Predicting Top Offensive, Defensive Stat Leaders for the Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers put up some pretty gaudy offensive statistics in 2011.
And while the defense couldn't keep pace, they actually did superbly well in the interceptions department with a league-leading 31, eight more than the next closest team.
When the team as a whole puts up numbers like that, some pretty good individual performances comprise those statistical categories.
Coming off a regular season in which they went 15-1, the Packers figure to have another successful season in 2012 and produce some more attention-grabbing stats.
Top Passer: Aaron Rodgers
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There's no doubt Aaron Rodgers will be the Packers' leading passer as long as he's healthy. The only question is, will he be able to exceed last year's eye-popping numbers?
In 2011, Rodgers completed 343-of-502 passes (68.3 percent) for 4,643 yards with 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions, good for an NFL single-season record 122.5 passer rating.
Those numbers were good enough to win the NFL's MVP award, even though Rodgers did not lead the league in several statistical categories.
It should be noted that Rodgers did not play in the final regular season game, seeing as the Packers had already clinched a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The decision to withhold Rodgers from the regular season finale meant he went three weeks between games—which didn't come without criticism, considering the egg the Packers laid in their loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round.
If Rodgers plays in a full 16 games this upcoming season, he'd have a better chance to surpass last year's numbers—but it didn't help that the Packers offense was so dominating.
Most times being dominating would be a good thing, but it also meant the Packers would put the reins on Rodgers and try to run out the clock late in several games.
Rodgers had a higher passer rating and fewer interceptions than Brees, but trailed in all other passing areas.
Whether or not Rodgers can better the numbers put up by Brees could depend upon whether the Packers have to pass the ball to win more games in 2012.
Top Running Back: James Starks
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Last season James Starks and Ryan Grant put up strikingly similar numbers.
Starks carried the ball 133 times for 578 yards (4.3 ypc) with one touchdown. Grant, meanwhile, rushed the ball 134 times for 559 yards (4.2 ypc) with two touchdowns.
Part of the reason Starks didn't have higher rushing numbers was because he was held out of three regular season games and injuries limited him to 13 carries in the final three regular season games he did play.
But with Grant out of the picture this season––he hasn't signed with any team in free agency––Starks should take on a much larger role in 2012.
Staying healthy has always been an ongoing problem with Starks. In addition to the time missed last year, he also sat out the first 11 games of 2010 and his entire senior season in college before that.
But as long as Starks can find a way to stay on the field, he's likely to become the Packers' workhorse running back. And, at the very minimum, he's likely to score more touchdowns than the one he scored last year.
Alex Green and Brandon Saine are likely to get playing time and spell Starks from time to time, but they have yet to show they can supplant Starks as the Packers' top running option.
Top Wide Receiver: Greg Jennings
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Jordy Nelson surprised more than a few observers when he led the Packers in receiving last year with 68 receptions for 1,263 yards (18.6 ypr) and 15 touchdowns.
But Greg Jennings will take over as the Packers' top wide receiver once again, assuming he stays healthy.
Staying healthy was part of the reason Jennings' numbers were down a year ago when the Packers held him out of the final three regular season games so he could return for the playoffs.
It's a good bet that Jennings would at least have had more receptions than Nelson if he hadn't missed those three games.
As it was, Jennings finished the season with 67 catches for 979 yards (14.2 ypr) and nine touchdowns.
This year Nelson will no longer be a secret to opposing defenses and will get more attention.
That should be enough to open up things up for Jennings to become the Packers' leading wide receiver again.
Top Tight End: Jermichael Finley
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Unless something unforeseen happens, Jermichael Finley will lead all Packers tight ends in receiving, and it won't even be close.
The Packers gave Finley a vote of confidence in the offseason by offering him a two-year, $14 million contract, which should give him peace of mind and allow him to overcome some of the mental errors that plagued Finley last season.
Not that Finley was poor last year by any stretch of the imagination. His 55 receptions for 767 yards (13.9 ypr) and eight touchdowns were a welcome contribution.
It's just that compared to other NFL tight ends, Finley didn't stack up last season.
In 2011, Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints led all tight ends with 99 catches for 1,310 yards (13.2 ypr) and 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots led all players at the position with 17 touchdown receptions.
With such a deep and talented group of wide receivers in Green Bay, it will be difficult for Finley to reach the standards set by Graham and Gronkowski, but there's little doubt he'll be at the top of the tight end heap in Green Bay.
Most Sacks: Clay Matthews
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Considering Clay Matthews had 10 sacks in just his rookie season in the NFL and then followed that up with 13.5 his second season in which he finished second in the league's Defensive Player of the Year voting, his 6.5 sacks in 2011 came as a bit of a disappointment.
The low number of sacks has been rationalized by saying the Packers didn't have anyone to take any pressure off Matthews last season.
When Cullen Jenkins left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, gone was the Packers' next best pass-rushing threat.
The Packers have done their best to rectify that situation this offseason.
In free agency, the Packers signed defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove, Phillip Merling and Daniel Muir.
And then in the draft the Packers selected outside linebacker Nick Perry with their first-draft choice and then took defensive lineman Jerel Worthy in the second round.
The Packers don't need all the new players to become Pro Bowlers, they just need one or two to take some attention away from Matthews.
If that happens, Matthews should reach double-digit sacks once again.
Most Tackles: Desmond Bishop
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Despite three games lost to injury, Desmond Bishop still led the Packers with 115 tackles last season, 90 solo and 25 assists.
With Bishop firmly entrenched as a starter, he figures to become the Packers' leading tackler once again in 2012.
The strongest competition Bishop would receive for the top spot among tacklers would be the other inside linebacker alongside him, but there's reason to think that A.J. Hawk's starting status could be up in the air.
Following a solid performance during the 2010 Super Bowl season, Hawk had a relatively disappointing 2011 devoid of impact plays like sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles.
Rookie D.J. Smith, meanwhile, showed promise during a three-game stint as a starter while filling in for an injured Bishop and Hawk.
It's very likely Hawk will begin 2012 as the starter once again, but he'll receive strong competition from Smith.
Safety Morgan Burnett also reached triple-digits in tackles last season with 107.
The Packers would no doubt like to see their safeties making fewer tackles in 2012, meaning fewer ball carriers reach the third level of the defense.
From that standpoint, whether Burnett challenges Bishop for the top tackler among the Packers could be dependent upon how much the entire defense improves.
Most Interceptions: Tramon Williams
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Had safety Nick Collins not been released in the offseason, he would have been a candidate to lead the team in interceptions.
And it's difficult to choose against Charles Woodson, who tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season and has 54 in his career.
But Tramon Williams is the pick to get the most picks in 2012.
Williams followed an incredible 2010 season in which he had nine combined interceptions between the regular season and the playoffs with a comparatively disappointing 2011 in which he had four interceptions.
Part of Williams' performance last year can be blamed on nerve damage to his shoulder after an early-season injury.
But if Williams can bounce back from last season's injury woes, he's a good bet to return to his old form.
Despite the injury, Williams ranks a surprising No. 1 in the NFL in interceptions (13) since 2010 including the playoffs, which is even more than the likes of the Baltimore Ravens' Ed Reed (12).
Most Forced Fumbles: Charles Woodson
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Clay Matthews led the Packers with three forced fumbles last season compared to Charles Woodson's one.
But it's Woodson's track record that makes him the most likely candidate to lead the team in forced fumbles in 2012.
During the Packers' Super Bowl season in 2010, Woodson forced a career-high five fumbles.
And twice Woodson forced four fumbles in a season, including 2009 when he was voted the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. The other instance came in 2002 as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
Woodson has forced a total of 23 fumbles over the course of his career.
There's been a lot of speculation this offseason about which position Woodson will play in the future, but it doesn't appear as if there will be much of a change.
Woodson will continue to defend the slot, but there's also a chance his days as a perimeter cornerback are over, instead playing safety when the Packers are in their 3-4 base defense.
The more Woodson is around the action and lines up closer to the center of the field, the chances are only greater that he'll force more fumbles.