Everyone does player grades.
Ours are different.
We do ours on a salary-cap curve. After all, the salary cap largely determines long-term success in the NFL. Players with big-money contracts must be big-time performers. Those highly paid players must be supplemented by several small-budget but high-production players.
With that, we continue this series with the defensive line. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com. Stats are from STATS, Pro Football Focus and the Packers’ coaches.
2016 cap: $7.40 million (15th among interior defensive linemen, defined as all 3-4 defensive linemen and 4-3 defensive tackles)
Daniels remains a stalwart on the defensive line but his production dipped a bit compared to 2015. Last year, he had 67 tackles, four sacks, seven tackles for losses and 21 quarterback hurries. That got him selected to NFL Network’s annual list of the league’s top 100 players. This year, he had 44 tackles, four sacks, eight tackles for losses and a team-high 20 hurries. Remarkably, among the team’s six defensive linemen (including Mike Pennel, who was released before the NFC Championship Game), Daniels ranked last on the team with one tackle for every 15.08 snaps. His four stuffs (defined as a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage on a running play) gave him a unit-worst one stuff for every 165.75 snaps. He also had three of the unit’s five missed tackles.
There’s no doubting Daniels’ effort. He wears a bull’s-eye from opposing offenses, who know he’s one of the few game-plan wreckers on the team. That’s evident in his quarterback-hit and hurries counts. Daniels had 20 hurries; the rest of the defensive linemen combined for nine. The Packers’ coaches gave him 14 quarterback hits. The rest of the defensive linemen combined for 10. The Packers simply need more — from Daniels and those around him.
2016 cap: $3.52 million (35th among interior defensive linemen)
Guion should be a tremendous role player. Instead, he’s a decent starter. Guion was by far the unit’s best defender against the run. He led the unit with 50 tackles — even while playing more than 200 fewer snaps than Daniels. That gave Guion a unit-best 8.96 snaps per tackle, slightly below last year’s 8.67. He also led the unit in stuffs with six (one for every 74.67 snaps). Pro Football Focus has a stat called “stops,” which is a solo tackle on a running play that results in a failure for the offense, such as a first-and-10 tackle for 3 yards or less. Guion’s run-stop percentage of 16.2 was almost twice as good as any other Packers defensive lineman. (Daniels’ was 7.7 percent.) He missed only one tackle.
“I feel like I’ve been playing good ball,” Guion said before the December game vs. Chicago. “I feel like I’ve been out there giving my teammates energy and just doing my part. As long as I do my part at a high level, I think I’m going to be OK.”
Unfortunately, with zero sacks, he could hardly have been less effective against the pass. When he was on the field, the Packers might as well have been playing 11-on-10 on passing plays. According to STATS, he had 1.5 hurries. He had six last year. By the coaches’ count, he had three quarterback hits.
2016 cap: $1.70 million (74th among interior defensive linemen)
Clark played only seven snaps against Houston in Week 13. The coaches sent a message and it was received. Clark played his best football down the stretch, and his playing time rose accordingly. He played 18.3 snaps per game in the final four regular-season games and then 26.3 snaps per game in the three playoff games.
“He’s doing very well,” coach Mike McCarthy said late in the season. “You can see his snaps have gone up. I think he clearly in the last six weeks has taken a big jump. I’m very happy with the progress Kenny’s making.”
Clark, who turned only 21 in October, is strong and — like Daniels — understands how to play with leverage. He had 33 tackles and four stuffs, giving him rates of 10.09 snaps per tackle and 83.25 snaps per stuff, both of which ranked second on the team. So, too, did his run-stop percentage of 8.9. Clark didn’t miss a tackle. He didn’t have any sacks but he had three quarterback hits and four hurries.
2016 cap: $545,848 (147th among interior defensive linemen)
Like Clark, Lowry got more and more playing time as the season progressed. Of his 157 regular-season snaps, 105 came in the last five games. Another 55 came in the playoffs.
“It has nothing to do with Mike Pennel’s situation,” McCarthy said before the Seattle game. Added defensive line coach Mike Trgovac: “I told you guys all along, I think Dean is a really good football player. He’s been getting better and better. One of the things with Dean, when he was at Northwestern, he was an outside end for them. We thought he had the ability to come inside and do what he has to do. It was a learning experience for him, but he’s extremely smart and he’s a talented guy. I’m happy for him that he got the opportunity to get some playing time and made the most of it.”
Lowry finished with 14 tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, three quarterback hurries and one stuff. His tackle rate was one for every 11.21 snaps. With the unusual combination of tall but with short arms, Lowry had a tremendous Scouting Combine in terms of athleticism and strength. Those things showed up as the season progressed. All indications are the Packers got two quality players on the defensive line — key considering B.J. Raji’s retirement and Mike Pennel’s suspensions and release.
2016 cap: $450,000 (164th among interior defensive linemen)
After spending his rookie season on the practice squad, Ringo had seven tackles and one stuff in 76 snaps. It was a small sample size but his tackle rate of 10.86 snaps per tackle ranked third on the line. He had no sacks, quarterback hits or pressures. (Pennel, by the way, had eight tackles for a rate of 12.75 snaps per tackle and two stuffs for a team-best 51 snaps per stuff. He had no hurries after piling up an impressive seven in 2015.) Ringo, practice-squad player Brian Price and a fresh crop of rookies will challenge for a roster spot next summer.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.