NFL.com polled players to rank the top 100 athletes in the game, and last week the final list was revealed. A league-high six Packers were ranked, so here’s the breakdown of each player and where they were voted.
99. Chad Clifton, LT: Two years ago many wondered whether Clifton had run his course in the NFL and was on his way out, but back-to-back stellar seasons proved his importance as Aaron Rodgers’ blindside protector. He was the sixth best tackle on the list and should have a year or two left playing at a high level.
96. Nick Collins, FS: One of the Packers’ biggest playmakers on defense was rewarded with a spot on the Top 100, and for good reason. With 17 interceptions and four touchdowns over the past three years, Collins has become one of the best coverage safeties in the league. Like Clifton, Collins was also ranked as the sixth best at his position.
81. B.J. Raji, NT:
In the wake of labor disputes and the reality that part of the 2011 NFL season may be lost, NFL.com has polled current players to rank the top 100 players in the league.
Sneaking on the bottom of the list at No. 99 was Packers’ left tackle Chad Clifton, one spot ahead of Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The recognition came after a fantastic bounce-back season from the 11-year veteran, who was called for just one holding penalty and was in charge of Aaron Rodgers’ blind side during the Packers’ run to Super Bowl XLV.
It was quite the accomplishment for Clifton, who many believed was a thing of the past after the Packers selected offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga with their first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Following a sub-par, injury-filled 2009, Bulaga was expected to challenge Clifton for the left tackle starting gig. Clifton eventually won the job, with Bulaga moving to right tackle.
Five members of the Green Bay Packers have been selected for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson, and safety Nick Collins were selected as starters for the NFC, while wide receiver Greg Jennings and left tackle Chad Clifton will come off the bench as reserves.
The Packers also had five alternates selected, including first alternates Aaron Rodgers and cornerback Tramon Williams. Wide receiver Donald Driver, inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, right guard Josh Sitton, and defensive tackle B.J. Raji will also serve as alternates.
Here’s a breakdown of each player and how they earned their spot on the NFC roster.
Clay Matthews (starter): Early in the season Matthews looked like the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year with 11.5 sacks in his first nine games. While that pace has slowed, he still has 12.5 sacks on the season and has played a huge role in the Packers’ late playoff push. He is constantly garnering double teams on passing downs, freeing up lanes for other blitzers and has played well against the run as of late, showing he has more than one dimension in his game. He has forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass for a touchdown on the season as well, making him an easy selection for voters.
Charles Woodson (starter): For those who claim Woodson was voted solely on name recognition, take a closer look. Tramon Williams may be having a better season but Woodson is no slouch. He has recorded 86 tackles, forced five fumbles, intercepted two passes, and returned one for a touchdown on the year and is the emotional leader of a Packers defense that ranks second in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. His value on the field goes far past numbers, making Woodson’s seventh Pro Bowl bid a worthy one.
Nick Collins (starter):
The Green Bay Packers are World Champs! It still sounds as amazing as it did when Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass on fourth down with under a minute to go. With the season over, it’s time to give out grades to the 53-man roster. Injured players will get their own section later, but for now it’s about the 53 players who suited up in Dallas (OK, only 45 suited up but you know what I mean). Here’s the Packers’ offensive line and special teams in review.
LT- Chad Clifton: There were plenty of reasons the Packers won the Super Bowl, but right up there at the top of the list was Clifton’s play. Aaron Rodgers was surgical in the playoffs but only because he was able to stand upright. Clifton officially allowed 8.5 sacks but played his best football toward the end of the season, also helping out in the run game. He had four false starts but was not called for holding all year long. Grade: B+
LG- Daryn Colledge: For as much heat as Colledge takes, he wasn’t all that bad in 2010. The run game seemed to pick up steam later in the year, with the Packers running to Colledge’s side quite a bit. There’s a chance he is replaced in 2011 but him staying healthy and playing solid was big for the Packers. He allowed three sacks, had four false starts, and was called for holding once. Grade: C+
C- Scott Wells:
The Packers released their first depth chart of the 2010 season Monday, and while nothing is official and most of the list means little, there is something to be said about some of the starters/backups. It’s important to remember the Packers still have not played an actual game yet (the one thing that matters the most) and that inevitable injuries are sure to change who plays where, but there’s some truth and concrete evidence behind the depth chart. One area, the offensive line, was a topic of discussion.
One of the biggest storylines, if not the biggest, for the Packers entering training camp was regarding the offensive line. With solid depth and versatility, there were plenty of options for the Packers to pick and choose from. It’s an area the Packers must improve on next season if they want to be true contenders, so mixing and finding the right matches will be vital before the season starts. Here are the first impressions from the initial depth chart on the offensive line.
Mike McCarthy announced Tuesday that Daryn Colledge, currently a restricted free-agent, would get a shot at redemption in 2010 at the left guard position. Colledge regressed mightily in 2009 and many questioned whether or not his future was in Green Bay. However, McCarthy’s announcement means the Packers will be putting a tender on Colledge that will allow him to compete for the starting job at left guard next year.
McCarthy made the right decision by promising nothing to Colledge, like he did with new starting tight end Jermichael Finley, instead saying he would have the chance to compete with Jason Spitz for the spot next year.
The Packers’ 2009 regular season is officially half way over and it is time to hand out grades for the 53 players currently on the active roster.
Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers has been under some scrutiny for his inability to get rid of the ball and throw to check downs, resulting in some sacks, but he is a huge reason the Packers have four wins to their name. GRADE: A-
Matt Flynn: He has seen little time but rumors flew around that while Rodgers was held out of practice, Flynn played exceptionally well with the first team. It’s too early to tell, but Flynn could still be something more than a back-up quarterback in the NFL. GRADE: INC
Ryan Grant: While he has done the majority of his damage on poor teams, he is still a serviceable running back that has a few more years of mileage in him. GRADE: B-
Brandon Jackson: Some people forget that Jackson was a second round draft pick. Regardless of where he was drafted, all he has done this year is pick up the blitz decently for a team that leads the league in sacks allowed. GRADE: D
Ahman Green: Saving Jackson’s behind somewhat this year has been Ahman Green, a fresh of breath air when Grant comes out of the game. He also passed Jim Taylor as the Packers’ leading rusher this season. GRADE: C+
Greg Jennings: It’s a fact that teams have doubled Jennings on most plays and Donald Driver’s successes can be attributed to that somewhat, but Jennings really needs to improve on getting open. GRADE: B
Donald Driver: By far the Packers’ MVP on offense half way through the season, Driver has come up in big situations and showed no signs of slowing down at age 34. GRADE: A
James Jones: Jones has filled in nicely for the injured Jordy Nelson and caught a long touchdown pass last week in Tampa Bay. He seems to be progressing back towards his rookie season. GRADE: B-
Jordy Nelson: Nelson was expected to be the third wideout in the Packers’ deadly passing attack, but a knee injury has limited him. GRADE: C
Jake Allen: Allen was put on the roster when Brett Swain went down for the year. He does not have a catch in the two weeks he has been on the roster. GRADE: INC
Biren Ealy: Ealy was signed to the roster due to Nelson’s injury and the questionable status of Allen and Driver last week. GRADE: INC
John Kuhn: One of the pleasant surprises for the Packers this season, Kuhn has established himself as the “skill position” fullback with three touchdowns. GRADE: B+
Korey Hall: Hall has not been used as much as he was last year but has still blocked well and played decent special teams. GRADE: C
Quinn Johnson: The bruiser of the three fullbacks plays the least, but when he is in he crushes linebackers. Also had a nice catch against Minnesota. GRADE: INC
Chad Clifton: Clifton has not been able to stay healthy, and when he is in the results have not been good at all. This could be Clifton’s last year in Green Bay. GRADE: D
Daryn Colledge: The experiment of Colledge at left tackle is officially over, but improvements can be made at left guard as he has struggled over the last few weeks. GRADE:C-
Scott Wells: Wells was not expected to see much playing time this season (rightfully so), but he has stunk up the place since taking over for Jason Spitz at center. GRADE: D
Josh Sitton: Finally! The bright spot in the offensive line has been Sitton, who has pass protected very well for the Packers and is arguably their best run blocker. GRADE: B
Allen Barbre: For as bad as he was against Chicago and Cincinnati, he had a span of a few weeks where he played very well. Unfortunately, he has been back to his old ways lately. GRADE: C-
Jason Spitz: Spitz’s injury really hurt the offensive line, and his future in Green Bay is now in question with a season-ending back injury. GRADE: B-
Mark Tauscher: Tauscher got his first start in 2009 against the Buccaneers but was injured and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. GRADE: INC
T.J. Lang: Lang has been another bright spot for the Packers on the offensive line. In his brief stint at left tackle, he handled his own for the most part and is the potential left tackle of the future for the Packers. GRADE: B-
Evan Dietrich-Smith: EDS has not seen any playing time this season but provides good depth on a shaky, injury-prone offensive line. GRADE: INC
Breno Giacomini: One has to wonder just how poorly Giacomini must have played in the pre-season to not have warranted a start after Barbre’s first two starts. GRADE: INC
Jermichael Finley: A knee has forced Finley to the sidelines the last couple of weeks, but he is clearly the future at tight end and has become a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers down the seam. GRADE: B
Donald Lee: Lee has taken a back seat to Finley as the go-to guy, but still finds himself on the field in blocking situations and has recorded a reception in all but one game. GRADE: B-
Spencer Havner: “Duct tape” has done it all this year and has really come on as a tight end that can make things happen. He’s not half bad on special teams, either. GRADE: B+
It sounds cliche to say, but the Green Bay Packers’ bye week is coming at a perfect time. The Packers will have week five of the NFL season off and will use that extra week to pick up the pieces to a very shaky start to the season. While bye weeks never really come at a bad time for any team, the Packers need it now more than ever.
For starters, the injury bug has hit the Packers in two of their most shallow positions on the field, offensive line and safety and is becoming not only a weak spot on the field, but rather a liability. Entering the season, the Packers put rookie tackle Jamon Meredith on the practice squad, but he was picked up by the Bills in late September after Buffalo had injuries of their own on the offensive line when Brad Butler went down for the season.
The injury left the Packers with three roster players that were capable of playing left tackle in Chad Cliton, Daryn Colledge, and rookie T.J. Lang. When Clifton suffered a high ankle sprain in week two against the Bengals, Colledge had to move to left tackle from left guard, shifting the entire line around. Colledge then suffered a knee sprain against the Vikings, leaving the rookie Lang to play out of position, going up against All-Pro Jared Allen nonetheless.
With the bye week coming, Clifton expects to be healthy enough to suit up against the Lions in week six and Colledge will get extra rest on his knee. Had the bye not come this week, there’s a chance the Packer faithful would have been subjected to T.J. Lang round two, something no one wants to see.
The Packers’ offensive line is hardly tops in the league this season, but getting Clifton back and moving Colledge back to his natural left guard position will do wonders for the line. It will move Jason Spitz back to center and presumably bump Scott Wells out. The bye week also gives the Packers the opportunity to evaluate former tackle Mark Tauscher. Currently a free agent after ACL surgery last season, the Packers have worked him out and will now get an extra week to evaluate him and see if he can help the line out more than the inconsistent Allen Barbre.
With the bye week coming, safety Atari Bigby is expected to use that week to get ready for his return in week six. After a knee injury forced him out of the Packers’ home opener against the Bears, he is hoping to get back on the field after the bye week. His return can not come soon enough as recently-acquired Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush have, to put it nicely, done a less-than-stellar job manning his position the last three weeks.
The Packers have had to use five-linebacker sets, called the “Big Okie”, where Brandon Chillar plays in the box as a safety. With the return of Bigby, there should be an improvement in the pass defense, where the Packers currently rank 20th in the league.
Other players who have battled injury such as B.J. Raji will also get a full week of rest away from football activities to get their bodies back in healthy shape.
More so than the injuries that will be helped out by the bye week, the week off will help the Packers regroup after four weeks of football that saw them all over the place on many accounts. The offense has had many opportunities to succeed this season, and while pass protection can account for some of those issues, chemistry and timing has been off as a whole. Greg Jennings has failed to break out of his “ugly” slump, posting just five catches and no touchdowns the last three weeks.
Hopefully Dom Capers will go back to the drawing board and film room and realize that a weak pass rush has gotten the Packers defense nowhere. Something needs to change defensively so that the big plays are extinguished and the Packers can get a better pass rush on the quarterback to force errors, much like they did against the Bears in week one.
There is reason to believe the Packers will right the ship with a very favorable schedule coming up. There is a chance the Packers could win their next four games or, at the very worst, three of four. Dates with Detroit, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay are in the near future and it looks like now is the time for the Packers to bust out.
As a whole, the Packers are in good position to re-group as a whole, players and coaches alike, and get back to their winning ways with an offense that is clicking and a pressure-filled defense. They will be as healthy as they have been since week one heading into their matchup with Detroit, and hopefully a big win against the Lions will light a match underneath the Packers that propels them into November and December with some confidence.