Green Bay Packers: Grading Each Offensive Player for 2011
The Packers had a fantastic year in 2011, only to be disappointed in the postseason by a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. Offensively, they had a tremendous year, setting records for both the franchise and the NFL.
However, it was the offense that let them down in their playoff loss to the eventual NFC Champion, as dropped passes and fumbles caused the offense to sputter more than it had all season long.
Still, the Packers offense accomplished more than it could have hoped for in 2011 when it came to production in the regular season. Here are the overall grades for each player on the offensive side of the ball for 2011.
Aaron Rodgers: A+
It's hard not to give Aaron Rodgers a perfect grade. Not only was he the best player for the Packers all season long, he was also the best player in the NFL, accumulating 45 touchdowns against six interceptions and setting the season record for highest quarterback rating in the NFL. Rodgers may have had a letdown in the final game of the season, but had his receivers not dropped passes and fumbled the ball so much, he would have had a better game.
Matt Flynn: A
It's hard to have much more confidence in a backup quarterback than the Packers have had with Matt Flynn, but he has earned it. Despite not playing great against Denver and Oakland after Rodgers was benched, he played very well on Monday night against the Vikings and had easily the best performance of his young career against the Lions, a game where he threw six touchdowns. Flynn has proven to be a promising prospect in the NFL, so hopefully, the Packers can get some trade value out of him instead of letting him go into free agency.
Graham Harrell: Incomplete
Harrell didn't play a snap for the Packers in the regular season, though he played reasonably well in the preseason, most notably in a 24-21 comeback win against the Colts. Still, it is not enough to give him a solid grade for his performance this year.
James Starks: B
Despite making some noise in the postseason last year, Starks had a relatively quiet 2011 campaign, garnering only one touchdown for the entire season. Still, the Packers are a team that focuses heavily on the passing game, so Starks' pedestrian numbers could be a little misleading.
Despite a quiet year, he still was able to move the chains and make some big plays when the Packers needed him to. However, we may have to wait another year before determining whether or not Starks can be a full-time contributor.
Ryan Grant: B
At the beginning of the year, Grant would be getting a much lower grade, but in Starks' absence near the end of the year, Grant had some great games, breaking off huge runs against the Raiders and Lions at the end of the season. Grant doesn't usually have the explosiveness that Starks does, but he is still an efficient runner who complements Starks and this Packers offense nicely. He certainly has a place in this offense, even if his role is declining.
Brandon Saine: B-
Saine not only didn't get a whole lot of time on the field, but he is also a rookie free agent who wasn't even drafted, so it's a little unfair to rate him on a tough scale. However, for such a young player that was not expected to do much, Saine was still a solid contributor in many games as both a running back and a receiver. Saine didn't have a fantastic rookie year, but he certainly showed some potential.
John Kuhn: A-
After proving to be a major playmaker last year, Kuhn didn't take a step back at all this year, continuing to move the chains and make plays in 2011. A very resourceful player, Kuhn contributed to both offense and special teams this year, and both his talent and his rabid fan support in Green Bay should keep him with the Packers for a long time.
Greg Jennings: A-
Greg Jennings could have easily had another 1,000-yard season had he not been injured in the last three weeks of the season. Despite the injury, Jennings had a great year and continued to prove that he is the No. 1 receiver on this team and a vital part of this offense.
Unfortunately, his season ended on a very rough note, as he fumbled the ball twice in the playoff game against the Giants and dropped a touchdown later in the game, as well. And while the fact that he hadn't played in five weeks was likely a large part of the reason, it is still a disappointing way to end a great season.
Jordy Nelson: A
2011 was Jordy Nelson's breakout year, putting together fantastic numbers as he proved doubters wrong that he wasn't fast enough or good enough to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL. Nelson was a huge reason this Packers passing game was so potent this year, as he became another person that defenses had to worry about in addition to fellow playmakers Jennings and Jermichael Finley.
Donald Driver: B+
Donald Driver's best years are behind him, but he can still offer a lot to the Packers. While he didn't put up fantastic numbers this year and was relegated to a backup receiver, Driver still contributed when it counted. In fact, in the playoff game against the Giants, he was the only receiver on the team to not drop a pass. It is rumored that Driver may not be back next year, but this year, despite slowing down some, he still proved to have some left in the tank.
James Jones: B+
Like Driver, Jones didn't necessarily get the same amount of opportunities that Jennings, Nelson or Finley did, but he still made the most of them, making huge plays against the Lions and Falcons that helped the Packers get a spark to help build momentum and eventually win the game. And for a player who was plagued with drops last year, he proved to be much more secure with the ball this year.
Randall Cobb: B+
Probably the rookie that showed the most potential, Cobb was a huge playmaker this year, returning both a punt and a kick back for a touchdown, the first time for a Packer in one season. He also made some big plays on offense whenever he was given the ball, and while he didn't get the same opportunities that some of the veteran receivers did, he still made the most of them had a great rookie year.
Jermichael Finley: B+
Despite being disappointed with his performance this year, Finley didn't have a bad year at all. Not only did he stay healthy for the entire year, but he also had some big games, most notably against Chicago, where he caught three touchdowns. And despite not having the breakout year that many expected, let's not forget that he is on an offense who likes to spread the ball around.
Finley can sometimes rub people the wrong way with his brash attitude, but he is a special player who could be a major contributor for the Packers for a long time.
Tom Crabtree: B
Crabtree didn't do a whole lot when it came to catching big touchdowns, but he is more of a blocker than anything, and he did a good job with that this year. And additionally, when given the ball, Crabtree was able to make the most of his opportunities and move the chains.
Ryan Taylor: B-
Rookie Ryan Taylor didn't show a whole lot this season, but the coaching staff seems to be pretty positive on him. Plus, he was spotted on special teams several times this year and contributed well.
D.J. Williams: Incomplete
Another rookie tight end, Williams was barely seen on the field, so it's hard to evaluate him. While he showed tremendous potential in college and has a great story to tell, we will have to wait and see if he can become a major player in this offense. If Finley goes to another team next year, Williams could have his opportunity.
Andrew Quarless: Incomplete
Quarless' second year in the NFL was marred with a midseason injury, but even before that, he wasn't on the field too often as an offensive player. Though he could get more opportunities if Finley leaves next year, I doubt that he will be a major contributor to this offense.
Scott Wells: A
Scott Wells is going to his first career Pro Bowl, but he has always been a solid, yet unappreciated player. This year, though, Wells had the best year of any of the other linemen and is clearly deserving to make his first Pro Bowl.
Josh Sitton: B+
Sitton wasn't quite as good as he was last year, when people hailed him as the best guard in football, but he still had a solid season that was briefly interrupted with an injury midseason. I expect him to hold onto the guard position for a long time.
Bryan Bulaga: A-
Bulaga wasn't necessarily drafted to be the right tackle of the future, but it appears as though that is the best spot for him. Bulaga had a solid season this year, and his steady improvement shows that Thompson made a good move to pick him in the first round in 2010.
T.J. Lang: B
Lang isn't necessarily the best player at his position, but he is a solid guard who had a solid year. The Packers could probably do better at the position, but as long as Lang continues to play reasonably well, he will likely hold onto the job next year.
Marshall Newhouse: B
Newhouse took over for Chad Clifton in Week 5, an injury that scared everyone. However, the young Newhouse surprised many with his solid performance over the 11 games that he played in place of Clifton. If he continues to develop, he could become Clifton's replacement, especially if first-round pick Sherrod doesn't pan out.
Evan Dietrich-Smith: B-
Dietrich-Smith is more well-known for getting his arm stomped on by Ndamukong Suh than anything else. But in the games that he was in, he held down the fort solidly in replacement of Josh Sitton.
Chad Clifton: C+
Chad Clifton didn't play for very long this year, but the fact that the injury kept him sidelined for so long is a sign that the end is coming for Clifton, especially since they already have several players that are looking to be his possible successor.
Derek Sherrod: D
For a first-round pick, Sherrod did close to nothing in his rookie year, culminating in him getting sidelined with a nasty injury late in the season. In the preseason, Sherrod struggled when the Packers tried to switch him to guard, and later in the season, when the injury bug began to hit the offensive line, Sherrod did not have his name called onto the field very often, which is not a good sign for a first-round pick.
However, I'm willing to give him some more time to develop and prove that he was well worth the first round pick.
Ray Dominguez and Herb Taylor: Incomplete
Two backup linemen who never really saw the field in the regular season, Dominguez and Taylor will likely be practice squad players next year if they are lucky.