Green Bay Packers: What We Learned from Each Offensive Starter in 2011
The Packers had the best regular season offense in the NFL last year. Aaron Rodgers likely earned himself the MVP award for his stellar play, and he just started for the NFC in the annual Pro Bowl for the second time in his career.
The Packers’ offense was the second highest scoring offense in NFL history, so we learned that they, collectively, are pretty special. However, what did we learn about each individual starter on this Packers offense in 2011?
A lot of players showed that they are elite at their positions, but some others maybe showed that they still have some work to do or are declining.
Here is what we learned about the offensive starters for Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers: Best Quarterback in the NFL
Aaron Rodgers proved he's currently the best quarterback in the league right now.
It was no secret around the NFL, as he played at an MVP level and had one of the best seasons by a quarterback in league history. He broke a QB rating single season record, and this was all coming off a Super Bowl MVP.
Talk about a fine resume at the age of 28.
Granted, Rodgers couldn't lead his team to a playoff win this year, but that was despite, not because of, his play. Rodgers showed up to play in the game against the Giants. It was his teammates, with drops, fumbles, and poor defense, that led to the Packers disappointing loss.
Rodgers is still the best quarterback heading into 2012, unless Brady plays lights out this Sunday and wins another Super Bowl MVP.
Ryan Grant: His Career Is Not Yet over
While many think that Grant will never return to his old form from before his injury in 2010, I actually am a bit more optimistic. It's probably true that he will never play for the Packers again and that he may never reach 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns again, but he will be a lot better than a lot of people think.
Grant played very well in 2011, and he really began to regain his old stride towards the end of the season. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry during the last few games of 2011, and he really seemed to be the Packers best option at running back again.
The only reason Grant didn't get the opportunity to show that he could still rush for 100 yards in a game is because the Packers offense was based heavily on the pass. They did not rush the ball very often, so Grant saw limited carries. He also had to deal with James Starks in the back field too.
Grant had his struggles during the 2011 season, no doubt about that. However, once he got his timing back he really played a lot better. Grant can go to another team next year and be a reliable option as either a player to split carries or the starter.
I wouldn't be shocked if he got 1000 yards next year. He still has some gas left in the tank.
John Kuhn: He's Still an Elite Full Back
There wasn't much to learn about John Kuhn last year. We knew he was an elite option at full back before the season and he didn't do a whole lot to change our minds.
He still scored a lot of touchdowns for Green Bay, even with all of the other weapons on the Packers, and he still did a good job blocking for the Packers.
He wasn't used as a running back a whole lot (thank goodness) and he wasn't as good on third downs this year as last year. But he was special in 2010 and it would have been tough to replicate that performance in 2011.
Kuhn was well worth the contract the Packers signed him to before last season. Let's hope he can keep it up.
Chad Clifton: He's Been a Good Packer
Chad Clifton didn't play enough last year for us to really learn anything new about his football skills. We did learn, though, that he is getting older and he may not be wearing green and gold much longer.
Clifton missed the majority of 2011 and he is not likely to be kept by the Packers in 2012. He is due a lot of money next year, and the Packers may not want to pay an aging lineman with injury concerns.
Look for Green Bay to cut him before 2012. He has been a fan favorite in Green Bay for a long time, so the decision will be a tough one.
T.J. Lang: He Could Be the Answer at Left Guard
T.J. Lang was the Packers' left guard last season and he played admirably. The Packers were hoping he would pan out because they did not address the LG position in free agency when Daryn Colledge left.
It appears that was a smart move because Lang had a great season at guard.
While the Packers are going to need to find an answer at tackle once Chad Clifton leaves the team, Lang deserves to keep a spot on the line no matter what re-shuffling takes place. Lang is too good not to hold a starting spot on the line, and he offers the versatility to play guard or tackle.
For right now, Lang is the future for the Packers at the left guard spot.
Scott Wells: He Needs to Be Re-Signed
Scott Wells was the Packers' best offensive lineman last season, and it just so happens it was a contract year for Wells in 2011.
I think not.
Wells played phenomenally last year and he was the MVP of Green Bay's offensive line. He needs to be re-signed by the Packers, and you can expect that to happen because Ted Thompson likes to keep his own players with the team.
Wells might not be able to keep up being the Packers best lineman considering the next two lineman I'm going to talk about are pretty good themselves, but he sure should be re-signed and given the chance.
Josh Sitton: He Needed One More Year
Josh Sitton was talked about as one of the best guards in the NFC at the end of the 2010 season. After seeing what he did in 2011, it became apparent that that was not the case.
Don't get me wrong, Sitton still had a solid season in 2011. However, he was not one of the best guards in the NFC.
He struggled to begin the season, and had an inconsistent year. He wasn't as dominant and didn't have a Pro Bowl year like many were expecting, but I think that means he needed one more year.
While he could just have been overrated in 2010, I think he just played his best late in 2010 but wasn't quite there yet. He needed one more year to perfect his game, and his struggles in 2010 proved that.
I saw Sitton improve slowly over the course of the season last year, and he had a few games at the end of 2011 when he really played well. I think next year he can prove that he is one of the best guards in the NFL, and hopefully he can keep that label throughout the prime of his career.
Bryan Bulaga: He's the Real Deal
Bulaga proved last year that when healthy, he is a force at tackle. He is one of the better right tackles in the league already, and if he can continue to develop (this year was only his second year in the NFL) then he can become the best right tackle in the league.
While he may be moved to left tackle once Clifton leaves the team, Clifton was hurt last year and Bulaga still stayed at right tackle. I think Mike McCarthy realizes how good Bulaga is at right tackle and he wants to keep him there, at least for the time being.
Bulaga will quickly become a household name (or however close offensive lineman can get to being household names when they're not starring in Hollywood block busters) and should make a few Pro Bowls as he continues to develop. Injuries aside, Bulaga is the real deal at tackle for the Packers.
Greg Jennings: He's Still One of the Best Receivers in the Game
Did we really learn anything new about Greg Jennings last year?
Well, we learned that Jennings can, in fact, get off to a hot start. In 2009 and 2010, Jennings got off to slow starts and complained to the media or his coaches about his lack of targets. This year, he got off to a blazing start and caught a career high nine receptions in a Week 3 match up with the Bears.
Also, Jennings made the Pro Bowl. While there may have been a few players with better numbers, Jennings missed three games due to injury and was on pace for 1200 yards and 10+ touchdowns if he had played a full season. It's good to see the rest of the league noticing how good Jennings is because he's been robbed of appearances in Hawaii in 2008 and 2009. He first made the Pro Bowl last season and he finally got to play in the game this year.
Jennings still has a lot of prime years left, so Donald Driver should watch out because his records might not stand for very long.
Donald Driver: He's Finally Getting Older
Donald Driver, despite his age, still posted back to back 1000 yard seasons in 2008 and 2009. However, in 2010 and 2011, injuries and age have prevented him from reaching the 1000 yard milestone.
Driver may or may not return to Green Bay next year, but he will still always be one of the best receivers to ever play for the Packers. 2011, though, did not reflect that legacy, and he had little impact as basically the Packers fourth receiver.
With Randall Cobb behind Driver and a couple receivers on the practice squad looking for their shot in Green Bay, Driver could be an odd man out this off season. As harsh as this may seem, the Packers won't be missing much in terms of on the football field because Driver is getting older and his impact has been reduced.
They will never forget his character, though, and his locker room presence will be surely missed. Whenever Driver leaves Green Bay, the Packers will definitely throw him a proper good-bye celebration.
Jordy Nelson: Last Year's Super Bowl Was No Fluke
Nelson surprised everyone last year when he posted nine catches for 136 yards in the Super Bowl against the Steelers. If it weren't for a few drops he could have easily been the Super Bowl MVP and had one of the best performances by a receiver in the Super Bowl of all time.
Some people questioned whether his success would carry over into 2011, and most saw him having a solid season but nothing on a par with his Super Bowl performance.
Well, it turns out his 2011 season was even better than his Super Bowl game.
Nelson posted 1263 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, easily becoming Aaron Rodger's second favorite weapon. Nelson proved that he is an elite play maker and he will challenge for some Pro Bowl appearances in the coming years.
If Nelson can continue this kind of success with the other weapons he has around him, it will be truly remarkable. I think he will, and he'll be regarded as one of the best receivers in the game along with teammate Greg Jennings sooner rather than later.
Jermichael Finley: He Is Not an Elite Tight End
Finley wanted to come into this season and prove he is the best tight end in the league.
After a dismal season, Finley shouldn't even be considered an elite option at the position, much less the best.
He might be in the top five or six, but that's just because of his talent level and athleticism. Finley lacked the sharp football mind and attitude to be an elite player in the NFL.
There's all the chance in the world that Finley can bounce back in 2012 and beyond and become a great player, but until I see that he will always be just an above average tight end and nothing more.
The Packers offense was ridiculous last season and could even get better next year. They may not score as many points, but they definitely have all the ability in the world to keep improving.
Aaron Rodgers could still improve some parts of his game because he just entered his prime last year and he has a long way to go before he'll be done with football (injuries aside). Also, the Packers could improve the play along the offensive line. Finley will have another shot to live up to his potential and Randall Cobb will become more involved and polished.
Look for the Packers offense to continue their success in 2012.