GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, it’s a good time to look at the Green Bay Packers' greatest needs this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews this week.
Which position is the greatest need could be debated, but there’s no arguing that it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Before things get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll look at three areas on defense where the Packers need help.
Monday was dedicated to the safety position.
Now, we look at the defensive linemen.
Why the Packers need help: All three of the preferred starters – Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji – are scheduled to become free agents next month unless the Packers work out new deals. Even if some or all of them return, the Packers need more from their front, especially in terms of a pass rush. That trio combined for just one sack (by Jolly) last season. To be sure, they don’t get many third-down pass-rushing opportunities, but they haven’t cashed in on many of their rushes of late. Raji hasn’t had a sack since 2011, while Pickett has been sackless since 2010.
The Packers have a couple of promising, young defensive linemen in Mike Daniels (6.5 sacks last season) and Datone Jones, their 2013 first-round pick, but Jerel Worthy (second round in 2012) hasn’t produced yet.
Dom Capers will always need a sturdy nose tackle in his 3-4 scheme, but considering how little base defense he plays, there may be a greater need for smaller, athletic linemen.
Defensive linemen the Packers should be watching:
Louis Nix III, Notre Dame: It’s a thin defensive tackle class, so it’s possible the 6-foot-3, 340-pounder from Notre Dame could go in the top half of the first round, and he might be the third-best defensive line prospect behind South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. Clowney could go No. 1 overall and Jernigan is better suited for a 4-3 scheme. Nix is an ideal 3-4 nose tackle and could replace either Raji or Pickett.
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame: Nix’s teammate is a versatile lineman who could play either end or tackle in the Packers’ scheme. A high-motor player who gives maximum effort, something not all 6-6, 303 pounders can do.
Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota: Viewed as better pass-rusher than run-stopper who has rare athleticism for a 6-6, 318 pounder. Also has shown flexibility to play multiple positions on the defensive line, something Capers likes.