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Green Bay Packers 2021 Draft: Alabama Defensive Line

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The Green Bay Packers will have plenty of work to do next offseason. Here’s a look at some current Alabama players who could fill a need along the defensive line.

The 2021 NFL Draft seems like it’s decades away, given the current pandemic-related sports climate, but we know scouts and GM’s are already piecing together their big boards. The Green Bay Packers are no different and they may be prioritizing the defensive line. They should look at an NFL pipeline like Alabama’s to satisfy their need at the position.

The Alabama interior defensive line has been one of the most consistently dominant position groups in the NCAA over the last decade. Whether in a 2,3, or 4-man front, Alabama asks its interior defensive linemen to “two-gap”, which is exactly what it sounds like.

The concept requires powerful defensive linemen, of which Alabama has had plenty. However, in today’s NFL, even big men need pass-rush ability to survive in the league. ‘Bama has produced a great number of defensive linemen who can do both, which has resulted in 16 of them being selected since the 2011 draft. The list goes as follows:

2011: Marcell Dareus (1st round- 3rd overall)

2012: Josh Chapman (5th round- 136th overall)

2013: Jesse Williams (5th– 137th)

2013: Quinton Dial (5th-157th)

2014: Ed Stinson (5th-160th)

2014: Jeoffrey Pagan (6th-177th)

2016: A’Shawn Robinson (2nd-46th)

2016: Jarran Reed (2nd-49th)

2017: Jonathan Allen (1st-17th)

2017: Dalvin Tomlinson (2nd-55th)

2018: Daron Payne (1st-13th)

2018: Da’Shawn Hand (4th-114th)

2018: Joshua Frazier (7th-246th)

2019: Quinnen Williams (1st-3rd)

2019: Isaiah Buggs (6th-192nd)

2020: Raekwon Davis (2nd-56th)

You may not recall every name on the list but many of these players were able to carve out decent NFL careers.

Marcell Dareus was selected 3rd overall in 2011 by the Buffalo Bills. He operated as their nose tackle for almost seven years and earned his way to one All-Pro and two Pro-Bowl selections. The middle of his career was marred in controversy, which played a big role in him being traded to the Jaguars.  But in his prime, Dareus was arguably the most dangerous pass-rushing nose tackle in the league. He is now a free agent, staring down the barrel of retirement.

Quinton Dial was just a fifth-round selection for the 49ers but was able to work his way into the starting lineup for awhile before ending his career in 2017 with none other than the Green Bay Packers.

A’Shawn Robinson (Rams), Jarran Reed (Seahawks), Jonathan Allen (Redskins), Dalvin Tomlinson (Giants), Da’Ron Payne (Redskins), and Da’Shawn Hand (Lions) were all part of a great stretch of Alabama defensive linemen drafted from 2016-2018. All of them were part of multiple NCAA championships and are projected to start for their respective teams in 2020.

Then came Quinnen Williams. Williams was supposed to be the best defensive lineman out of Alabama since Marcell Dareus. It was only fitting that he too would be selected 3rd overall in 2019 to the Jets. He’s had just one disappointing season on the field for New York and his actions off the field really made people question his character.

Earlier this year, Williams attempted to pass New York’s La Guardia Airport’s TSA with a handgun that had no registration to the state. His legal processes have been delayed because of the pandemic but he could see a lengthy jail sentence. He’s still employed by the Jets but it’s tough to envision a successful career for Quinnen Williams.

Right around the time that Williams was dealing with his gun charge, Raekwon Davis was drafted in the second round to the Dolphins. He’ll compete for a starting role in 2020.

We could see eight Alabama alum in starting interior defensive line roles, which is absurd considering how few of those actually exist in the NFL. Two current members of the Crimson Tide defensive line will look to continue this trend.

LaBryan Ray and Christian Barmore are penciled in as starters along the Alabama defensive line for the start of the 2020 season. Both are eligible for next year’s draft and could declare after solid performances in 2020

Ray is a 6’ 5”, 290-pound red shirt-Junior. He played in six games as a true freshman in 2017 before breaking his foot. He saw an increased role during the 2018 season and was named a starter to begin his junior year. He came out hot in 2019 with solid performances his first two weeks before injuring his foot again in week three. The injury required surgery and ended his season but Ray was given a medical-redshirt.

Ray will try to prove he can stay healthy during the coming season while showing improvements in the finer points of his game. If he can accomplish that, he has the natural talent to catapult himself to a bright future in the NFL.

Ray fires out of his stance and is often the first player to move along the line. He’s got burst and flexibility that you just can’t teach. However, after Ray’s first step, ”you never know what you’re gonna get”.

He has enough practical strength to keep himself upright but he plays so out of control that far too often, he winds up on the floor. He has a tendency to drop his head on contact and often loses the initial battle because of that but Ray has elite recovery footwork and can always work his way back into the play.

When it all comes together for Ray, he’s a machine. He’ll come into the 2020 season as one of the most athletic interior defensive linemen in the NCAA. He’s has shown flashes of elite interior pass-rush ability but he needs a lot of work before he’s a consistent threat. Ray’s hands are sloppy, he never has a rush plan, and he has a weak bag of moves.

Right now, I give Ray an early day-three grade with the expectation that he makes huge improvements with more experience. He just needs to stay healthy. His inability to do so last year gave an opportunity to another potential great in Christian Barmore.

Barmore is a 6’ 5”, 310-pound redshirt sophomore. He redshirted his freshman year in 2018 and began 2019 in a limited role but earned more time after Ray’s injury. Like Ray, Barmore is just tapping into his potential but he’s flashed serious raw talent. He’s one of the most powerful interior defensive linemen in the NCAA and considering his length, he could become a really special player.

Barmore is a bully in the trenches and one of the best run-defenders in the SEC, which is really saying something. He defeats double teams and holds his run-fit with amazing consistency. He displays great contact balance and is only on the ground when he’s taking the ball carrier there with him and his tackling form is great.

As a pass rusher, Barmore was very raw at the beginning of 2019 but he developed plenty as the year wore on. He showed a willingness to try any pass-rush move, though none were as effective as his bull-rush. Barmore has only average athleticism for the NFL but his length and power should help him develop into a good pass-rusher.

However, Barmore hasn’t found his groove and is just an average interior pass rusher which isn’t going to generate much noise as an NFL Draft prospect. Right now, he looks like a day-two selection but Like Ray, he can increase his draft stock if he improves as a pass rusher.

Both Ray and Barmore offer plenty of value but have room to grow. They’ll fit into different roles in the NFL but the Green Bay Packers could use both of their services. Kenny Clark and Kingsley Keke will hopefully be starters along the Packers defensive line for the next few years. Clark has started at nose tackle for a while but has enough athleticism to move up and down the defensive line.

Keke is such a new commodity that he hasn’t really established himself at any position along the line but he shows enough versatility to handle any role thrown at him. Ray and Barmore could satisfy specific roles for the Green Bay Packers.

They’re vastly different players; Ray being the penetrating defensive end, Barmore the two-gapping tackle. However, they both offer plenty of versatility right now and the potential to expand on their game. Watch these two improve throughout the 2020 season and stay tuned for more Green Bay Packers 2021 Draft news and hot takes.

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