No position on the 2017 Green Bay Packers saw greater strides in the right direction than the defensive line. Despite the Packers playing the majority of defensive snaps with only two or three man defensive fronts, guys like Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels made their presence known on the field. Behind them are a pair of developmental pass rushers who could shine given the chance in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme. Add in the potential signing of someone like Muhammad Wilkerson or the drafting of a big-bodied yet athletic defensive lineman like Washington’s Vita Vea, and the Packers are not far at all from have a terrorizing defensive line capable of eating up blockers for the less than stellar edge rushing group that the Packers currently have. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how each individual member of Green Bay’s defensive line performed in 2017.

Mike Daniels:

2017 Stats: 14 games, 49 total tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Contract Situation: Signed through 2019 season

The heart and soul of the Green Bay Packers defense, Mike Daniels has been a rather underrated NFL defensive lineman over his six year career. While making his first Pro Bowl this past January shows that he is finally getting some recognition, it’s hard to put up gaudy stats as a defensive tackle, especially when you’re the best pass-rushing option on your defense. Because of this, Daniels tended to disappear for weeks at time over 2017 due to opposing offensive lineman double-teaming him. He still found a way to put numbers though, and he made way for a phenomenal sophomore season from his running mate, Kenny Clark. Daniels improved upon his run-stopping skills over 2017, often pairing with Clark to eat up running lanes or even make the stop along the line of scrimmage himself. If the Packers can secure another pass-rushing threat, whether it be along the defensive line or at outside linebacker, it will help take the pressure off Daniels and allow him to get back to chasing down opposing quarterbacks.

Kenny Clark:

2017 Stats: 15 games, 55 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Contract Situation: Signed through 2019 season

Two years after being thought of as a first round reach by some, 2017 Kenny Clark played better than any Packers first-round pick in recent memory. While it is hard for defensive lineman to be considered “difference makers” due to the nature of their position, Clark made plays week-in and week-out over the course of the season and played well in all facets of the game. Whether it be tackling opposing running backs for a loss, or pressuring the quarterback, Clark’s game improved vastly from his rookie season to his second season. Perhaps most impressive is that Clark really started to heat up in December, a point in the season where many big guys start to slow down and wear out. From Weeks 13-16, Clark posted all 4.5 of his sacks and looked to be impossible to block, impressive considering the Packers lack of firepower on both sides of the ball, as well as his age (only 21 years old). Expect Clark to continue to grow as he matures, refines his craft, and once again gets the opportunity to play next to a Pro Bowler in Mike Daniels.

Dean Lowry:

2017 Stats: 16 games, 32 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Contract Situation: Signed through 2019 season

A fourth round pick in 2015, the same class as Clark, Lowry hasn’t had quite the impact as his draft-mate but still flashes big play pass-rushing potential from time-to-time. Consider Week 13’s matchup against Tampa Bay for example. The former fourth-round pick had a huge day for a defensive lineman, registering four tackles, a sack, and a 62-yard fumble return for a touchdown that put the Packers up by two possessions late in the second half. While Lowry doesn’t quite change games or command double teams like the two guys listed before him, he’s a solid pass-rusher who benefits playing alongside Daniels, Clark, and Clay Matthews. For Lowry to take the next step and become a regular contributor on the defensive line, improvements in run support should be near the top of his list.

Quinton Dial:

2017 Stats: 13 games, 19 total tackles

Contract Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent on March 14th

Dial, signed late in the offseason from San Francisco to add some depth to the defensive line room, was a quiet but consistent contributor to the defensive line. While he averaged only about 20 snaps a game, Dial was relatively mistake free and made his presence felt in run support. Not a very athletic pass-rusher, Dial typically played on early downs and in obvious run situations, being replaced by Lowry in passing situations. I would expect the Packer to bring back Dial in some capacity this upcoming week, whether it be on another one-year deal or possibly a 2- or 3-year deal with minimum guaranteed money. Although Dial was a solid addition this past season, he definitley will not be guaranteed a roster spot if he does re-sign, for the seven-year pro is definitely not above replacement level as a one-trick pony in the running game.

Montravius Adams:

2017 Stats: 7 games played, 2 total tackles

Contract Situation: Signed through 2020 season

2017 was essentially a redshirt season for the third-round rookie out of Auburn, and the little he did see the field left a lot to be desired. Despite this there is still time for Adams to develop, and what better place to do so than in Green Bay behind Daniels and Clark. Known for having a high motor coming out college, Adams is built similarly to Daniels as a smaller, squatter defensive lineman capable of eating up double teams. Given that Green Bay used a third round pick on him just last year, I would assume the team sees potential in him and that they’ll do everything they can to help make him a regular contributor in his second season.

Level of Need: Low

Defensive line is one of few positions on this Packers team that I believe the Packers could stand pat at and do just fine on the defensive line. Lead by Daniels and Clark, a steady veteran presence from Dial, and potential in both Lowry and Adams, this is a group that is sure to continue to get better with Mike Pettine in tow. Due to the nature of the position and desire to constantly rotate big guys to keep them fresh, I would expect the Packers to be looking for either a modestly priced veteran or a potential Day 3 pick to develop. A splash such as Wilkerson or Vea as mentioned before would be a luxury, one that could take this defense to the next level, but also one the Packers may not be able to afford with so many other needs. Overall, I don’t expect the defensive line to be high among the priorities for Green Bay heading into the 2018 offseason.