Green Bay Packers Offseason Roster Analysis: Defense

Heading into the offseason practices, outside linebacker is deep, defensive line is thin and inside linebacker is filled with uncertainty.

Now that the heavy lifting of the offseason is in the books, here’s a look at the Green Bay Packers’ offseason roster and our projected depth charts on defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE

NO.DEFENSIVE LINEPOSHEIGHTWEIGHTAGEEXP.COLLEGE
76 Daniels, Mike DL 6-0 310 27 5 Iowa
98 Guion, Letroy DL 6-4 322 28 9 Florida State
64 Pennel, Mike DL 6-4 332 25 3 Colorado State-Pueblo
97 Clark, Kenny DL 6-3 314 20 R UCLA
95 Jones, Datone DL 6-4 285 25 4 UCLA
99 Ringo, Christian DL 6-1 298 24 1 Louisiana-Lafayette
77 McBryde, B.J. DL 6-5 303 24 1 Connecticut
94 Lowry, Dean DL 6-6 296 21 R Northwestern
60 Anderson, Demetris DL 6-1 312 NA R Central Florida
90 Kuder, Tyler DL 6-3 307 NA R Idaho State
96 Price, Brian DL 6-3 318 21 R Texas San Antonio

The Packers are woefully short of proven defensive line contributors. In fact, that list begins and ends with Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion. Otherwise? After the surprising release of Josh Boyd, it’s a lot of wishing and hoping, especially for the first quarter of the season, when Mike Pennel will be serving a suspension. Unable to become more than a role player in his first three seasons, can 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones have a breakthrough season at the elephant position? Can first-round pick Kenny Clark become an immediate starter? Can fourth-round pick Dean Lowry become an immediate contributor? Can Christian Ringo take a big step forward after spending his entire rookie season on the practice squad? Can B.J. McBryde or the three undrafted rookies pitch in at some point? That’s a lot of questions. Are there enough positive answers?

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

NO.INSIDE LINEBACKERSPOSHEIGHTWEIGHTAGEEXP.COLLEGE
58 Barrington, Sam ILB 6-1 240 25 4 South Florida
47 Ryan, Jake ILB 6-2 240 24 2 Michigan
48 Thomas, Joe ILB 6-1 227 25 2 South Carolina State
50 Martinez, Blake ILB 6-2 237 22 R Stanford
54 Bradford, Carl ILB 6-1 248 23 2 Arizona State
43 Brown, Beniquez ILB 6-1 236 23 R Mississippi State
45 Pikula, Manoa ILB 6-1 234 NA R BYU

Last season, Clay Matthews started 16 games at inside linebacker — 10 of those alongside Nate Palmer. From that perspective, plenty has changed this offseason. The plan is to move Matthews back to outside linebacker, though coach Mike McCarthy said following the draft that that situation is “fluid.” Palmer certainly isn’t in the mix, having been released last month. Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan figure to enter the offseason practices as the starting tandem. Barrington started seven games in 2014 and the opener in 2015 before missing the rest of the season with an injured ankle. Ryan started the final five games. Combined, they have 13 starts. Whether it’s as a situational pass defender or starter, there is an enormous opportunity for fourth-round pick Blake Martinez to become an instant contributor. Joe Thomas, who was released at the end of training camp last summer but brought back and handed the dime role, is back, as is Carl Bradford, a fourth-round flop in 2014 who spent last season on the practice squad. They’ll vie for roster spots with undrafted rookies Manoa Pikula and Beniquez Brown. Pikula has the better measurables while Brown had better college production.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

NO.OUTSIDE LINEBACKERSPOSHEIGHTWEIGHTAGEEXP.COLLEGE
52 Matthews, Clay OLB 6-3 255 29 8 Southern California
56 Peppers, Julius OLB 6-7 287 36 15 North Carolina
53 Perry, Nick OLB 6-3 265 26 5 Southern California
91 Elliott, Jayrone OLB 6-3 255 24 3 Toledo
55 McCray, Lerentee OLB 6-2 246 25 4 Florida
51 Fackrell, Kyler OLB 6-5 245 24 R Utah State
46 Gilbert, Reggie OLB 6-3 261 23 R Arizona

While uncertainty dominates the discussions of the defensive line and inside linebackers, there is nothing but depth at outside linebacker. Look at it this way: The Packers added a Pro Bowler (Clay Matthews), a prospect who put up big numbers at the position in college (Kyler Fackrell) and a special-teams contributor (Lerentee McCray) and lost only one expendable starter (Mike Neal). With Matthews presumably moving back outside, he’ll pair with Julius Peppers to form the No. 1 tandem. The Packers didn’t re-sign Neal but did bring back Nick Perry, a rugged run defender who rose to the occasion as a pass rusher during the playoffs. Peppers, Perry and Datone Jones will line up at the elephant position, with Jones having started his transition late last season. Jayrone Elliott, a standout on special teams, might be ready for more playing time on defense. While Neal is gone, the Packers added third-round pick Fackrell, a star in Utah State’s 3-4 scheme, and McCray, a solid special-teams performer for the Broncos. Undrafted Reggie Gilbert rounds out the seven-man contingent.

CORNERBACKS

NO.CORNERBACKSPOSHEIGHTWEIGHTAGEEXP.COLLEGE
37 Shields, Sam CB 5-11 184 28 7 Miami (Fla.)
23 Randall, Damarious CB 5-11 196 23 2 Arizona State
24 Rollins, Quinten CB 5-11 195 23 2 Miami (Ohio)
36 Gunter, LaDarius CB 6-2 201 23 2 Miami
31 Daniel, Robertson CB 6-1 205 24 1 BYU
39 Goodson, Demetri CB 5-11 197 26 3 Baylor
20 Dorleant, Makinton CB 5-11 182 23 R Northern Iowa
28 Hawkins, Josh CB 5-10 189 NA R East Carolina
41 Jette, Randall CB 5-11 193 23 R Massachusetts

The Packers have lost three of their top four corners from the 2014 season, with Tramon Williams and Davon House departing last offseason and Casey Hayward joining the exodus this offseason. After using their top two picks on cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins to replace Williams and House in the 2015 draft, the Packers didn’t make a single noteworthy addition to replace Hayward in the 2016 draft. That puts the onus on improving from within. Randall and Rollins must build upon solid rookie seasons to join Sam Shields in providing a playoff-caliber starting trio. In a pass-happy league, three is not a crowd. Whether it’s Ladarius Gunter and Robertson Daniel, a pair of undrafted free agents last year, Demetri Goodson, a sixth-round pick in 2014, or this year’s three undrafted rookies, someone must take a big step forward to join jack-of-all-trades defensive back Micah Hyde in providing depth.

SAFETIES

NO.SAFETIESPOSHEIGHTWEIGHTAGEEXP.COLLEGE
42 Burnett, Morgan S 6-1 209 27 7 Georgia Tech
21 Clinton-Dix, Ha Ha S 6-1 208 23 3 Alabama
33 Hyde, Micah DB 6-0 197 25 4 Iowa
32 Banjo, Chris S 5-10 207 26 3 SMU
29 Brice, Kentrell S 5-11 200 21 R Louisiana Tech
25 Evans, Marwin S 5-11 211 23 R Utah State

They might not get much recognition, but Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix form one of the top tandems in the NFL. Burnett’s turned in back-to-back strong seasons and Clinton-Dix really came on strong during his second season. Clinton-Dix is a prime-time player, with three interceptions in 32 regular-season games and three interceptions in four playoff games. The aforementioned Hyde is like the defense’s version of offensive lineman J.C. Tretter, with his greatest strength being his ability to fortify the depth chart at more than one position. The Packers went 5-0 with Hyde replacing an injured Burnett last year. Special-teams captain Chris Banjo is a demon on the kicking teams. Undrafted Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans will bring outstanding athleticism to the competition.

SPECIALISTS

NO.SPECIALISTSPOSHEIGHTWEIGHTAGEEXP.COLLEGE
2 Crosby, Mason K 6-1 207 31 10 Colorado
8 Masthay, Tim P 6-1 200 29 7 Kentucky
1 Mortell, Peter P 5-11 203 23 R Minnesota
59 Lovato, Rick LS 6-2 249 23 1 Old Dominion

Coming off the best three seasons of his career, kicker Mason Crosby was rewarded with a new contract during the offseason. He will not have a challenger in training camp. Punter Tim Masthay is coming off the best season of his career, setting the franchise record for net punting in part because of his excellent directional-kicking skills. He owns the top five net averages in team history. However, he performed poorly in the playoff loss to Arizona and will be challenged by Peter Mortell, a Green Bay native and undrafted rookie from Minnesota. Rick Lovato is the only long snapper on the roster. He did well upon being summoned from his family’s sub sandwich shop after Brett Goode sustained a torn ACL. Given the timing of Goode’s injury — Dec. 20 — when, or even if, he can contribute this season is unknown.


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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