Identifying Potential Breakout Players for the Green Bay Packers' 2012 Season
Yesterday we began the immense task of identifying the breakout players in the NFC North, talking about the Detroit Lions.
Today we turn our attention to the Green Bay Packers.
The impressive thing about the Packers is also something which makes this task a bit of a headache—depth.
This team rolls so deep that anyone, anywhere, is really capable of popping off in any given year.
Still, there are some guys who are far more likely to have a breakout season than others.
Here are my five Packers most likely to bust out of the pack.
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Brandon Saine, RB
Behind James Starks is a bit of a battle. While the Packers are not a run-heavy team, the running back is important, and given Starks' struggles with injury the No. 2 back here could be key.
Aaron Nagler and I debated this a little in Monday's Training Camp Breakdown for NFL Draft 365 and we're on different sides of the issue.
You can, of course, watch the video, but ultimately I feel there are several things in Saine's favor.
First, Saine has more speed than either Starks or Alex Green. He can explode out of the hole and is hard to catch when he gets into the open field.
Saine is also a very hard runner, keeping his legs moving after contact and fighting for the hard yards. He's got great leg strength as well so he can break tackles and move the pile when he needs to.
He's also a very good receiver, with soft hands that take good care of the ball when he's running as well. He won't drop Rodgers' passes and won't put the ball on the ground often. He's also a solid blocker, which will give him the chance to catch those balls in the first place because, if he can't block, he can't be on the field in third-down situations.
Finally, and this is key, he stays healthy, which is something Green and Starks have both struggled to do.
All these factors point out to me that Saine, not Green, will be the second back in Green Bay this year.
Randall Cobb, WR
Here's another guy Nagler and I differed over during the video. While Aaron believes James Jones will stick at the third wide receiver spot, I have to disagree.
Listen, we know what we have in Jones and while it can be impressive, it also can't be consistent.
While Jones might be good in traffic, Cobb can be as well, only he's far more dangerous when the ball is in his hands. We've seen Cobb returning kicks and punts and while that doesn't always translate (Devin Hester, anyone?), we've seen Cobb make some great plays in the few opportunities he has had as a receiver.
Cobb has playmaking ability that Jones doesn't have and he also can do it consistently, whereas Jones cannot.
Greg Jennings always attracts attention. This year, Jordy Nelson will see his fair share as well.
Cobb is the choice at wide receiver to take advantage of the defense shifting towards those two guys.
Jerron McMillian, S
With Nick Collins gone, it's kind of a free for all. Morgan Burnett should end up at strong safety, which leaves Charlie Peprah and the rookie from Maine, Jerron McMillian, vying for the free safety spot.
Now, Peprah had an OK 2011—five interceptions is impressive on a resume. However, he got beat long more than once and by no means has a lock on that position.
McMillian is a terror against the run, quickly reading what is coming and attacking the ball-carrier with tremendous ferocity. He can step on the field today and not miss a beat in that aspect of the game.
He does hit more than tackle at times, though, and can get a bit overaggressive. However, I believe that under the guidance of the coaching staff as well as some of the older vets, McMillian can curb this.
He gets a little flack for not being as good in coverage as he is against the run, but I feel like he does a good job reading the play and acting on it swiftly. Here again, he needs to curb his aggression, but that same mentality will serve him well against the receivers he will face in the NFC North.
Nick Perry, OLB
We know Nick Perry will get on the field. You don't get selected in the first round to sit, especially on a defense which struggled with the pass rush.
The key to this season is whether he succeeds or not in the role. So far in OTAs, Perry has been playing on the left side, moving Clay Matthews to the right and against the left tackle—where you want Matthews to attack.
Perry has the speed and desire to get to the quarterback as well as a true nose for the ball. While the transition from defensive end (where he played at USC) will have some rough moments, Perry is a smart player who can adapt quickly.
He has the advantage of getting less attention because of the man across the field from him. With Matthews on the right side, Perry will see fewer blockers and double-teams.
At least until he makes his presence felt.
By which time it will be far too late.
Jerel Worthy, DE
If Nick Perry is one half of the answer to the question, "How do the Packers fix their pass rush?" then Jerel Worthy is going to be the other.
Like Perry, Worthy is transitioning from his college role (defensive tackle) to a new one (defensive end).
Also like Perry, his time to acclimate is short. In Worthy's case it is in part because Anthony Hargrove and Mike Neal are both suspended to start the year.
The rookie will have to step up very quickly.
Worthy's explosive first step gives him the jump on offensive linemen on both run and pass plays. He reacts so quickly off the snap that he is able to hit a tackle or guard before they can adjust or react, instantly knocking them backwards and often getting into the backfield.
He's also relentless in his pursuit of the ball, running down backs that cut outside and not giving up until he has them in his grasp.
Often, Worthy's tremendous strength allows him to shed blocks and get at runners before they hit the hole.
Worthy will also benefit from the attention guys like Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett will get and has a chance early to make his mark.
If he does well—and I have little doubt he will—it will be awfully tough for Hargrove or Neal to crack the lineup.