Much of the Green Bay Packers' recent success has come because of an ability to draft and groom talent. Each year, players have stepped up and broken out from unexpected places to contribute and impact games throughout the course of the year.
The 2012 season should be quite similar with many young players being given opportunities to impact the Packers team on both sides of the ball and special teams. With a great mix of talent and youth, the Packers are in great position for another Super Bowl run if the contributions come in from the right places.
With training camp and preseason games still to come, there are players who could emerge and breakout during the season. As of right now, many of the players likely to breakout are young players returning to Green Bay.
Alex Green didn't have much of a rookie season, racking up 17 yards on three carries and one reception in just four games. A torn ACL ended the rookie's year and any hopes of helping the Packers' less-than-stellar rushing attack.
Green is on pace to reach his goal of being healthy going into training camp in just over three weeks. Coming into camp healthy, Green will have a big opportunity to compete for playing time as the Packers enter camp with Starks the likely starter and Brandon Saine fighting for playing time as well.
Up to this point, the Packers have decided not to bring back Ryan Grant. The void left by Grant will likely be filled by Saine or Green with Starks retaining the role he played last season. Green has all the tools to become a quality, every-down back for the Packers.
With a breakout season, Green could give the Packers a huge boost to the team's rushing game, which has lacked over the last two seasons.
The most popular pick for breakout player of the year, Randall Cobb is gaining huge national attention. In 2011, Cobb forced his way onto the field despite a crowded receiving group in Green Bay and showed his versatility. Cobb was a threat each time he lined up at receiver, but was even more dangerous in the return game.
With a full offseason and a better understanding of the playbook and the NFL game, Cobb should have all the right tools to improve his game in 2012. The Packers offense has been all about creating mismatches, and Cobb is perfect for that. His speed and size make him a tough cover for any defender.
While Cobb may not put up eye-opening numbers, he will certainly have opportunities to impact games. Cobb must stay focused and maintain the speed that makes him such a dangerous player on offense and special teams.
After a successful rookie year in 2010, Sam Shields regressed in a big way in 2011, even being replaced by Jarrett Bush during the Packers' playoff loss to the New York Giants. Shields not only struggled in coverage, but was a poor tackler as well.
Shields showed during his remarkable 2010 run from undrafted free-agent to big-time playoff contributor that he is capable of being a dominant corner. If Shields can forget about 2011, return to his 2010 form and build off of that, Shields has an opportunity to break out.
The Packers desperately need Shields to improve his game and become the corner he showed flashes of being. An improved Shields could be a big piece toward a much improved Packers defense in 2012.
Morgan Burnett was another player who showed big possibilities during his shortened 2010 season. In 2011, Burnett was often put into rough situations playing alongside a disappointing Charlie Peprah. Burnett was at his best when playing alongside Nick Collins, but that time is gone and Burnett has become the guy in the Packers defensive backfield.
Burnett has shown a playmaking ability that not many safeties possess. He came up with three interceptions and two forced fumbles last season. With a stronger cast around him, Burnett could look much better and become a force as a great safety in the league.
Charlie Peprah, Anthony Levine and Jerron McMillian will all compete for playing time at the other safety position. It is also possible that Charles Woodson sees time playing safety as well.
Of the Packers' rookies, no player has a bigger chance to have a breakout season than Nick Perry. Benefiting from playing opposite Clay Matthews, Perry should be able to just throw his weight forward and rush the passer.
With Matthews garnering much attention on the opposite side and an improved defensive line, Perry should see plenty of one-on-one opportunities with chances to get pressures and sacks. Perry will likely have a tougher time when dropped into coverage, but with coaching and experience, should be fine in that department too.
If Perry can live up to the hype and take advantage of the situation presented, the Packers defense should be much better than it was in 2011.