Green Bay Packers: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit Heading into Camp
The 2013 training camp begins for the Green Bay Packers in just three days. General manager Ted Thompson has assembled the most talented roster, not to mention the deepest squad, he has ever put together since he took over the front office in 2005.
Head coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff will have some very difficult decisions to make as they cut down to the final 53-man roster.
Let's take a look at positional units on the Packers and the grade I give each one heading into camp.
Aaron Rodgers is the highest paid player in the NFL for a reason. He has the best quarterback rating in the history of the NFL at 104.9. In just the past two seasons, Rodgers has thrown 84 touchdown passes, compared to just 14 interceptions for 8,938 yards. His quarterback rating combined for the past two seasons is 115.
The reason the grade for this position is not an A+ is the uncertainty at backup quarterback. Graham Harrell had a very mediocre training camp for the Packers in 2012 until the very end, plus fumbled in a key situation when he got to play in the regular season.
Second-year quarterback B.J. Coleman will be given every opportunity to take over the backup job this summer, as he and Harrell will get most of the playing time in the preseason games.
Rookie Matt Brown has a chance to shine when he gets his limited opportunities, and he might be a candidate for the practice squad.
The Packers heavily invested in the running back position in the 2013 NFL draft when they selected both Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Both had stellar track records in college, and both will get every opportunity to get the most playing time when the offensive unit is on the field.
Both have the ability to be three-down backs, as both can run, catch and block. Both also will invigorate the running game like the Packers haven't seen since Ahman Green was in his prime in Green Bay.
The depth chart behind these two will probably come down to two more jobs. DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks will battle for those roster spots. Undrafted rookie Angelo Pease is probably a practice squad candidate.
The fullback position is sort of like the dodo bird. It's becoming extinct in today's NFL.
John Kuhn is sort of a cult hero in Green Bay, but his production keeps going down, as he only had 63 yards rushing in 2012. Kuhn was used as a third-down back quite often though, and he did catch 15 passes.
But with the third-down back job probably going to a running back instead in 2013, plus with all the tight ends the Packers have on their roster to block and play special teams, Kuhn could be in trouble in terms of making the final cut, especially when one looks at his $2.5 million cap number.
Talk about a deep position. The Packers are still deep at wide receiver, even after Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings left via free agency.
The team still has the Big Three with Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb. The three combined for 193 receptions for 2,483 yards and 29 touchdowns last season.
The team will probably keep at least five receivers, perhaps as many as six. There is a ton of young talent at the position vying for those last two or three jobs.
Jeremy Ross has a leg up on the other receivers, as he will be given every opportunity to become the primary return man on special teams.
Other players to watch are Jarrett Boykin, Kevin Dorsey, Charles Johnson and Myles White.
The Packers currently have seven tight ends on their roster. I think six of those players have a chance to make the team in some fashion. It would not surprise me to see the team keep five tight ends on the roster and one more on the practice squad.
Jermichael Finley has to continue to do what he did down the stretch in 2012. That is be consistent and productive. That might earn him another contract extension.
Andrew Quarless looks like he is all the way back from his ACL injury in 2011. Quarless is a good blocker and can be productive in the passing game as well. Matthew Mulligan is in Green Bay due to his blocking prowess, and with a new commitment to the running game in 2013, expect Mulligan to stick.
So it could some down to four guys (D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner) fighting for three spots. Taylor is the better special teams player of that group, plus he has a history of playing fullback in college.
Greg Van Roten
You can't say that Ted Thompson is not trying to fix the issues on the offensive line. In the past four drafts, Thompson has used a first-round draft choice twice on offensive linemen and has drafted seven offensive linemen overall.
In Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton, the Packers have two Pro Bowl-caliber players on the left side of the offensive line. The key will be getting similar results from the other three positions along the line.
There will be plenty of competition there. Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang are penciled in as starters at center and right guard respectively, but neither should get too comfortable.
Right tackle will be an open competition between a number of players like Marshall Newhouse, Andrew Datko, Don Barclay (who is also playing guard and center), David Bakhtiari and Derek Sherrod (when healthy).
2013 will be a big year for the defensive line of the Packers. The Packers drafted defensive end Datone Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, plus added a couple more new pieces to the mix, including veteran Johnny Jolly.
B.J. Raji will be trying to get a contract extension as he will be playing in the final year of his rookie contract. Ryan Pickett will be attempting to beat Father Time once again this year as he lines up for his 13th season in the NFL.
The Packers will keep six defensive linemen, and perhaps as many as seven. I expect five of those spots to go to Jones, Raji, Pickett, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels. I expect Jerel Worthy to be placed on injured reserve due to his ACL tear late last season.
That means everyone else will be fighting for one or two jobs.
Between the competition on the offensive line, plus the competition that will be ongoing on the defensive line, the battles in the trenches will be fun to watch at training camp.
One thing is for sure at the linebacker position for the Packers: Clay Matthews will be named to the Pro Bowl, just as he has been the first four years of his career.
But the Packers need more linebackers to also play at a Pro Bowl-level. The two starting inside linebackers, Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk, had a bunch of tackles last year (197 combined) but only had one forced fumble between them, plus they rarely made big-impact plays.
The Packers need playmakers at linebacker. That is what they hope happens with second-year player Nick Perry, who will be opposite Matthews at outside linebacker. Like Matthews, Perry went to USC and is a former first-round draft pick.
The depth at linebacker has a lot of young talent. The Packers need that talent to come to fruition quickly. Look for players like Terrell Manning and Dezman Moses to make their mark in their second year in the NFL.
Also keep an eye on the rookies (Sam Barrington, Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba) this year.
The Packers just gave safety Morgan Burnett a new four-year, $24.75 million contract extension last week, as he had 123 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 2012.
The Packers hope that the same thing will eventually happen to the player who will be playing opposite of Burnett. Right now, the two players who have the inside track on that position are Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings.
McMillian is a better tackler and is improving in coverage, so I like him to win the starting position there.
The team will probable keep only four safeties on the roster, so expect the competition to be fierce for the fourth position. If he is declared medically fit for the field (neck), expect Sean Richardson to make the team and perhaps even battle for a starting job.
The 2013 Packers have a very deep and talented cornerback group. They are led by Casey Hayward, who had a phenomenal rookie year with six interceptions and 27 passes defended. Hayward plays the slot-corner position in the nickel package that the Packers employ more times than not defensively.
Right now, the two cornerback positions would be manned by veterans Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. The two combined for five picks in 2012. Don't be surprised if Davon House ends up starting at one of the corner positions however, especially now that his shoulder is healthy again.
Jarrett Bush plays hard, but will see most of his action on the field on special teams. Rookie Micah Hyde was also a special teams dynamo at Iowa and looks to have a good future in the league.
The Packers have two big questions going into the 2013 season regarding special teams. One, who will be the kicker? Two, who will be the primary return man?
In punter Tim Masthay, the Packers have one of the best punters in the NFL. Likewise for long snapper Brett Goode.
The return and coverage units have been better than average the past couple of years as well.
At kicker, Mason Crosby will be competing against Giorgio Tavecchio (a left footer), who last tried out with the San Fransisco 49ers last summer versus David Akers. Both Crosby and Tavecchio have strong legs, so it will come down to who is most consistent.
Jeremy Ross took over late last season as the primary return guy for the Packers in place of Randall Cobb, and he was lights out for the most part. Ross had a 25.8 return average on punts and a 28.7 return average on kickoff returns.
Ross also had a very costly fumble on a punt return in the playoffs versus the 49ers, but did a good job overall. I see the Packers keeping Ross or someone else as the primary return man as opposed to risking Cobb back there, especially after the breakout year at wide receiver last season for the former Kentucky star.