The Green Bay Packers have one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL. In his five seasons in the NFL, Kenny Clark has accumulated 18.5 sacks. His ability to line up at any spot on the interior defensive line creates match-up nightmares for opposing offenses. While Clark is a standout, behind him the Packers have a lot of questions. The Green Bay Packers defensive line needs to provide help for Clark in 2021.
Green Bay Packers Defensive Line One of the Weaker Units on the Packers Defense
If the Packers could clone Clark, it would make new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s job a lot easier. Barry had the luxury of working with standout defensive tackle Aaron Donald when he was an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams. While Clark isn’t at Donald’s level, yet, he does give Barry a good piece for the Packers defensive line.
But unfortunately, the talent behind Clark on the Packers defensive line is at best suspect. It will be up to Barry, as well as Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, to find players who can take the burden off of Clark.
There are some options, but those options don’t guarantee success. Out of all of the units we have or will preview, the Packers defensive line has the most questions heading into 2021.
Keke Looking to Make a Big Jump in his Third Season
Out of all of the defensive tackles behind Kenny Clark, Kingsley Keke seems to have the most potential for success. A former fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Keke is coming off a season that gives Barry and Montgomery hope that he could be a big contributor on the Packer defensive line this season.
In 2020, Keke notched four sacks, 12 solo tackles, and forced one fumble. The numbers are even more impressive if you figure that he only saw part-time duty and that he had his season cut short due to a concussion.
Former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine seemed reluctant to give Keke more playing time in 2020. It was a head-scratcher since the talent behind Clark wasn’t overly impressive. With Barry now entrenched as the defensive coordinator, Keke will have a clean slate.
Keke has shown that is a very capable pass rusher from the interior of the defensive line. The big question is if Montgomery can get him to be a complete player. The Packers defensive line has struggled the past several seasons at stopping the run. Keke, along with the other members of the Packers defensive line, will need to show they are capable of stopping the run.
Keke has the tools to be a very capable defensive lineman in the NFL. Barry is banking on him making the next step and produce to take some heat off of Clark.
Time is Running Out on Lowry
Heading into this off-season, it appeared that the Packers might need to cut some salary. When it came to cutting salary, one player jumped to the top of the list. Dean Lowry seemed like he would be on the chopping block.
However, to the surprise of many, the Packers decided to keep Lowry. Lowry made the possible chopping block list because of his lackluster play and his high salary. Since signing a three-year $20 million dollar extension prior to the 2019 season, Lowry’s production has dropped.
In 2018, Lowry look liked he might be a key player for the future of the Packers defensive line. That season, he started eight games, registering 31 solo tackles, forced one fumble, had five quarterback hits, and had three sacks. Not only did it earn Lowry an extension, but it made defensive tackle Mike Daniels expendable.
Since signing his new deal, Lowry’s numbers have dropped, not something the Packers had projected. It was expected that Lowry would take some heat off of Clark, but that hasn’t happened. Clark is still seeing the same amount of double teams, while Lowry hasn’t been able to take advantage of the one-on-one situations.
Many will point to Lowry’s three sacks in 2020 that his play hasn’t dropped. But those numbers are deceiving since at least two of those came when Lowry went unblocked. Lowry is facing a do-or-die situation going into this season. If his lack of production continues, there is a very good chance that this will be his last season as a Packer.
Rookie Expected to Contribute Immediately
When an NFL team is banking on a fifth-round rookie to contribute, it shows the lack of depth at that position that team has.
That is the situation the Packers defensive line is facing when it comes to T.J. Slaton. At 6’4″ and weighing 330 pounds, Slaton has remarkable athletic ability. However, while at the University of Florida, his numbers didn’t match his athletic ability. In his last season at Florida, he registered 38 total tackles with one and a half sacks. The numbers weren’t awful, but for someone with his size and ability more was expected out of Slaton.
It would appear that Slaton will be a pet project of Jerry Montgomery. It won’t be the first time that Montgomery has worked with an athletic defensive lineman who underachieved during his college career. Montgomery worked with former Packers defensive lineman Montravius Adams, who was a similar player Slaton is. The results weren’t good. Adams, a former third-round pick, never panned out and wasn’t re-signed this past off-season.
With a lack of depth on the Packers defensive line, the Packers need Slaton to be a contributor this season. The Packers don’t need him to be an immediate starter, but they do need him to be a part of their rotation.
Others Battling for a Spot
It is expected that the Packers will carry just five defensive linemen on their active roster going into week one. That leaves a group consisting of Tyler Lancaster, Willington Previlon, Carlo Kemp, and Jack Heflin battling for the last spot.
The player with the best chance to win that spot is the veteran Lancaster. He has spent the past three seasons with the Packers and been a part of the Packers defensive line rotation. Lancaster doesn’t possess much athletic ability, but is a grinder and gives a lot of effort.
Lancaster is a great example of how thin the depth is on the interior of the Packers defensive line. While we commend the effort he gives, he isn’t a player that should be a major part of an NFL rotation. Still, it appears he will win the last spot.
There is a wild card when discussing the Packers defensive line. Outside linebacker Rashan Gary might be a big part of the Packers interior defensive line this season. Barry has said he wants his best players on the field. So, that makes Gary lining up inside with Clark while Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith line up at outside linebacker, a strong possibility. That group would provide the Packers with a lot of pass-rush ability.
Playing inside won’t be anything new to Gary. He was a hand in dirt defensive lineman while at the University of Michigan. He has also seen spot duty inside while with the Packers.
Projected Defensive Linemen for the Packers Going Into 2021
Clark, Keke, Lowry, Slaton, and Lancaster are on the active roster. Signed to the practice squad Kemp and Heflin.
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