5 Green Bay Packers Defenders Who Will Surprise Us in 2012
But that's not really giving the Packers their due. There are several reasons to believe a turnaround is in store this year.
The Packers are just two seasons removed from their Super Bowl championship from which many players remain with the team, several of them in the prime of their careers like Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and Tramon Williams.
Also doing its part to improve the Packers in the offseason was the organization's front office, which spent its first six selections in the NFL Draft on defense and signed several free agent defensive linemen.
If the Packers pass rush improves, as it should, the back seven is only going to look better, and vice versa.
With a better overall defensive performance, several Packers players are sure to surprise.
It probably wouldn't surprise many people if first-round draft choice Nick Perry performs well in his rookie season. There's a reason he was a first-round draft pick to begin with.
But it would be slightly more surprising if Jerel Worthy, in his first year as a professional football player, makes a measurable impact.
Unlike Perry, who's pretty much expected to be a three-down player from game No. 1 this year, Worthy is being brought along comparatively slower, working only with the first-string nickel defense during the offseason program.
If Worthy can impress, he might be asked to take on a larger role, and it wouldn't take much to impress from a pass-rush perspective.
After Cullen Jenkins departed in free agency last season, the Packers never could find a pass-rushing source along the defensive line.
B.J. Raji and Jarius Wynn tied for the team lead in sacks among defensive linemen with three apiece.
For Raji that's a decrease from the 6.5 sacks he had during the 2010 season. And all of Wynn's sacks came in the first three weeks of 2011 as his role decreased as the year went along.
Based upon a mathematical formula, PredictionMachine.com projected Worthy to have 24.4 tackles, 7.8 for a loss, 3.6 sacks and one blocked kick in his rookie season.
If the Packers can get that kind of production from Worthy in 2012, it will be an upgrade over their defensive linemen last year, and the Packers hope it will help take attention away from some other players on the team, such as Clay Matthews.
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Perhaps surprisingly, Mike Daniels is projected to have an even bigger impact in his rookie season in the NFL than Jerel Worthy who was drafted two rounds ahead of Daniels.
At least that's the word from PredictionMachine.com which sees Daniels having a few more tackles (28.9) and sacks (4.6) than Worthy.
Projections from PredictionMachine.com are based on a mathematical formula that takes into account college statistics as well as other variables. But it's clear that players who are productive over the course of an entire college career are predicted to put up better numbers than the one-year wonders, which factors into the high expectations for the first-year defensive lineman.
Daniels was very productive during his time at Iowa putting up career statistics of 89 tackles, 27 for a loss and 15.5 sacks.
The above-listed projections assume, of course, a player is healthy enough to stay on the field. And for Daniels, that's something he still has to prove.
After undergoing shoulder surgery on his labrum following the 2011 season at Iowa, Daniels couldn't play in a postseason all-star game, couldn't work out at the NFL Combine and didn't practice with the Packers at all during their offseason program.
But in an interview that was published Tuesday on the Packers official website, Daniels appeared to be chomping at the bit to get back on the field.
“It’s rough. If you tell a fish not to swim, it’s going to be kind of hard,” Daniels is quoted as saying. “Being a football player, it’s hard to sit around and watch everybody else out there getting better, practicing. So I have to find other ways to improve myself.”
There's still approximately three weeks to go until the Packers begin training camp in late July, which gives Daniels a little bit more time to rehab and recuperate.
At 6'1" and only 290 pounds, Daniels is seen as small for an NFL defensive linemen, but it's his quickness that has Green Bay excited about his future.
He probably won't be asked to play in their base 3-4 defense very often, but Daniels can certainly carve out a niche with the Packers as long as he can help push the pocket.
It might be a surprise to see a defensive lineman appear for the third time on this list, especially one that could be suspended by the NFL, but Anthony Hargrove's pass-rush ability gives him a chance to be a key contributor this season for the Packers.
First of all, it's not guaranteed that the free-agent signee of the Packers will be suspended.
Hargrove is currently awaiting a decision from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the appeal of his suspension. But even if Goodell's original eight-game regular season suspension stands, there's a chance Hargrove and the rest of the "Bountygate" players will seek an injunction temporarily lifting it until their case can be heard in a court of law.
And even if a lawsuit fails, it's possible Hargrove could provide the Packers with a fresh set of legs at midseason.
As unfortunate as they are, injuries have a way of happening throughout a season, and Hargrove could be just what the doctor ordered for the Packers if they happen to sustain any injuries on the defensive line prior to his return.
Regardless of injuries, Hargrove will be able to help spell his fellow defensive linemen on passing downs such as Ryan Pickett, who never was and never will be a pass rusher, and B.J. Raji who's been a victim of overuse during his time in Green Bay.
Past history shows Hargrove did a better job of collapsing the pocket than the other Packers defensive linemen in 2011, according to Nathan Jahnke of ProFootballFocus.com:
Anthony Hargrove had 20 overall pressures on 232 pass rushes. Raji had 20 on 548 rushes. Pickett/Wilson/Green/Neal combined had 19 on 671.— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) March 29, 2012
Davon House impressed observers with his maturation during the Packers' offseason program, and if Sam Shields doesn't show similar improvement, House may be able to take advantage.
Last year, Shields appeared to suffer a regression from the previous season when he showed an unwillingness to be physical.
Meanwhile, House spent most of 2011 on the sidelines, unready for the rigors of the NFL. House played in only two games last year and the majority of the limited playing time he did receive came on special teams.
A season ago, House was a victim of the NFL lockout, not able to practice until training camp began, not even able to talk to his coaches. Setting him back even further was a hamstring injury, which forced him to lose some playing time early last year.
But the young defensive back has appeared to make a jump, and the Packers could certainly use his help after ranking 32nd in the NFL in pass defense last season.
"Davon House has done an excellent job in the weight room," head coach McCarthy was quoted as saying in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article in early June. "He's a different young man today than he was last year."
It's looking more and more likely that Charles Woodson's days as a perimeter cornerback may be over, which only opens up the door even more to a player like House.
If his cover skills are up to par, House is an excellent candidate to steal some playing time away from Sam Shields or perhaps in the Packers' subpackages.
Morgan Burnett played in only four games during his rookie season in the NFL in 2010 before ending the year on injured reserve with a torn ACL.
In essence, 2011 was his rookie season. Burnett played in all 16 games, but even then, he was slowed by injury when a broken hand forced him to wear a club-like cast most of the year.
Considering the circumstances, Burnett played pretty well, reaching triple-digits in tackles (107) and three regular-season interceptions plus one more for good measure during the playoff loss to the New York Giants.
Entering his third year in the NFL, Burnett might be ready to break out, following the same path as other high-profile Packers safeties like LeRoy Butler, Darren Sharper and Nick Collins.
All of the aforementioned safeties had varying degrees of success early in their careers, but it wasn't until their third or fourth seasons until they really put it all together.
That's where Burnett is at right now. With Collins being released this offseason, Burnett is going to be asked to be a steadying influence, a rock at the safety position.
There appeared to be some miscommunication issues between Burnett and the cornerbacks on the team such as Tramon Williams last year, but learning from those experiences are only going to help in Burnett's continued development.
Burnett had all three of his regular season interceptions by Week 3 last season before he broke his hand. If he can avoid the injury bug this season, there's reason to believe he can become the next interception artist in the ball-hawking Packers secondary. And an improved pass-rush up front won't hurt either.
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