Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry project well for future of Packers' defensive line

Packers first-round pick Kenny Clark seemed to have found his way by the end of his rookie season. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With free agency less than three weeks away, it's a good time to take a look at whom the Green Bay Packers have returning and what they might need to add this offseason at each position.


Under contract for 2017: Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, Dean Lowry, Brian Price.

Free agents: Christian Ringo (exclusive rights).

Position review: A fast start by Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion combined with facing some backup running backs early helped pad their run defense numbers. The Packers led the league against the run until Ezekiel Elliott came to town in Week 6. Still, the veteran duo helped the Packers finish eighth in rushing yards allowed per game -- their first top-10 showing in that category since 2009, when Dom Capers' first defense in Green Bay ranked No. 1 against the run.

For most of the year, Guion played ahead of Clark, the Packers' first-round pick. But as the season wore on and Clark matured (he didn't turn 21 until three games into his rookie season), he improved. He managed to find the football at times. He batted down a couple of passes and led the team with a pair of fumble recoveries.

Lowry didn't play much until the last month of the regular season after Mike Pennel began to serve his second four-game suspension of the year. The fourth-round pick then recorded sacks in back-to-back games.

The Packers like Price, an undrafted rookie, so much that after Pennel returned from his first suspension and Price went back to the practice squad, they upped his pay to the equivalent of being on the active roster.

Position outlook: Clark didn't make the kind of impact that B.J. Raji did as a rookie in 2009, but there's no reason for the Packers to regret taking him at No. 27 overall in last year's draft. In fact, given that he was one of the youngest players in that draft, perhaps it shouldn't have come as a major surprise that it took him half the season to find his way. But the season's end, the Packers had no trouble playing him like a starter.

"Kenny Clark played well; he's doing very well," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in advance of the NFC Championship Game. "You can see his snaps have gone up. I think he clearly in the last six weeks has taken a big jump. I'm very happy with the progress Kenny's making."

With Lowry's pass-rush ability, the Packers have two budding contributors up front to go along with the workhorse of the group, Daniels.

Guion has $800,000 in roster bonuses ($400,000 on March 11 and another $400,000 on May 2) due this offseason, but there's no reason to think the Packers won't pay those and bring him back.

The Packers could use more pass-rushers, but that will likely come from the outside linebacker group.

Level of need (low, medium or high): Low.

By the numbers

4: Sacks by Daniels, tops among Packers defensive linemen, last season

42.8: Yards rushing per game the Packers allowed in their first four games of the 2016 season

94.7: Yards rushing per game the Packers allowed for the 2016 season