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24 Apr 2013

State of the Team: Green Bay Packers

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Injuries and horrendous offensive line play curtailed the Packers a bit in 2012. They still managed to survive (or, by normal team standards, "thrive") because they have arguably the league’s best quarterback, plus a deep reserve of receiving talent and an outstanding coaching staff. But this wasn’t the crisp Packers offense that produced a Super Bowl title and a 15-win season. The natural order will be restored this season if more receivers stay healthy and if the line can improve just enough to be average (or even slightly below average).

BACKFIELD

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell

RB: James Starks, Alex Green, John Kuhn (H-Back), DuJuan Harris; Lost: Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant

Rodgers is brilliant in all phases. He’d be even more brilliant if he had a stable run game to lean on. It’s time for Green to step up and be the bell cow. He showed hints of power, burst, and agility last season, but rarely did he consistently show all of those traits together for prolonged stretches. If he can’t be more reliable, the resoundingly average Starks will get most of the touches. Kuhn is a good blocker in both the run and pass game, which Green Bay does a good job taking advantage of.

RECEIVERS

WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin; Lost: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver

TE: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Matthew Mulligan; Lost: Tom Crabtree

Cobb could supplant Nelson as Rodgers’ top target this year. He’s already probably supplanted him as Green Bay’s most dangerous receiver, thanks to the versatility that allows him to play wide outside, in the slot, or out of the backfield. Expect him to become this offense's focal point. Jennings will be missed, but there are ways to replace him, especially since Nelson emerged over the past two years. Jones, who caught 14 touchdowns last season and had only one drop, is a quality No. 3 now that he’s outgrown his inconsistency. It’s time for the sensationally athletic Finley to do the same, and he got the ball rolling with a strong finish in 2012. The fact that Green Bay signed Mulligan –- a blocking, short area receiving-type tight end –- despite already having Quarless and Williams on board, suggests that there could be plans for Finley being used more out wide and in the slot this year.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Marshall Newhouse LG: T.J. Lang C: Evan Dietrich-Smith RG: Josh Sitton RT: Bryan Bulaga

Backups: Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod; Lost: Jeff Saturday

Just going off the past season-and-a-half of their film, it’s apparent that Newhouse and Bulaga both need to be given help in pass protection. Schematically, that’s usually not feasible. One of these guys will have to really step up (which is no guarantee to happen). It’s still a little too early to write Bulaga off –- there have been hints of encouragement -– but overall, he struggled mightily in almost every game last season. Durability is also a concern, although not as much as it is for Sherrod. The 2011 first-rounder was expected to hold down the left tackle duties, but it remains to be seen whether he can ever recover from the horrendous leg injury he suffered late in 2011. Lang has been more stable at guard than he was at tackle, but there’s still a sizeable talent gap between him and Sitton, which defenses look to exploit. The early indications are that Dietrich-Smith is better equipped to come off the bench.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes to make it a chess match, particularly with his nickel and dime sub packages. He’ll use hybrid coverages and a mix of zone blitzes. He’s able to do so because he has corners who can play man coverage and a dominant pass rusher whom offenses must specifically game plan for in Clay Matthews. Last season, the Packers overcame injuries during the regular season but fell apart against a complex, multidimensional 49ers offense. It won’t help the rebound efforts to have Charles Woodson gone; despite what many believe, the 36-year-old was a hugely critical component because of his versatility in Green Bay’s sub-packages. It’s bizarre that no team has signed the veteran this offseason.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Ryan Pickett, Jerel Worthy, C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal

DT: B.J. Raji, Jordan Miller, Johnny Jolly

Pickett and Raji are two of the best cloggers in football. Raji has been criticized at times for his occasionally up-and-down play -- he particularly struggled against San Francisco -- but much of time he still dictates all the action in the trenches in ways that go unnoticed by both fans and announcers. Worthy, like Raji, has terrific athleticism for his size, and could match Pickett and Raji if he bounces back from his January ACL surgery and reaches his full potential. It may take him a half-season or more to do that. In the meantime, Wilson is a suitable fill-in while Neal brings athleticism that fits well on the frequently-used two-man defensive line packages. Prior to derailing his career with drug problems, Jolly was an up-and-coming sheer power player. The Packers are supposedly looking to get stronger in all phases, which makes him worth a look.

LINEBACKERS

OLB: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Dezman Moses, Micah Johnson; Lost: Erik Walden

ILB: Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones; Lost: D.J. Smith

Matthews is far more than just a pass rusher. (Though even if he were just a pass rusher, he’d still be a superstar, given how no player in football can skim the edge with his combination of leverage and suppleness.) What makes the fifth-year pro special is his ability to disrupt blocks as a playside run defender, his knack for chasing down ballcarriers from the backside, and his comfort operating in space (particularly between the numbers). Perry was drafted in the first round to provide some much-needed energy opposite Matthews. The jury’s still out on him, as he spent most of his rookie season injured. Also injured for much of last year were Bishop and Smith, two outstanding athletes who are critical to a lot of the inside blitz designs that Capers employs. Rounding out this unit, Hawk is an anomaly in that he’s better in space than in traffic, but also more suited for the base 3-4 than the nickel. Jones has extremely athletic movement in both traffic and space. His improvements in coverage speak to a very bright future on his horizon.

SECONDARY

CB: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Heyward, Davon House, Jarrett Bush

S: Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian; Lost: Charles Woodson

Williams hasn’t quite been the same since his 2011 shoulder injury, but he’s still one of the league’s more respected man-cover guys. Shields is excellent downfield on the outside. Hayward is only equipped to play the slot at this point, which is fine, as he plays it so remarkably well. House has the potential to one day start on the outside. At safety, Burnett can call the signals. He’s at his best near the box and in help-coverage. McMillan was drafted as more of a run-stopping safety, but showed glimpses of intriguing pass defense prowess as a rookie last year.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Mason Crosby, Giorgio Tavecchio; P: Tim Masthay

Remember yesterday's notes about David Akers and field-goal kicker inconsistency? Crosby seems like a worse case. If you want to try to subjectively read facial expressions, Crosby really looked like he had the yips, and Mike McCarthy sounded more like a guy who had lost confidence in his kicker than Jim Harbaugh did. Plus, Akers has always been better than Crosby on kickoffs. If Crosby starts off poorly in camp, there's no reason for loyalty here.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 24 Apr 2013

42 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2013, 5:31am by hassan

Comments

1
by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 2:10pm

I don't see how Raji can be a blue after last year. I don't think he was even green this last season.

2
by ebongreen :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 2:14pm

Brad Jones was re-signed on March 21st.

3
by usctrojan11 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 2:17pm

concur that raji is the most overrated dl in a long time.

4
by coded :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 2:25pm

If Packers do draft a RB in the first round does that mean the axe for Starks or/and Harris? How many RB's does GB usually run with in a season?

5
by Josh H (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 2:40pm

I'm seeing a whole lot of green in a defense that was porous last season. I know Bishop and Smith went down, but still...

7
by Arkaein :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 3:16pm

GB's D was 8th in DVOA, 11th in weighted DVOA last season. Overall, the game against SF was not too representative of their full season.

And the injuries went a lot deeper than Bishop and Smith at ILB, as indicated by BG coming in dead first in Adjusted Games Lost on defense. During the four game stretch that Matthews was out, AJ Hawk was the only member of the original starting four still standing (counting Bishop as an original starter, even though he was hurt in preseason).

There's a lot of youth on the defense: Perry, Heyward, McMillan, and Dezman Moses were all guys that showed promise as rookies. House and Jennings were second year guys that took steps forward. On the D-line Worthy has promise, Neal gave some decent production, and Jolly could be a major contributor if he can come back anything close to what he was before his legal problems (a big if).

The real issue is simply health. This team has some parallels with the 2010-2011 GB teams. In 2010 GB was also one of the most injured teams, underachieved during the regular season but managed to with the Superbowl. With a rise to average health in 2011 they won 15 games. Health declined again in 2012. If they can get back to average or better health again in 2013 they look as good as anybody.

14
by Josh H (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:17pm

It sure seemed like to me, they were either on, or they were off. Great/good games against the Texans, Bears X2, Seahawks, Jags, Titans, and Cards but they sure looked bad against the Colts, Giants, Saints, Vikings (except the playoff game), and 49ers.

The linebacking corps were definitely thin, and maybe that hurt them more than I think, but I'm sorry, I'm just not sold on Shields, or Williams in the Secondary, the safeties leave a lot to be desired, and Raji seemed to wear down toward to end of the year.

25
by Scott C :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 7:29pm

How well a team plays is not only made up by the quality of its players. Scheme, game planning, and play calling go a long way.

In some of the games that they played poorly last year there was clearly a lack of readiness for what the team encountered (especially SF) causing blown plays and mismatches. That doesn't have much to do with whether players are "green" or "blue".

Using the team's DVOA or other stats to support or attack the individual player scouting rankings here have to be taken into context -- why the team played well or poorly is more than the sum of its players.

32
by Josh H (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 9:29am

Good points Scott

6
by Arkaein :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 3:03pm

My own observations: Bulaga should be a black, I think a bit too much emphasis has been put on his game (first half really) against Seattle, which was horrendous. He was lost for the season with a hip injury soon after. But he's still pretty young, and was the full time starter for both the Superbowl (rookie year) and 15-1 teams.

I think DuJuan Harris deserves to be a Jury's still out or adequate, his performance late last season was quite good, especially accounting for the O-line issues.

On D I'd say Raji is a Green after 2012. Would have been blue the year before.

In the secondary, I'd say M.D. Jennings is JAG as a starter, and McMillian is a jury's still out, given that he was only a rookie, pretty raw coming into the NFL, and excelled in the short zone but ultimately lost time to Jennings due to consistency issues.

Jarret Bush is a JAG as a backup CB, and would be an upgrade needed in a starting role, despite some steady improvements in coverage over his career. He earns his paycheck as a special team ace.

I also got a chuckle out of James Jones with his 14 TDs being described as a "quality No. 3", even though the overall assessment is accurate. I think Jones could start for a lot of teams.

10
by Guest789 :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 3:49pm

Agree with pretty much all of this. Bulaga and Harris are underrated here, and I would probably bump Newhouse to JAG and Lang to adequate as well. An argument can be made for Nelson as blue, but I think that he, Jones, and Cobb are all pretty much on the same level talent-wise (while having different strengths obviously).

I actually think that Pickett is a better overall player than Raji, at least last season. No one does the little, unappreciated things better, and I'll always have a soft spot for the "Spill it Pick!" play where Matthews forced the fumble in the Super Bowl.

Someone already noticed this, but GB resigned Brad Jones almost a month ago.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

16
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:30pm

"I also got a chuckle out of James Jones with his 14 TDs being described as a "quality No. 3", even though the overall assessment is accurate. I think Jones could start for a lot of teams."

A #3 receiver is a starter for a lot of teams.

17
by Arkaein :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:47pm

By starter, I meant he would be a #2 for a lot of teams.

21
by DenverCheeze (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 6:19pm

If you watched any GB games, Jones made some of the best catches I have seen any receiver make and in clutch situations. However, even though I am a huge GB fan, I still hold my breath waiting for him to drop it. There were 2 4th downs and 2 TDs that made me wonder why he is not getting more attention from ESPN. They were freakishly amazing catches going around the defender in tight coverage where a ball should never have been thrown.

He can catch, lets see if he can be reliable this year.

18
by Arkaein :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:50pm

Meant to say Raji would have been blue after 2010 (when he should have made the Pro Bowl), not 2011 (when he did make the Pro Bowl, but didn't deserve to).

26
by Scott C :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 7:32pm

It sure seems like pro bowl appearances and disappearances are delayed by about 1 year on average from when they are deserved. Sometimes it is same year, sometimes 2 years delayed, but recognition does tend to have a time lag.

23
by Josh H (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 6:36pm

I think Jones would be a #2 on most teams, he's good.

8
by QW (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 3:44pm

I definitely think Bulaga is being underrated. Yes he was pretty bad vs SEA but recall him being pretty good in 2011. Raji seems hard to rate. He has stretches where you never know he is on the field but then again he plays a huge amount of snaps and many of the schemes they play are not friendly to helping the performance

9
by Bill (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 3:46pm

Lots of color changes I'd make...

DuJuan Harris - orange
James Jones - black
Jermichael Finley - black
Marshall Newhouse - pink
TJ Lang - black
Bryan Bulaga - black
Ryan Pickett - black
BJ Raji - green
Desmond Bishop - black
DJ Smith - black

11
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:08pm

At the risk of sounding a bit racist I have to say that Raji is was black last year, was black the year before and will continue to be black. He gets coloured green because he was a high pick but under all of the first round greeny hype, he's black. The only thing about him that's green is his jersey.

15
by Josh H (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:19pm

Oh my word, that was a well written post. Thanks for the laugh.

31
by Aloysius Mephis... :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 11:39pm

Maybe the first instance of an "I'm not racist, but..." equivalent preceding an actual non-racist statement. Well done.

12
by Ed Schoenfeld (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:14pm

Please correct the 'loss' of Brad Jones at inside Linebacker -- as ebongreen pointed out n the second comment, Jones signed with the Packers on March 26th.

Thank youl

13
by Ed Schoenfeld (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 4:14pm

Please correct the 'loss' of Brad Jones at inside Linebacker -- as ebongreen pointed out n the second comment, Jones signed with the Packers on March 26th.

Thank youl

19
by komakom (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 5:50pm

Smith was just cut

20
by Partially anonymous (not verified) :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 5:55pm

DJ Smith was waived for failing a physical, so there's that

22
by Sifter :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 6:23pm

Raji seems like the kind of guy where your grade will vary wildly depending on what game you watch. Early 2012 Raji was merely adequate/maybe even JAG, as was Raji vs 49ers. But back half of the season Raji was at least green. He had some dominating games in that stretch, one against the Bears sticks in my mind.

24
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 7:27pm

Are you sure you want to colour a guy green because he dominated the Bears' offensive offensive line?

27
by coboney :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 7:54pm

Are you just green with Envy?

Honestly though I think that Pickett is the best packers defensive lineman currently. He doesn't make the splash plays that come up but the smaller details, taking on blockers, clogging lanes are all things he does very well. Raji is inconsistent; when he is on, he is really on. When he isn't... its not so good. I would take Blue out of the equation entirely personally on him based on last season - and then he's somewhere between good and adequate. I would probably go with him at Adequate with a note about it (and get flamed here after of course), especially considering his ACL surgery.

28
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 8:30pm

I think I'd be flirting with accusations of racism again if I suggested that Raji should be brown. (Halfway between green and black)

More seriously, I am a big fan of Pickett, he's their best DL. One of those players that does the mucky, unglamorous work that allows others to thrive. He's greener in my opinion.

29
by dbostedo :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 9:21pm

So both Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco are blue? You're saying that Flacco is just as good as Rodgers? And that Flacco is possibly even better than Rodgers, since you didn't specify which shade of blue? And that Flacco is clearly better than Rodgers and may even be the best player in the league? In the history of the league? I'm shocked.

35
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:56am

At this point, I think a post stating "Joe Flacco" is all that's needed, if you must.

------
FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

30
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 10:57pm

Other than a few minor quibbles, I really don't have any issues with this. I think the OL is better than listed. I'd consider Bulaga green (yes, I believe he's that good and that's my biggest quibble) and Lang as black. OTOH, I'd put EDS as JAG. I think Nelson should be dropped to green as I don't think any team specifically defenses against him (which is the bottom line when I consider WR stars). Alex Green should be a big bright red or pink, as he's had enough time to show he's JAG at best. I agree with those who think Raji should be dropped to a green. Moses as a rookie should just be orange as he's a project (though will likely be JAG). I don't know about stats, but Masthey has been a green in GB, at least compared to any punters they've had since Craig Hentrich. Finally, not only is Brad Jones with the team, but DJ Smith was cut today. (And you'all didn't mention RB Brandon Saine who was also cut today.)

PS The guy who thought Newhouse should be upgraded from red to pink. If your LT is JAG, your LT needs an upgrade. I like Newhouse. He's probably the Pack's smartest OL. He's going to be in the NFL until he's 35, because he's a great backup. But he's really a career backup who will eventually be a full-time coach at some level.

33
by USMC Running Back (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 9:48am

Very good analysis of the roster and based on the comments most feel the same way except for a few ratings they would want changed. I would add Harrell to the red category, he is a Joe Webb/Caleb Haney experience waiting to happen. Crosby will keep his job because there is no pressure during camp/pre-season, his problem is pressure and he will cost them games if put in a tie/win position as his history indicates.

36
by Guest789 :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 3:13pm

How on earth are you getting this read on Harrell? The only people who've really seen him play are the coaching staff, and they seem comfortable with him.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

37
by USMC Running Back (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:34pm

Pro Football Focus has Harrell firmly listed as the "worst backup QB in the NFL". He has looked like a "deer in headlights" during most of his pre-season work and per the people who cover the team for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinal his questioned arm strength coming out of college is still as questionable today. The only time I have ever seen any coach question his QB openly on the Packers is when offensive co-ordinator Bob Schnelker deservedly questioned the skills of first round pick Rich Campbell. Even when it was apparent that Brian Brohm could not play in the NFL the Packer coaching staff insisted he still could, where is he now ?

38
by Guest789 :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 4:20pm

I'm willing to give him one regular-season start, or at least meaningful playing time before I pass judgement. I like PFF, but I have no idea how they justify that conclusion. Pre-season play doesn't tell us much. If the Packers weren't confident with him, they'd be more aggressive about seeking an upgrade or bringing in competition.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

39
by justanothersteve :: Sat, 04/27/2013 - 6:08pm

In Harrell's last preseason game, he went 13 of 15 for 223 yards and two TDs. The team scored another TD on the ground when he was QB. I admit it's only preseason. But he certainly didn't look like a deer caught in the headlights. He's also worked on his arm strength, just like a former Packers QB named Matt Flynn.

I'm not claiming he's the greatest backup QB. But it sounds like PFF saw him once a couple years ago and basically made up their minds based on that. It would also help your argument if you named a real source. PFF and MJS are not sources. Something like "Bob McGinn at the MJS" is a source. For all I know, you took your info from a comment thread.

34
by peterplaysbass :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:41am

I'm going to attempt to predict some colors (offense) for the Vikings article that is sure to come next. I don't know if this will spur an interesting conversation or just get ignored, but if you're not into it, please just ignore.

QB
Ponder - jury's out
Cassel - adequate

RB/FB
Peterson - star
Gerhart - adequate
Felton - good

WR/TE
Jennings - good
Simpson - adequate
Wright - jury's out
Rudolph - good
Carlson - just a guy
Ellison - adequate

OL
Kalil - star
Johnson - just a guy
Sullivan - star
Fusco - just a guy
Loadholt - good

40
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42
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