The Packers finished with a league-best 15-1 record this year, but this impressive mark was more attributed to their offense than their defense, as their defense ranked dead last in the NFL this year in total yardage. Their struggles culminated in giving up 37 points to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Packers may have had some solid players on the defensive side of the ball this year, but they had plenty of players who were major disappointments, particularly some of the younger players who stepped up at the end of the 2010 in place of some of the veteran players who went down with injuries.
Here is an evaluation of every defensive player on the Packers roster and their grade for their performance in 2011.
Ryan Pickett: B+
Ryan Pickett is probably one of the more underappreciated players on the Packers defense. The veteran defensive tackle has been a solid and reliable player who has been able to stop the run and take up space effectively.
This year, he had one of the better years of the defensive players, as he stayed healthy and did his part to stop the run and avoid big plays. However, some of his fellow defensive linemen weren't able to do the same.
B.J. Raji: B
Raji was the first-round pick in 2009 and has fit in nicely with the Packers, staying healthy and helping anchor the defensive line for most of the season. He even will make a big play or two every now and then. While 2011 wasn't a great year for Raji, he has shown his potential and is certainly a solid nose tackle for years to come.
Jarius Wynn: C-
Wynn was able to make a few plays this year, but wasn't nearly as effective as he was in 2010 when the injury bug hit. The Packers have Pickett and Raji to anchor the defensive line, but still need another defensive end to improve this defense.
Mike Neal: D
Mike Neal was supposed to be the replacement for Cullen Jenkins, but so far, this experiment has failed miserably. Neal has not been able to stay healthy, and in the games he has been in, he has been rather ineffective. He is a younger player, so he may need time to develop, but the Packers are going to need to find a better person to fill Jenkins' shoes before Neal is ready to take the reins.
C.J. Wilson: D
Wilson hasn't been much better than Neal, though the expectations for Wilson weren't as high, as he was a lower-round pick and wasn't expected to be the heir apparent of the position. Still, Wilson wasn't able to step up in Jenkins' absence either, and it looks like he will be a solid backup in this league at best.
Howard Green and Lawrence Guy: Incomplete
Green and Guy didn't see alot of the field this year. Green is the backup nose tackle, and with Raji staying healthy all year long, the Packers didn't go to the aging defensive lineman. As for Guy, he was out for his rookie year. While Green will likely be somewhere else next year, Guy could be a contributor in later years if he stays healthy.
Clay Matthews: B+
Looking at the numbers, Matthews clearly had an off-year, but this was very likely because defenses were paying sole attention to stopping Matthews because many of the other linebackers were ineffective. Matthews has proven himself to be a big-time playmaker, but he's going to need a little help if he is expected to make those plays.
Desmond Bishop: B-
Bishop was brought in as Nick Barnett's replacement, and while he didn't have a bad year, he certainly didn't do a whole lot to improve this defense. I think that Bishop is a promising player with plenty of talent, but he needs to improve before he can be considered a long-term, reliable starter.
D.J. Smith: B-
For a rookie, D.J. Smith exceeded expectations. The rookie out of Appalachian State is one of the more promising young players of this defense, and showed it in several games with Bishop and Hawk out of the lineup. Smith could even take over for one of those players in the future, particularly Hawk, who has been disappointing in recent years despite lofty expectations coming out of college.
A.J. Hawk: C-
A.J. Hawk may have been a first-round pick, but he has never really lived up to the expectations of the high pick and the salary he has been making. This year, he hasn't been much better, as he consistently blew coverage, and at times, put the defense in difficult positions, particularly in the opener against the Saints, when he got a pass interference call that forced the Packers defense to stop the Saints at the one-yard line.
Erik Walden: C-
For the majority of the year, Walden was hanging onto the linebacker position opposite Clay Matthews, and while he made some solid plays and had some good games, he wasn't able to take the pressure off of Matthews, which became a recurring problem for anyone who was holding that position.
Robert Francois: C
Francois will probably be a solid backup for the Packers for a while. He has shown that he be a solid player in limited action and can make some plays from time-to-time as well. Not sure if this can translate into a full-time starter, but he can certainly be a contributor.
Frank Zombo: C-
Zombo had a solid rookie year in 2010, showing potential to be a solid player, but this year, he was hampered with injuries and didn't have a lot of time to play. And when he did, he wasn't as impressive as he was in 2010. But let's see what happens next year once he is healthier.
Brad Jones: C-
Brad Jones showed a lot of promise in 2009 in his rookie year, but in 2010, was out early in the season with an injury. This year, he was not able to show much of what he had two years ago in the limited times he took the field.
Vic So'oto: C
So'oto could be just like Jones and Zombo in that he showed a lot of promise in his first year, but didn't do a whole lot the next year. Regardless, So'oto had an excellent preseason, but was unfortunately out with an injury for most of the season. When he came back, he showed some potential, but the jury is still out on So'oto.
Charles Woodson: A-
Woodson had his good games and bad games, but he was clearly the biggest playmaker on the defense this year, tying with the most interceptions in the NFL with seven, and having a couple games where he turned the ball over more than once. While Woodson had a few games where he blew coverage and was getting beat by the opposition, he had plenty of games where he dominated as well.
Tramon Williams: C
Williams had a fantastic 2010 campaign, but fell back this year in 2011. The first half of the year, it might have been linked to a shoulder injury that seemed to hamper his ability to cover. In the middle of the year, he caught fire and caught four interceptions, but at the end of the year, fell off again. Williams was much less reliable and consistent this year, but I do think that with his talent and work ethic, he can bounce back next year.
Sam Shields: C-
Like Williams, Shields made a couple of big plays over the course of the season, but for the most part, took a step back this year. However, he will still likely maintain his position as one of the starting corners on the team, as he is much more effective than the backups.
Jarrett Bush: D
Jarrett Bush has proven to be a special teams player and nothing else, and his performance on defense this year only supported this. Over the course of five seasons he has played with the Packers, Bush has consistently struggled in coverage despite picking off a pass in the Super Bowl. The Packers need to seriously upgrade their cornerback depth, because Bush isn't even the worst corner on their team.
Pat Lee: F
While Jarrett Bush can make the occasional big play, though mostly on special teams, Pat Lee has almost never made any play of the sort, and in addition, also struggles in coverage when playing on defense. The only good game Lee has had in his career is a preseason game against Kansas City this year, a game where had he not played well, he would have likely been cut.
Davon House: Incomplete
Many Packer fans are intrigued to see what Davon House can offer to the table, as he could certainly be a potential upgrade to Bush or Lee. However, he was out for most of the year with injuries, so we haven't seen much from him yet.
Morgan Burnett: C+
Burnett was the starting safety of the Packers at the beginning of the year, and while this was a hard task for a player who hadn't seen much NFL action, it was even harder when veteran Nick Collins was lost for the year. Burnett suddenly became the best safety on the team, and while he made some solid plays, especially at the beginning of the year, he struggled in what was basically a rookie year for him.
However, Burnett has shown his potential in the limited time he has played, and will still be an important part of the Packers future despite the rough year in 2011.
Charlie Peprah: C
In 2010, Charlie Peprah stepped up in the place of injured Morgan Burnett. In 2011, he stepped up in place of the injured Nick Collins. Taking over Burnett was the easier task, as he struggled for much of the year filling Collins' shoes. However, Peprah still made some big plays and had a few good games that showed that while he likely will never be a starter, he will be a solid backup in the NFL.
Nick Collins and M.D. Jennings: Incomplete
Collins was lost for the year with a neck injury in Week 2, so obviously, he didn't spend enough time on the field to warrant a grade. Jennings, a young undrafted free agent, only showed time on special teams, so it is still unclear what he can do on defense.