We continue our position-by-position preview of the NFL Draft with the defensive line.
The Packers have a top player in veteran Mike Daniels and a budding second-year player in Kenny Clark, last year’s first-round pick who emerged in December and January. Another of last year’s draft picks, fourth-rounder Dean Lowry, played better down the stretch, as well. In response to a four-game, season-opening suspension to veteran Letroy Guion, general manager Ted Thompson signed reliable veteran Ricky Jean Francois. While no one would confuse this group with the unit that lined up for the 2010 Super Bowl winners — Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins were the starting trio — this is a potentially solid group. Christian Ringo (76 snaps last year), a sixth-round pick in 2015, and Brian Price (10 snaps), an undrafted free agent last year, round out the depth chart.
While defensive line isn’t a big need, Thompson has drafted at least one in every draft since the conversion to the 3-4 scheme in 2009 — including two in five of those eight drafts. With that history, here are our top 20 prospects, based on skill and Green Bay’s historical preferences.
Note: Pass-rushing productivity measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. Run-stop percentage measures impact tackles (less than 40 percent of needed yardage on first down, less than 60 percent on second down and short of the line to gain on third and fourth down). Both are from ProFootballFocus.com’s Draft Pass. The statistical rankings in those categories are based on our top 20 prospects.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama (6-2 5/8, 286; 5.00 40; 4.50 shuttle; 22 bench): Allen had a huge senior season of 69 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for losses. He added 15 additional hurries and three fumble recoveries, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Allen hauled in a bunch of awards and honors, including unanimous first-team All-America. Plus, he won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award (both for best defensive player) and Ted Hendricks Award (best defensive end), and was a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Lott IMPACT Trophy and Lombardi Award (best defensive lineman or linebacker). He ranked second in PFF’s pass-rushing and run-stopping metrics, numbers that confirm that he is the best two-way defensive line prospect in this draft and a likely top-five pick. For his career, Allen recorded 28 sacks — only Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas has more in school history — and 44.5 tackles for losses. So many prospects play for their mother. Allen would simply like to find his. As a kid, he moved from hotel to hotel and spent 10 months in foster care. He missed so much school that he had to repeat second grade. Filling the void was his military father and a brother seven years his senior.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State (6-6 1/4, 295; 4.85 40; 4.53 shuttle; 23 bench): Junior. With his athleticism, he could be a fit at the elephant position formerly manned by Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. McDowell earned awards all three seasons. After being a Freshman All-American, McDowell was second-team all-Big Ten as a sophomore with career-high totals of 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for losses. Then came his junior campaign: second-team All-American and first-team all-conference. In nine games, he registered 34 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a team-high seven tackles for losses. In three seasons, McDowell posted 7.5 sacks and 24.5 TFLs. He ranked fourth in PFF’s pass-rushing and run-stopping stats. That’s good, but with that freakish package, which includes 34 3/4-inch arms, he left you wanting more. In a sense, he’s a taller Jerel Worthy, and that didn’t work out well for Green Bay. If he can manage his pad level, where his height naturally works against him, and crank up his motor full-time, he could be dominant. He’s just so long and athletic in the run game that he’s not blocked even when he’s blocked. In June 2015, McDowell went to the Mayo Clinic in hopes of finding out why he was experiencing chest pains. The diagnosis? Growing pains.
Caleb Brantley, Florida (6-2 5/8, 307; 5.14 40; 4.62 shuttle; 21 bench): Junior. Brantley was named second-team all-SEC after posting 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses in 2016. He tied for fourth in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity and was third in run-stop percentage. Brantley chipped in 6.5 TFLs as a sophomore, his first season as a full-time starter. He makes up for so-so athleticism (a slow 40) and short arms (32 inches) with motor and lower-body strength at the point of attack At Crescent City (Fla.) High School, his coach let Brantley “explore (his) possibilities” as a player. That meant Brantley played fullback and even made a one-handed catch. "He definitely wasn't a big ol' fat, stumblin' around lineman," Crescent City coach Al Smith said. Brantley’s statistical impact wasn’t anything special at Florida but, in the words of fellow Gators defensive line prospect Bryan Cox, “he disrupts everything.” Said Smith: "He's a hardcore competitor. He doesn't like to lose a play. He doesn't like to lose a drill. He doesn't like to lose at all."
Chris Wormley, Michigan (6-5, 298; 4.86 40; 4.59 shuttle; 23 bench): Wormley was first-team all-Big Ten as a senior, when he notched 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses among his 39 tackles. He finished sixth in PFF’s PRP but 14th in run-stop percentage, though some of that latter number comes from opponents simply being able to run to the other side when Wormley was at end. He added three blocked kicks and five forced fumbles. Wormley started 30 games in his career, tallying 18 sacks and 33 TFLs. He missed all of 2012, his true freshman season, with a torn ACL. Other than Allen, he might be the safest pick in this draft class. He might not be overwhelmingly great at any one thing but he is pretty flawless, too, other than he needs to build some pass-rushing moves. An impressive shuttle time and long arms (34 1/4) showed up to scouts on film. He played end and defensive tackle at Michigan, so he should be able to handle 3-4 end and nickel tackle for Green Bay.
Larry Ogunjobi, UNC-Charlotte (6-2 5/8, 305; 4.97 40; 4.75 shuttle; 26 bench): Charlotte’s had a football program for four years. There is no doubt Ogunjobi will be the first player drafted. As a senior who played frequently as an attacking nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, he had a career-high 65 tackles to go with three sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses to become the first first-team all-conference player in school history. Ogunjobi ranked just 18th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity but was No. 1 by a significant margin in run-stop percentage. His four-year total is incredible compared to other 300-pounders: 13 sacks and 49 tackles for losses. He ranked eighth among active FBS defenders in TFLs. Quickness at the snap, hands and explosive power make up for so-so athleticism and short arms (32 5/8). He’s a beast against double-team blocks. Ogunjobi, a first-generation American and the son of Nigerian parents, is a big man. He was bigger when he was forced to start playing football as a high school sophomore. He was 350 pounds back then.
Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama (6-2 7/8, 310; 5.19 40; 4.59 shuttle; 22 bench): In his one and only season as a starter, Tomlinson was in on 62 tackles, a total that included three sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses. He ranked 12th in PRP and eighth in run-stop percentage. Tomlinson had only two sacks and six TFLs in his previous seasons. Don’t let that bench-press number fool you: Tomlinson plays with power. That’s also how he wins. There’s not a lot to his game other than power, power and more power. He’s very much in the mold of the player who kept him out of the lineup at Alabama, A’Shawn Robinson. After redshirting in 2012, Tomlinson missed most of 2013 with a knee injury. At Henry County (Ga.) High School, Tomlinson was a three-time state heavyweight champion. How dominant was he as a senior? He went 49-0 and pinned his championship opponent in just 9 seconds. In high school, Tomlinson was close to a 4.0 student, an artist and played the saxophone and trumpet. He also played soccer. He needed all of those distractions. His dad died of cancer when he was 5, his mom when he was 17.
Jaleel Johnson, Iowa (6-2 5/8, 316; 5.38 40; 4.62 shuttle; 19 bench): After recording all of 12 tackles in 21 games from 2012 through 2014, Johnson made an impact as a junior with 45 tackles, including 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses. Johnson was even more effective as a senior, posting 55 tackles, including 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for losses, to be first-team all-Big Ten. He ranked seventh in PRP and 14th in run-stop percentage. He’s a typical Iowa lineman — strong, lots of effort, well-coached and capable of contributing on all three downs. Unlike the Packers’ Mike Daniels — to whom Johnson was compared by PFF — Johnson has height and length (33 1/4 arms). Johnson is from a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in Brooklyn. When he was a teenager, his parents sent him to live with an aunt in Chicago. His position coach at Iowa, Chris Andriano, was his coach in high school.
Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (6-3 1/8, 305; 4.99 40; 4.39 shuttle; 28 bench): Junior. After missing almost all of the 2015 season with a torn ACL, Vanderdoes was honorable mention all-Pac-12 as a senior with 29 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two tackles for losses. He is all potential, as he had the worst combined ranking in PRP (16th) and run-stop percentage (17th) among our top-20 prospects. He had 2.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs for his career. But he’s got length (33 1/8 arms) and that blazing shuttle should attract Green Bay’s attention. Vanderdoes ran for touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore. He was in the backfield in the season-opening game against Virginia in 2015 when defensive tackle Kenny Clark, the Packers’ top pick last year, scored on a 3-yard touchdown reception. In celebration, Vanderdoes hoisted Clark in the air ‚ then collapsed to the turf with a torn ACL. According to Vanderdoes and the coaches, his knee locked up earlier in the game and the injury did not happen during the celebration. Now that he’s a year past the injury, his play should improve.
Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova (6-6 3/4, 289; 4.83 40; 4.62 shuttle; 23 bench): Kpassagnon was named a first-team FCS All-American and Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year as a senior as he led the CAA and ranked in the top 15 nationally with 11 sacks and 21.5 tackles for losses. Kpassagnon recorded at least one sack in nine of 13 games. Pro Football Focus charted his games against FBS-level competition. In that limited sample size, he ranked 13th in PRP and ninth in run-stop percentage. With his size and athleticism, he could be a fit for the elephant position. Considering his production, length (35 5/8 arms) and physique — it looks like his abs have abs — how did Kpassagnon wind up at Villanova? Rather than participate in camps meant to catch the eye of recruiters, Kpassagnon focused on the Future Business Leaders of America. He’ll be a project, with pad level being his position coach’s first challenge for a player who won most of the time based on his overwhelming size and athletic advantage.
Ryan Glasgow, Michigan (6-2 7/8, 302; 5.13 40; 4.50 shuttle; 20 bench): Glasgow started 33 games in four seasons and was second-team all-Big Ten as a senior, when he had career-high totals of four sacks, 9.5 tackles for losses and 42 tackles. Glasgow tied Allen for second in PFF’s PRP but was 13th in run-stop percentage. In his first three seasons, he had a combined one sack, nine tackles for losses and 49 tackles. Glasgow was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which honors the nation’s best player who started his career as a walk-on. For a walk-on, he’s got an impressive array of physical skills. The shuttle time was tremendous, and he’s got 33 3/4-inch arms to keep linemen at bay. And typical of a walk-on, he plays with hunger and motor. He might not be a three-down player in the NFL, though; Michigan didn’t even use him extensively in pass-rushing situations. Glasgow’s brother, Graham, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2016 and started 11 games at center and guard. A third Glasgow, little brother Jordan, just completed his redshirt freshman season as a safety at Michigan. All three were walk-ons.
Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State (6-2 5/8, 304; 5.07 40; 4.72 shuttle; 26 bench): Junior. Taylor recorded 51 tackles, including seven sacks and 13 for losses, two forced fumbles and a whopping four blocked kicks during his final season. The seven sacks don’t quite tell the full story, however, of the player who ranked No. 1 in PFF’s PRP. He also was seventh in run-stop percentage. He is a long-armed (34 3/8) defender who wins with explosion at the snap and a combination of effort, power and know-how after the snap. As the shuttle time shows, there’s not much change-of-direction agility, which concerns scouts that he might not carry his college production over to the pros. He needs to add lower-body strength, too. Taylor has the state of Louisiana tattooed on his arm with the date of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival. "No power. No food. Seeing dead bodies. Things got rough.” He was 10. But he also was a hero. They tried to ride out the storm at a hotel. When the levees broke, Taylor helped move the elderly and those in wheelchairs up more than a dozen flights of stairs to the roof of the hotel to keep them safe.
Nazair Jones, North Carolina (6-5 1/8, 304; 5.11 40; 4.63 shuttle; 18 bench): Jones piled up 70 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses, during his final season. He finished 19th in PRP and 11th in run-stop percentage. Back in the day, Jones was the prototype for a 3-4 end, with size, length (34 5/8-inch arms to beat blockers and knock down passes) and the power to stop a run game in its tracks. Not so much anymore, though. Jones lacks pass-rushing skill and elite athletic ability. It’s a passing league and, at this point, he’s not a three-down player. Not that there’s anything wrong with stopping the run. Jones’ life took a dramatic turn in the span of a couple days as a high school junior. On a Friday night, he played in a season-ending playoff loss. On Saturday, he was in the weight room. On Sunday, he couldn’t walk. Over the next several months, Jones went through various tests at UNC’s Children Hospital; all the while his condition was worsening, ultimately forcing him into a wheelchair. He dropped nearly 50 pounds off what had been a 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame. Jones was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic pain condition that affects a body part following an injury or trauma. For Jones, the area of concern was his back.
Elijah Qualls, Washington (6-0 5/8, 313; 5.13 40; 4.66 shuttle; 33 bench): Junior. Qualls was first-team all-Pac-12 with 78 tackles — he had 39 the previous two seasons combined — three sacks and five tackles for losses. Qualls ranked ninth in PRP and 10th in run-stop percentage. He is pure power and leverage, with a knack vs. double teams. While a strong pass rusher against excellent competition at Washington, he might lack the athleticism and length (30 5/8 arms) to be anything more than a two-down player. He was the voice of a defense that helped the Huskies reach the playoffs. Like so many kids, football would be Qualls’ salvation. He grew up in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, an area known more for crime and drugs than oak and parks. Kids get sucked in and can’t get out. Qualls figured he was doomed for the same fate. “As far as I was thinking, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere either.” How’s this for a first job: riding around the block and looking for police.
Tanzel Smart, Tulane (6-0 5/8, 296; 5.24 40; 4.57 shuttle; 22 bench): Smart started the final 36 games of his college career and was first-team all-American Athletic Conference as a junior and senior. For his career, he tallied 40.5 tackles for losses. Smart ranked fourth in the conference in tackles for losses with 18.5 and eighth in sacks at 5.5 as a senior, when he finished eighth in PRP and 16th in run-stop percentage. He might be undersized but he’s got good length for his height (32 7/8 arms). He’s not under-talented, either. "Go out there and watch me practice, produce like God has been letting me do,” Smart said at the Senior Bowl. “At the end of the day, just watch me.” His production was based on a lot of subpar competition but he’s got power, quickness, leverage and active hands and feet that should allow him to be at least a role player.
Treyvon Hester, Toledo (6-2, 300; 4.88 40; 4.71 shuttle; DNP bench): Hester was named second-team all-MAC as a senior, his third all-conference honor of his career. As a senior, he tallied 39 tackles, including five for sacks and eight losses. That gave him an impressive four-year tally of 13 sacks and 29 tackles for losses. As a senior, he finished 11th in PRP and sixth in run-stop percentage. Hester is a quality run stopper but he’s got 32-inch arms and lacks explosive traits to be an option on third down as anything more than a bull rusher. Rushing the passer, of course, is paramount. Hester had surgery to repair a torn labrum on Dec. 8, which necessitated a personal pro day last week.
Jarron Jones, Notre Dame (6-5 3/4, 316; 5.33 40; 4.77 shuttle; 22 bench): After missing the end of the 2014 season with a foot injury and most of the 2015 season with a knee injury sustained in training camp, Jones returned in 2016 and recorded 45 tackles, including two sacks and 11 tackles for losses, and blocked two kicks. Most of the TFL count came during one dominating game vs. Miami, when had six. A couple days later, Jones was caught wearing a red bow and blue and yellow dress with ruffled sleeves. “After a monster game he was trick-or-treating as Snow White,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s a beautiful kid.” Not so beautiful for the guys trying to block him, though, as Jones ranked 15th in PRP but fifth in run-stop percentage. His shuttle could take him off the Packers’ board — as could questions about motivation — but he’s tall and long (35 1/2 arms). Length can’t be coached.
Jeremiah Ledbetter, Arkansas (6-3 1/8, 280; 4.84 40; 4.56 shuttle; 29 bench): Ledbetter started both seasons after spending his first two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College. As a senior, he led the team with 5.5 sacks while contributing 49 tackles, 7.5 tackles for losses and one hurry. The tackle count tied for the team lead among defensive linemen. However, he ranked 17th in PFF’s PRP and 20th in run-stop percentage. That’s disappointing for a player with his athleticism, strength and length (34 1/4 arms). There are some definite tools for a patient coaching staff. His father, Weldon, played fullback at Oklahoma and was drafted by the Buccaneers in 1983.
Casey Sayles, Ohio (6-3 7/8, 289; 4.99 40; 4.56 shuttle; 30 bench): Sayles was third-team all-MAC as a senior, when he had five sacks and 6.5 TFLs among 27 tackles. Sayles started his career as a defensive end but bulked up to play defensive tackle for his final two seasons. Sayles was named a team captain for those final two years. He ranked 10th in PRP and 19th in run-stop percentage. That combination of production, strength and athleticism makes Sayles one of the more underrated prospects in this draft.
Isaac Rochell, Notre Dame (6-4 1/4, 280; 4.89 40; DNP shuttle; 25 bench): Rochelle was a three-year starter who rounded out his career with 56 tackles, including one sack and seven tackles for losses. As a junior, he tallied 63 tackles — most by an Irish defensive lineman since 2007 — with 7.5 for losses. He also had 7.5 TFLs as a sophomore. That gave him 22 TFLs in his last three years. During his final season, he was 14th in PRP and 12th in run-stop percentage. He rushed the passer better at Senior Bowl week than he did throughout his time at Notre Dame. PFF’s data also show Rochell is a lousy tackler. His bread-and-butter is stopping the run through effort and strength. In its scouting report, NFL.com compared him to Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick by the Packers in 2011 who never played for Green Bay but has 20 career starts and signed a four-year, $13.4 million deal with New England.
D.J. Jones, Mississippi (6-0 5/8, 319; 5.04 40; 4.65 shuttle; 25 bench): After starting his career with two seasons at East Mississippi Community College, Jones was a force in the middle of the Rebels’ defensive line. In two seasons, he compiled 70 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for losses and six sacks — including 30 tackles, two sacks and three TFLs as a senior. By force we mean brute force, as he was one of the team’s strongest players with 460-plus pounds on the bench press and 700-plus pounds on the squat. He wins with natural leverage. However, he ranked last in PFF’s pass-rushing metric and 18th in run-stop percentage, so the whole wasn’t equal to the sum of its parts.
Potentially off the board
Since the switch to the 3-4 scheme in 2009, GM Ted Thompson has drafted 13 defensive linemen. Eleven of them did the 20-yard shuttle. Their average time was 4.55 seconds. Only two were slower than 4.65: Khyri Thornton (4.76), who didn’t last long, and B.J. Raji (4.69), who was barely off the pace at 337 pounds. On the current roster, Daniels and Ringo did not run the shuttle due to injuries. Lowry was at 4.38 seconds, Guion 4.50, Clark 4.62 and Jean Francois and Price at 4.72. With that history, we ruled out anyone running 4.80 seconds or slower. That took off three of Day 2 options: Auburn’s Montravius Adams (4.89), Clemson’s Carlos Watkins (4.88) and LSU’s Davon Godchaux (4.91).
The bottom line
There’s something for everyone in this draft class. Looking at Green Bay’s current crop of defensive linemen, Daniels and Clark will be the No. 1 duo in the nickel package. It has versatile Dean Lowry and run-stoppers Guion and Jean Francois in reserve. Just based on that, a pass-rushing threat might be the target.
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.