Packers still need replacement for Jenkins

Today is the ninth day of two weeks of Green Bay Packers coverage leading up to the April 26 beginning of the NFL draft.

April 12: Five best first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
Today: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Ted Thompson’s draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick

TODAY’S POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Importance (1-to-10 scale): 8

On the roster

B.J. Raji, in his third NFL season, was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2011. However, his production was actually down from 2010. That was in large part due to the fact that Raji was overused in 2011, having to play far more downs than he had previously. During the season, coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that Raji was dealing with an increased workload. But at only 25 years old, Raji will be an anchor for the Packers’ defense for years to come. Perhaps he continues at nose tackle, but Raji has the ability to play the end in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense.

Ryan Pickett is the veteran of the group at age 32. He’s a steady presence who has proven to be quite durable, missing only four games in the past three seasons with the Packers. He’s not much of a pass rusher, though, and that’s an area where Green Bay is sorely lacking.

Mike Neal is facing high expectations considering he was a second-round pick in 2010. However, after missing nearly all of last season due to injuries, he’s yet to produce at the level of his potential. Neal will begin the 2012 season with a four-game suspension from the NFL due to a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Jarius Wynn started next to Raji and Pickett throughout most of 2011, but his 19 tackles and three sacks is a relatively small amount considering the amount of opportunities he was given.

C.J. Wilson has served in a backup role in his first two NFL seasons and has collected one sack and 44 tackles.

This offseason, the Packers have added two more defensive linemen in Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir. While the hope of general manager Ted Thompson is that one or both are able to step in and compete for important roles on the team, it remains to be seen if either is the difference-maker that Green Bay’s defense needs in order to reverse its poor 2011 season.

The loss of Cullen Jenkins in free agency a year ago still haunts the Packers’ defense (and the team’s fan base).

Last five defensive linemen drafted

2011–Lawrence Guy, Arizona State: seventh round (233rd overall)–still with the Packers
2010–Mike Neal, Purdue: second round (56th overall)–still with the Packers
2010–C.J. Wilson: seventh round (230th overall)–still with the Packers
2009–B.J. Raji: first round (9th overall)–still with the Packers
2009–Jarius Wynn: sixth round (182nd overall)–still with the Packers

Philosophy at the position

Thompson has invested heavily in the defensive line in recent years. Unfortunately, there are still holes that need to be filled. Raji has worked out well, but that pick was necessitated partly because of the failure three years earlier of taking Justin Harrell in the first round. Neal has been unable to get on the field much in his two years, and to this point, that second-round pick has not worked out.

Given the team’s substantial need to add talent next to Raji and Pickett, Thompson needs to keep plugging away until he finds the right person to replace what Jenkins brought during Green Bay’s Super Bowl-winning season in 2010.

Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)

Courtney Upshaw, senior, Alabama (6-2, 272). Upshaw is considered by most to be more of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense like Green Bay’s. However, he is listed on many draft boards as a defensive linemen, so he’s included him here. Bottom line: If Upshaw is available when the Packers are up at No. 28, he will be the pick. Upshaw had 9.5 sacks for the national champions at Alabama, so he’s been productive at the highest level in college football. Upshaw is injury-free and fits nearly every criteria that the Packers are looking for. Keep in mind, though, while he’s listed as an end here, he will likely be an outside linebacker in Green Bay if drafted.

Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)

Billy Winn, senior, Boise State (6-4, 294). Winn would be a bit of a reach late in the second round for the Packers, but if he slips to the end of the third round and Green Bay has not yet addressed its defensive line, watch out for Winn. He is a defensive tackle who can play defensive end in the Packers’ 3-4 defense. Winn doesn’t do anything exceptionally well but does everything fairly well without any glaring weaknesses. Late in the third round, Winn would be a very good value pick for Green Bay at a position where the team needs help.

Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)

Jared Crick, senior, Nebraska (6-4, 279). Crick is considered to be a terrific fit as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense like the Packers use under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. He has dealt with quite a few injuries throughout his college career, but he’s a high-character, high-motor player whose draft stock will be negatively affected by his durability. If Crick is still on the board when Green Bay has three picks late in the fourth round, the former Cornhusker could be a Packer.

FOXSports.com draft expert Taylor Jones says:

“I struggle to see Upshaw playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense, but he’d be a great bookend opposite of Clay Matthews. I know Baltimore would be very interested (at No. 29) if Upshaw fell one spot further. Upshaw would only fall to the Packers because of greater needs on other teams. San Diego at No. 18 is the next spot that Upshaw needs to pass in order to fall to Green Bay.

“Defensive tackle is the deepest position in the draft. I’ve got the Packers taking a running back in the second round, but they could easily take a defensive tackle there.

“I like Raji inside, but I think they can kick him out to the 5-technique at defensive end if they want.”

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