There’s Daniels, then ques­tions

Thomp­son likely to add to in­ex­pe­ri­enced D-line

Packer Plus - - NFL Draft Preview: Defensive Ends - By MICHAEL CO­HEN

Green Bay — As the Green Bay Pack­ers stum­bled through the mid­dle of their sea­son — at one point los­ing three straight games and even­tu­ally drop­ping four out of five — a por­tion of gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son’s fo­cus di­verted to­ward dol­lars and cents.

Hav­ing iden­ti­fied de­fen­sive end Mike Daniels as a cor­ner­stone of the fran­chise, Thomp­son and his front of­fice, es­pe­cially vice pres­i­dent of foot­ball ad­min­is­tra­tion/player fi­nance Russ Ball, ma­neu­vered the ne­go­ti­at­ing process for a four-year ex­ten­sion worth $41 mil­lion.

As news of the deal went pub­lic in mid-De­cem­ber, a day af­ter the Pack­ers de­feated the Dal­las Cow­boys at home, Daniels was ap­ply­ing the fi­nal brush strokes to a tremen­dous sea­son. He played bet­ter than 67% of snaps for de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dom Capers and led the line in pres­sures with 32. He fin­ished third on the team in tack­les per snap and tal­lied 61⁄ tack

2 les for loss, a ca­reer high.

By ex­tend­ing Daniels, the Pack­ers etched an im­por­tant name into their for­ward-think­ing depth chart. At just 26 years of age — he does not turn 27 un­til May — Daniels may an­chor the de­fen­sive line for the re­main­der of the decade.

Around him, how­ever, lingers the type of un­cer­tainty that is un­avoid­able at times in a draft-and-de­velop sys­tem, es­pe­cially in the wake of a j ar­ring ros­ter change.

The foot­ball hia­tus of nose tackle B.J. Raji likely re­or­ga­nized Thomp­son’s draft board, height­en­ing the im­por­tance of de­fen­sive line­men and ask­ing more pro­ba­tive ques­tions of the play­ers al­ready un­der con­tract.

Can promis­ing young­ster Mike Pen­nel, who plays both de­fen­sive end and nose tackle, be counted on in the wake of a four-game sus­pen­sion? Will Chris­tian Ringo, a sixth-round pick in 2015, de­velop quickly enough to join the ro­ta­tion? How many reps, if any, are af­forded to Da­tone Jones af­ter coach Mike McCarthy an­nounced a move from de­fen­sive end to ele­phant rusher?

As the ros­ter stands, Daniels and vet­eran de­fen­sive tackle Letroy Guion are the only line­men with both game ex­pe­ri­ence and de­fined roles.

“I think you need big men,” McCarthy said in a sit-down in­ter­view at the NFL scout­ing com­bine. “There’s only so many. We need to get big­ger. We’ve been get­ting big­ger, and we need to con­tinue to get big­ger. That’s some­thing we’re all fo­cused on, and so I think you re­ally have to watch your­self. Every­body wants to take the best player avail­able on the board, but you also have to be aware of your depth chart too.”

Whether it’s nose tackle or de­fen­sive end, the Pack­ers have le­git­i­mate needs. Here are five play­ers who can fill the role of de­fen­sive end in a 3-4 de­fense:

1. DeFOR­EST BUCK­NER

Ore­gon, 6-foot-7, 291 pounds, 5.05 sec­onds in the 40-yard dash

Low­down: Buck­ner paired con­sis­tency with pro­duc­tion at Ore­gon, es­pe­cially in 2015. He led the Pac-12 in sacks with 101⁄ and fin­ished fourth in

2 the league with 17 tack­les for loss. More im­pres­sive, though, was his steadi­ness: Buck­ner tal­lied a sack in the fi­nal eight games of the sea­son; he recorded at least one tackle for loss in 12 of his team’s 13 games. Earned All-Amer­ica hon­ors as a se­nior. Phys­i­cal spec­i­men with an NFL-ready body. Plays with in­ten­sity. Pos­sesses the body type and skill set to line up at mul­ti­ple po­si­tions, es­pe­cially in sub pack­ages. Needs to im­prove pad level and base. Played in a 3-4 scheme at Ore­gon. “I’m one of the best D-line­men in this draft,” Buck­ner said at the com­bine. “I played in ev­ery tech­nique pos­si­ble, from nose and rush­ing out­side at end. I can do every­thing. I can stop the run. I can also rush the passer, which I did a lot bet­ter this year. They can get a com­plete de­fen­sive line­man when they pick me.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

2. A’SHAWN ROBIN­SON Alabama, 6-4, 307, 5.20 Low­down: Robin­son is liv­ing proof of the jug­ger­naut pro­gram coach Nick Sa­ban built at Alabama. A for­mer five-star re­cruit, Robin­son con­trib­uted from his first day on cam­pus and earned fresh­man All-Amer­ica hon­ors in 2013. From there, Robin­son de­vel­oped into one of the most feared line­men in all of col­lege foot­ball. Con­sen­sus All-Amer­i­can as a ju­nior; opted to skip his se­nior year. Sturdy frame with tree-trunk legs built for in­te­rior line play. Re­mark­able power. Tossed de­fend­ers on more than one oc­ca­sion dur­ing his ca­reer. Pro­duced as a pass rusher with nine ca­reer sacks. Pad level must get bet­ter. Does not play with great quick­ness. Men­tioned Julius Pep­pers as a player he stud­ies. “I have strength and power so I feel like those two, com­bined with the size I have, is re­ally great,” Robin­son said at the com­bine. “I think that sets me apart from every­body else.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

3. SHEL­DON RANK­INS Louisville, 6-1, 299, 5.03 Low­down: Rank­ins com­pares fa­vor­ably with Mike Daniels in terms of height (6-0½) and weight (303) and plays with sim­i­lar ex­plo­sive­ness. His game is built on power, and 28 reps on the bench press showed it. Two-year starter at Louisville who found suc­cess rush­ing the passer with 14 com­bined sacks. Po­tent run stuffer. Fin­ished with at least 13 tack­les for loss in 2014 and 2015. At­tended the Se­nior Bowl with the goal of play­ing “vi­o­lent” to prove he could win one-on-one pass rush bat­tles. Adapted spin move from bas­ket­ball court to foot­ball field. Played all three downs at Louisville. “I just feel like my ver­sa­til­ity does a lot for me — the fact that I've played in a 3-4, I've played in a 4-3, I've played all up and down the D-line, from zero nose to a five tech­nique,” Rank­ins said at the com­bine. “I feel like, when you turn on the tape, you see me do­ing a lot more things.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

4. ROBERT NKEMDICHE Ole Miss, 6-3, 294, 4.87 Low­down: Nkemdiche ar­rived at Ole Miss as the top de­fen­sive end prospect in the country and did not dis­ap­point. Freak­ish ath­leti­cism and quick­ness trans­lated to some form of All-Amer­ica hon­ors in each of his three sea­sons, plus a pair of first-team All-South­east­ern Con­fer­ence hon­ors. Re­mark­able physique, chis­eled. Solid tack­ler. Uses spin move in pass-rush­ing sit­u­a­tions. Some­times his ef­fort failed to match in­cred­i­ble po­ten­tial. Pro­duc­tion should have been bet­ter given his ta­lent. Ca­reer ended in dis­ap­point­ing fash­ion af­ter Nkemdiche was ar­rested for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion fol­low­ing a fall from a ho­tel win­dow in At­lanta. Ad­mit­ted to be­ing drunk when he fell. “I have changed,” Nkemdiche said at the com­bine. “I’ve (sharp­ened) my fo­cus to what’s im­por­tant and kept away from things that can take foot­ball away from me and jeop­ar­dize my ca­reer be­cause I love the game so much. I never want it to be taken away from me, and I know if I’m in sit­u­a­tions like that it can be taken away from me.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

5. ADOL­PHUS WASH­ING­TON Ohio State, 6-3, 301, 5.17 Low­down: Like Nk­demiche, Wash­ing­ton’s ca­reer at Ohio State ended with a le­gal is­sue when he was cited for so­lic­i­ta­tion in De­cem­ber. The sub­se­quent sus­pen­sion from coach Ur­ban Meyer cut short his se­nior sea­son. Prior to the is­sue, Wash­ing­ton was a two-year starter for the Buck­eyes who re­lied on agility and quick­ness to rack up im­pres­sive num­bers against both the run and the pass. Tal­lied 17½ tack­les for loss and 8½ sacks over the last two sea­sons. De­cent power, solid tack­ler. Needs to get stronger in his lower body. Re­lies al­most ex­clu­sively on speed. Must de­velop bull rush and play with more con­sis­tent ef­fort. “They can think what­ever they want to think,” Wash­ing­ton said at the com­bine. “But up un­til (the ci­ta­tion), I’d never been in trou­ble, never failed any drug tests, never did any­thing. But if peo­ple want to think of me as a dif­fer­ent per­son, that’s just what they’re go­ing to think.”

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round

BEST OF THE REST

6. Jonathan Bullard, Florida; 7. Carl Nas­sib, Penn State; 8. Charles Tap­per, Ok­la­homa; 9. Chris Jones, Mis­sis­sippi State; 10. Shawn Oak­man, Bay­lor

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mis­sis­sippi’s Robert Nkemdiche was ar­rested for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion. He still projects as a first-round pick.

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