged one tackle for every 10.78 snaps. Three-down defensive linemen don’t grow on trees but Daniels is in that rare group, as good against the run on first down as he is rushing the passer on third down. Grade: A.

B.J. Raji: The return of Raji was huge for the Packers. After missing all of last season and settling for a one-year contract, Raji played in 15 of 16 games and tallied 34 tackles, a half-sack and two tackles for losses. While his 13.44 snaps per tackle ranked fourth on the unit, teams averaged 0.49 yards less per carry with Raji on the field. That offset his meager total of one quarterback hit. Daniels regularly called Raji the brains of the defensive line. His cap number of $2.69 million ranked seventh among 3-4 nose tackles. The Packers like Raji and Raji likes the Packers. It will be interesting to see how much of a free-agent market there is for a defensive lineman who turns 30 in July and hasn’t been great since 2010. Grade: B.

Letroy Guion: After serving a three-game suspension to start the season due to his March 31 arrest on gun and drug charges, it predictably took Guion time to get back in the swing of things. When that happened down the stretch, he became a key element of the Packers’ defense. Guion’s play on that early goal-line series at Washington might have saved the season. He finished with 39 tackles, two tackles for losses, six pressures and two quarterback hits. His 8.67 snaps per tackle ranked second on the unit. Teams averaged 0.61 yards less per carry with Guion on the field. His $2.49 million cap charge ranked 20th among 3-4 defensive ends. Even though he will be entering his ninth season, Guion will turn only 29 in June. Will he merit a multiyear deal, either in Green Bay or elsewhere? Or will the legal issues be enough to scare teams away? Grade: C.

Mike Pennel: The Packers wound up with one of the big finds of the 2014 undrafted class with Pennel. He started five games and tallied 35 tackles, including one sack and two tackles for losses. His rate of one tackle for every 8.40 snaps paced the unit. Plus, he chipped in seven pressures, more than all but Daniels among the defensive line corps, and three quarterback hits. At 6-foot-4 and 332 pounds, he has rare athleticism, which showed as he played surprisingly well at defensive end after spending his rookie year primarily on the nose. Teams averaged 0.11 yards less per carry with Pennel on the field. With consistency and improved stamina, that number should become more dramatic. His cap charge of $511,000 was a steal. Grade: B.

Datone Jones: When the Packers drafted Jones in the first round in 2013, the hope was he’d be an instant-impact pass rusher as he developed into a player capable of playing all three downs. Jones might be taking an unexpected path to that three-down kind of role. During the second half of the season, Jones played as much outside linebacker as defensive end. At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, he’s a tough customer to run against. On passing downs, he provided a quality interior rush. He finished the season with 25 tackles, including three sacks and seven tackles for losses. His 14.88 snaps per tackle was the worst rate among the defensive line, though some of that is because about three-quarters of his snaps came on passing plays. He did rank second on the unit with five stuffs. STATS credited him for only six pressures but the coaches gave him 13 quarterback hits, tops on the D-line and only two behind Matthews’ team-leading total. His cap number of $2.1 million ranked 24th among 3-4 defensive ends. His production just is not good enough for a first-round pick but he’s a valuable player. Grade: C.

Josh Boyd: Boyd, who had 34 tackles in 15 games (four starts) in 2014, beat out sixth-round pick Christian Ringo for a roster spot. He played in only two games (one tackle) before going on season-ending injured reserve with an ankle injury. His cap number was about $621,000 this season; it rises to about $711,000 for 2016, his final season under contract. Grade: Incomplete.

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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