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How Dean Lowry fits with the Green Bay Packers

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Lowry can likely slot in as both a 3-technique defensive end and a 5-technique defensive end.

Mike Carlson/Getty Images

On Saturday, former Northwestern defensive end Dean Lowry was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 137th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Lowry was the 14th defensive end selected in this year's draft, and as the 21-year-old rookie prepares to start rookie minicamps with the team this upcoming Friday, he finds himself in a unique situation in Green Bay.

Overview of the Packers' defense

The Packers have established themselves as one of the NFL's most talented teams year in and year out. They've made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons (tied for the longest active streak in the league) and have consistently developed talent from the draft.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers are led by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who has been with the team since 2009. During his time in Green Bay, Capers has run a 3-4 system that emphasizes forcing turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback — two things Lowry showed flashes of during his time at Northwestern.

In the last two seasons, Capers has wasted no time integrating the Packers' first round draft picks into the depth chart. Last season, rookie cornerback Damarious Randall played nearly every defensive snap, and in 2013, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played on over 86 percent of the team's total snaps on defense. With the departure of nose tackle B.J. Raji this offseason, expect to see Capers do the same next season and plug Kenny Clark, a nose tackle from UCLA, into Raji's old spot. If Clark assumes the starting role, the rest of the Packers' defensive line depth chart will most likely fall into place as follows:

Position

Starter

2nd String

3rd String

Left DE

Letroy Guion

Datone Jones

Dean Lowry

Nose Tackle

Kenny Clark

Mike Pennel*

Right DE

Mike Daniels

Josh Boyd

Christian Ringo

*Pennel is suspended for the first four games in 2016

Prior to the draft, many expected Guion to slide into the vacant nose tackle spot, but judging by the Packers' decision to take Clark in the first round instead of filling other needs, it seems the Packers' coaching staff felt the nose tackle position was the team's most pressing need. This affects Lowry because with the addition of Clark, whom pro scouts referred to as a natural nose tackle, Guion now can slide over and play as a defensive end, potentially cutting into Lowry's total snaps on defense.

However, just because Lowry starts the season low on Green Bay's depth chart does not mean he won't be seeing the field. One of the unique things about the Packers' defensive line this year is that nearly every player — including Lowry — is versatile enough to play different positions along the line. Furthermore, the Packers will be short a defensive lineman for the first four games of the season due to tackle Mike Pennel's suspension, which could require all of the d-linemen to fill in along the line at one point or another. Capers will have the luxury of being able to shuffle players around early on in training camp and the preseason in order to determine which player fits best at which position(s). This will give Lowry a fair chance to prove himself and earn significant playing time in the regular season.

Where Lowry fits: The 5-Technique

Lowry's biggest advantage that sets him apart from the rest of the Green Bay's defensive linemen is his height. At 6-foot-6, 294 pounds, Lowry is the tallest defensive linemen on the Packers' roster. His height advantage will be very useful if the Packers choose to plug him in as a "5-technique" defensive end.

A defensive lineman's technique refers to where a player lines up in relation to the opposing offensive line. In the Packers' case, running a 3-4 defense means that there will be a nose tackle along with two defensive ends — one that is a 3-technique end (lines up on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard) and one that is 5-technique end (lines up on the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle). Seeing that offensive tackles are typically taller than guards, a 5-technique defensive end must be able to match up with the tackles and beat them around the edge.

Defensive technique alignments

DL alignments

Lowry's size and athleticism give him the opportunity to play as either a 3-technique or a 5-technique end, which was something that Packers' Director of Football Operations Eliot Wolf said was a major reason behind the team drafting Lowry as early as they did.

"I really liked his versatility and his athletic ability," Wolf told Packers.com after selecting Lowry. "(He) can rush the passer, play the run and lined up all over the defensive line at Northwestern..he rushed from inside, rushed from outside and we think he's a good addition."

Many have already projected that Lowry will start out as a 5-technique defensive end for the Packers. If this is the case, he would most likely be behind Datone Jones (the Packers' first round draft pick from 2013) and presumably Guion if he slides over to end. If Lowry were to see time playing the 5-technique as an edge rusher, one of the biggest concerns that critics will point towards is his abnormally small arms (just 31 inches). This was considered one of Lowry's biggest weakness heading into the draft, seeing that small arms make it difficult to break free from blocks. Shortly after being selected, Lowry told reporters that he felt the rest of his mechanics would help him make up for his arm length.

"I think I'm somebody who's explosive, I think that makes up for it with my first step," Lowry said. "And I have great technique, great pad level. I've played against long Big Ten tackles the past two years and they're all big guys and I've never had a problem in terms of locking out and shedding."

To fit into Capers' 3-4 system as a 5-technique end, Lowry will need to play a big role in stopping the run — something he did very well in college — as well as putting pressure on the quarterback. Lowry's pass rushing abilities are something that will need to improve if he hopes to see consistent playing time in the regular season. This was one weakness that Henry Bushnell mentioned in Lowry's scouting report:

"Lowry is a fairly one-dimensional pass rusher. He doesn't have the agility to get by NFL offensive tackles, and didn't really have a go-to finesse move in college. That's why his sack numbers are relatively pedestrian."

It's unfair to expect Lowry to transform into a disruptive pass rusher who records a sack every game. That hasn't been his style throughout his career, and it isn't what Capers needs from him. Instead, Lowry needs to become a reliable cog in the Packers' pass rush, someone that can take up blocks and free up space for the more experienced edge rushers at outside linebacker — Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Lowry acknowledged the different ways he can contribute to the Packers' pass-rush in an interview with WNUR Sports on Sunday:

"Having great edge rushers off the edge like Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, a lot of the times it's important to get a good pocket push," Lowry said. "If I'm playing d-tackle, I need to make sure I'm pushing the interior linemen back just to make sure the quarterback is flushed out of the pocket and make sure he can't step up in the pocket... I think in that way I'll be a good addition to their pass rush."

Bottom Line

Lowry will not start right away for the Packers, but he will almost certainly see the field in his rookie season due to his versatility and ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line. As the tallest defensive linemen on the team, we can expect to see Lowry play the 5-technique defensive end and match up against opposing offensive tackles. He'll need to work on his pass-rushing abilities and be stout against the run in order to gain a regular spot in the Packers' rotation. Lowry will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself this summer and with his exceptional athleticism, as well as his high motor and work ethic, it will be very interesting to see how his time in Green Bay plays out.