GREEN BAY, Wis. — As Jerel Worthy cleaned out his locker Sunday, the Packers’ rookie defensive lineman insisted he didn’t need surgery on his injured left knee.
Two days later, Worthy had undergone knee surgery, according to a league source. Worthy’s recovery could last into spring, potentially keeping him off the field when organized team activities begin.
“From what I know, it’s a bone bruise; kind of a serious bone bruise,” Worthy said Sunday. “Coach (Mike) McCarthy is very adamant about not putting guys out there that aren’t going to be able to contribute to the team. I had to sit back, relax and what I’m trying to do is make sure that I’m ready to go when that time comes next year.”
The Packers traded up to draft Worthy in the second round with the 51st overall pick. After a relatively strong showing throughout training camp, Worthy’s rookie season didn’t live up to his high draft position.
Worthy started four games and finished with 2.5 sacks, 11 tackles and one forced fumble, but his playing time dropped as the season progressed. Through Week 7, Worthy was playing more than half of Green Bay’s defensive snaps in each game. But, according to the rating system of ProFootballFocus.com, Worthy had only one game with positive contributions in those seven.
During his final seven games prior to his season-ending knee injury in Week 17, Worthy played only 34 percent of the snaps on defense.
“The game is a lot faster than it was in college, and I think I transitioned pretty well,” Worthy said.
Worthy graded out as a first-round talent, but concerns about his work ethic and desire to go all-out on each play led to him falling to late in the second round.
At 6-foot-2, 308 pounds, Worthy has the strength and quickness for his size to be very good in the NFL. With some young defensive players, it can take a couple seasons before figuring out how to maximize their talent against strong opposing offensive linemen every week. Still only 22 years old, Worthy has time to live up to his projected first-round-pick status.
However, after one year in the NFL, Worthy has yet to play at a consistently high level. ProFootballFocus rated him as the Packers’ third-worst defensive player and worst among the team’s defensive linemen. Worthy was decent against the run but struggled in pass rush and with penalties.
Green Bay has plenty of solid defensive linemen, so in order for him to break through and be on the field as often as nose tackle B.J. Raji, he’ll have to pick up his performance in Year 2. First, though, that means overcoming offseason knee surgery. Worthy will have to find other ways to improve in the upcoming months because he won’t be able to take part in any of the workouts and activities that his healthy teammates will be able to.