Predicting Starters at Every Position for Green Bay Packers in 2012
When your team goes 15-1 during the regular season, there usually isn't much change to the starting lineup the following season.
However, considering the fact that the Green Bay Packers were bounced from the playoffs way too early, we could see some major changes to both the offense and defense.
Here's an early look at the potential starters at every position for the Green Bay Packers in 2012.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers
If there is one position on the Green Bay Packers' roster that has no chance of changing in 2012, it is the quarterback position.
After his 2011 season, Aaron Rodgers has earned the right to lead Green Bay until he is 60 years old. He established himself as the best quarterback in the league, and he doesn't appear ready to give that title up anytime soon.
While many other teams are constantly looking for stability at the quarterback position, the Packers are lucky to have a player like Rodgers to lean on.
Running Back: James Starks
Last year, Ryan Grant was technically the starting running back for the Green Bay Packers. However, I can't see Grant being brought back in 2012, which leaves the running back duties to James Starks.
Starks is a young and talented runner who can also provide production as a receiver. He struggled some with injuries in 2011, but if he can stay healthy, he could have a pretty solid season.
Green Bay doesn't use their running back too often, but having a true threat at the position would be a huge boost to the offense.
The Packers may also draft a running back or bring one in via free agency, but I don't expect them to start over Starks.
Fullback: John Kuhn
Considering the lack of impact that most fullbacks make, John Kuhn has been rather productive the past two seasons for the Green Bay Packers.
In short-yardage situations, screen passes and really anytime the Packers need some energy, Kuhn performs to perfection.
He's one of the most loved players on the entire roster and won't be losing his starting spot anytime soon.
Wide Receivers: Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson
With Donald Driver's declining play and Jordy Nelson's emergence, Nelson will likely take Driver's starting role in 2012.
The combination of Nelson and Greg Jennings at wide receiver should frighten every secondary in the league. They're two of the better players at their position and have the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
The rest of the receiving corps for the Packers is pretty talented, too.
Tight End: Jermichael Finley
The Green Bay Packers are going to have a big offseason decision to make regarding Jermichael Finley.
Do they let him walk, franchise tag him or re-sign him to a big contract? Personally, they should re-sign him because he still has the potential to be one of the top tight ends in the league.
Sure, his hands can be slippery at times, but his athleticism and ability to create mismatches outweighs the dropped balls. I also believe his hands will improve with time.
Finley is just another weapon for Aaron Rodgers and needs to be on this team for the foreseeable future.
Offensive Tackles: Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga
Unfortunately, I don't see the Green Bay Packers starting long-time offensive tackle Chad Clifton in 2012. His recent injury history shows that it is time to move on.
The likely candidate to replace him on the offensive line is Marshall Newhouse, who did a good job filling in during the 2011 season. One idea that might be kicked around by coaches is moving Bryan Bulaga to left tackle and putting Newhouse in at right tackle.
However it shakes it, both Bulaga and Newhouse will likely be starting at tackle for Green Bay on opening day.
Offensive Guards: Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang
Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are two of the better young guards in the league, and really anchor the offensive line for Aaron Rodgers.
Sitton should be a lock for the Pro Bowl each year, though he generally gets shafted, and Lang has the potential to be a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.
Both these players are young and should hold down the interior offensive line for quite some time.
Center: Scott Wells
Scott Wells is another big priority offseason signing for the Green Bay Packers.
He established himself as a top center in 2011 and losing him would be a huge blow to the Packers. Even though he is an older player, he should still be signed to a multi-year contract and locked up for the rest of his career.
He may be the most important piece on the entire offensive line.
Defensive Ends: Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson
Okay, this is where it gets a little tricky.
I could definitely see the Green Bay Packers using a high draft pick on a defensive end or picking one up in free agency. However, I believe they have too much invested in Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson to simply forget about them.
They'll add a pass rushing linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and give Pickett and Wilson one more year to stay healthy and produce before moving on from them.
Nose Tackle: B.J. Raji
B.J. Raji may have taken a step back in 2011, but he still gets the nod at starting nose tackle for the Green Bay Packers.
He'll have to improve at eating up run blockers and getting penetration to the quarterback. If he can do that, this Packers defense may very well get back to their late-season 2010 form.
Raji, or "The Freezer," is a huge part of the defense and his play is what really allows everyone else to have success.
Inside Linebackers: A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop
Some people are calling for the Green Bay Packers to release A.J. Hawk, but I'm not one of them.
While Hawk certainly hasn't lived up to expectations, he's the best option the Packers have right now without going out and spending a bunch of money on a position they don't really need to.
Opposite Hawk is one of the better defensive players on the entire team, Desmond Bishop. Bishop replaced Nick Barnett beautifully in 2011, and was a serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate before a knee injury.
Hopefully these two can get back into rhythm in 2012.
Outside Linebackers: Clay Matthews and Bruce Irvin
People will want to point to Clay Matthews' lack of sacks and say he had a down year. The truth is that he improved greatly as an overall player in 2011.
Opposite Matthews was a huge problem. Neither Erik Walden or Frank Zombo really got the job done. This is a position that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed early.
I really like Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia. While raw, he has a unique ability to get after the quarterback and is a high-motored player.
The combination of Matthews and Irvin would be brutal for opposing teams to handle.
Cornerbacks: Tramon Williams and Sam Shields
It may seem surprising to not see Charles Woodson as a starting cornerback in 2012, but we'll get to that later.
Sam Shields looks ready to assume a starting position, and Tramon Williams is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. They'll both need to cutback on their aggressive nature and just let plays happen.
With Williams and Shields in the backfield, the Green Bay Packers should hopefully be able to slow down opponents' receivers.
Safeties: Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett
See, I told you we would get to Charles Woodson.
Since, the status of Nick Collins is still unknown, I have to assume that the Green Bay Packers may be without him in 2012. If that is the case, the likely candidate to replace him is the versatile Woodson.
Woodson would be a great fit opposite Morgan Burnett, as both players can make plays on the ball and are quality tacklers at the line of scrimmage.
It will be hard to be without Collins, but moving Woodson will be an exciting move for Green Bay.
Kick/Punt Returner: Randall Cobb
After a stellar rookie season, Randall Cobb will continue to be the primary punt and kick returner for the Green Bay Packers.
He's as dynamic as they come in the return game, and he could actually be better in 2012.
Kicker and Punter: Mason Crosby and Tim Masthay
No real changes to the other main special teams players as Mason Crosby is coming off a career year and Tim Masthay continues to be an impressive punter.
These two make up an extremely underrated part of the Green Bay Packers.