2020 Season in Review - Defensive Line
Another day, another position! In our sixth instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to the D line. How did they fair in 2020?
Dean Lowry is a consistent, blue collar type defensive lineman – he rarely makes a bad play but also rarely makes the big splash play. He pretty much delivers exactly what his physical ability allows him to.
In 2020, Lowry started all 16 games at defensive end and notched up 36 tackles, with 14 solo – notably, he unofficially wasn’t credited with any missed tackles. He had 3.0 sacks, 4 QB hits, 2 tackles for a loss and 2 passes defensed.
Given the Packers salary cap situation heading into the coming NFL season, it seems very likely that Lowry may be a salary cap casualty, if the two parties are unable to work out a deal to substantially reduce his 2021 salary cap hit. The Packers could save between $3.3m and $4.8m by releasing Lowry in the off-season (depending up whether that release comes before or after 1st June).
Lancaster is a solid, hard-working player who signed an exclusive rights free agent 1-year tender to come back again to the Packers for the 2020 season. He provides versatility along the defensive line because he can play both defensive end and nose tackle. Lancaster went into the off-season as one of the starting defensive ends but lost the job to Kingsley Keke prior to he season opener.
Lancaster played in 15 games in 2020, starting 3, with all 3 of the starts coming at nose tackle when Kenny Clark was injured (weeks 2-4). He was a gameday inactive for the 1 game he missed (week 7). In the 15 games in which he played, Lancaster had 23 tackles, including 8 solos, and also had 1 pass defensed.
Lancaster is now a restricted free agent. Don’t expect that the Packers will place a tender on him ($2.1m minimum) but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back to compete for a roster spot in 2021 – providing he’s prepared to play at close to the league minimum.
Kingsley Keke earned a starting spot at defensive end from Tyler Lancaster. Keke is active and can play the run as well as get to the passer. He is consistent rather than explosive. In 2020, he played in 15 games (was inactive in the other, vs Tennessee, due to a concussion) with 9 starts. Keke led the defensive line with 4 sacks, made up of two 2-sack games (against Saints and Eagles) and he also had 8 QB hits on pass rush. He finished the season with 22 tackles (12 solo), 3 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble and 2 passes defensed.
Keke will be back as the starter at defensive end in 2021, when the Packers will be looking for him to continue his progression.
Billy Winn is a solid defensive end who was entered the league as long ago as 2012. After all this time, it looks like he’ll remain a fringe player. Winn was released in March 2020 by the Broncos (having had previous NFL stints with the Browns and Colts) and went without a team until the Packers signed him to their Practice Squad on 16th September (replacing Daylon Mack).
During the season, Winn was twice elevated to the active roster for single games and was then permanently signed to the active roster on 24th October. He was placed on Injured Reserve on 9th December – where he ended the regular season. Winn played in 6 games (0 starts) and was inactive for 3 games – notching up 6 tackles (2 solo) and 2 passes defensed.
Winn has good size (6-4, 305) and a good motor. He’s now an unrestricted free agent but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back with the Packers in the 2021 off-season to compete for a roster spot. However, as per his history, Winn’s chances of making the 2021 final 53 man roster would appear to be slim.
Again, Adams failed to produce, and he ended up playing in just 8 games (0 starts, 2 games inactive) before being placed on Injured Reserve with a toe injury in November (replaced by Anthony Rush, who was signed the following day). Adams ended the Regular Season on Injured Reserve having notched up just 11 tackles (6 solo), including 2 tackles for a loss.
For a 3rd round draft choice (2017), Adams has not delivered at the level that the Packers would have hoped for (for example, his 45 career games have yielded just 3 starts, 1.5 sacks and 44 tackles). Adams is now an unrestricted free agent and it’s quite possible that he is not back with the team for the 2021 season.
Clark remains the star on the Packers defensive line and one of top nose tackles in the league. Just prior to the season, the Packers were able to sign him to a 4yr/$70m contract extension, recognising what an important player he is on this football team.
Clark played and started 13 games in 2020, being inactive due to injury for the other 3 games (weeks 2-4). Clark plays tough against the run, has a quick first step which enables him to pressure the passer and is an all-out hustle guy. As the season went on, he recovered from his early season injury and demonstrated all of these – it is no coincidence that the Packers defense got better as the season went on, as Clark became more and more active. This continued into the play-offs where had 4 QB pressures against the Rams (according to NFL NextGen Stats).
For the season, Clark had 41 tackles (28 solo), 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and 6 QB hits.
Assuming that he stays clear of injury, we can expect Kenny Clark to have an excellent, Pro Bowl level, 2021 season.
Damon “Snacks” Harrison
Late in the season, the Packers made many of their fans and analysts happy by claiming Snacks Harrison off waivers from Seattle and finally bringing the big run stuffer to Green Bay. He came to the Packers on 31st December – replacing Anthony Rush on the active roster (Rush was subsequently re-signed to the Packers Practice Squad), in time to play in the Regular Season finale. He played that game against the Bears and in the two post-season games (with 0 starts), without seemingly making a huge impact.
Harrison is now an unrestricted free agent and therefore it’s quite possible that he may not be back with the team in 2021, although I would expect him to be somewhere in the NFL next season.
Price has spent time with a few NFL teams over the last 4 years including the Cowboys, Raiders, Browns, Jaguars and even the Packers (back in 2016). In that time period, he has never really stuck however and saw action in just 22 games. Price was signed to the 2020 Packers Practice Squad on 15th December (replacing Delontae Scott who was placed on Practice Squad/Injured list). He was elevated to the active roster on 26th December from the Practice Squad for week 16 and again for the week 17 Regular Season finale. He was also elevated to the active roster for both of the play-off games.
It would be no surprise to see Price competing for a roster spot in 2021, perhaps with the Packers or at another NFL team. Whether he’ll make the final 53 man roster remains to be seen, although it’s probably fair to say that he’s an outsider to do so.
Claimed off waivers (from Chicago) on 25th November – replacing Montravius Adams who was placed on Injured Reserve the day before. Waived 31st December (making room on the active roster for “Snacks” Harrison). Signed to the Practice Squad on 2nd January 2021. Ended Regular Season on Practice Squad. Was active for 1 game for the Packers (in week 15 against Carolina) – but did not play. 0 games, 0 starts, 2 games inactive – having previously played in 4 games for Seattle.
Rush was signed to a new contract on 25th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year.
Previlon went unselected in the draft, following a solid but unspectacular college career, and was signed as undrafted free agent by the Packers on 29th April – adding depth on the interior. He was waived at final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September and the Packers re-signed him to their Practice Squad the following day.
Previlon was elevated from Practice Squad on 19th September for week 2 game against the Lions – but did not play. He ended the Regular Season on Practice Squad.
Previlon was signed to a new contract on 25th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year.
No Longer With the Team
The Packers signed Daylon Mack to their Practice Squad on 10th September, after he had been released by the New York Giants at the final roster cutdown five days prior. He had previously been with the Lions in 2020 but failed a physical. Mack failed to make an impression with the Packers and was released from the Practice Squad on 16th September – just six days after being signed (he was replaced by Billy Winn, who was signed the same day).
Mack subsequently spent a month on the Cardinals Practice Squad before being released in December. In January, the Tennessee Titans signed him to a reserve/futures contract for the 2021 season.
Treyvon Hester has the physical make-up of an NFL nose tackle but has yet to stick with an NFL team. He was with different teams in each of 2017, 2018 and 2019, notching up just 2 sacks in 41 games. Hester was signed as a free agent by the Packers on 1st May 2020 to provide competition for the back-up spot on the interior defensive line. Was on the COVID-19 reserve list for nearly 3 weeks in the summer but never moved far up the depth chart upon his return, being troubled by injury.
Hester was waived/injured by the Packers at the final roster cutdown to 53 on 5th September - by rule he reverted to Injured Reserve before being released on 10th September with an injury settlement. In November, Hester signed to the Philadelphia Eagles Practice Squad, where he remained for the rest of the season. He has signed reserve/futures contract with the Eagles for the 2021 season.
Willis played 2 games for the Miami Dolphins in 2019, notching up just 2 tackles, before they waived him in April 2020. The Packers picked him up off waivers, potentially giving him a shot at making the roster. However, Willis was waived in late July.
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