Left defensive end
Johnny Jolly held this spot last year but would have been replaced by Pickett (with B.J. Raji replacing Pickett at nose tackle), even without Jolly's indefinite suspension. Pickett adapted seamlessly to his new role last season and probably will do the same this year, since he'll be facing more one-on-one blocks than in the past. A team-first leader, there's little doubt that the 340-pound Pickett (give or take after a big meal) will be the biggest end in the league. Good luck getting a first down by running at him on third-and-1. His combination of heft and leverage are practically unbeatable. Where the Packers will suffer a drop-off is when opposing offenses throw the ball. To be sure, Pickett won't be on the field on third-and-10, but he'll be on the field on first-and-10. He had no sacks in 13 games last year and only 2.5 in his four seasons in Green Bay. Jolly wasn't much of a rusher (one sack, nine quarterback hits last year compared to zero and four for Pickett), but he did have a knack for batting down balls that will be missed. Neal, the second-round pick out of Purdue, figures to be the top backup. Most fans have heard all about his Herculean strength, but the Packers like his quick feet and intelligence just as much. According to the NFL's official pre-draft biography, Neal allowed just 2 yards and no touchdowns on 31 rushing plays directed at him last season. Plus, he had back-to-back seasons of 5.5 sacks. If Harrell can stay healthy, he'll add another banger against the run game because of his size and strength. They'll need one of those guys to step up because Jolly played almost 79 percent of the defensive snaps last year. That's a lot of snaps to be losing.
Coach Mike McCarthy, on moving Pickett to end: "We've had a chance to go back and evaluate our schemes and concepts that we used last year, how we can better utilize our players, moving some players around to give us some flexibility to make sure we have those options throughout the course of a 16-game season, and that's definitely one of them, trying to get Ryan more on the field. I think it just says a lot about him as a person and his flexibility as a player. I think with Ryan being down in the trenches, sometimes people lose sight. He has exceptional foot quickness and he definitely has the ability to get out there and play a five-technique."
Could be better
The Packers are going to field a championship contender, but just how much better would they have been had they not blown the 16th pick of the 2007 draft on Harrell, who hasn't started a game since the wild-card win over Seattle during his rookie season? Five Pro Bowlers were selected in the 30 picks after Harrell was picked, including safeties Michael Griffin (No. 19) and Brandon Meriweather (No. 24) and linebacker Jon Beason (No. 25).
Could be worse
OK, Harrell has been a bust. But he hasn't been the only one from that class. Four defensive linemen were selected before Harrell in 2007. Tampa Bay gave up on No. 4 pick Gaines Adams, who tragically died during the offseason. Atlanta's Jamaal Anderson (No. 8) has been a huge disappointment and has been demoted after starting the first three years. Houston's Amobi Okoye (No. 10) is a three-year starter with just 2.5 sacks since a good rookie year, and the owner just called him out for not having "that tiger in him yet." Adam Carriker (No. 13) was drafted by the Rams and missed last year with a knee injury. The no-talent Rams traded him to Washington for a couple of late-round picks; the Redskins will use him as a backup.
Right defensive end
DE Cullen Jenkins
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
That the Packers are toying with using Jenkins as an outside linebacker to rush the passer at times speaks volumes to just how much he means in Dom Capers' master plan. Jenkins was clearly the best defensive lineman last season because of his ability to play the run and the pass. Playing with much more gap discipline in Capers' 3-4 than in Bob Sanders' 4-3, Jenkins' solid play and health was perhaps the biggest individual reason to explain how the Packers went from allowing 4.6 yards per carry in 2008 to 3.6 in 2009. Jenkins was a one-man army in 2008, which ended after four games with a torn pectoral. He had 2.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The defense went down the toilet without him. Playing all 16 games last year, he tallied 4.5 sacks and a third-ranked 25 hits. His only problem was getting the quarterback to the turf, most notably in the Pittsburgh game, when Ben Roethlisberger somehow slipped out of Jenkins' grasp to escape a game-ending sack. There's depth here, too, which is good, because Jenkins played 75 percent of the snaps last year and he tends to get nicked up. Wynn, after a year in the Packers' strength program, looks like a different player after being mostly invisible last season as sixth-round pick. Wilson could help on passing downs, considering his 27 sacks in four seasons at East Carolina.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, on Jenkins: "I think if you take a look at our game tapes from last year, he's got games in there where I've never seen a defensive tackle rush like him. His biggest problem last year is he didn't finish the sacks. If he would have finished sacks and got the quarterback down, he would have led the league (among defensive linemen) — maybe even battle for the top of the league (overall). He's so quick and so explosive and can do so many different things like that."
Could be better
It could be a lot worse. Even though the Packers lost a starting-caliber player in Jolly and have gotten nothing out of Harrell, defensive end is arguably the deepest and most talented position on the team. The Patriots traded All-Pro Richard Seymour and never replaced him, which the Ravens exploited in the playoff game. At least the Packers have options without Jolly.
Could be worse
Defensive linemen who can play the run and rush the passer are so hard to find. As general manager Ted Thompson likes to say, the Good Lord only put so many of those guys on Earth. That's why guys like Albert Haynesworth get budget-busting deals. Big and agile generally don't go hand in hand. So, imagine the Packers' good fortune to have found Jenkins as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
On a scale of 1 to 10 ...
The starters are potentially the best in the league, assuming Raji plays up to expectations as the nose tackle. The unit as a whole is potentially the best in the league, as well, but that's dependent on at least one or two from the group of Neal, Wilson, Wynn and Harrell become reliable backups. The injury histories of Pickett and Jenkins suggest one or both will miss time, so it would be huge if Neal and Harrell can produce. If Raji produces and the depth shows up, this unit is much, much stronger than just an 8.0.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.