PACKER DRAFT 2009 DEFENSIVE LINE Jerry Gilbert 3/26/2009
As of today the roster of the Green Bay Packers contains only two players who will probably be part of a six to seven man defensive line rotation when the season begins. Only defensive end Cullen Jenkins and nose tackle Ryan Pickett could now be entered in pen as likely starters. This basic numerical reality suggests that at least two draft choices should be used to add candidates for the front three on the all-new Packer Defense. Obviously, the addition of a free agent or two could affect both the whether and the when of drafting defensive linemen, but happily there are some candidates for most positions throughout the draft eligible pool.
Beginning with defensive end, the Packers will be looking for a different type of player than in the past. Recent draft choices Michael Montgomery 6-5 273 and Jeremy Thompson 6-4 270, are not the right body types to thrive in the 3-4, although Thompson will compete to be an outside linebacker in the system and to back up Kampman or Jenkins when they go to the 4-3. The surprising re-signing of Montgomery suggests that he will also be in the mix at defensive end.. The best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL are mostly former tackles because the proto-typical defensive end is about 6-5 and weighs 300 pounds. Few collegiate ends fit the criteria.
However, there is one such player, with first or second round ability, who played defensive end in college in a top conference. Tyson Jackson 6-4 295 LSU was a four-year starter and important component in the dominating LSU defense. Unfortunately, Jackson would be a reach at pick 9 and will not be available when Green Bay makes its second round pick. However, should they trade down in round 1, Jackson, a ready to go defensive end, would be a possible selection. At the other end of the draft in the sixth or seventh round, there is another collegiate defensive end with the right size. From the small school ranks, the Packers might consider Northern Iowa product Everette Pedescleaux 6-6 305, who originally played at Division I Minnesota. Pedescleaux totaled 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season and was named third team All-American. Lots of scouts showed up for the recent Northern Iowa Pro Day. Possessed with ideal height and weight, this 3-4 defensive end prospect will be drafted by some team.
A college tackle who could be a good fit at defensive end is Ziggy Hood 6-3 298, Missouri. He may be drafted a few choices before Green Bay selects in Round 2, but the Packers may have a shot to pick him. Although he only played tackle in college and at the Senior Bowl, Hood is solid against the run and possesses some, but not elite, pass rushing talent. Longtime scout Frank Cooney says that it is Hood's "size technique and tenacity" that make him a good prospect. In 2006, Ziggy Hood began the season with 13 tackles including 4 for a loss and 3 sacks in the first three games. He left game 3 with a broken foot. He returned three games later and finished the season. This is a tough young man. As a junior he was nearly unstoppable; however, his production was reduced last year because teams schemed against him in 2008. Hood appears to be the type of complimentary consistent player who could thrive under Defensive Coordinator Cam Cameron in Green Bay.
Also a possibility in the second to third round is Fili Moala 6-4 303 USC. Moala, who was also a college tackle, and offers the size and at least adequate speed to play defensive end in the 3-4. Moala, a cousin of Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata, has room to grow and could swing over to back up in the middle if he can add some weight reasonably soon. He was a two-year starter for the Trojans averaging 26 tackles and 3 sacks per season. Moala was disruptive enough at tackle to draw double teams, and that is part of the reason that three USC linebackers have the statistics to make them high draft choices. He may not be as quick as one would prefer, but the potential to become a nose tackle makes him an intriguing prospect.
If Green Bay waits till a later round to look for a defensive end, two types of players will be available, undersized defensive ends who might have room to grow, and lower rated defensive tackles. There is another player from Southern Cal who fits into the first category. Kyle Moore 6-5 270 was also a starter and the team leader with 6 sacks last season as a senior. At his height there should be room to add weight. Up the coast at Stanford is defensive end Panel Egboh 6-6 267 who also has room to grow. Egboh is strong at the point of attack but not a great pass rusher. Some scouts think he is well suited to play defensive end in the 3-4. Egboh did not play football until college, which could mean that he has room to learn as well as to grow. In this context we should also mention You Tube star Jarron Gilbert 6-5 287 San Jose State who, along with a great last name and internet celebrity status, proved himself at the East West Shrine practices, where he was described as fluid and strong. Gilbert recorded 22 tackles for loss in 2008 which was number one in the nation. A college tackle that may be worth a look on day two is Darryl Richard 6-3 304 Georgia Tech who started for two years and is considered an intelligent player with size and speed. He registered 10 tackles for loss and 4 sacks last season. From the other coast, Rashon Harris 6-4 300 Oregon started for only one year but he was productive with 9 tackles for loss and 3 sacks to go with 47 total tackles. At his recent pro-day, Harris ran a 4.88 and a 5.04 forty, which inconsistency helps explain why he will be available late in the second day.
Turning the focus to nose tackle, there are not many candidates. A small school player who is included in most nose tackle prospect lists, Sammie Lee Hill of Stillman College has the right size at 6-4 330, but dig a little deeper and the picture changes. In his junior year Hill was constantly double-teamed and his production sank. As a senior, he was moved to defensive end, and he dominated the small college opposition. This is a very raw project, but starting out, he is more likely to contribute at end than at nose tackle. Likely to be drafted slightly higher is Michigan nose tackle Terrance Taylor 6-1 314. Taylor was considered a top prospect after his junior season but regressed as a senior and did not rebound at the Eat West Shrine practices. On the contrary he was the subject of much criticism in one on one drills during the week. To his credit, he made some plays in the actual game.
Though slightly undersized at 6-1 310 Texas Defensive tackle Roy Miller was, for the Longhorns, the blocker eating unsung hero of a fine defensive line. The headlines recently centered on a trip by Green Bay GM Ted Thompson to observe OLB candidate Brian Orapko at the Texas Pro Day. We can be certain that he also took a long look at Miller. Noteworthy for Miller in measurable traits is a 4.98 forty and 36 bench reps, both at close to the top among defensive tackles. Miller also impressed scouts at the East West Shrine event. It is possible that the scheme played at Texas disguised the talent Miller may bring as a pro. He seems to be rated in the four to six round area could be a good value.
Teams looking for a nose tackle who can contribute immediately will probably turn to one of the two senior defensive tackle for Boston College. Turning first to the lower rated prospect, Ron Brace 6-3 226 has the size and showed some production with nine tackles for loss and 3 sacks. On the other hand, he was playing next to B.J. Raji who was frequently double-teamed. Brace had the opportunity to excel and did not take it. That could be because he was bothered by a back injury all season. A back problem for a 300 pound plus nose tackle is a serious issue and could affect his draft status. Moreover, the problem with projecting him as a nose tackle is that his only experience has been next to a classic nose tackle. Brace is a defensive tackle prospect that may not be ideally suited to play the nose in a 3-4.
The top prospect is B J Raji 6-2 334 who despite facing double teams registered 16 tackles for loss and 8 sacks in 2008. At the Senior Bowl practices Raji stood above all the rest and few offensive linemen could match him. However, in the actual game his impact was minimal. The question is whether Raji, who due to academic reasons missed the entire 2007 season, and who was suspended for punching an opponent during a game, is a player a team wants to draft at pick 9. However, if they pass on Raji, there may not be another player who is ready to contribute at nose tackle in year one.
With the initial free agency period now completed, the Packers have not added a veteran defensive lineman during free agency. In addition, subject to resolving his issues with criminal charges in Texas, Johnny Jolly is a likely part of the rotation at defensive end. From the existing roster, Justin Harrell, Alfred Malone and Mike Montgomery are also in the running for roster spots. Street free agent Fred Bledsoe 6-3 329 is the reserve nose tackle for now. It would be a shock should the draft be completed without the addition of a couple of defensive line prospects from the 2009 College Draft.