2014 Packers draft preview: Defensive line
MAY 01, 2014 6:00a ET
TODAY'S POSITION: Defensive line
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 5
On the roster
The Packers' roster certainly isn't hurting for defensive linemen, at least not in quantity. As it stands before this year's draft, Green Bay has six full-time defensive linemen (B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Jerel Worthy, Josh Boyd and Letroy Guion), plus two players who will spend part of their time with their hand in the dirt (Julius Peppers and Mike Neal). That doesn't even include the possibility that the Packers could still re-sign unrestricted free agents Johnny Jolly or Ryan Pickett.
Starting with Raji, the 337-pound former first-round pick continued his downward trend last season. However, Green Bay re-signed Raji to a one-year contract this offseason with the idea of having him play nose tackle, a combination of events that could get the best out of him in 2014.
Daniels is a rising star, finishing second on the team in sacks last season with 6.5. Less than one-third of Daniels' snaps came on running plays, but he actually performed very well in those situations, too. With an increase in playing time next season, Daniels could emerge as a major game-changing player.
Jones didn't live up to first-round pick billing in his first year with the Packers, but he has tons of potential and could have a big Year 2 ahead of him. Boyd outplayed fellow rookie Jones late in the season, with the fifth-round pick taking snaps away from the player who was drafted 141 spots earlier.
Worthy had a lost sophomore season as he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered on the last regular-season game of 2012. This will be an important year for Worthy to prove his value to the defense, because Green Bay has had many players pass him on the depth chart over the past year. Guion, 26, was signed as an unrestricted free agent away from the Minnesota Vikings. At 303 pounds, he'll provide some versatility that the Packers were looking for.
Peppers, the team's biggest acquisition since 2006 with Charles Woodson, will be part of the defense's elephant position. He'll spend some time on the defensive line and some time standing up at outside linebacker. It will be the same story with Mike Neal, who played outside linebacker more than what Green Bay envisioned last season.
Last five defensive linemen drafted
2013 -- Josh Boyd, Mississippi State: fifth round (167th overall) -- still with the Packers
2013 -- Datone Jones, UCLA: first round (26th overall) -- still with the Packers
2012 -- Mike Daniels, Iowa: fourth round (132nd overall) -- still with the Packers
2012 -- Jerel Worthy, Michigan State: second round (51st overall) -- still with the Packers
2011 -- Lawrence Guy, Arizona State: seventh round (233rd overall) -- now with San Diego Chargers
Philosophy at the position
General manager Ted Thompson has gone heavy on defensive linemen in the past two drafts. It had clearly become a deficiency on the roster, and Thompson has been attempting to do something about it. He may have found a star in Daniels, and the jury is still out on Jones. If Boyd and Worthy both become serviceable contributors, Thompson will have done fairly well in replenishing this group.
However, despite already having as many as seven or eight defensive linemen all practically guaranteed a spot on the 2014 roster, Thompson may not be able to be done just yet. If Raji performs at a high level, he could price himself out of Green Bay a year from now. If Raji doesn't perform well, it might be time for the Packers to move on from him. Guion could just be a one-year player and isn't likely to blossom into a star in his seventh NFL season.
Therefore, if Thompson dives back into the defensive line during this year's draft, he'd be doing it more as part of planning ahead than of needing more bodies in 2014.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Louis Nix, junior, Notre Dame (6-2, 331). The concerns with Nix are mostly medical related, having undergone surgery for a torn left meniscus last season. His personality is almost as big as his body, and while he's not a very versatile defender, Nix should definitely be able to stop the run at a high level in the NFL. Perhaps the Packers decide to have him learn behind Raji for a year and then give Nix the job in 2015. There would be plenty of logic to support that possibility. Nix could be considered a reach at No. 21, though.
Nix on what he feels like after losing 23 pounds recently: "My stomach doesn't stick out as much. That's kind of nice. I like that part. My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Kareem Martin, senior, North Carolina (6-6, 272). Martin looks great in workout situations, that's for sure. He has everything a team could want between his height, weight, length and athletic ability. Martin was a team captain and rarely missed a game due to injury. However, he's a relatively average NFL prospect on film. Perhaps Martin will be able to use all of his measurables to improve his on-field game in the pros.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Cassius Marsh, senior, UCLA (6-4, 252). Marsh would be a project as far as fitting into the Packers defense. One glance at his weight of 252 pounds has Marsh a lot closer to Clay Matthews' size than Datone Jones' size. But if Green Bay believes it can find a spot on the field for Marsh, he'd be an interesting choice given how much energy he plays with and the level of effort he consistently provided in college.
FOXSports.com's draft expert Peter Schrager says:
"Nix is a big body in the B.J. Raji mold. He's more than 340 pounds and carries his weight well. Not a huge pass rusher but will stuff the run up the gut. Coming off an injury, which could cause some concerns. I could see him in green and yellow. Martin won't be mistaken for J.J. Watt anytime soon, but he's a good fit as a 3-4 DE in Dom Capers' defense. Nice player at North Carolina who's only helped his draft stock in workouts and interviews. A 6-6, 270 pass rusher who can also stop the run, he's only scratched the surface thus far. The sleeper I like is Marsh. Teammate Anthony Barr gets all the press, but Marsh is quite a pass rusher and run stopper, too. Marsh played both inside and outside at UCLA and could probably serve as a 3-4 OLB, too."
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