Position analysis: When the 2013 season ended, most of the Packers defensive line was headed into unrestricted free agency. When the primary signing period was over, B.J. Raji returned on a prove-it one-year, $4 million deal; C.J. Wilson had departed to join the Oakland Raiders, and two more starters – aging veteran Ryan Pickett, and veteran Johnny Jolly, coming off neck surgery – remained unsigned. With young players they like – 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, 2013 fifth-round pick Josh Boyd and emerging Mike Daniels, who had 6.5 regular-season sacks and another in the playoffs – and the addition of Julius Peppers, who’ll play a hybrid role, the position is in some flux. Raji is moving back to nose tackle, which could resurrect his career or may just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And while Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team would monitor Pickett and Jolly, neither is a sure thing to return – Pickett because of his age (34), Jolly because of the spinal fusion surgery he underwent.
The one player who could have an impact after basically missing all of last season while coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee suffered in the 2012 season finale is Jerel Worthy, a second-round pick in 2012 who was up-and-down as a rookie before his injury. Should he become a significant contributor, the position has better depth than it appears.
Draft strategy: General manager Ted Thompson is fond of saying that the “Good Lord only made so many big guys.” The Packers have drafted plenty of those big guys, with mixed results. Since 1997, the team has taken 26 defensive linemen, including first-round picks Vonnie Holliday (No. 19 overall, 1998), Jamal Reynolds (No. 10 overall, 2001), Justin Harrell (No. 16 overall, 2007), Raji (No. 9 overall, 2009), and Jones (No. 26 overall, 2013). It’s entirely possible that the Packers will go back-to-back on the defensive line with their first-round pick this year, at No. 26, just as they went with offensive tackles in 2010 (Bryan Bulaga) and 2011 (Derek Sherrod). Thompson enters the draft with nine overall selections, and while he says he avoids drafting for need, don’t be surprised if by draft’s end he’s added two more big guys for the defensive front.
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