Projecting the Green Bay Packers' Starting Lineup Before the 2014 NFL Draft
There are simply too many holes on both sides of the ball right now for the Packers to be considered a legitimate championship contender. Now, that doesn't mean that Green Bay isn't a talented team, because they are; it simply means its current starting lineup is lacking some quality players at specific positions.
You'll hopefully see this as we break down the projected starting lineup for the Packers with only a week before the draft.
Starter: Aaron Rodgers
No surprise here with Mr. Rodgers atop the depth chart for the Packers. In fact, we might as well pencil in Rodgers as the starter for every projected starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
The biggest question surrounding Rodgers is how he'll deal with the loss of wide receiver James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley. While they weren't Rodgers' favorite targets, both were extremely productive, especially in the red zone.
There is also some concern whether or not Rodgers will be as aggressive as he's been in the past after fracturing his collarbone last season. His arm strength certainly hasn't declined, but we could see him be a little more careful in terms of taking hits.
With that said, Rodgers should still be one of the premier quarterbacks in the league next year. Don't be surprised if he puts up MVP numbers while continuing to lead one of the most potent offenses in all of football.
Starter: Eddie Lacy
After one of the best rookie seasons in Packers history, Eddie Lacy has assured himself the bulk of the carries in Green Bay next year.
He finished last year with a franchise-record 1,178 rushing yards as a rookie. He also added an impressive 11 touchdowns and 35 receptions. His overall performance was enough to earn him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
With Lacy on the roster, the Packers now have the most balanced offense they've had in years. And when Lacy needs a rest, Green Bay will still get fantastic production with the likes of James Starks, John Kuhn and Johnathan Franklin.
While the offense will still start with Rodgers and the passing game, Lacy should have no trouble establishing himself as one of the premier backs in the league in 2014.
Even with the loss of Jones this offseason, the Packers should still have one of the better receiving corps in the league. In fact, the one-two punch of Nelson and Cobb might be the best in the entire league.
What makes both Nelson and Cobb such dangerous receivers is their incredible ability to pick up yards after the catch. They consistently break the first attempted tackle and are legitimate threats to score every time they touch the ball.
As for Boykin, he showed last year that he's ready for a bigger role in the offense when he filled in for an injured Cobb. While he may not be an elite receiver like Nelson and Cobb, he could end the 2014 season as one of the most productive No. 3 receivers in the league.
This group here is one of the strongest on the Packers roster and one of the best in all of the NFL.
Starter: Andrew Quarless
This is our first position where the starter could change before the start of the 2014 season.
While Quarless is a fine player, he simply isn't talented enough to be the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart. He's built to be more of a complementary player for the Packers.
The likely scenario for Green Bay is for them to spend an early-round pick on a tight end in this year's draft. That'd push Quarless to the backup role, where he could make an impact in a limited role.
The most likely names for the Packers to draft are Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington or C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa. All three of these players could start in Green Bay and push Quarless down the depth chart.
Starters: David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, J.C. Tretter, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga
The 2014 offensive line for the Packers will be a little different than the 2013 one. There are two reasons that this will be the case.
One reason is the loss of center Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency. That'll push Tretter into the starting spot, but don't be surprised if the Packers bring in a center to challenge for the job during training camp.
The other thing the Packers need to figure out is what to do with Bulaga. He obviously deserves to start, but should Green Bay move him to left tackle like it was planning to last season?
The simple answer to that question is no. Bakhtiari was good enough as a rookie to deserve another chance at left tackle, and Bulaga really excelled as a right tackle two years ago.
If Bakhtiari and Tretter, or whoever plays center in the upcoming season, can play above-average football, the Packers could have one of the better offensive lines in the league.
Starters: Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels
The one positional group that is the hardest to project is the defensive line. In fact, the only starter that you can be 100 percent sure about is Raji playing nose tackle.
That leaves both defensive end spots available for new starters in 2014. At one spot, we're projecting the newly signed Peppers. While he could play some outside linebacker, it's more likely he'll see the majority of his snaps along the defensive line.
As for the second starting spot, Daniels should be the player to get it. He's coming off a breakout campaign in limited action last year. With more playing time it isn't crazy to think that Daniels could be one of the best defensive linemen in the league.
Now, there is still the possibility that Datone Jones or a rookie nose tackle jump into the starting lineup. However, this group of linemen is one the Packers can still be pleased about.
Starters: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Nick Perry
This is another group that could see a major shakeup following the 2014 draft. It wouldn't be too surprising, in fact, to see half of the current starters replaced with rookies.
For that to happen, the Packers would need to spend two early picks on linebackers. A potential scenario for this would be drafting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley in the first round and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second round.
Of course, there's also a chance that the Packers wait another year to see what Jones and Perry can do before potentially replacing them. It's possible that both Perry and Jones have breakout years, but it'd be extremely surprising if that did happen.
The linebackers in Green Bay ultimately need to be upgraded, or the defense will have a hard time excelling in 2014.
Starters: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward
Let's start by addressing the fact that we have three starting cornerbacks. I know that this gives us 12 "starting" defensive players. However, the Packers will have all three of these cornerbacks on the field at the same time for enough time that they all need to be considered starters.
With that settled, the Packers cornerbacks could actually be one of the better groups in the league this year. Shields took major steps last year to becoming a true shutdown cornerback, and Williams played extremely well down the stretch for the Packers.
As for Hayward, he proved as a rookie that he's a turnover machine and dangerous nickel cornerback. If he can stay healthy, there's no reason to think he won't get back on track during the 2014 season.
Overall, we shouldn't be surprised at all to see the Packers defense improve against the pass this year.
Starters: Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde
If you're looking for the weakest position and the most questionable starters, look no further than the safeties. This unit was absolutely awful in 2013.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic for the future in Green Bay. For starters, both Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings are gone. They were easily the weakest links on the defensive side of the football, so finding upgrades for them should be easy.
Another reason things could look up is the health of Burnett. He started the 2013 season with an injury, and it looked like he simply never got back to 100 percent. With a full offseason of rest, Burnett should be healthy and ready to get back to being a solid safety.
Finally, there is the predicament of Mr. Hyde. It's unknown exactly where he'll play next year, but one thing that's certain is that the Packers want him to see the field more. The only real way that can happen is if he switches to safety, which is why we have him as the current starter.
Now, it's still extremely likely that the Packers will draft at least one safety in this year's draft to compete for a starting job. So, while Burnett and Hyde certainly have potential to be good, it shouldn't be surprising if one, or both, get overtaken by a rookie before the start of the season.