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Ranking the Roster: Nos. 34-37 – Big Men in the Middle

T.J. Slaton and Tyler Lancaster will battle for run-defending snaps. Plus, these two defenders had tackling problems.

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 ahead of July 28, the first practice of training camp. 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. 34: DT T.J. Slaton (6-4, 330; 23; rookie; Florida)

In a second consecutive weak class of defensive line prospects, the Packers landed Slaton with a fifth-round pick.

His career at Florida left the Gators wanting more. He arrived on campus with big dreams of breaking Florida’s single-season sacks record of 13. Instead, he mustered only 3.5 sacks in 45 career games. Of his 14 career starts, a dozen came as a senior, when he set a career high with 37 tackles. He added 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses.

A scouting director didn’t think much of Slaton until he was present for the Gators’ pro day.

At 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, Slaton ran his 40 in 5.09 seconds and posted an impressive Relative Athletic Score of 7.96. The workout had teams taking a second look.

“The dude’s 340 and he moves like he’s 290,” he said. “He’s explosive, he’s disruptive. We had him a little bit low. After the pro day, I was like, ‘Let’s watch this dude again.’ You go back and watch him, you’re like, ‘This dude could play in the league.’ I see all the reasons why teams had him lower. When you watch the full body of work, it’s a lot of inconsistency. He’s got some big-boy tendencies when he gets lazy. But, when he does it right, he can be a pretty disruptive run defender, for sure.”

Less might be more. He averaged about 45 snaps per game in 2020. That’s a heavy workload for a big guy – especially one who toils in the heat and humidity of Florida. Slaton won’t be asked to play that many snaps for the Packers.

“Ultimately, we’ve got to get him to buy in and learn how we learn do things around here,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. “As he does that, he’ll continue to develop into a good football player. From a size standpoint, yeah, big, massive body. He moves extremely well for his size.”

No. 35: DT Tyler Lancaster (6-3, 313; 26; fourth year; Northwestern)

Lancaster might be battling Slaton for playing time on run downs. Lancaster, an undrafted free agent in 2018, was a horse in that regard. Pro Football Focus has a stat called run-stop percentage. It essentially measures impact tackles. For instance, a first-and-10 tackle that limits the play to 3 yards or less is a run stop; a first-and-10 tackle that results in a 4-yard gain is not a run stop.

Of the 100-or-so interior defenders to play at least 140 run-defending snaps, Lancaster finished second in run-stop percentage in 2018, 22nd in 2019 and 69th in 2020. He didn’t post a single tackle for loss last season.

“He’s always been the dirty-work guy,” Montgomery said. “He’s a utility player. When I say that, he can play the three, he can play the five, he can play the nose. He’s kind of a guy that just does his job. If plays come to him, he makes those plays. If there’s doubles that come to him, he easily handles those double-teams very well. A lot of things he does well, you wouldn’t see in the stat book.”

With 18 starts in three seasons, the Packers didn’t tender him as a restricted free agent but signed him to a $920,000 contract (league minimum) with a $200,000 signing bonus. Typically, that kind of money would vault a player over a late-round pick in these rankings. However, after three seasons, Lancaster’s identity in the NFL is set. Slaton is where there’s a chance for real improvement on the defense.

No. 36: S Will Redmond (5-11, 186; 27; sixth year; Mississippi State)

For the second consecutive season, Redmond played in 13 games. He logged 340 snaps and contributed 24 tackles, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed. Plus, he played 238 snaps on special teams and chipped in four tackles.

Redmond brings versatility, special-teams experience and a no-nonsense attitude to the party. The problem is he’s a horrific tackler. Among safeties who played at least 250 snaps in 2019, Redmond had a missed-tackle rate of 20 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. That tied for 86th out of 97 safeties to hit that playing-time threshold. In 2020, his missed-tackle rate of 28.1 percent was the worst among 96 qualifying safeties. For additional perspective, using PFF’s numbers, Adrian Amos had 68 tackles but missed nine. Redmond had 19 tackles but missed nine.

Not only that, Redmond missed a chance to intercept Tom Brady just before halftime of the NFC Championship Game. Moments later, Brady threw a touchdown pass to put the Bucs in control.

Those flaws notwithstanding, until somebody knocks Redmond off the roster, he’ll remain a key role player and a core member of the special teams. He re-signed with a minimum-salary deal of $920,000 that included no bonus money.

No. 37: LB Kamal Martin (6-3, 240; 23; second year; Minnesota)

A fifth-round pick last year, Martin’s got a chance to be really, really good. In 10 games that included six starts, he had 23 tackles, one sack and three tackles for losses. Despite playing only 190 defensive snaps, his six stuffs (a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage) led the position group and ranked fourth on the team.

If only he wouldn’t have missed so many tackles. Of the 104 linebackers who played at least Martin’s 190 snaps, his five missed tackles gave him a 97th-ranked missed-tackle rate of 18.5 percent. So, seeing the ball wasn’t an issue. Getting to the ball wasn’t an issue. Finishing on the ball was the issue.

“It’s easier to coach a fast decision, meaning that if we get him lined up correctly and we get him looking at the right thing, we know Kamal’s going to make a fast decision,” inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “That’s easier to coach because we can do a lot of things in air conditioning and walking through and practicing that get him in the correct position with his eyes in the right spot. Once we do that, we know he’s going to make a fast decision. That’s a real positive, especially from my perspective, is, hey, let’s put him in the right position, making sure we’re getting his eyes where they’re supposed to be, making sure he’s comfortable where he’s aligning. When that’s the case, we know he’s going to make a fast decision.”

For Martin to be a big factor in a linebacker corps that includes Krys Barnes and veteran addition De’Vondre Campbell, Martin not only has to tackle better but be better in coverage. He generally was kept off the field on passing downs. And when he was on the field, he frequently was sent on blitzes.

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Ranking the Roster

Nos. 38-40: JK Scott, Josh Jackson, Vernon Scott

Nos. 41-43: Josiah Deguara, Devin Funchess, Equanimeous St. Brown

Nos. 44-45: Kylin Hill, Shemar Jean-Charles

Nos. 46-48: Randy Ramsey, Oren Burks, Ty Summers

Nos. 49-51: Jace Sternberger, Dominique Dafney, Hunter Bradley

Nos. 52-54: Yosh Nijman, Ben Braden, Simon Stepaniak

No. 55: Cole Van Lanen

Nos. 56-58: Isaiah McDuffie, Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai

Nos. 59-61: Kurt Benkert, Juwann Winfree, Malik Taylor

Nos. 62-64: Patrick Taylor, Dexter Williams, Isaac Nauta

Nos. 65-67: Ka'dar Hollman, Kabion Ento, Stanford Samuels

Nos. 68-70: Jake Hanson and two specialist challengers

Nos. 71-74: Christian Uphoff, Henry Black, Innis Gaines, Jake Dolegala

Nos. 75-77: Coy Cronk, Willington Previlon, Jack Heflin

Nos. 78-80: Delontae Scott, Carlo Kemp, Bronson Kaufusi

No. 81: WR Bailey Gaither

Nos. 82-84: WRs Reggie Begelton, Chris Blair, DeAndre Thompkins

Nos. 85-88: LBs Ray Wilborn, Scoota Harris; OL Zach Johnson, Jacob Capra

No. 89: G Jon Dietzen

No. 90: K JJ Molson