Packers position outlook: Defensive line

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
12:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We’re in the second week of our position-by-position look at what the Green Bay Packers have and what they need.

We can revisit this process before the draft based on what -- if anything -- general manager Ted Thompson does in free agency.

So far, we’ve looked at quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles and centers/guards.

Next up, defensive line

2014 free agents: Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson.

Daniels
The good: Perhaps the Packers’ best defensive player in 2013 was second-year defensive tackle Mike Daniels. He played mostly in the sub packages as one of the two interior linemen and ranked second on the team with 6.5 sacks. Though he’s short (6-0), he bulked up and at 300 pounds might also be stout enough next year to play more as a base defensive end. Rookie fifth-round pick Josh Boyd showed some signs of being disruptive during his increased playing time late in the season. Pickett showed remarkable durability for his age (34), playing in every game for the second straight season, while Jolly’s comeback from a three-year NFL absence was both inspiring and important to the run defense until a late-season neck injury ended his year.

Raji
The bad: In the final year of his rookie contract, Raji did little to warrant the big-money deal the Packers reportedly offered (and he turned down) early in the season. His return is far from a guarantee, and it’s possible he will decide to hit the market and try to find a defensive system that gives him more freedom to jet up the field and rush the passer. First-round pick Datone Jones was supposed to be a three-down player who could both stop the run and pressure the quarterback. He did neither. He rarely played in the base 3-4 defense and his snaps in the sub packages dwindled as the season went along. His athleticism that showed up during offseason workouts and early in training camp never carried over. By the end of the season, he was playing less than Boyd.

The money: With four free agents, there’s not a lot of money committed to this position for 2014. Daniels, Jones and Boyd are all under their rookie deals, although Daniels (who counts just $645,146 against this year’s salary cap) might be in line for an extension at some point in 2014. Raji reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer last year and after his so-so season, there’s reason to wonder whether anyone (including the Packers) would offer that kind of deal now.

Draft priority: The Packers hope Jones develops into the playmaker they thought he could be when they drafted him, but it’s not unprecedented to use a first-round pick on the same position for a second straight season. Thompson did so in 2010 and 2011, when he took offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod.

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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