The NFL lockout still remains after the players opted not to vote on the owner’s proposed labor deal. However, that short window when it looked as though the 2011 season would be underway shortly has this author excited to begin breaking down the 53-man roster.
The Packers, who currently stand approximately $62,000 under the salary cap, are not expected to make any big splashes in free agency. However, the Packers kept three undrafted rookie free agents on their roster in 2010 (Sam Shields, Nick McDonald, Frank Zombo), so this projected 53-man surely could change once free agency gets underway.
Here is the first (of many) 53-man projections for the 2011 Packers:
QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Why: Graham Harrell should be back in 2011 as an emergency quarterback, but the Packers have gone with two quarterbacks ever since Rodgers took over as the starter. Flynn is an above average backup who could have trade value next year.
RB (4): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Brandon Jackson, Alex Green
Why: Jump aboard the Brandon Jackson bandwagon. The Packers will have to take one less lineman (in this projection) to keep Jackson, but he’s worth it in the long run. Expect Grant to be the “starter” but to split carries with Starks.
FB (2): Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson
Why: John Kuhn was a great success story in 2010, but Hall’s ability on special teams and Johnson’s use in the run game helps them make the roster.
WR (5): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, Brett Swain
Why: Jermichael Finley is basically a wide receiver, but Swain has earned a spot on the roster and will fill a depth void left by the departure of James Jones. Randall Cobb will be used all over the field.
TE (4): Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Tom Crabtree
Owners of fantasy football teams, look away. Ryan Grant fans, understand where this is coming from. Members of the James Starks fan club, know that your man is going to be an important piece to the Packers’ puzzle in 2011.
But Brandon Jackson is the most valuable running back the Packers have on their roster, and it would be a huge mistake if they let him leave Green Bay when he becomes a free agent as soon as the new CBA is announced.
A second round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2007, the Packers initially had hoped Jackson would be the running back of the future. The 22-year-old Jackson had just one year of being the feature running back under his belt, rushing for 989 yards on 188 carries and eight touchdowns his junior year. He also caught 33 passes out of the backfield and scored twice through the air. Out of college, the scouting report was that consistency was an issue but his shiftiness and strength would serve him well at the next level.
Unfortunately for Jackson, his draft choice coincided with the Packers trade for Ryan Grant, who would go on to start the next three seasons in Green Bay. Jackson saw spot duty from time-to-time, but Grant’s durability (not missing a start in three years) never allowed Jackson to prove his worth running the ball.
Every sports fan in America does it. It’s that exaggerated feeling of falling in love with rookies and expecting nothing but greatness, while proven veterans are suddenly moved to the back burner and become old news.
In Green Bay, this has certainly been the case with Green Bay running backs Ryan Grant and James Starks.
Just 18 carries into the season, an ankle injury in Week 1 knocked Grant out for the remainder of the 2010 season. From there, the Packers’ run game struggled as Brandon Jackson, Dmitri Nance and John Kuhn unsuccessfully attempted to fill the void.
Then, when Starks was finally activated on November 9, returning from a hamstring injury that had him sidelined since training camp, many expected him to enter the platoon with Jackson and be used only in short-yardage situations. Starks did not see the field until Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers, but he made his presence felt by rushing for 73 yards on 18 carries in that contest. He would rush for just 28 yards on 11 carries in the final two regular season games, but burst onto the scene in the playoffs by rushing for 123 yards in the Packers’ Wildcard win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Starks then became the every-down back for the Packers and finished the 2010 playoffs with 315 yards on 81 carries and a touchdown. His performance was made even more impressive considering the sixth round draft choice was playing for the first time in almost two years. Starks had missed his entire senior season at Buffalo with a shoulder injury.
That skill set combined with fans not having to see Jackson dance in the backfield before diving forward for two yards quickly made Starks a fan favorite in Green Bay. Capping the year off with a Super Bowl victory only further improved Starks’ standing in the eyes of the Packer faithful.
When Ryan Grant was lost for the season just two quarters into the 2010 season, many wondered if the Packers could survive with Brandon Jackson and fullback-turned-bulldozer John Kuhn.
For 11 weeks that duo worked, but the return (and debut) of little-known seventh round rookie James Starks threw another wrench into the equation. A wrench that would pay dividends down the stretch in the playoffs.
As the Packers enter the 2011 offseason, Grant is expected to be ready for all activity once summer workouts begin and will battle with Starks for the starting gig. Jackson is not under contract but could be back as an excellent third down back.
Rookie free agent Dmitri Nance was a solid fill-in but projects as nothing more than a practice squad body.
All this begs the question as the NFL Draft gets underway tomorrow night: Is running back a need for the Green Bay Packers?
The Packers will surely address both lines and will look into improving their pass rush on the right side, and may even consider a wide receiver early in the draft, but could an early-round running back provide an answer for the future?
Starting from the ground up, Grant is one of the more under-appreciated yet successful running backs in the league. He finished ninth and seventh in rushing yards the last two seasons, and in 2007 rushed for 956 yards in eight starts. Those numbers say a lot considering Green Bay’s pass-happy offense.
His injury should not be of concern, considering he played 15, 16 and 16 games the last three seasons and a whole season off should have his legs fresh for 2011.
Starks made head turns when the playoffs came around, rushing for 315 yards in four playoff games and coaches like him enough to give him a chance to win the starting job outright. While there’s a chance he doesn’t become the clear-cut starter this year, the 25-year-old Starks was given rave reviews by the coaching staff before the public saw him, so there’s good reason to believe he could be the guy.
Yes football fans, it’s that time of the year again. The world’s most popular fantasy sport, although I’d beg to differ on what’s actually the best, is sending out their initial draft packages, mock drafts, and fantasy advice to get ready for the 2010 season. I have to admit I don’t spend much time on fantasy football because of my love for the Packers, so why not put a Packers’ spin on ESPN.com’s first fantasy football mock draft?
The Packers had six players and a defense represented in the draft (the Vikings had seven and a defense), and my fanhood believes there could have have been one or two more in there. Standard rules applied when making selections, so no individual defensive players (IDPs) and only 10 teams (most fantasy leagues will have 12 or even 14).
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB: Drafted in 2nd round, (12th overall)
ESPN.com’s NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert wrote a blog last Wednesday on broken tackles from this past season. He received his information from Football Outsiders, a website that tracks all kinds of stats, and revealed some pretty interesting numbers on NFC North tackling.
The first stat, percentage of tackles offensive players “broke,” slotted the Packers worst in the league at 3.3 tackles broken out of every 100 attempts. In comparison, the Vikings ranked second (7.6) while the Lions finished 29th (3.8) and the Bears 31st (3.5). The Carolina Panthers led the league with 8.4 percent.
Outside of a career ending injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the first and most obvious need for the Packers in 2010 is finding a left tackle to take over for current starter Chad Clifton. Despite showing improvements of late, the offensive line as a whole has been one of the worst in the league this season and changes are inevitable in 2010. However, just because the Packers need to address the offensive line does not mean it is a foregone conclusion that they will select a left tackle in the first round next year.
Rather, the Packers would be wise to snatch up Clemson running back C.J. Spiller if he is on the board when the Packers are on the clock. Before your head explodes for an offensive lineman not being at the top of the list, let’s take a look at arguably the best running back in the nation.
Spiller has been a monster this season and his pre-Music City Bowl stats include 1145 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns. He has also added 33 receptions for 445 yards and four touchdowns through the air for the Tigers and is having a stellar all-around season. Spiller will play his bowl game in Tennessee, the home of the NFL’s leading rusher Chris Johnson. Many have compared Spiller’s running style to that of Johnson’s and their measurements are the same within five pounds of each other.
The Packers have lacked a true game-breaker in the run game for quite some time and Spiller would fit the bill perfectly. Spiller’s ability to cut back and break into the second level make him a perfect fit for the zone blocking scheme, something Ryan Grant has lacked since his breakout campaign two seasons ago. Spiller would allow the Packers to use the screen game more efficiently and add a potential, “touchdown every time he touches the ball” running back to the offense.
The other caveat with Spiller is his ability as a kick and punt returner. Spiller has returned an NCAA-record eight kicks for touchdowns and is a threat to go to the house every time he goes back for a kick. If Spiller does not take over starting running back duties right away, he will return kicks and punts for a Packers special teams unit that ranks 21st in average kick returns and 24th in punt returns.
The NFL is quickly becoming a two-running back system and the fact is that Grant is not going to last long if he has no one behind him. Brandon Jackson has proved to be a bust outside of his improved blitz pick-up on third down and DeShawn Wynn is nothing more than a nice practice squad player. Spiller would provide the Packers with a change-of-pace running back, similar to what Felix Jones is in Dallas with Marion Barber.
Entering Week Thirteen, the Packers were slotted to pick 22nd in the first round. Obviously that number can and probably will change slightly between now and April, but that range is where most experts have Spiller going. If he has a big bowl game and runs a sub-4.30 forty at the Combine his stock will surely rise into the top 15, but we have now seen that Ted Thompson is not afraid to depart with his later draft picks if it means getting someone he really likes.
In recent years, Thompson has shown a pattern of going with the best player available in round one of the draft, and then drafting for need in round two. The talent in the first round makes it hard to pass on a player you think could be truly special. Unless you are set at the position with a young, elite-level talent (Chris Johnson, Joe Thomas, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Willis), drafting the best player available is not a waste of a pick.
At some point early on in the draft, the offensive line will need to be addressed. Thompson is (hopefully) starting to see that a line built on mid-round, little known, athletic college linemen is not going to get the job done. With one of the deepest draft classes this decade, Thompson will be able to find good depth in round two if he does not pull the trigger on a tackle in the first round.
The truth is the Packers are set at multiple positions on the field for quite some time and find themselves with a better future than the majority of teams. That means taking risks in the first round on a potential stud running back will not set them back five years if it does not work. Good teams like the Packers put themselves in those positive situations to be able to do that, so taking a flier on Spiller is a risk worth taking.
Running back might not be the Packers’ biggest need next season, but if a future Pro Bowler is on the board when the Packers pick, need might go right out the window.
While the difference in the victories against the Detroit Lions (26-0) in week six and the Cleveland Browns (31-3) Sunday was just two points, the blowouts were about as different as they could be and showed what exactly the Packers have in store for the rest of the season.
Say what you will about the Browns easily being one of the worst teams in the league and that it is hard to gauge just how good the Packers really are based on two straight victories against teams with a combined record of 2-11, but Sunday’s contest wasn’t even close. After Phil Dawson connected on a field goal to give the Browns a 3-0 lead, the Packers reeled off 31 straight points to coast for the win.
Don’t let anyone fool you: the Browns are bad. They are very bad. But it wasn’t as if the Packers struggled to find rhythm on offense and were making mistakes on defense like they did against the Lions. They found a bad team at the wrong time and absolutely destroyed them in all aspects of the game, something great teams do.
Defensively, the Packers did what they had to do, forcing two turnovers and holding the Browns to just 139 yards on offense. What helps is that they did most of their damage out of normal sets, making sure not give much away for next week’s matchup against Minnesota.
Call it a tune-up, but the Packers have used the last two weeks to become more comfortable within their defense and players like A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett are finally starting to get things down. Aaron Kampman has been able to rush the passer more and has three sacks in the last four weeks, and Charles Woodson reminded the NFL why no one should throw his way as he picked off a pass and forced a Josh Cribbs fumble.
The Lions rank 22nd in total offense and the Browns 31st, but the Packers did what they were supposed to do and then some. While some may say their stats are inflated from the last two weeks, the fact of the matter is their defense ranks 3rd in total defense and is giving up just 16 points per game, good for fifth in all of football.
The big play threats are still there and are coming at the expense of trying to force turnovers, but that is something the Packers are hoping will cancel out by season’s end. Their 13 takeaways rank third in the league and their turnover difference of +8 is second in the league.
Leading the way in that department has been the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has feasted on lesser opponents and seen his quarterback rating soar. Rodgers has eight touchdowns in his last three games and has had a passer rating over 110 in each of his last four contests. For the season, only Peyton Manning has a higher passer rating (114.5) than Rodgers (110.8).
His two interceptions have kept Packers’ drives alive and are a big part of the reason why the Packers rank fifth in the league in total offense and points per game.
The offensive line finally put together a rock solid outing, regardless of who it was against, in not allowing a sack and rushing for over 200 yards against the Browns. T.J. Lang made his first start at left tackle and was solid all day in his potential warm-up for Jared Allen next week. The right side of the line created holes all day and helped Ryan Grant to his best outing of 2009.
All in all, the last three weeks have been exactly what the Packers needed. Defensive adjustments were clearly made during the bye week as the Packers not only beat up bad offenses, but completely shut them down. Regardless of how bad the Lions and Browns may be, the Packers’ defense could not have played any better.
Offensively, the Packers continue to get better every week, improving their total yards in each of the team’s first six games. They have also gone over the 400-yard mark on offense in each of the past four games. Question marks arose in the first two weeks about Rodgers’ consistency, the dropped passes, and the offensive line, but that has not been the problem as of late. If Rodgers’ can get time, the Packers’ offense is a top ten unit.
With just 16 games on the schedule, no team ever looks past games, but the Packers’ might have peeked at their matchup next weekend against the Vikings. The past two weeks have allowed the Packers to try out new things during blowouts and also disguise others. Coming off a bye week and two blowouts is surely different than the Vikings, who have yet to play their bye and have battled to the extremes against two AFC powerhouses in the Ravens and Steelers the last two weeks.
The Vikings might not be tired but they will not be as well rested as the Packers. While it’s too hard to judge whether or not the Packers’ wins over the Lions and Browns just met expectations or were a start of something new, it’s no secret the Packers have momentum coming into next week. Not only are they playing great football, but the NFC North is on the line and the winner of the game will have that title all to themselves.
After a superb preseason, expectations for the Green Bay Packers could not have been higher. Three weeks into the regular season, the team stands at 2-1 after wins over the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, and a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In those three weeks, there have been many positive things to get excited about, some struggles that need to be fixed, and some ugly things that are getting the Packers by in easy games, but will not as the season goes on and games become tougher.
Today, we will look at the Packers ugly personnel through three weeks. After that, we will look at schemes and intangibles that have been good, bad, and ugly for the Packers. Enjoy and make sure to check out all parts of the segments!
Monday: Good Personnel Edition
Tuesday: Bad Personnel Edition
Let me preface this by saying that the “ugly” players include performances that have not helped out the Packers much this season and have played below expectations. However, these performances have not hurt the Packers enough to warrant putting them in the “bad” category.
Greg Jennings: Fresh off an off-season that saw him work out with Larry Fitzgerald and receive a contract extension, Jennings has had a tough time being a consistent target to Aaron Rodgers. As a proven number one receiver, he has received double coverage looks often and has seen his receptions and yards dip.
For now, it has not hurt the Packers as much because Donald Driver has stepped up his performance and seen more targets from Rodgers because he is usually in single coverage. However, if the Packers’ offense is going to get back to where it was last season, Jennings is going to have to work to get open and spread the field. He has made the big play when necessary but over the course of a season that it not going to work.
Ryan Grant: For whatever reason, Grant has not looked the same as he did in 2007 over the past two seasons, and it has hurt the run game considerably. The Packers have committed to Grant as their starter, but currently injured Brandon Jackson is looking over his shoulder at that starting spot.
He is a combination of a power back and a speed back, but lately that speed has disappeared from his game and he does not cut back like he used to. When he hits holes, there is hesitation and you never get the feeling that he is going to break off a huge run. His long rush is just 17 yards and he is averaging just 3.7 yards per rush.
Some of the blame can be put on the consistency of the offensive line but Grant still needs to step up. It has not killed the Packers because Grant has not had an atrocious season (14th in the league in rushing) but getting him back to that 2007 form will be key for the run game moving forward.
Jeremy Kapinos: Kapinos punted his way onto the roster but the punt team unit as a whole has been less than stellar this season. His average punt is 45.4 yards, ranking 15th in the league, but his net punt is just 35.9 yards, ranking second to last in the league.
Some of those woes can be attributed to bad coverage, but Kapinos’ hang time is an issue as he has induced just one fair catch. On average, the Packers’ punt unit is giving up the second most yards per return at just under 17 yards a return, and it must change so that the defense does not always have such a short field.
Jermichael Finley: After a spectacular preseason that saw him slice up defenses at will, Finley has been quiet to start the year. He has seen a fair amount of snaps as the Packers have gone with two tight end sets this season, but his targets and receptions have not added up.
Starter Donald Lee had caught nine passes and been targeted 11 times to Finley’s five receptions and nine targets, although Finley has more receiving yards (62) than Lee (46). When Finley went on his tear in the preseason, everyone seemed to forget about the value of Lee, who has the highest catch-per-target on the team.
Still, Finley becoming a vertical threat in the Packers’ offense would do wonders for what the offense could do. Finley can line up wide against a cornerback and use his size, or can set up on the line and use his speed on a linebacker. Because of the great depth the Packers have at wide receiver as well as Lee’s strong start, his performance has not hurt the Packers as much. If he can pick things up like he did in the preseason, it would be a huge lift.
After the Packers staggered to a 6-10 season in 2008, it was tough to find many bright spots. Aaron Rodgers cemented himself as a legitimate starting quarterback, Jordy Nelson came on very strong as the top pick for the Packers, and Nick Collins elevated his play to Pro Bowl status. These were a few of the good things to come out of the 2008 season, unfortunately there were more negatives than positives.
Because of these negatives, replacements were made at some crucial spots and other players are looking to rebound from a 2008 season to forget. Let’s take a look at these players and remember to go back and look at the rest of the week’s articles by clicking on the links next to the days. My hope is that these articles will get you up to date and ready when the Packers take on the Bears Sunday night.
Monday, Part One: Just How Good Can the Offense Be?
Tuesday, Part Two: How Will This Year’s Defense Be Different From Last Season?
Wednesday, Part Three: What Does Their Schedule Look Like and How Will They Fare?
Thursday, Part Four: How Does Aaron Rodgers Match Up Against the Rest of the NFC North?
Friday, Part Five: Which Players Are Looking To Rebound, and What Will the Newcomers Contribute?
Saturday, Part Six: Packers-Bears Pregame: Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers, Round One
Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, and Atari Bigby all had fantastic 2007 seasons in which the Packers made it to the NFC Championship. Barnett led the team in tackles, Bibgby had gone from undrafted borderline roster player to leading the team in interceptions, and Cullen Jenkins was ready for a breakout year opposite Aaron Kampman.
However, the season was cut short for all three starters by injury, who combined to start 20 of a possible 48 games for the Packers in 2008. All three are healthy and back on the field in 2009, ready to bring the Packers’ defense back to greatness under new leadership.
In the new 3-4 scheme, Jenkins will have the daunting task of opening up holes for blitzing outside linebackers, Barnett will be expected to lead the team in tackles as he did in 2007, and Bibgy will have to ensure that the “big play” does not hurt the Packers like it did last season without him. Expect things to get much better on defense with these three back on the field.
One player who played in every game and fought off the injury bug for most of the season was Ryan Grant. The breakout running back from 2007 had as quiet of a 1200 yard rushing season possible. His yards per carry dipped underneath four after being over five in the year before, and he found the endzone (four) as many times as he fumbled the ball. Hamstring injuries early in the preseason were a small excuse for his lack of production, but much more will be expected of him this time around.
With a revamped offensive line, especially in terms of the run game, Grant hopes to re-gain his 2007 swagger. The Packers kept three fullbacks on their roster, meaning they are serious about getting Grant going early and often in games.
When the Packers decided to move to the 3-4 defense, they knew the two most important factors in the success of it would include someone to anchor the defense and someone to call the shots. Dom Capers takes over as defensive coordinator and has brought a whole new attitude to the defense, and B.J. Raji is the future at nose tackle.
While he will play defensive end this season, his impact will be felt regardless of where he is on the field. Clay Matthews III became only the second player in the Ted Thompson era that the Packers traded up for. Both Raji and Matthews III are the present and the future, and Capers has to be excited for those two to be on board.
Mike Trgovac takes over on the defensive line, giving the Packers another defensive coordinator on board. One of the most important acquistions on the coaching staff this offseason was the hiring of former linebacker and all-pro Kevin Greene. His intensity and passion has rubbed off on the players in the most extreme way, and his outside linebackers have been great in the preseason. Aaron Kampman has become his personal project, and any success Kampman has in the switch to the 3-4 will be attributed to Greene.
The Packers are in the midst of a bounce-back year and have all the pieces to do it. Just about everyone on the team underperformed, and anything short of the playoffs this season will be a failure. Last season, the Brett Favre fiasco messed with players heads, Aaron Rodgers was making his first start in a Packers uniform, and yet they were in just about every game they played in.
The new faces will make a huge impact on the team and players looking for better seasons are well on their way to fulfilling that hope. It’s finally football season, and it looks like the Pack are finally back.
It’s officially game week for the 2009 Green Bay Packers as a season full of hope, potential, and excitement begins next Sunday night, when the Packers take on the rival Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Starting today and leading up to gameday on Sunday, I will be bringing you up to date and filling you in on everything you need to know involving your Green Bay Packers. The five part segment will cover everything Packers, and by gameday you will be caught up and ready for the 2009 season. Here’s what to look for over the course of the next five days:
Tuesday, Part One: Just How Good Can the Offense Be?
Wednesday, Part Two: How Will This Year’s Defense Be Different From Last Season?
Thursday, Part Three: What Does Their Schedule Look Like and How Will They Fare?
Friday, Part Four: How Does Aaron Rodgers Match Up Against the Rest of the NFC North?
Saturday, Part Five: Which New Players Are Looking To Rebound, and What Will the Newcomers Contribute?
Sunday, Part Six: Packers-Bears Pregame: Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers, Round One
The Packers finished last season with just six wins, but you wouldn’t know it based on how the offense played. Under loads of scrutiny, first-year starter Aaron Rodgers controlled the offense with poise and control and finished in the top ten in most statistical categories.
After Brett Favre left the organization with a bang, both Favre supporters and those skeptical Rodgers could get the job done alike were upset at management for pushing out a legend and leaving the team with a big fat question mark at the most important position on the field.
He answered those calls with over 4000 yards passing and 28 touchdowns and was awarded a huge contract extension. This season, much of the pressure that faced Rodgers last year is gone, but he must produce to get the newest monkey off his back. Still, many believe he is ready to break out and should avoid a sophomore slump in his second season starting. After all, this will be his fifth season with the Packers.
Protecting Rodgers this season is a revamped offensive line that is looking to build on a questionable 2008 season. Last year, the Packers allowed 34 sacks which ranked 14th most in all of the league. Inconsistency at the right tackle position and a weak middle of the line led to the Packers middle-of-the-pack rushing attack.
Fast forward to this season and the Packers look to have much more stability on the offensive line. Two new faces in Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre will man the right side of the line. Both do well as run-blockers but also sport decent pass blocking skills.
Jason Spitz has officially made the transition from right guard to center, unseating the less than stellar Scott Wells, and the all-important left side of the line looks solid with Daryn Colledge and Chad Clifton manning the line. The unit needs to improve from last season if the Packers are going to establish a run game late in the season.
The Packers were a pass-first team last year and will be that way again in 2009, but it’s worth noting that eight of the 16 teams ahead of the Packers in rushing last year made the playoffs. Timing is everything in the West Coast Offense and the Zone Blocking Scheme, two schemes run by the Packers, so giving Rodgers time in the backfield will go a long way towards the success of the offense.
Another factor that will lead to the success of the team comes from the players that will be running behind the new look offensive line. Ryan Grant broke onto the scene in 2007 when he rushed for 956 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He took a step back in 2008 and the 26-year-old will now look to bounce back this season given a full offseason with the team and a healthy hamstring.
Brandon Jackson and Deshawn Wynn do not offer much behind Grant, but both have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and can spell Grant on third down.
One of the most interesting decisions involved in the Packers’ roster cuts was keeping three fullbacks in Korey Hall, John Kuhn, and Quinn Johnson. It isn’t known who will start for the Packers this Sunday, but odds are all three will see a decent amount of reps on offense.
Johnson plays the role of bruiser, Kuhn has the ability to run the ball, and Hall has shown ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. It says a lot that the Packers decided to keep three fullbacks on the team, showing how much faith they have in all three. While none of them are overpowering, they are all worthy of starting spots and will contribute this season in their own ways.
The real headline for the Packers’ offense this season lies in their receiving corps, dubbed by many as one of the top three in the entire league. Led by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, the Packers are sure to be at the top of the list in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Jordy Nelson and James Jones are both waiting in the wings of the ageless Driver but are both progressing nicely.
Tight end Jermichael Finley made headlines last season for criticizing his quarterback, but this season he is making different headlines for his connection with Rodgers. He has unseated Donald Lee as the go-to guy at the tight end position and is a legitimate receiving threat on every play. He is able to split out wide if the Packers go with five wideouts and is an above average blocker. Lee allows the Packers to go with two tight end sets and is still a very good blocker, especially in the backfield.
So just how good can this offense be? They have an improved offensive line, one of the brightest young stars at quarterback, and as deep a receiving corps as anyone in the game. Head coach Mike McCarthy is an outstanding playcaller and understands his players, putting them in great positions to succeed.
Much of the success that the offense has will fall on the shoulders of the offensive line. Rodgers can have as accurate an arm as he wants, but if he has no time to throw it will be a moot point. Many wonder if Clifton still has enough left in his 33-year-old knees, and the right side of the line is not dominant by any stretch.
Still, big things are in the Packers’ future on offense. A top ten offense last season that accumulated over 5600 total yards has only become better and should remain at the top of the league in yards. Grant is healthy and Finley, Sitton, and Barbre are all upgrades from last year at their respective positions.
Look for Rodgers to pass the 4,000-yard mark once again and pass for over 30 touchdowns. His offense is that good and, depending on how quickly the defense does or does not mesh, early season shootouts may be in store for the Packers.
Last year, Ryan Grant missed a large portion of the off-season and still ran for over 1200 yards, despite a makeshift offensive line and one of the best passing offenses in the league.
He will come into the year as the starter and will look to build on last year’s success and hopefully find the endzone a few more times than he did last year (four). Backup Brandon Jackson became much better and finally showed glimpses of the second round pick he is supposed to be.
He came into camp last year much faster, stronger, and had added a good amount of muscle to his frame. He was an excellent third down running back for the Packers and will likely see an increase in carries this year despite head coach Mike McCarthy not being a fan of the two back system.
There is some question about who will win the third running back spot, but my gut tells me it will be Kregg Lumpkin. DeShawn Wynn and Tyrell Sutton are the other potential candidates for the spot, but Wynn’s time has run out and Sutton is an undrafted rookie that seems like more of a project. Lumpkin is tremendously talented but has never seemed to stay healthy.
If he can make it through the pre-season without any injuries, he will be on the team. If he continues his streak of injuries, Wynn will get the nod as the third running back.
At the fullback position, everything I hear says that fifth round selection Quinn Johnson will get every chance to start.
Standing in his way will be current starter Korey Hall who did an above average job last year at the position. The odd man out looks to be John Kuhn who produced well but is replaceable at the position.
Ryan Grant: 310 rushes, 1251 yards, 3.9 ypc, 6 TD’s
Brandon Jackson: 80 rushes, 320 yards, 4.0 ypc, 2 TD’s
Kregg Lumpkin: 5 rushes, 19 yards, 3.9 ypc, 0 TD’s