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Replacing the Green Bay Packers’ Free Agents: Julius Peppers and Datone Jones

It's a strong draft for edge-rushing prospects but how about at the elephant position that was manned by Julius Peppers and Datone Jones?

Depth is fleeting.

The Green Bay Packers looked to be incredibly deep at outside linebacker following last year’s draft. Clay Matthews was back after spending the past season-and-a-half at inside linebacker, Julius Peppers  decided to play again and Kyler Fackrell was added with a third-round draft pick.

The depth has evaporated, though, following the free-agent defections of Peppers and Datone Jones. While Nick Perry is back, Matthews is coming off a subpar season and Fackrell made a meager impact as  a rookie.

That makes outside linebacker a key void. Everyone knows that. But what about the elephant position, that hybrid between first-and-10 outside linebacker and third-and-long interior pass rusher? Will the Packers be looking to fill that position? If so, here are seven possibilities the Packers might consider, courtesy two NFL scouts and Optimum Scouting's Eric Galko. (The elite prospects who will be long gone by pick No. 29 not included.)

Carl Lawson, Auburn (6-2, 261; 4.67): Lawson earned some first-team All-America accolades as a junior in 2016 with his nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for losses and 24 hurries. However, he wasn’t even a consensus first-team all-conference selection, since he posted only 30 tackles. He’s basically a one-hit wonder. He missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. In 2015, he was limited to even games with a cracked hip and recorded just one sack and three TFLs. Stature-wise, he’s far from the elephant prototype of Peppers and Jones. However, he was an adept interior rusher at Auburn, according to research by Optimum Scouting. How? Quickness, technique and brute strength (35 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the Combine). Overall, of our top 24 edge-rushing prospects, Lawson ranked ninth in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. Injuries and short arms (31 1/2-inch arms) are issues.

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Taco Charlton, Michigan (6-6, 277; 4.92): After starting four games in his first three years, Charlton was first-team all-Big Ten as a senior with 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses and 43 tackles — all career-best numbers. He added eight hurries. Of our top 24 edge-rushing prospects, Charlton ranked fifth in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, and he consistently won as an interior rusher, according to Optimium Scouting. Charlton has tremendous height and length (34 1/4-inch arms) but his 40 time and other testing numbers (other than the 20-yard shuttle) are an obvious concern for a Packers defense looking to get faster. He put up 25 reps on the bench press and should only get stronger. In four seasons, he notched 19 sacks and 28 TFLs. As his production suggests, he is an ascending talent with an enormous upside.

Tarell Basham, Ohio (6-4, 269; 4.70): Basham was the program’s first MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Among 49 tackles were 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. He ranked 10th out of our top 24 in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity. He added 12 hurries and one forced fumble. That gave him a four-year total of 27.5 sacks and 39 tackles for losses. Basham played some defensive tackle early in his career. A scout worried about his strength (15 reps on the bench) but thought Basham would grow into his frame (34 1/4-inch arms) without sacrificing his athleticism. He already plays with power, so increasing his strength will only improve his preferred style of play.

DeMarcus Walker, Florida State (6-4, 280; DNP): Walker posted 16 sacks and 21.5 tackles for losses among 68 tackles as a senior. He added three forced fumbles, four additional hurries and a game-clinching blocked extra point vs. Miami to capture ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Walker was second-team all-ACC as a junior with 10.5 sacks, 15.5 TFLs and four forced fumbles. His four-year total: 27 sacks, 41.5 tackles for losses and eight forced fumbles. Walker’s senior season was sort of all-or-nothing. Despite the huge sack count as a senior, he ranked only 19th out of our top 23 edge rushers in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity. But, like Jones, his power would be a huge asset on the edge to combat opponent running games. That’s a phase of the game he showed frequently at FSU.

Keionta Davis, Tennessee-Chattanooga (6-3, 271; DNP): Davis was a two-time FCS All-American, including first-team honors as a senior, when he was named the Southern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. In 2016, he led the league with 10.5 sacks while tallying 44 tackles, 11.5 tackles for losses, seven hurries and seven passes defensed. For his career, he piled up 31 career sacks — including a career-high 13.5 as a junior — and forced eight fumbles. While he was sidelined at the Combine, he’s got long arms (34 1/4 inches) and plenty of power. Alabama had a hard time blocking him, as he finished with one-half sack and five additional hurries. (That was his only game against FBS competition so he was not included in our use of PFF’s pass-rushing numbers.) Plus, he was one of the top players during the Senior Bowl.

Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M (6-5, 266; 4.76): Overshadowed by Myles Garrett — who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and is the ideal elephant prospect — Hall put up solid numbers. During his last three seasons, he rang up 16 sacks, 33.5 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles. As a junior, he had seven sacks and 14.5 TFLs; as a senior, he had 4.5 sacks and 13 TFLs and added 12 hurries. Of our top 24 edge-rushing prospects, Hall ranked 23rd in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity. Some of his best work, according to Optimum Scouting, came when lined up as an interior rusher. He’s got an impressive combination of athleticism and length (35 5/8-inch arms).

Deatrich Wise, Arkansas (6-5, 274; 4.92): Wise, whose father was drafted by the Seahawks, started only 10 games in four seasons but recorded career totals of 16.5 sacks and 23 tackles for losses. Eight of the 10 starts came as a senior, when he had a career-high 49 tackles and added 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses despite playing through a broken hand sustained in the opening game. The injury played a role in Wise tying for 19th in our group of the top 24 edge rushers in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity. He was at his best as a junior, when he had eight sacks, 10 TFLs and three forced fumbles while starting zero games. His 40 time wasn’t so hot but he did well in the 20-yard shuttle, and he’s got enormous 35 5/8-inch arms to fend off blockers.

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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