This is the next in a series of articles providing an in-depth analysis of each position group on the Green Bay Packers. Today, we will examine the defensive line.
The grades will be for each unit as a whole, but we will provide analysis of each player, their strengths and weaknesses and a quick analysis of where they stand heading into the offseason.
The Packers rushing defense ranked 11th in the league in yards allowed per game with 109.1. However, the team also allowed an average of 4.7-yards per rushing attempt. In 2020, the Pack ranked 14th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and gave up an average of 4.5-yards per attempt.
The fact that the Packers held leads in so many of their games helped the run defense statistics as teams needed to pass the ball to try to score quickly and catch up.
Here are the grades for the Packers defensive line in 2021. The marks are based on a combination of expectations and performance.
Kenny Clark is unquestionably the Packers best defensive lineman. The former UCLA star finished the season with 48 total tackles, four sacks, seven tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hits. He earned Pro Bowl honors for the second time in his career.
Clark slimmed down a bit during the offseason and was able to increase his quickness without sacrificing his ability to hold his position at the point of attack.
One of the things that makes Clark so special is his ability to stop the run and to rush the passer, one of only a handful of interior defensive linemen who can do both. Not only can the big guy tie up blockers on running plays, but he can penetrate to make tackles for loss and disrupt plays and allow his teammate to make the stop.
Clark started the season strong, slowed down a bit midseason but picked up his play late in the campaign. He added another sack in the playoff loss to the 49ers.
Dean Lowry had his best season with the Packers. He had a career-high five sacks, nine quarterback hits and five tackles for loss. He also deflected four passes and recovered a fumble.
Lowry is an all-out effort guy who is stronger against the run than the pass. He occupies blockers well and made more plays than he had in the past. His pass rush ability improved a bit this season.
Lowry is scheduled to carry a cap hit of more than $7.9 million next season and may have to negotiate a new deal to lower that number to stay in Green Bay next season.
Tyler Lancaster started three games for the Packers and made a career-high 31 tackles including three for losses. Lancaster doesn’t add much pass rush but he’s a smart and steady player who provides depth and can fill in as a starter when necessary.
Rookie T.J. Slaton made 23 total tackles and recorded one sack (two half sacks actually) during the season. Slaton never started but did see more snaps on defense during the last five games of the season.
The former Florida star moves well for a 330-pound lineman and has shown the ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage to make plays at times.
Slaton has showed potential but is still learning and the Packers will look for him to take a step forward and battle for a larger role in 2022.
The Packers released Kingsley Keke before the playoffs. Keke had 2.5 sacks and made 23 total tackles. He showed flashes of pass rush ability but had issues staying healthy and lacked consistency. His sacks tended to come in bunches. When he was motivated, he could make big plays but he could also be invisible for long stretches of games.
Keke has now signed with the Houston Texans and won’t be back with the Packers in training camp. The former fifth-round pick out of Texas A&M will go down as a disappointment.
Jack Heflin was a standout in training camp and made the team as an undrafted free agent. He was active for four games and played 17 snaps on defense. The Iowa alum made one tackle in his limited action. He is an all-out effort type of player.
Heflin was let go before the playoff game but signed to a futures contract and will be invited to camp for 2022. He can add depth to the line if he continues to develop.
Abdullah Anderson played in three late-season games for the Packers after being elevated from the practice squad. The former Bucknell star made two total tackles while playing 49 defensive snaps.
The defensive line can use more depth and another impact player. The Packers hope Slaton can develop into more in his second season. Overall, this group was steady but unspectacular except for the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Clark.
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