Power Ranking the Most Important Green Bay Packers in the Secondary
It was difficult to get a gauge on the 2011 Packers secondary that could be both simultaneously poor and exceptional at seemingly the same time.
On one hand, the defensive backs were a big reason the Packers led the NFL with 31 interceptions last season, which was eight more than the next closest team.
But on the other hand, they were also guilty of giving up the most passing yards in NFL history last year. Granted, the pass-rush factored into the performance of the pass defense as well.
With that in mind, the secondary will play a big role as to whether the Packers defense can improve this season, and these power rankings attempt to take a look at the players who will determine its success or failure.
The rankings reflect two things: 1) the present talent of the players, and 2) their potential impact on the 2012 season.
1. Charles Woodson
With Charles Woodson entering his 15th year in the NFL in 2012, he may not be listed at the top of any power rankings for much longer.
But until proven otherwise, he deserves the top spot.
Woodson was a first-team All-Pro last season and tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions, showing that he's still on top of his game.
There's been speculation that Woodson could move to safety and his role may change slightly this upcoming season, but he's still going to be defending the slot with regularity, just like he has for several years.
As long as Woodson is a three-down player, it doesn't matter where he's lining up. He may have lost a step compared to his younger years, but he's still a tough-nosed ballhawk and a leader on the Packers.
Because of those abilities, he's the top player in the Packers secondary.
2. Tramon Williams
Tramon Williams was arguably the best player on the best team in the NFL in 2010, perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL that season if you take into consideration his performance in both the regular season and the playoffs.
But 2011 was a down year for Williams after injuring his shoulder and suffering nerve damage in Week 1 last season. He couldn't be as physical in either his tackling or press coverage, which really limited his effectiveness.
Considering Williams had a career-high 64 tackles and a career-high 22 passes defensed to go along with four interceptions even while injured, he probably went above and beyond the call of duty.
If Williams can get back to full or near-full strength in 2012, he should be able to retain his spot among the top handful of cornerbacks in the NFL once again.
3. Morgan Burnett
Morgan Burnett's rookie season in 2010 was cut short by injury, playing in only four games before landing on injured reserve with a torn ACL.
Thus, 2011 became Burnett's first full year in the NFL. There were some ups and some downs, but he showed his best is still ahead of him.
Among the negatives, Burnett played a majority of last season with a club-like cast after sustaining a broken bone in his hand. And there appeared to be several communication issues with the cornerbacks on the team.
But on the positive side of the ledger, Burnett reached triple-digits in tackles last season with 107 as well as three interceptions.
Considering his relative inexperience, he's poised to take a big jump in 2012 as long as there are no more injury setbacks.
Burnett's impact will take on even more importance now that the safety position has lost the services of a three-time Pro Bowler in Nick Collins, and Burnett will have to do his best to fill that void.
4. Sam Shields
Sam Shields was a pleasant surprise during the 2010 season, going from undrafted rookie to regular contributor during the Packers' Super Bowl run.
He played a huge role on the Packers defense during his first season in the NFL and was really a big reason the Green Bay was able to bring the Vince Lombardi back to Titletown.
Unfortunately for Shields, he appeared to regress a little bit during his sophomore year as a professional football player. Yes, he had four interceptions, but he seemed to give up more big plays and shied away from contact.
It's been speculated that Charles Woodson will no longer play the perimeter cornerback position on defense or at least play a reduced role in 2012, and if that's the case, Shields could go from a part-time to a full-time, three-down player.
The job is Shields' to lose. If he doesn't improve, young players like Davon House or Casey Hayward will look to pounce in the battle for playing time.
5. Charlie Peprah
Like Rodney Dangerfield, Charlie Peprah just can't seem to get any respect.
All he did was take over for an injured Morgan Burnett to become a starter at safety on the Packers' Super Bowl team on 2010.
He followed that up by subbing for an injured Nick Collins in 2011 on his way to making the third-most tackles on the team with 94, the second-most interceptions with five and the most interception return yards with 147.
What more does Peprah have to do to get some job security?
He has to become more consistent, for one, and not bounce off players on an attempted tackle like he did against Hakeem Nicks in the loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs last season. Peprah simply doesn't have the foot speed to recover.
But he's a smart player who's always available for duty. Like Sam Shields, a prominent role in the Packers defensive backfield is Peprah's to lose.
5. Davon House
There's an big opportunity in front of Davon House. All he has to do is take advantage of it.
After Sam Shields showed some chinks in the armor last season, the Packers could be looking for a lockdown cover cornerback to play opposite Tramon Williams in 2012.
It could be a big role too if Charles Woodson is kept inside and not on the perimeter of the field.
In order to earn more playing time, however, House has to show more than he did in his rookie season.
Basically, he wasn't ready for prime-time. He was talented enough to keep on the roster, but House only played in two games last season, primarily on special teams.
And a minor nagging injury during training camp didn't help his development either.
There appears to be a training camp battle brewing between House and Shields to see who's going to see the field more often.
6. Jerron McMillian
Jerron McMillian has a long way to go to prove himself, but the Packers didn't make him a fourth-round draft choice for nothing.
Obviously, he impressed them enough to take him over a lot of other players the experts had ranked higher back during the NFL draft.
Indications are that McMillian is an in-the-box safety, and that's a job up for grabs now that Nick Collins is gone and Charlie Peprah has a tenuous hold on the starting position in Green Bay.
If the rookie can impress during training camp, he has a shot to steal some playing time away from Peprah, but it's not going to be easy to unseat a veteran.
M.D. Jennings is also in the mix at safety and he's got a year's experience on McMillian, but McMillian weighs 16 more pounds than Jennings, 203 vs. 187. That weight could give McMillian edge as long as his speed is not compromised by his size.
8. M.D. Jennings
With Charlie Peprah sitting out of the Packers' offseason practice program following arthroscopic knee surgery, M.D. Jennings got the opportunity of a lifetime to work with the first-string defense this spring.
From all indications, his audition went well, although he'll probably have to give the starting job back to Peprah during training camp by default.
Jennings, however, will be given the chance to impress the coaching staff during training camp.
If he can hold off Jerron McMillian and overtake Charlie Peprah on the depth chart, he has the opportunity to see more of the field on defense than he did during his rookie season in the NFL last year when he played primarily on special teams.
9. Casey Hayward
The Packers showed how much they liked Casey Hayward by trading up into the second round of the NFL draft to grab him.
Unfortunately, he might be blocked by some veteran players for playing time early in his career.
That is, unless Hayward can leapfrog some of the cornerbacks ahead of him on the depth chart.
Known as an interception-machine in college, Hayward might be the ideal replacement for Charles Woodson as a slot cornerback at some point in his career.
For the time being, though, Hayward will be undergoing a learning and developmental process to see where he fits best.
He's not being counted out of the competition for playing time on defense this season. He just has to prove he's a better option than some of the other players on the roster in order to do so.
10. Jarrett Bush
Jarrett Bush has several factors working in his favor.
Bush also got the starting nod in the Packers' most recent playoff game last season ahead of Sam Shields.
There's no doubt Bush is a tough son of a gun, willing to throw his body around fearlessly, but he's also prone to mental mistakes by losing receivers in coverage.
Perhaps Bush can maintain a part-time role on defense like he did in the loss to the Giants. After all, he really did improve as a defensive player in 2011.
But he'll have to hold off a slew of competitors for increased playing time like Sam Shields, Davon House and Casey Hayward.
At the very least, Bush will continue to be the special teams captain and perhaps the team's best player in that phase of the game, which is important too.