Finally, on to the defensive side of the roster. Let’s start with the breakdown of the defensive line, one of the smallest groups heading into camp. The Packers are only bringing seven defensive linemen to training camp.
You can find all the previous parts of the series here:
Kenny is the Alpha, the top dog, the man, the Jedi Master of the group. There is a sizable drop in skill and talent from him down to the next player. They really need someone to step up and give him a good running mate. So far, every other defensive lineman on the roster has shown just to be rotational guys.
Clark is one of the best interior linemen in the league, but he can’t do it all himself. He is only 25, yet is entering his sixth year in the league, and still can get better. His numbers were way down this past season. He did miss three games with a groin injury, so that probably affected him for a few weeks after he came back. He went from six sacks and nine TFL’s in 2019 to two sacks and three TFL’s in 2020.
Even accounting for the injury his overall numbers were not good and I think the lack of support is wearing on him. If one guy could step up and become that #2 guy, I feel Kenny will be back to his old self, maybe even better. If not, his number may be similar in 2021.
Keke is probably the only lineman on the roster with the upside and talent to step up to become that #2 guy next to Clark. He showed a lot of improvements in year two. He went from zero sacks in ’19 to four in ’20. Part of that was a large increase in snap count. He played only 94 snaps as a rookie. This past season, he had 414. He did miss week 17 and the playoffs with concussion symptoms.
He still has a ways to go. His biggest weakness right now is against the run. He has improved from his rookie season, but he still needs to raise his play to another level. Keke should help Kenny in the passing game and take some pressure off him.
It’s up to him how much he can help though if he shows the coaches have shown improvement in his overall game. The Packers do lack much after him, so I expect that he will start next to Clark this coming season.
Lowry had a bit of a career year in 2018, and the Packers gave him a three-year extension. One year into it looked like a bad deal, two years into it it still looks like it was a bad deal. The Packers did restructure his deal this offseason. His days in Green Bay may still be numbered if he can’t pick it up and play similar to how he did in 2018.
At this point in his career, he is what he is, a rotational player. He should have been seen as such two years ago. His stats are even in line with a rotational player. He only has ten sacks and 17 TFL’s in his career. His snap count is too high. He would be more effective with a snap count closer to 500 or less than the 600+ he has had the last couple of seasons.
His short arms really cause problems for him. He has trouble disengaging from blockers, which is why he has so few sacks and tackles for a loss. He is okay against the run. With a restructured contract, he will for sure be in Green Bay for the 2021 season. Hopefully, some of the other guys can step up and take away some of Lowry’s snaps.
Lancaster is like the nose tackle version of Dean Lowry. Like Lowry, he has played too many snaps the last few years. He has talent and can play in the NFL, but he is just more of a rotational guy and the Packers tried to make him a starter, and he just isn’t that.
Lancaster is best off as a backup nose tackle. He offers almost zero in the passing game. The former undrafted free agent has only 1.5 sacks and three tackles for a loss in his career. He is strong and can take up blockers, but that is about it.
Expect him to make the roster again. He played 381 snaps in 2019 and 352 in 2020. But as with Lowry, hopefully, his snap count goes down a little, probably around 300-325 would be perfect.
The big rookie from Florida has some fans amongst Packers fans and bloggers. He is big, strong, and athletic. Also, he has some really nice flash plays from college. The problem is though they are only flash plays. He was only a one-year starter but played a lot earlier in his career.
Slaton is close to a boom or bust type of pick. If he can keep his weight down and keep or raise his endurance, he should last for a while in the league though because of his size and strength. Guys like him sometimes have a habit of eating themselves out of the league. Hopefully, he doesn’t, because at the very least he can be a decent nose tackle.
His overall RAS score was 7.96, so just below the elite 8.0+ range. If you look at the breakdown, you can see where his problems come from. He has poor agility, and it shows on film.
With all that being said, the Packers are pretty bereft of talent on the defensive line. Outside of Clark, they are all either undrafted free agents or late draft picks. Slaton has talent that most of them lack.
He should make the roster because there is no one else on the roster like him. If he can reduce Lancaster and Lowry’s snap count and allow Clark to play more of the nose where he can attack and penetrate and not have to deal with double teams as much, he could help the defense out a lot.
Previlon is an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers last season. He was cut on final cutdowns then signed to the practice squad where he spent the whole of the 2020 season. He was activated for the Week 2 game against the Lions but did not see any snaps.
The former Rutgers defensive lineman is a penetrating type of player. Not a lot is known about him since there was very little access to training camp and no pre-season last year. So, it will be interesting to see him actually get some snaps against NFL players.
With the drafting of Slaton, resigning of Lancaster, and restructure of Lowry’s contract, the chances of him making the roster are very slim. The Packers would probably try to bring him back to the practice squad again.
Helfin is a graduate of Iowa but started at Northern Illinois University. He was a graduate transfer to Iowa in 2020. He started all eight games. Helfin contributed 3.5 tackles for a loss and one sack. Weak numbers to say the least.
The step-up in the competition was probably a bit of an adjustment for him, going from playing in the MAC to the Big 10. At Iowa’s pro day, he had a RAS of 4.94, so borderline average. With all that being said, he is still more of a run-stuffer; he does not offer much in the passing game.
His chance of making the roster is pretty much zero. He would have to beat out Previlon and either a recent draft pick or a veteran. He could make it on the practice squad depending on how the NFL does practice squads this season.
Final Thoughts –
The defensive line roster is pretty cut and dry heading into the season. It will be Clark, Keke, Lowry, Lancaster, and Slaton. The main question will be snap counts. There is a small chance they keep a sixth defensive lineman, but since they use mostly sub-packages that only use two defensive linemen at a time, it is questionable if they keep a sixth. However, they might. If they do, it will probably be Previlon. If not, they will try to keep him on the practice squad.