The Grades of Each Position on the Packers' Roster Heading into the Offseason
The Green Bay Packers have already started their offseason evaluation, as the team somehow found a way to win the NFC North title, even after a myriad of injuries over the course of the 2013 season.
Yes, the team was only 8-7-1, but when a team has to place 15 players on injured reserve, plus losing three of their best players (Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb) for a combined 22 games over the season, there is a sense of accomplishment.
The Packers gave the San Francisco 49ers all that they could handle in their NFC Wild Card game (without Matthews) at frigid Lambeau Field, before finally succumbing to a last-second field goal which gave the Niners a 23-20 victory.
For this slideshow, I'm going to grade the various positions on the team, based on their performance over the 2013 season.
I'll also take a look at what might happen at the positions next year.
Seneca Wallace (injured reserve)
Aaron Rodgers started nine games, and the team went 6-3 in those games. Rodgers also had his fifth straight season of having a quarterback rating of over 100, as No. 12 had a 104.9 rating. Rodgers threw 17 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 2,536 yards.
Matt Flynn started four games and basically saved the season down the stretch for the Packers as he won two of those games with fourth-quarter comebacks. Flynn threw seven touchdown passes versus four interceptions for 1,146 yards.
Scott Tolzien showed a strong arm and threw for 717 yards in three games (two starts), but he made too many mistakes as evidenced by his five picks compared to one touchdown pass.
In 2014, I would expect the Packers to try and keep both Flynn and Tolzien to back up Rodgers. Flynn will be an unrestricted free agent, but after being tossed away by three organizations in the last two years, I would expect Flynn to strike a deal with the Pack to stay.
I also don't expect Wallace to stick with the team next season.
Jonathan Franklin (injured reserve)
DuJuan Harris (injured reserve)
Orwin Smith (practice squad)
The main reason was rookie running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy had a phenomenal rookie season, as he rushed for 1,178 yards (4.1 average) and 11 touchdowns. Lacy also had 35 receptions for 257 yards. Lacy was also named second-team All-Pro and is the clear favorite to win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
James Starks became part of a great one-two combination with Lacy, as he rushed for 493 (5.5 average) and three touchdowns. Starks also had 10 catches for 89 yards and a score.
Kahlil Bell was signed to the roster when Johnathan Franklin was put on injured reserve. Bell was solid in special teams play.
Franklin showed some flash early in the season, like when he rushed for 103 yards against the Bengals, but he still was a work in progress when he went on injured reserve.
In 2014, I expect Starks to leave via free agency, but the Packers will be able to offset that somewhat with the addition of DuJuan Harris, who spent the entire 2013 season on injured reserve, after being the best back on the team late in 2012 and in the playoffs that postseason.
John Kuhn was his usual solid self during the 2013 season, and it was never more apparent than on the game-winning play in Week 17 against the Bears. If not for a diving block by Kuhn on defensive end Julius Peppers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers would not have been able to escape and throw a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb with 38 seconds remaining in the game.
Kuhn doesn't have a lot of flashy statistics, but he is still an effective lead blocker in the running game. Plus, he is the best pass protector of all the backs the Packers have. In addition to that, Kuhn is very solid on special teams.
Kuhn will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014, but I expect that the Packers will be able to re-sign him to another deal.
Myles White (injured reserve)
Sederrick Cunningham (injured reserve)
Alex Gillett (practice squad)
Tyrone Walker (practice squad)
Jordy Nelson had one of his best years ever in Green Bay, as he made a number of fantastic catches over the course of the season. No. 87 had 85 receptions for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns.
James Jones and Jarrett Boykin chipped in with a combined 108 catches for 1,498 yards and six touchdowns.
Randall Cobb missed 10 games because of a broken leg, but he did have 31 catches for 433 yards and four touchdowns in the six games he played in.
White received some playing time while Cobb and Jones were injured, and showed some flashes. Harper made the roster after stops with the 49ers and Seahawks in his rookie season. Harper did not have a reception in 2013.
Jones will be an unrestricted free agent, but I expect the Packers will make a solid effort to re-sign him. Jones is a great teammate, is very productive as a receiver and also plays through pain. No. 89 played through a knee injury earlier in the season and then played with broken ribs against the Bears and the 49ers at the end of the season and into the postseason.
Jermichael Finley (injured reserve)
Brandon Bostick (injured reserve)
Jermichael Finley was on his way to his best season ever until he suffered a neck injury against Cleveland in Week 7, which placed him on injured reserve. Up until that point, Finley had 25 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Andrew Quarless took over at tight end for the most part for the rest of the year, and he really came on strong down the stretch. No. 81 ended up with 32 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Quarless was also a solid blocker.
Brandon Bostick showed some seam-stretching ability, as he caught seven passes for 120 yards and a touchdown before he went on injured reserve.
Ryan Taylor was primarily used in running formations and also on special teams, while Jake Stoneburner did not have a reception this season but flashed ability at training camp.
Both Finley and Quarless will be unrestricted free agents, and I believe the Packers will focus on Quarless for two reasons. One, because he will cost less money. Two, there are still doubts about Finley resuming his NFL career after his scary injury which ultimately needed a neck fusion procedure to repair the damage done.
I also see the Packers taking a tight end rather early in the 2014 NFL draft.
Bryan Bulaga (injured reserve)
Aaron Adams (practice squad)
Jeremy Vujnovich (reserve/future free agent)
The Packers had big plans for the offensive tackle position in 2013, as they had moved veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga over to left tackle to help protect the blindside of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That bold move didn't last too long, as Bulaga tore his ACL in the Family Night scrimmage early in training camp.
That forced the Packers to use rookie David Bakhtiari at left tackle, who had already had the inside track at right tackle. And the rookie did a fine job overall protecting Rodgers and the other quarterbacks on the left side. No. 69 also was solid in his run-blocking, especially when he got to the second level.
Don Barclay ended up winning the right tackle position, after getting some looks at guard and center in training camp. No. 67 was solid again in run-blocking, but still had trouble with edge-rushers in the passing game.
Marshall Newhouse was pretty much a disaster, whether he played tackle or guard when he got an opportunity. Former first-round pick Derek Sherrod got healthy enough to finally make the roster, but he did not play.
In 2014, I expect the Packers to keep Bakhtiari at left tackle, while Bulaga will go back to his old right tackle position.
Barclay will probably get some more opportunities inside on the line, while Sherrod will basically be in a make-or-break year next year.
I don't expect the Packers to re-sign Newhouse, who is an unrestricted free agent. I also expect the team to select another offensive tackle in the 2014 NFL draft.
Greg Van Roten (injured reserve)
Lanier Coleman (practice squad)
Andrew Tiller (practice squad)
Overall, the guard play of the Packers was very solid in 2013. Left guard Josh Sitton was recently named second-team All-Pro, while right guard T.J. Lang was also very effective.
Both Sitton and Lang did a nice job in both run-blocking and pass-blocking.
Rookie Lane Taylor only got a few opportunities to play. His strength is run-blocking.
In 2014, I expect things to pretty much stay the same. There is a chance that Don Barclay could get into the mix as one of the backups, as he plays better inside.
Evan Dietrich-Smith did a pretty nice job in his first year as the full-time center for the Packers. Dietrich-Smith, along with guard Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, gave the Packers a very solid presence on the inside of the offensive line.
The Packers finished third in total offense and were ranked seventh in rushing in the NFL, as well as sixth in the NFL in passing.
Dietrich-Smith will be an unrestricted free agent, but I expect a strong effort by the Packers to re-sign him. The Packers also have high hopes for rookie J.C. Tretter, who made his way on to the roster late in the year after breaking an ankle during one of the OTAs.
Johnny Jolly (injured reserve)
The defensive line of the Packers could be looking at big changes in 2014. That's what happens when the team is ranked 25th in run defense. Believe it or not, the Packers were ranked fourth in run defense before Week 9, but they became a sieve trying to stop the run after that.
The player who had the best year on the line was Mike Daniels, who played mostly on passing downs. No. 76 had 6.5 sacks.
2013 first-round pick Datone Jones had 3.5 sacks, but he did not see a lot of playing time down the stretch, unlike fellow rookie Josh Boyd, who showed some upside.
Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly are all unrestricted free agents. The Packers offered a contract extension to Raji earlier this year, but so far he has not accepted the offer. No. 90 shouldn't wait too long either, as Pickett wants to come back and would cost far less.
Jolly suffered a neck injury late in the year and is still getting opinions on how to proceed from here. Jolly played very well early in the year but seemed to run out of gas a bit later on.
Wilson plays the run well, but not much else.
I expect the Packers to re-sign a couple of the defensive linemen currently on the roster, as well as drafting another big man in the 2014 NFL draft.
Chase Thomas (reserve/future free agent)
Clay Matthews had 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 11 games. No. 52 had to play with a cast on in seven of those 11 games after breaking a thumb.
The other outside linebacker position was manned primarily by both Mike Neal and Nick Perry, who combined for nine sacks and four forced fumbles.
Undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba got plenty of playing time and had 31 tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery.
Rookie Nate Palmer also got limited playing time, as he had 17 tackles.
Neal is a unrestricted free agent, and I do think the Packers will make a solid effort to re-sign him.
No matter what though, I expect the Packers to address the outside linebacker position in the 2014 NFL draft.
Sam Barrington (injured reserve)
Robert Francois (injured reserve)
In 2013, A.J. Hawk had the finest season in his eight-year career in Green Bay. No. 50 had 118 tackles, five sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Unfortunately, Hawk did not get a lot of help at the other inside linebacker position, although both Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore both showed some flashes. Combined, the two had 117 tackles and five sacks. But there were also some missed assignments.
Both Robert Francois and Sam Barrington ended up on injured reserve, which hurt the effectiveness of the coverage units on special teams. Barrington will most likely get an opportunity next year to become a starter.
I also expect the Packers to make drafting an inside linebacker a priority in the 2014 NFL draft.
Casey Hayward (injured reserve)
James Nixon (injured reserve)
Antonio Dennard (practice squad)
The Packers got solid play out of both Sam Shields (four interceptions) and Tramon Williams (three interceptions) at cornerback. Williams had a career high 83 tackles, while Shield added 61. They combined to have 28 passes defended.
Davon House was up and down, but did have 10 passes defended. Jarrett Bush got some playing time late in the year, and he had a key interception against the Falcons, plus he defended five passes.
Rookie Micah Hyde played the slot-cornerback position for much of the year because of the hamstring injury to Casey Hayward which eventually landed him on injured reserve. For the most part, Hyde was fairly solid, as he had 55 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
The Packers finished 24th in the NFL in pass defense, but much of the blame has to go to the shoddy play at safety.
In 2014, I expect the Packers to make re-signing Shields their first priority, as he is an unrestricted free agent. If Hayward bounces back to form, the secondary will look much better as he will go back to his normal slot-corner position. As a rookie in 2012, Hayward had six picks.
I also expect Hyde to get a look at one of the safety positions next year.
The safety position stuck out like a sore thumb for the Packers all season. There were no interceptions among the group, which hasn't happened in Green Bay since the 1950s.
Morgan Burnett, who signed a contract extension this past offseason, hurt his hamstring in training camp and missed the first three games of the season. After that, Burnett was up and down. He was involved in way too many blown coverages, plus he missed his share of tackles.
The other safety position was even worse. In training camp, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian battled for the job. Jennings won out, but McMillian was also eventually cut. Jennings always seemed a second or two too late in coverage, and he also missed a number of tackles.
Sean Richardson got some playing time at safety late in the season, and he showed he is a solid tackler. His coverage skills are still in question, however.
Chris Banjo received most of his playing time on special teams.
In 2014, I would not be surprised if the Packers don't offer Jennings a contract next year, as he is a restricted free agent. I also expect the Packers to move cornerback Micah Hyde to safety next year.
I also believe the safety position will be a key focus for the team in the 2014 NFL draft, as well as an area the team will try and upgrade in free agency.
After having the worst year of his career in 2012, kicker Mason Crosby bounced back with his best year ever in 2013.
In 2012, Crosby only made 63.6 percent of his field goal attempts, as he was just 21-of-33 last year. This year, Crosby connected on 89.1 percent of his field goal attempts, as he was 33-of-37. That included a 57-yard field goal.
Crosby was perfect on extra point attempts (42-of-42) and finished with 141 points in 2013.
No. 2 was also the kicker on kickoffs for most of the season, plus he executed another successful onside kick this year as well.
Tim Masthay has become one of the best punters in the NFL. Rarely does No. 8 have a bad punt, and he put up nice stats again in 2013.
Masthay had a 44.6 gross average on his punts, plus he placed 22 of his kicks inside the opponents 20-yard line.
Masthay is also a very solid holder.
Normally Brett Goode would get an A from me, but because I saw a bad snap on a punt this year, Goode gets dinged a bit.
Other than that, in six years with the Packers, I don't recall any other bad snaps from Goode. That's pretty "good".