This is the sixth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2017 draft. The series continues with the defensive line.
GREEN BAY – The Packers made a significant investment in the future of their defensive line a year ago with the selection of UCLA’s Kenny Clark and Northwestern’s Dean Lowry.
It paid dividends down the stretch for the defense with the two rookies combining to play 318 of their 625 total snaps during Green Bay’s final eight games (including playoffs).
Clark, the 27th overall pick, recorded 21 tackles, two pass deflections and recovered two fumbles, spelling veterans Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion as a three-technique defensive tackle.
It was a promising start for Clark, who at 20 years old became the youngest player to appear in a season opener for the Packers since Arnie Herber in 1930.
Lowry, a fourth-round pick, started the year as a reserve until seeing his workload ramp up in December after recording sacks in back-to-back games against Houston and Seattle.
At 6-foot-6, 296 pounds, Lowry possesses the necessary length to be a prototypical five-technique defensive end in the base defense. However, he also showed enough power and burst to rush from the interior in the nickel sub-package.
With a full offseason program ahead of them, the two budding defensive linemen are one of several reasons the Packers feel good about their defensive front going into 2017.
Green Bay is in the unique position of returning everyone from last year’s defensive line that contributed to the Packers finishing eighth against the run (94.7 yards per game), their best performance since leading the NFL in the category in 2009.
At the heart of the unit was Daniels, who has started 56 consecutive games (including playoffs) dating back to the 2013 playoffs.
On the heels of a long-term extension, the veteran defensive tackle once again led the line with 33 tackles and four sacks, and was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the second consecutive season. His 663 snaps not only led his position last season, but also were fifth-most on the Packers’ defense.
Guion added 30 tackles and a pass deflection in 15 regular-season starts next to Daniels, though he’ll now miss the first month of the season due to a four-game suspension.
The Packers, who also return Christian Ringo and practice-squad holdover Brian Price, rounded out the room this offseason with the signing of nine-year veteran Ricky Jean Francois.
The 6-foot-3, 313-pound defensive tackle has demonstrated the ability to play anywhere on the line during stints with San Francisco, Indianapolis and most recently Washington.
Jean Francois has registered 153 tackles, 12 sacks and 10 pass deflections in 109 regular-season games with 35 starts. Like Daniels and Guion, he’s been exceedingly durable throughout his career, playing all 16 games in six of his last seven seasons.
While there appears to be ample depth on the defensive line, it’s currently the only position where the Packers have selected at least one player in each of Ted Thompson’s 12 previous drafts as general manager.
Regardless of what unfolds this week, the Packers are counting on their veteran foundation and young core to help the defensive line build upon its production last season.
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