Predicting Award Winners for the Green Bay Packers' 2012 Season

Brian Carriveau@@BrianCarriveauContributor IJuly 16, 2012

Predicting Award Winners for the Green Bay Packers' 2012 Season

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    With the start of a new season, it's time for predictions.

    The Green Bay Packers enter 2012 with high expectations both as a team and for individual players.

    Let's take a look at the individuals projected to win the following awards:

    • Most Valuable Player
    • Most Improved Players
    • Offensive Player of the Year
    • Defensive Player of the Year
    • Defensive Rookie of the Year
    • Offensive Rookie of the Year

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers

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    It's not exactly going out on a limb predicting Aaron Rodgers to be the Packers' Most Valuable Player in 2012, but is there really any other choice?

    Not only is he the Packers' MVP, he has a very good chance to repeat as the league's MVP as well.

    Rodgers leads one of the most explosive offenses in the entire NFL, and as a player that touches the football on every single play, he has an immense impact on the outcome of every game.

    He's aided by one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, and Rodgers is adept at spreading the wealth among them.

    From accuracy to arm strength to his command of the offense and, really, the team as a whole, there's no other logical choice for team MVP.

    Beyond his strengths as a passer, Rodgers can make plays with his feet too, but after sustaining multiple concussions, maybe he'll be less willing to run with the football than he has in the past.

    Regardless, as long as he gets protection from his offensive line, Rodgers should continue to put up huge numbers in 2012.

Most Improved Player: Marshall Newhouse

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    Marshall Newhouse had his share of ups and downs in 2011, but then again, so did Bryan Bulaga in his rookie year.

    Bulaga went on to become one of the best up-and-coming right tackles in the NFL during his second season, and if Newhouse can make the same amount of progress as his counterpart, it will go a long way toward solidifying the Packers' offensive line.

    Aaron Rodgers was sacked a few too many times because of lapses by Newhouse last year, but considering he was pressed unexpectedly into service when Chad Clifton was injured, Newhouse performed admirably.

    The Packers were also able to go 15-1 with Newhouse manning left tackle for most of the season, so they certainly found a way to win with him in the lineup.

    If Newhouse can continue his progression with a year of experience under his belt, the Packers offense will benefit.

    With very little turnover, all the important pieces of last year's high-powered offense are back. Newhouse is one of the few question marks on the offensive line, but he's surrounded by a terrific cast.

    There's no reason he shouldn't be able to get better.

Offensive Player of the Year: Greg Jennings

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    Certainly Aaron Rodgers is a candidate for the Offensive Player of the Year, but seeing as he's also the pick for Most Valuable Player, Greg Jennings is the choice for OPOY.

    Jennings has been playing at a high level for several seasons, but entering the peak of his physical career as well as a contract season, he might be primed for his biggest season yet.

    Surpassed as the Packers' leading receiver in 2011 by Jordy Nelson, part of the reason was because Jennings was limited to only 13 games due to injury.

    If he is able to play for an entire year, Jennings will regain the top spot among the Packers' wideouts.

    Thanks to his superior route-running and ability to get deep, Jennings is the biggest threat on the offense.

    And better yet for Jennings, because there's so much depth among Aaron Rodgers' targets, opposing defenses can't afford to focus strictly on Jennings.

Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews

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    Clay Matthews has carved out quite the image for himself.

    The long mane flowing out from his helmet. The post-sack celebration with arms spread wide, like a wild animal looming over its kill. The all-out hustle to get after the quarterback play after play.

    Exploding onto the scene as a rookie with double-digit sacks, Matthews has produced from Day 1 in the NFL.

    He followed that up with 13.5 sacks in season No. 2, finishing second in the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year voting behind only Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. At that point, the sky seemed to be the limit for Matthews.

    With a relatively meager pass-rush production of only six sacks in 2011, Matthews came crashing back to earth. For the most part, few believe Matthews was any less of a player, however.

    People point to the lack of any other pass rush threat and the ability of teams to focus on Matthews, to double- and even triple-team him.

    The Packers did their best in the offseason to ramp up their pass rush efforts by spending their first-round draft choice on outside linebacker Nick Perry; indeed their first six draft choices were all on the defensive side of the football. They also signed three free agent defensive linemen.

    By virtue of pressure coming from other places on the field, that will allow Matthews to become the sack artist fans have come to expect. He will easily get back to the realm of a dozen sacks again.

    Beyond just the sacks, Matthews is also coming into his own in all other phases of the game, particularly pass coverage where he had three interceptions last season.

    The ability to come up with impact plays like sacks, interceptions as well as forced fumbles will allow Matthews to have the biggest impact on the Packers defense in 2012.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Nick Perry

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    Nick Perry will receive stiff competition from Jerel Worthy, but the outside linebacker will become the team's Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    The edge goes to Perry who was inserted into the starting lineup from Day 1 in Green Bay and is expected to play all three downs.

    Comparatively, Worthy has been working with the Packers' first-string nickel defense during their offseason program but not their base defense.

    Perry has the opportunity to impact the game on a down-in, down-out basis and will have responsibilities ranging from defending the run to rushing the passer to dropping into coverage.

    Figures like head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers will play a big role in Perry's development, but an even bigger role may be played by two people with lesser titles, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene and teammate Clay Matthews.

    As his position coach, Greene is tasked with helping Perry transition from college defensive end to professional outside linebacker and the multiple responsibilities that come with it.

    Matthews, meanwhile, will need to take Perry under his wing, show him the tricks of the trade and be a mentor to his young running mate. It helps that the two have a prior history as teammates for one year at USC.

    With the help of some good coaching, Perry will take some pressure off of Matthews and become a terror in his own right as well.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Datko

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    If you were going to count first-year players in the running for Rookie of the Year, wide receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel would receive serious consideration.

    But strictly among the player classified as rookies, the Packers have few candidates. After all, their first six draft choices this year were all on the defensive side of the football.

    B.J. Coleman, Marc Tyler and Tommie Draheim are all candidates to be the Packers' top offensive rookie, but none of them are guaranteed of so much as a roster spot.

    Neither is Andrew Datko, but he might stand the best chance of seeing the football field his first year as a professional.

    Some have suggested that had Datko not been slowed by shoulder injuries throughout his college career, he would have been a much higher draft choice.

    As it stands, Datko is blocked from a bigger role by veteran tackles like Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod, but he has an opportunity to make the 53-man roster, especially if Sherrod hasn't recovered from his broken leg sustained last year.

    Datko's only playing time might come as a reserve in 2012, but his best days are ahead of him.