GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 33: DT Tyler Lancaster (6-3, 313, third season, Northwestern)
An undrafted free agent in 2018 out of Northwestern, Lancaster proved to be quite a find. After opening his rookie season on the practice squad, he had 32 tackles in 271 snaps over 12 games. That worked out to a tackle rate of one for every 8.47 snaps. He had three stuffs, defined as a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage vs. the run, in 131 run-defending snaps. That’s a stuffs rate of one for every 43.7 run-defending snaps. In ProFootballFocus.com’s run-stop percentage, a metric that essentially measures impact tackles, he finished second behind only indomitable Damon Harrison among defensive linemen who played at least 130 run-defending snaps.
In 2019, he quickly surpassed disappointing Montravius Adams as the third defensive lineman but perhaps the role was a bit too big. Lancaster finished 12th on the team with 36 tackles. Having started 10 games and played 381 snaps, that equates to 10.58 snaps per tackle. He remained a good run defender but just not as good. With four stuffs, his stuffs rate was one for every 53.0 run-defending snaps. Among the 105 defensive linemen who played at least 130 snaps of run defense, he finished a solid 36th in PFF’s run-stop percentage.
Data from the league is impossible to ignore. In 2018, when Lancaster was on the field, the Packers allowed just 3.08 yards per carry. In 2019, that number swelled to 4.23.
“Tyler has certainly put it on tape,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said during an offseason Zoom call.
Lancaster’s play was emblematic of the team’s play against the run in general. Green Bay allowed a 24th-ranked 4.67 yards per carry last season, a sharp downturn compared to the 13th-ranked 4.30 yards allowed per carry in 2018. Stopping the run might never be a priority for Pettine, which is understandable. It’s a quarterback-driven league. However, you’ve got to stop the run when it’s time to stop the run. On third- and fourth-and-short running plays in 2018, Green Bay ranked seventh. In 2019, it fell to 20th. And, of course, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the defense was destroyed by the 49ers.
And yet, the Packers didn’t make a single noteworthy move on the defensive line during the offseason, adding only a couple of budget veterans (Treyvon Hester and Gerald Willis) and an undrafted free agent (Willington Previlon). That means Lancaster again will be a key part of the defense.
“Certainly, I expect us to get better in that area,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after the draft. “I do like some of the young guys we have. Tyler Lancaster will be entering his third year; he does a good job of backing up Kenny (Clark) at nose. Montravius is going into his fourth year, so this is a big year for him and we expect a lot of out him. And Keke being his second year, we’re looking for that second-year growth out of him. I like the group. We have to get better in that area. It was a little bit of an Achilles heel at times last year, but I like the group and, if we stay healthy, I think we’ll be able to correct it.”
Lancaster started 39 games at Northwestern but went undrafted. When he was activated to the 53-man roster in 2019, it came during the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” campaign. The timing was fitting. On Jan. 25, 2019, his father, Brad, had died of oral cancer.
“Always in the back of my head, this was the goal and this is what he wanted to see real badly,” Lancaster said. “I keep this card right here (a baseball card-like photo of his father that he keeps on the top shelf of his locker) and see it every day just to keep him with me. I know for a fact that he’s freaking out. Man, I can’t even describe it. This is exactly what he wanted to see for so many years. To see it come true, there’s no words for it.”
Why he’s got a chance: Kenny Clark will lead the defensive line and presumably be joined by Dean Lowry as the starting tandem. It will be Lancaster, Keke and Adams front and center in the battle to be the No. 3 lineman and part-time starter. He'll never be a premier pass rusher but at least he had 1.5 sacks last year.