Many articles have repeated the mantra that the Packers need to go all in for Aaron Rodgers in the 2021 draft. These articles focus on all the effort and talent Rodgers possesses that has been wasted by the organization’s lack of focus providing weapons for Rodgers.
Seemingly forgotten, there is another Packer that has been toiling on Lambeau Field for five years, playing at a level that may be the best at his position in the NFL, without any genuine weapons around him, Kenneth Duane Clark Jr. Due to the lack of dominant interior lineman or linebackers around him, Clark has battled in the trenches against double-team’s and schemes to neutralize his effectiveness.. He has played through injury, because Clark at 70% is better than any other Packer option. His play seems under-appreciated due to poor statistical Packer defenses, but writers who watch tape see his excellence. Imagine a Packer defense with a healthy Clark and another All Pro caliber defensive tackle and linebacker supporting him. The thought is enough to make Packers fans begin to salivate with visions of Reggie White and Fritz Schurmur dancing in their heads.
Drafting a defensive lineman in the 2021 NFL draft is almost a necessity for the Packers. The Packers current depth chart lists Dean Lowry and Kingsley Keke starting on each side of Clark, with Tyler Lancaster and Damon Harrison as the backups. Not a group that strikes fear into NFL offensive coordinators. Lowry and Harrison are free agents and may not be back. Montravious Adams has been an injury plagued disappointment as a 2017 third round pick. Keke has shown the ability to pressure the quarterback occasionally, but is not consistent and needs to improve his run defense.
Defensive Lineman in the 2021 draft are not all 3-4 scheme players. Some fit better as 4-3 defensive ends and therefore will not fit the Packers new scheme. CBS Sports lists one defensive tackle as a top 20 pick. Kwity Paye from Michigan is listed as a top 5 pick, but at 6’4” inches and 270 lbs he is too light to play 3-4 end. He fits better as a 4-3 end. Paye has traits and stats that compare to Rashan Gary. Size and speed (claimed 4.5 40 in HS) but sack numbers that do not match the tools. His missed the Wisconsin game with an injury. The Packers might use him to slide inside on passing downs but he would need to take an OLB position on the Packers roster.
There are a group of 5 players CBS Sports has listed as potential DT picks before the end of the second round.
Christian Barmore Ala. #26
Levi Onwuzurike WA. #30
Jaelan Phillips Miami. #40
Jaylen Twyman Pitt. #43
Darius Stills WV #57
Barmore ended his college career with a bang. The Alabama redshirt defensive tackle was named the Defensive MVP in the championship game against Ohio State. Barmore racked up a sack , five tackles and two tackles for loss in the Tide victory. At 6’5” and 310 pounds he has an NFL ready frame and he is only 21 years old. Barmore is said to have long arms, power and explosive twitch. Good money says he will be long gone before the Packers draft at 29.
Onwuzurike is 6’2” and 290 lbs. Some sites have him listed as 6’3”. Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 college season so his film is limited. His 2019 film displayed a club move reminiscent of Reggie White. While his pass rush moves look good on the highlight tape, he completed his junior season with only two sacks. His sophomore season he had three sacks. He has speed and quickness but pundits are concerned he lacks the strength to stand up to double teams and combo blocks. Onwuzurike went to the Senior Bowl but watched the game in street clothes with an undisclosed injury. Pundits raved about his first day practice, but some, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, thought he only showed flashes and did not dominate as he expected. Some pundits see Onwuzurike as a first round pick. It will be interesting to see where he lands.
Jaelan Phillips is a huge risk/reward pick due to his concussion history. Phillips retired from football while at UCLA after an off the field accident caused his second concussion. His headache symptoms were persistent and ongoing so he left the program. . He sat out two years then played in 2020 for Miami. His size, 6’5”/266) make him more of a 4-3 defensive end. He was a first team All-American and finalist for the Bednarick trophy. He had eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 3 passes defenses. There is no bigger risk/reward pick than Phillips in this draft.
Jaylen Twyman is a 6’2” DT from Pittsburgh who has put up big numbers. His sophomore season he went for 41 tackles, 12 TFL, and 10.5 sacks. He played well against big time competition, including Penn State. He opted out of the 2020 season. At 6’2” and 290, stopping the run was his weakness. Some pundits are saying Twyman isn’t even the best Pitt D-line prospect, saying DT Patrick Jones, who played in 2020 was more impressive down for down. Twyman is the same size as Ram standout Aaron Donald and photos of him flexing show he has the same size guns. Twyman’s selection will depend on how evaluators factor in the off year.
Darius Stills is listed at #57 by CBS Sports but other pundits see him as a third day draft pick. He is listed as 6’1” and 285 lbs. Lots of good game tape, but his size will likely push him down in the draft. In nine games in 2020 he posted 3.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL and 25 tackles from the nose guard position. He was named the Big 12 lineman of the year. But he did not receive a Senior Bowl invite. His size and college position push him down on draft boards. Defensive tackles listed as third round options by CBS Sports include the following players:
Jay Tufele. USC. #71
Rashad Weaver Pitt. #72
Tyler Shelvin. LSU #78
Marvin Wilson FSU. #79
Adetokunbo Ogundeji. ND. #90
Marlon Tuipulotu. USC. #91
Tufele has the size coaches want on the interior line at 6’3” and 315 lbs. He was a 2-time USC lineman of the year and First Team Pac-12 honoree. He was honored as a redshirt freshman for his dedication to his workout routine. His 2019 numbers included 41 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. He sat out the 2020 season.
Weaver is seen more as an edge defender at 6’4” and 265 lbs.
Shelvin is a nose tackle. At 6’3” and 360 plus pounds he does not have the ability to move laterally to be a tackle or 3-4 end. Dominant against the run. Very little pass rush displayed. He does not just rely on his size, Shelvin has hand and technique skill, and he plays hard. If he could get down to the 340 range he could be all world. But that would be giving up a boat load of cheeseburgers.
Wilson is 6’31/2” and listed at 319 lbs. He shows quickness with decent long arms and big hands that he uses to keep blockers at bay. His 2020 stats are from 6 games; 17 tackles, 2 TFL, one sack. While he has ideal size, his lower body does not stack up on running plays and he can be moved off the line of scrimmage, especially when his technique fails. A couple of pundits use the phrase, “Potential Bust”. Never a good sign.
Ogundeji is listed as 6’4 ½” and 260 lbs. His size is more for a 4-3 end or 3-4 edge. He tallied 6 sacks in his final season at ND.
Tuipulotu lists at 6’2” and 305 lbs. He put up good numbers in 2020 and received high praise for his practices at the Senior Bowl. He uses a grab, push-pull to control offensive lineman effectively. His forte is run defense with his pass rush still developing. Pundits are using terms like, “day two steal” to describe his potential.
Four more players are listed by CBS Sports as draft worthy in the fourth round. This shows not only the depth of the position in this draft, it shows how hard it is to assess talent at the position.
Daviyon Nixon, Iowa. #128
Tedarrell Slaton, Florida #131
Alim McNeill, NCST, #135
Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA, #140
Nixon is 6’3” and 305 lbs. He is listed by CBS Sports as the 128th pick in the draft. ESPN’s Mel Kuiper has Nixon as a potential top 5 pick in round one. However, if you look at ESPN’s ranking of the best available draft picks, they list Nixon as the third best DT behind Levi Onwuzurike (pick 25 by ESPN) and Barmore (pick 30 by ESPN) at pick 61. He had a highlight real interception against Penn State and good 2020 stats (8 games: 45 tackles/13.5 TFL/5.5 sacks) He is a JUCO transfer who did not start until 2020- so 8 games. All against Covid diluted competition. He is 22 years old, born in December. He is a local kid from Kenosha. The last time we passed on a local kid, T.J. Watt, we missed a diamond in the rough. Will Nixon also rise to that level? It will be interesting to see where GM’s select him with such a diverse range of projections on him.
McNeill has been listed as a player the Packers have interviewed. McNeill is listed at 6’2” and 315 lbs. Sone see him as a 3-4 nose tackle. He is more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher. PFF sees McNeill as the #2 DT in the draft as a mid second round selection. His 2020 stats show 25 tackles, 4.5 TFL, one sack and one interception. He does show good lateral quickness that can reach the sideline. The man is strong, boasting a 640 lbs. squat and 445 lbs. bench press. His interception was an athletic pick-6.
Slaton is 6’5” and is listed at 358 lbs. He is strictly a nose in a 3-4 front. While Slaton has size and uses leverage well, he can miss plays and lose balance allowing runs through his gap. He is not used much as a pass rusher so his gap integrity on running downs is crucial to his success. He does combat double teams effectively.
Odighizuwa’s brother has already made it into an NFL locker room, playing two years for the Giants. Odighizuwa is 6’2” and 280 lbs. His strengths are quickness and explosiveness. He has 34 1/8 inch arms that he uses effectively. He is said to be able to squat over 700 lbs and bench 420. In 7 games in 2020 he had four sacks, 6 TFL and 30 total tackles. The Packers found a gem in former UCLA’s Krys Barnes, could Odighizuwa be another find? His brother was drafted by the Giants in 2015, also coming out of UCLA. He was a draft bust. IR his rookie year and released after a suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse rules. It will be interesting to see if his brother’s flame out impacts his draft status. They have identical size and athletic measurables.
While there seems to be good depth after the first round for defensive tackle prospects, picking the future all pro from this bunch will be a challenge. There is a local product straight off a detour through Texas that would fit the bill, but his bill might be over the Packer’s budget. Only time will tell…