Draft preview: Packers may target long-term DT solution
There were times this offseason when the Green Bay Packers' defensive line resembled anything but a model of stability.
B.J. Raji missed all of last season with a torn right biceps. Letroy Guion didn't miss a beat replacing Raji, but a marijuana arrest in February put his future with the team in doubt. When free agency started, it was possible neither nose tackle would be with the Packers in 2015.
General manager Ted Thompson went the opposite route, re-signing both to one-year contracts. Raji (337 pounds) and Guion (315) add beef to the interior defensive line. The Packers hope they will help solidify their run defense in 2015, no easy feat given their potential holes at inside linebacker.
2015 NFL DRAFT: Complete Packers draft coverage
But Raji and Guion are not long-term solutions. When free agency opens next year, the Packers could face the same scenario they saw in March. There is no guarantee Raji and Guion will be back in 2016, or that both will make it through 2015 uninjured.
The Packers have some depth at defensive tackle with Josh Boyd and Mike Pennel, but neither project as a long-term starter. So while it's almost certain the Packers will draft an inside linebacker and cornerback early, Thompson could use the team's 30th overall pick on a defensive tackle — something that wouldn't be a surprise given the GM's history of drafting big, athletic players in the first round.
"If (Florida State nose tackle) Eddie Goldman is sitting there as a long-term solution for them, that might be someone they go to," NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis said.
The draft has plenty of big, athletic defensive linemen slotted for the first round. Many analysts project USC tackle Leonard Williams as the best player in the draft, while Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton and Texas tackle Malcom Brown are first-round locks.
Goldman may be the lone defensive tackle with a consensus first-round grade available when the Packers are on the clock. He fits the mold of what Thompson looks for in a nose tackle. At 6-foot-5, Goldman weighed 336 pounds at the NFL combine in February. He also ran a 5.28-second, 40-yard dash.
Raji was 6-foot-2, 337 pounds and ran a 5.23-second combine 40 before the Packers drafted him No. 9 overall in 2009.
As a pass rusher, Goldman isn't expected to offer much burst or production. But he has the potential to be an elite, two-gap nose tackle who could immediately improve the Packers' rush defense and be a long-term upgrade over Raji and Guion.
Goldman's limitations rushing the quarterback could lower his value, but he's projected to be drafted anywhere between 15 and 32. Goldman could be on the board when No. 30 arrives, or he could be long gone.
Behind Goldman, there isn't a defensive tackle with a consensus first-round grade. Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips is probably next in line, but chances are he'll be the first defensive tackle drafted on Day 2.
Phillips is among the most physically gifted defensive tackles in this year's draft, along with Carl Davis of Iowa. Both blend superior size and rare athleticism. Phillips (6-5, 329) ran a 5.17 40-yard dash at the combine, a time consistent with players who weigh 30 pounds lighter. Davis is a tad smaller at 6-5 and 320, and a tad faster with a 5.07 40.
Despite their physical tools, Phillips and Davis could slide out of the first round because of questionable motors. NFL draft analysts have lamented their inconsistent effort.
"We see plays out of him that are big-time plays," Charles Davis said of Phillips, "but you don't see it with a consistent basis yet."
Said Mayock of Carl Davis: "You watch the tape and you go, 'Man, he's around a lot of plays, but he's not making all the ones you want to see.' He's big, he's got athletic movement skills. He ought to make more plays. Then he went to the Senior Bowl where, on the one-on-one stuff, he looked great.
"So Carl Davis has first-round size and athletic ability. He's just got to put it together more consistently."
The Packers did their research on both players. Phillips said he interviewed with the team at the combine, while Davis spoke with Packers personnel at the Senior Bowl.
For Phillips, the interview came with some familiarity. Sitting in the room was new Packers defensive front assistant Jerry Montgomery, who was Phillips' position coach at Oklahoma.
"It'll be interesting to see where he fits into what we do," Montgomery said of Phillips before the combine, "but he can play a three technique, a nose, and he can play a four (technique). I wouldn't ever put him on an edge outside there, but he can play a four in the run game."
Davis would also have some familiarity with the Packers, who drafted former teammate Mike Daniels in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. At the combine, Davis said he would be excited to reunite with his former teammate.
Davis' stock got a big boost at the Senior Bowl, where a panel of NFL scouts voted him the Most Outstanding Practice Player of the Week. It's unlikely Davis will slip into the first round, but his secure placement in the second round is a byproduct of his successful pre-draft process — showing potential for what he could become rather than the doubts that crop up in the film.
"I thought he had a really impressive week," former Cleveland Browns general manager and current Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said. "A lot of people were — I wouldn't say down on him — but they were disappointed. They didn't think he played particularly well at Iowa this year, and he showed up in Mobile and really had a strong week. So he helped himself.
"He's a big body that can probably play nose or defensive end in a 3-4. He showed a little more pass rush than maybe people thought he had down here in an individual one-on-one matchup."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.
Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett doesn't have ideal size, but his athletic ability and off-field intangibles have him moving up draft boards.
Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips' stock hasn't fallen much, but he could slip out of the first round based on concerns about his motor.
Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is undersized for his position, but his athletic ability could make him a productive pass rusher as a one-gap defensive tackle.
Top 10 defensive linemen
1. Leonard Williams, USC
Height: 6-5. Weight: 302. Class: Junior. 40-yard dash: 4.97. Stats: 80 tackles, 91/2 tackles for loss, 7 sacks. Projection: Round 1 (Top 10).
•Arguably the most talented player in the draft regardless of position, Williams has the versatility to be an elite defensive tackle or defensive end.
2. Danny Shelton, Washington
Height: 6-2. Weight: 339. Class: Senior. 40-yard dash: 5.64. Stats: 93 tackles, 161/2 tackles for loss, 9 sacks. Projection: Round 1.
•Shelton doesn't have good speed, but he has every tool to be a two-gap nose tackle.
3. Malcom Brown, Texas
Height: 6-2. Weight: 319. Class: Junior. 40-yard dash: 5.05. Stats: 72 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 61/2 sacks. Projection: Round 1.
•Brown projects more as a gap-shooting defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense than a run-stuffing nose in a 3-4.
4. Arik Armstead, Oregon
Height: 6-7. Weight: 292. Class: Junior. 40-yard dash: 5.1. Stats: 46 tackles, 51/2 tackles for loss, 21/2 sacks. Projection: Round 1.
•A former basketball player at Oregon, Armstead is built like a power forward but must further develop before his technique matches his physique.
5. Eddie Goldman, Florida State
Height: 6-4. Weight: 336. Class: Junior. 40-yard dash: 5.28. Stats: 35 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks. Projection: Round 1
•Goldman may need time to develop, but has ideal size to project as a two-gap, run-stuffing nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.
6. Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
Height: 6-5. Weight: 329. Class: Sophomore. 40-yard dash: 5.17. Stats: 39 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks. Projection: Rounds 1-2.
•Coached by new Packers defensive front assistant Jerry Montgomery at Oklahoma, Phillips has a questionable motor but a mixture of size and athleticism that's hard to find.
7. Preston Smith, Mississippi State
Height: 6-5. Weight: 271. Class: Senior. 40-yard dash: 4.74. Stats: 48 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 9 sacks. Projection: Round 2.
•Not the most explosive pass rusher, but Smith has an arsenal of moves to get after the quarterback and can hold the edge against the run.
8. Carl Davis, Iowa
Height: 6-5. Weight: 320. Class: Senior. 40-yard dash: 5.07. Stats: 36 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks. Projection: Round 2.
•Like Phillips, Davis has drawn questions about his motor from scouts, but he helped himself with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.
9. Michael Bennett, Ohio State
Height: 6-2. Weight: 293. Class: Senior. 40-yard dash: 5.04. Stats: 41 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7 sacks. Projection: Rounds 2-3.
•Despite being undersized, Bennett is a productive rusher from the interior and anchored the national champion Buckeyes' defensive line.
10. Grady Jarrett, Clemson
Height: 6-1. Weight: 304. Class: Senior. 40-yard dash: 5.06. Stats: 45 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 11/2 sacks. Projection: Rounds 2-3.
•Jarrett was productive at Clemson, but his lack of size could limit him at the next level.