Pros and Cons of Every Projected Green Bay Packers Starter in 2012
The Green Bay Packers are obviously a talented team. Even though last season ended in a loss during the playoffs, you don't go 15-1 by accident.
Whether the Packers have better luck in the postseason in 2012 remains to be seen but there's no doubt they'll be a contender. The talent they've accumulated has all but assured that.
There are probably more positives than negatives for the starters on the Packers' roster compared to the average NFL team, but no team or player alone is invincible. We take a look at the pros and cons for all the Packers' projected starters.
PROS: There aren't many facets of Rodgers' game where he's not considered excellent.
Starting with his arm, probably the No. 1 item NFL teams look for, Rodgers has both strength and accuracy. He's among the top players in the game in both of those areas.
But his game goes far beyond his ability to toss the football.
Rodgers' legs are extremely underrated. He can both escape the pass rush in the pocket and then make plays on the ground by running for first downs. And he does a better job protecting the football than maybe any other player in the game by limiting both interceptions and fumbles.
His biggest strengths, however, might be his command of the offense and leadership ability. Rodgers' ability to direct other players on the team and get them to follow his lead borders on uncanny.
CONS: It is seriously difficult to find fault in Rodgers' game.
He might not be the single fastest quarterback or have the biggest cannon, but that's just splitting hairs. He's more than proficient in each of those areas, and that's an understatement.
His concussion history is concerning, and there might be times where he won't risk taking a big hit, such as diving for a first down, but those instances come so infrequently, it's almost inconsequential.
His personality bears watching. He's not afraid to let other players on the team know when they make a mistake during games and he's so good that he gets the benefit of the doubt. But will the public nature of his critique wear thin?
You don't have three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons by accident.
Benson is good and he showed just that in limited duty during his debut against the Cincinnati Bengals in preseason Week 3.
His experience in a one-back system is beneficial as the Packers are moving in that direction more and more as time passes. Benson also has the ability to plant his foot and make upfield cuts with no hesitation.
And unlike most other players on the Packers, he doesn't have a Super Bowl ring. He's going to be hungry.
It's difficult to look past Benson's multiple arrests. He's already been suspended once by the NFL. One more mistake and his one-year contract he signed with the Packers will not have been worth it.
As far as his play on the field goes, Benson's 12 fumbles in the past two seasons are definitely a concern. The Packers' running backs under Mike McCarty, even if they haven't been outstanding, rarely turn the ball over. Maybe the emphasis on ball security in Green Bay will be beneficial.
Benson's exposure a "West Coast"-type offense and its terminology is new to him. Everything's gone swimmingly so far, but his grasp of the offense will be key when the regular season comes and his role expands.
John Kuhn is probably better than any other fullback in the league when the ball is in his hands.
Not many NFL teams give the ball to the fullback very often, but the Packers aren't afraid. Granted, he's not touching the rock 20 times per game but he's very effective in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Kuhn is also an equally reliable receiver out of the backfield and as a pass protector. His experience as the lone back in a single-back set might allow him to play a big role on third downs this season.
More often than not, fullbacks are asked to be lead blockers in the running game and that might be Kuhn's biggest weakness. It's not as if he's bad by any stretch of the imagination, but he's not the jackhammer, bulldozer type of fullback.
He also has to work on ball security. He hasn't been prone to fumbling but he had one in the playoff loss to the Giants last season and another botched handoff in the preseason win over the Bengals this year.
Jennings is one of the best route runners in the game, and it's probably the biggest key to his success. While he has good speed, he's neither the fastest nor the biggest wide receiver. Jennings needs to find other ways to get open and he does it by running the proper route every single time.
He's fantastic at studying opposing defenders and can also read exactly what cornerbacks are doing on the fly.
His command of the offense is impeccable. Playing with Aaron Rodgers for several years, they're always on the same wavelength. Jennings knows exactly when to come back for those back-shoulder throws that Rodgers always puts on the money.
As acknowledged above, Jennings is neither the biggest nor fastest receiver in the NFL.
He's fast enough to beat some cornerbacks but not others. And he's not exactly known for being the possession-type receiver that uses his strength and fearlessness over the middle of the field. It's just not his forte.
Jennings' injury history is also a concern after missing three games last season with a knee injury and then two more this preseason with a concussion.
Jordy Nelson might have been underestimated at one point in his career, but that isn't happening any longer. He remains deceptive, however.
Just when you think he's too big to be fast, he'll run by a cornerback. Then when cornerbacks start worrying about getting beat deep, Nelson uses his strength and turns a short route into a long gain, breaking tackles along the way.
His body control is also a big-time positive. Nelson makes a lot of plays along the sideline on back-shoulder throws or fades in the corner of the end zone. He's almost always able to make the catch and make sure his feet are in bounds, frequently with a defender draped over him.
As he gets older, Nelson has fewer and fewer shortcomings, but he knows how to overcome them.
He's fast but he's not a blazer.
And it could be argued that he's not utilized in the slot that often, but that might be more of the coaching staff's fault than Nelson's.
He doesn't have a reputation as a ball dropper, but you might remember that he could have had a much bigger game in Super Bowl XLV if he didn't have a couple of drops either.
The raw athletic ability is stunning. The potential is there for the word "freak" to describe Finley as one of those hybrid tight ends in the same mold as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
He has the flexibility to line up tight or split out wide. And Finley has the capability to be as dominating a seam receiver as there is in the NFL.
Perhaps his best asset is his ability to use his body to shield defenders away from the ball like a basketball player going for a rebound. Seeing as Finley had a basketball background heading into college, that doesn't come as a surprise.
One can't look at Finley's drawbacks without mentioning his drops last season. He has to be more consistent not only catching the ball, but also his all-around game has to become well-rounded.
Finley isn't a dominating in-line blocker, but the Packers know that and don't usually ask him to do more than he can handle.
His personality and perceived me-first attitude might stand in his way of becoming a dominating player. Maybe a two-year contract will motivate him to play up to potential.
Marshall Newhouse is a good athlete. Even if he might not be the prototypical left tackle, he is swift of foot enough to shuffle and mirror good pass-rushers.
Newhouse is also smart and won’t get bogged down or confused out on the field. He may not be a grizzled veteran, but he has almost a full year of experience under his belt to rely upon.
Sliding and shuffling isn’t a problem, but getting overpowered is sometimes an issue for Newhouse. He’ll stick with a defender and can even beat them to a spot on the field, but double-moves and bull-rushes can be a problem.
The running game is also not a strength of Newhouse’s, but he’s young enough to still make strides.
Compared to his predecessor at left guard (Daryn Colledge), T.J. Lang is a much more well-rounded offensive lineman. Whereas some might describe Colledge as finesse, Lang is a mauler who is not afraid to mix it up with opposing defenders.
He also has the ability to play shift out to tackle as he did at right tackle for Bryan Bulaga last season and for Chad Clifton at left tackle his rookie year.
As a young player, T.J. Lang is still prone to the mistakes that more veteran players have seen before and learned from. It doesn’t happen often but stunts and blitz pick-up can confuse Lang.
Pre-snap penalties were an issue in the early stages of 2011 for Lang but they’ve become less of a problem with time.
Now that Lang has received a newly signed contract extension, maybe he won’t have to worry as much about his play and can just go out and react.
The situation is much the same in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers as the no-huddle seems to be used more and more every season with him at the helm.
Saturday is also a veteran who can rely upon on his past experiences and is as much of a professional as they come.
There’s an on-going worry that Saturday’s best days are behind him. At 37 years old, there’s legitimate concern that his body could break down at any moment. While there’s been no indication of that happening, it’s still in the back of the Packers’ mind.
And even though Saturday has been one of the best centers in the NFL for much of the past decade, he’s not big. If there’s a 3rd-and-1 and the Packers call a quarterback sneak, can Saturday push a 350-pound nose tackle out of the way?
More than any other Packers offensive lineman, Josh Sitton is a mauler. He’s the best run blocker on the team, and if the Packers need to grind out the tough yards, they can always run it up Sitton’s back.
That’s not to say Sitton can’t pass block, because he can. He’s becoming more of a well-rounded guard with each passing year.
If you’re going to compare Sitton’s pass blocking to his run blocking, he’s a comparatively weaker pass protector, but by no means is he bad.
He’s also got some girth to him, so Sitton can be exposed by quickness from time to time.
There’s a reason why Bryan Bulaga was taken in the first round of the NFL draft, and he’s displaying those reasons every day.
The Packers probably could play him at left tackle but by leaving him on the right side and letting him get comfortable, he’s becoming one of the best right tackles in professional football.
There’s an inside joke among Packers fans that Bulaga’s arms are too short but rarely does that affect him. He might allow defenders to get a little to close to him once in a while, but not often.
Bulaga is also better moving side-to-side than north-south, where he’s not the greatest at making blocks at the second level and beyond.
B.J. Raji is so quick and compact that sometimes he’s like a bowling ball. There are times when he’s just able to push offensive linemen backwards because of his leverage.
Raji is also a three-down player who can play well against both the run and the pass. He can play in the base defense as an end as well as a tackle in subpackages. The ability is there to get five sacks a year as an interior defensive lineman and that’s not always easy.
The Packers have used Raji so often and for so many snaps that sometimes he wears down. He can’t keep up the all-out effort for 60 or 70 snaps per game like last year, although the Packers’ appear to be making a concerted effort to give him some rest.
When he gets tired, sometimes Raji just looks pedestrian on the pass rush. He can’t collapse the pocket and more of less just stays at one spot on the field.
Now in his 12th year in the NFL, Ryan Pickett is a savvy veteran. He never was and never will be a pass-rush threat, rather his value comes as a run-stuffer.
Pickett does a good job holding his ground and can withstand double teams better than most defensive linemen, which helps open things up for the linebackers behind him.
Pickett also has a good motor for his size and will always chase down a play even if he’s not fast enough to catch the ball-carrier.
Pickett is limited in what he can do. There have been times the Packers have needed to use him extensively in their nickel package because of depth issues on the defensive line. Using Pickett as a pass-rusher is just not the best utilization of the big man’s resources.
There’s concern whether Pickett’s body may not be able to hold up for much longer either, kind of like Jeff Saturday in that regard.
C.J. Wilson looks like he’ll be a starter at left end in the Packers’ base 3-4 defense, which suits him well because he’s become really adept at stuffing the run.
Wilson is smart and maximizes his ability on every play.
The game isn’t too big for him, either, after starting for the Packers in the Super Bowl.
Wilson is basically limited to action in the base defense because he hasn’t been able to get after the passer as an interior rusher. It comes as somewhat surprising because Wilson was actually a very good pass-rusher in college.
For whatever reason, he’s become a little bit of a one-trick pony in the NFL and is only used in obvious passing situations when push comes to shove and the Packers have nowhere else to turn.
A lot of guys say they hustle on every play but compared to Clay Matthews, they can’t hold a candle. Matthews is a bit of whirling dervish and will do anything and everything in his power to get to the football on a run or a pass.
He’s turned rushing the passer into an art form and is also really good at dropping into coverage as evidenced by his three interceptions last season.
At times, Matthews tries to do too much. His all-out hustle sometimes works against him. If he tries to make a spin move and an offensive lineman is ready for it, Matthews can take himself further away from the action.
It’s good for him that doesn’t happen very often.
Matthews also isn’t as stout against the run compared to the pass, which is part of the reason they moved him from the left to the right side of the defense this season.
Being over 260 pounds, Nick Perry is a big boy. He can use his strength to his advantage and bulldoze his way into the backfield on a power-rush move.
The body mass also helps him anchor to the ground and withstand the offensive linemen trying to move him. The potential is there for Perry to be a force off the edge for years to come.
While he’s stout at the point of attack, Perry isn’t the most fluid player. He obviously doesn’t have much experience dropping into coverage and he’s still trying to make the transition from three-point stance to two-point stance.
He’s also has to increase his pass-rush repertoire to include more moves other than the simple power-rush. If he can’t consistently get some pressure on the quarterback, the Packers may consider a time-share with Erik Walden on passing downs, at least until Perry proves he can get better.
Say what you will about Hawk, but when either Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop or Brandon Chillar have been out injured, there rarely seems to be an issue with Hawk.
He’s a consummate veteran that’s always on the practice field and because of that, he’s always more prepared than most other players on the team.
If there’s ever a shortcoming with Hawk, it’s that he can’t make plays because his athleticism won’t let him. But he’s almost always in the right place to begin with.
He’s also a leader who his teammates look up to and makes the calls on the field. His service as a playoff captain for two year’s running is a testament to his leadership.
The criticism with A.J. Hawk has long been that he doesn’t make enough impact plays. There haven’t been enough sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries throughout the course of his career.
He also appears to have lost a step from his college days and he all too often seems to be trailing an offensive player, whether it’s in coverage or trying to catch a running back from behind. The Packers have taken Hawk off the field in dime situations in the past and won’t hesitate to do so again.
D.J. Smith is a tackling machine. He isn’t Ray Lewis, who seems to play with a certain kind of violence, but Smith doesn’t have to do that to be effective. He just gets the job done.
The instincts are there, he’s constantly around the football.
Despite the injury to Desmond Bishop, Smith has brought a calming influence and reliability to the inside linebacker position at a time when many people could be worried about depth and inexperience.
Smith will never live down the "too short" criticisms. Not too often has his height been an issue, but offensive linemen can swallow him occasionally.
Since he’s become a professional football player, the shortcomings have been more about inexperience and the big step up in NFL competition compared to his college days at Appalachian State.
Tramon William maximizes every ounce of ability out of his body. He’s not exactly tall, but his leaping ability allows him to compete with taller receivers off the ground.
And Williams’ really knows how to study an opponent. There are many times when he’ll jump a pass and it’s evident he knows it’s coming because he’s seen it on film.
Williams is a true professional and sets a standard in the Packers locker room that younger players are wise to follow.
Currently, the biggest concerns about Williams revolve around his nerve-damaged shoulder that was injured last year. Because he was hurt, Williams couldn’t be an aggressive tackler or jam receivers at the line of scrimmage the way he could in the past.
All indications are that he’s regaining his strength, but if he doesn’t, it could be another season of getting Williams at less than 100 percent.
For purposes of this article, Davon House is predicted to be the starter at cornerback, but an argument could be made for Jarrett Bush, Casey Hayward or Sam Shields.
Assuming he doesn’t miss significant time, House should regain the job because he’s the most well-rounded cornerback. Whereas Shields might be the best cover corner and Bush may be the best tackler, House can do both without concern. He has an edge over Hayward in experience having been part of the Packers defense for the past year-plus.
At the time of his injury, House was making big strides against the pass and the run, a trend that should continue because he’s young and still getting better every day.
Even though House might be more experienced than a player like Casey Hayward, he’s still relatively inexperienced compared to most other players and will go through some growing pains.
He’ll get picked on by opposing quarterbacks and will learn some difficult lessons from rival wide receivers. Even though he’s making strides, House wasn’t aggressive enough as a rookie.
His injury history is troubling; he’s got to stay healthy.
Cagey as always, Charles Woodson has a way about baiting quarterbacks. He always gets his fair share of interceptions.
But his toughness may be his biggest asset.
Woodson is still at his best when he’s defending the slot and can be used to stuff the run, blitz the quarterback or cover the slot receivers, who usually don’t run the deepest routes.
Whether it’s grabbing interceptions or stripping ball carriers, Woodson just has a knack of forcing turnovers.
There’s a reason Woodson has been moved to safety and it’s that he just doesn’t have the same foot speed that he once had.
As a perimeter cornerback, Woodson has a difficult time keeping up with elite wide receivers on deeply thrown passes at this stage in his career. He’s still has to be accounted for, but a decline is always a possibility at his age.
When healthy, Burnett is a good free safety who roams the deep part of the field and can read the quarterback. He has great range and can make plays from sideline-to-sideline.
He also seems to have a knack for grabbing interceptions when he can react to the plays in front of him.
First of all, Burnett just has to stay healthy. He missed most of his rookie season with a torn ACL and then played a majority of last year with a bulky cast on his arm and hand.
Burnett also isn’t the vocal leader-type of safety, which may hinder his communication. There were several times last season when he seemed unsure of which receivers were his responsibility or the cornerback’s.
For the first time in his career, Crosby made more than 80 percent of his field goals last season, which is a number the Packers can be happy about.
Crosby also was very consistent by making 20-plus field goals in a row between 2010 and 2011.
He’s good at kickoffs and is also a special teams captain as voted upon by his teammates.
For the first four years of his career, Crosby couldn’t convert more than 80 percent of his field goals and there’s concern that 2011 could just have been an aberration.
Whether it’s been in the preseason or the team’s intra-squad scrimmage, Crosby misses just enough field goals to make you think he can get in a funk. And it also seems like there’s times where he puts a little too much English on his kicks.
Masthay seems to improve every game he’s played with the Packers and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
He’s mastered the art of the Aussie-style punt because it puts so much backspin on the football that he’s able to avoid kicking balls into the end zone for touchbacks. His placement of kicks is impeccable when he wants to pin a returner along the sideline.
For the past two years, Masthay seemed to start off the season slow and then progressively get better. Each game counts as much in the beginning of the season as they do in the end, so he has to avoid the slow start.
At times, Masthay out-kicks his coverage and a better hang time would be beneficial.