Offseason Green Bay Packers Player Power Rankings

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Offseason Green Bay Packers Player Power Rankings

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    The Green Bay Packers have created what head coach Mike McCarthy, in a recent press conference, called a "very competitive 90-man roster," and come final roster cuts on August 31, their 53-man roster will be established. 

    Of those 53 players, the following 22 are projected to be the starters in the base packages and have been ranked with an emphasis on importance to the team and weighted by their positions.

    It's not necessarily possible to rank players at different positions on offense and defense against one another, so think of this more as a preview of the 11 offensive and defensive starters and how important their roles will be to the team in 2014.  

    In order to arrive at the starting 22, some projections were made at currently contested positions, such as center, where J.C. Tretter is predicted to get the starting nod.

    Similarly, because only the base-package players have been included, some Packers who could prove very important to the team in 2014 but who play primarily in sub-packages, such as nickel corner Casey Hayward, have not been ranked. 

     

Brad Jones, ILB

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    Despite his standing at the bottom of this list of the Packers' 22 base players, Brad Jones isn't without talent. But after winning a big new contract during the 2012 offseason, coupled with the opportunity provided by 2013 departure of Desmond Bishop, Jones has clearly not met expectations.

    Jones played only 12 games in 2013. Though he still managed to exceed the production of previous seasons—his three sacks last year was one short of his career high, and he recorded a career-best 60 total tackles—Jones was a weak link in Green Bay's run defense, and his lack of speed meant he struggled in coverage.

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was targeted 36 times and allowed 26 receptions. By comparison, A.J. Hawk was targeted 51 times in coverage and allowed 35 receptions. 

    Jones also struggled to plug the running lanes up the middle. His run stop percentage was just 8.5 percent—not ideal for a 3-4 inside linebacker whose main responsibility is to be stout against the run.

    The Packers did not draft an inside linebacker to challenge Jones for the spot opposite Hawk and are currently working fourth-round linebacker Carl Bradford at outside linebacker. 

    Jones may land the starting job by default in 2014, but he'll need to prove that he deserves to keep it.

J.C. Tretter, C

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    Had Evan Dietrich-Smith been re-signed by the Green Bay Packers, he and the center position generally would have landed much higher in these power rankings. Dietrich-Smith was graded by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the fourth-best pass-blocking center in the league in 2013 and the 14th-best in run-blocking.

    J.C. Tretter, the projected starting center, has big upside but hasn't yet proven himself.

    A fourth-round draft pick in 2013, Tretter has the most familiarity with Green Bay's offense and has logged the most time with Rodgers.

    Offensive line coach James Campen said that the practice time Tretter got last season after coming off the PUP list, and his time in the offseason program so far with Rodgers, has been "invaluable," per Packers.com's Mike Spofford.

    "You look at the short time that Aaron and JC have been together now and they're flowing very well," Campen said, according to Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

    "Tretter is a very headstrong kid, knows all the assignments and he's ready to go and compete."

    Tretter has the longest wingspan and the largest hands of any center on the Packers roster, which will help him develop into an effective blocker.

    Light on his feet with an ability to bend and move laterally, Tretter can ensure that Rodgers doesn't feel the loss of Dietrich-Smith when it comes to pass-blocking.

    A Cornell graduate, Tretter is poised to center the line for the Packers' complex offense. The frequency with which Green Bay runs the no-huddle and with which Rodgers audibles requires that a center not only know the playbook inside and out but knows how to read defenses and make adjustments on the fly. 

    If he does need more time to develop, the fact that Rodgers calls protections should help Tretter get comfortable in the system.

Andrew Quarless, TE

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    The offensive players included in this list are the ones the Packers use in their 11 personnel, a package that features three receivers, a running back and a tight end. For now, the newly re-signed Andrew Quarless looks to be the tight end who will receive the most snaps in 2014.

    But with third-round draft pick Richard Rodgers and UDFA Colt Lyerla on the 90-man roster, and news that Jermichael Finley underwent tests Wednesday on his troublesome neck, Quarless has his work cut out for him if he wants to be the starting tight end in the Packers' base offense.

    Quarless played in all 16 games in 2013, with all of his 10 starts coming after Finley's neck injury in Week 7. Before Finley's injury, Quarless had four receptions for 21 yards and zero touchdowns; after assuming the starting role, he caught 28 passes for 291 yards and two scores.

    Late in the season, as the Packers got into a rhythm under backup quarterback Matt Flynn, Quarless' development accelerated. This was especially true in Weeks 14 and 15, in which he scored his two lone touchdowns and posted in each game stat lines of six receptions for 66 yards.

    Quarless showed improvement as a pass-catcher last season, but he continues to struggle with blocking. He'll have to prove he is more complete as both a receiver and a blocker than Lyerla, Rodgers and Brandon Bostick as well.

    Green Bay's red-zone efficiency plummeted in 2014, surely in part to Finley's absence. The Packers will need their starting tight end to be a solid red-zone threat.

    Though he made strides at the end of 2013, Quarless doesn't appear to be the game-changing player the Packers need from the tight end slot, which is why he ranks relatively low on this list. Still, as things stand in late May, he looks to be the tight end on whom Green Bay will pin its hopes, unless one of his competitors can supplant him in the 11 personnel package.

Datone Jones, LDE

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    Now that B.J. Raji has been moved from defensive end back to nose tackle, Datone Jones, who suffered an ankle injury last year in training camp that seemed to affect his play for the entirety of his rookie season, will be expected to step up in that role.

    "At the end of the day, Datone Jones needs to be on the field and playing," head coach Mike McCarthy said at the scouting combine, per Packers.com editor Vic Ketchman.

    Despite appearing in all 16 games last season, last year's first-round pick wasn't able to deliver on his potential, though the ankle injuries were a factor. McCarthy wanted Jones to be more involved, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers used the end less and less as the year progressed; he averaged 19.5 snaps per game in the first half of the season and just 13.3 in the second half, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    By the end of the year, fifth-round selection Josh Boyd was getting more snaps than Jones.

    Though Jones did post 3.5 sacks in 2013, he had just seven total tackles and, outside of those sacks, he wasn't effective at pressuring the quarterback, despite playing primarily on passing downs.

    With Raji moving to nose tackle, and with the Packers elected not to re-sign Ryan Pickett or C.J. Wilson and with the status of Johnny Jolly's injured neck still questionable, Jones will have to increase his effort and his production in 2014. 

David Bakhtiari, LT

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    Last year's fourth-round draft selection David Bakhtiari was not supposed to be the Packers' starting left tackle in his rookie year. But Mike McCarthy moved the entire offensive line around last offseason, swapping the right and left sides. When incumbent left tackle Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL in training camp, Bakhtiari was the best option to replace him.

    Despite a steep learning curve and some shaky moments, including 11 penalties (tied for third-most among all NFL tackles, per Pro Football Focus) and 10 sacks allowed, Bakhtiari exceeded all expectations for his rookie season and will continue to start at left tackle in 2014, with Bulaga moving back to the right side. 

    Bakhtiari finished the regular season with a fairly high pass-blocking efficiency rating by PFF of 95.2 percent (24th among both left and right tackles). He allowed 39 total pressures, including sacks, hits and hurries, which was 28th among 76 tackles who played at least 25 percent of pass-blocking snaps. 

    Given more time to develop chemistry with Rodgers and continue to get stronger, Bakhtiari could develop into a top-tier left tackle and jump up few spots on this list. 

Morgan Burnett, SS

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    Morgan Burnett's 2013 season would have been disappointing in any regard, but was especially more so considering the team re-signed him to a four-year, $25 million extension before it began. 

    With Burnett at strong safety for most of the year (though he played free safety toward the end) and the rotation of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian at free safety, the Packers safety group had a dismal year, failing to produce a single interception. They did rack up plenty of missed tackles, however. 

    Burnett's 11 missed tackles were the eighth-most among all safeties, per Pro Football Focus, and they were the second most among all Packer defenders. Though Burnett did recover three fumbles in 2013, he failed to generate a single turnover otherwise—no interceptions or forced fumbles. After posting two sacks in 2012, he was unable to get to the opposing quarterback even once last season.

    Burnett missed three games with an injured hamstring to start the season, and while that explains his slow start, it doesn't justify his weak finish. He looked slow to react nearly the entire year. While Burnett had flashes of excellence prior to last season, his poor performance throughout 2013 means he couldn't finish higher on this list. 

    Hopefully, the presence next to him of 2014 first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will elevate Burnett's play this season.

B.J. Raji, NT

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    Over the course of his career in Green Bay, B.J. Raji has proven more effective at nose tackle than at defensive end, and Green Bay's decision to re-sign him and move him back to nose in 2014 should motivate him.

    Don't expect Raji to resemble the player he was in 2013 next season; he'll be far improved.

    In Raji's most efficient season, 2010, he had 39 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three passes defended at nose tackle.

    But in 2011, when he was still starting at nose, Raji's numbers fell to 22 tackles, 3.0 sacks and two passes defensed. He fell from being Pro Football Focus' eighth-ranked nose tackle in 2010 to last in 2011.

    Is Raji's 2011 decline indicative of woes he may face in 2014? His struggles in 2011 were certainly part of an overall slump the defense suffered through as the team attempted to defend its Super Bowl win. The unit went from No. 3 in sacks in 2010 to No. 32 in 2011, and the loss of Cullen Jenkins was a clear factor.

    Raji's slump compelled Dom Capers to reduce his snaps in 2012 to keep him fresh and increase his productivity. Unfortunately, that seemed to have the opposite effect, as Raji's motivation took a hit.

    Raji and the line were dominant in 2010, and the front seven the Packers are building around him in 2014 is shaping up to be an elite unit.

    Returning to his nose tackle responsibilities should lead to a more effective Raji in 2014. And there's no denying that with all the defensive linemen the Packers lost in free agency, Raji is by far their best option to anchor the line.

Bryan Bulaga, RT

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    Mike McCarthy announced on March 25 that Bryan Bulaga would move back to right tackle in 2014 and that David Bakhtiari would remain at left tackle, per Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

    The move is driven in part by how much experience Bulaga has at right tacklemore so than anywhere else on the lineand because McCarthy likes how well Bakhtiari and left guard Josh Sitton worked together in 2013.

    Still, it's hard not to think that if Bulaga hadn't torn his ACL and had played at left tackle last season as was McCarthy's original plan, he'd be a little higher on this list. Right tackle is likely his best position and certainly an important one, but he'd have a greater opportunity to make an impact at left tackle.

    Bulaga should be solid, healthy and ready to go at right tackle in 2014. The last time he played a full 16-game season was in 2010, 14 of those starting at right tackle. 

Jarrett Boykin, WR

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    The emergence last season of Jarrett Boykin, who started eight games as Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and James Jones all missed time with injuries, was a pleasant surprise. 

    Despite the Packers taking three receivers in this year's draft, Boykin's 2013 season should be enough to give him the nod for the No. 3 receiver spot in 2014. 

    Though Boykin had a shaky start in his first significant regular-season action against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6 (six targets but only one catch), he quickly found a rhythm in the Packers offense, despite playing most games without Aaron Rodgers throwing to him.

    By the end of 2013, Boykin had totaled 681 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 13.9 yards per reception.

    The drops decreased quickly, as well; Boykin's average catch rate was 65.3 percent, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That was better than 70 percent of receivers who played at least 25 percent of their team's total snaps. 

    Boykin's development should only continue to accelerate next season as he logs more time with Rodgers, and this versatile passing offense will he line him up all over the field. 

A.J. Hawk, ILB

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    A.J. Hawk was criticized for his lack of speed and athleticism in coverage in 2013, and while he could stand to improve in both areas, he deserves recognition for what was possibly his best season to date. 

    Hawk posted a career-high in sacks, with five, stepping up into a pressure role when both Clay Matthews and Nick Perry missed time with injuries. His 74 tackles represented one of his best ever seasons in that department, and his lone interception in 2013 was a beautiful one-handed snatch of a Ben Roethlisberger pass in Week 16. 

    Hawk also led the team in tackles for loss with seven. 

    Still, Hawk and Jones didn't fortify the middle effectively last season, and being better than Jones doesn't mean that Hawk is performing satisfactorily. He had a run-stop percentage of just 5.2 percent, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which was in the bottom quartile among inside linebackers and worse than that of Jones.

    If 2013 was Hawk's best season to date, then it's likely time to give up on the idea of him ever developing into the playmaking, dominant inside linebacker that was predicted when he was a first-round pick in 2006. At the same time, he's also due the respect he deserves for being remarkably consistent and durable during his tenure with Green Bay.

T.J. Lang, RG

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    T.J. Lang was also part of the offensive-line shuffle last offseason, moving from starting left guard to starting right guard. Like all the other linemen, it was a move that benefited him, and he'll continue to start there. Together with Sitton, he forms what is likely the best guard duo in the NFL.

    Lang graded out as the seventh-best right guard in the NFL in 2013, per Pro Football Focus. He was No. 13 in pass-blocking and No. 4 in screen-blocking. The Packers and New Orleans Saints were the only teams to have both their guards rank in the top 15 in pass-blocking last season.

    Finishing his blocks and creating lanes for Eddie Lacy were two of Lang's strengths last season. If the team's guards were a more vital position, Lang would have finished higher in these rankings, but as it stands, there's not much he needs to improve on in 2014. He could stand to improve his run-blocking so that Lacy can have just as much success running behind the right side of the Packers line as he did behind the left last season. 

     

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS

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    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's relatively high ranking on this list is due to both how essential it was that the Packers address the free safety position and how much upside he has in Dom Capers' system.

    Though he hasn't played a snap for Green Bay, Clinton-Dix still seems like a more valuable player overall than some of Green Bay's veterans. 

    His presence in the secondary alone should help propel the 24th-ranked pass defense of 2013 to a better ranking this season.

    Clinton-Dix is exactly the rangy ball hawk the Packers have been missing since they lost Nick Collins in 2011. A playmaker with an eye for the ball, this year's first-round pick will immediately help the safety group's biggest issue—creating turnovers. The safety unit failed to generate a single interception in all of 2013.

    His tackling technique is reliable and consistent and will also go a long way toward correcting the secondary's problems last year with missed tackles.

    Clinton-Dix is a true all-purpose safety. "He's shown an ability to cover down in the slot, he's good in support, physical player. Also can play well in the back end," general manager Ted Thompson said, per the Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel. "We think he's got very, very good ball skills."

    Expect Capers to utilize Clinton-Dix in such a way as to create some big plays in 2014.

Tramon Williams, CB

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    Tramon Williams is entering a contract year, and though Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson doesn't often re-sign players over the age of 30, Green Bay had many chances to pick up a starting-caliber perimeter cornerback in the 2014 draft. Instead, the Packers came away with a sixth-round nickel corner in Demetri Goodson. 

    Corner is one of the deeper positions on the Packers roster, but many of those players are best suited for sub-packages. Williams started off the 2013 season on a shaky foot but still proved by the end of the year to be a reliable perimeter corner who can cover top receivers.

    Williams had the second-most passes defensed and interceptions in 2013 among all the Packers defensive players, with 11 and three respectively (second to Sam Shields' 16 passes defensed and four interceptions). 

    Though he ended the season with the three interceptions and two forced fumbles, Williams went eight games before he created a turnover. Add to that he missed four tackles in the first five games, and it becomes clear why the Packers may have been frustrated with him at the beginning of the season.

    Williams' year began to pick up speed in Week 11 against the New York Giants when he notched his first interception. From there, he ended the season on a strong note. While it remains to be seen if he'll be a Packer after the 2014 season, he has an opportunity for a strong showing in his eighth year with the team.

Mike Daniels, RDE

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    Mike Daniels had a breakout year in 2013, and his power ranking has surged as a result.

    Per Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin, Daniels went from playing 25.6 percent of snaps in 2012 to 48.6 percent in 2013, and that number could jump to as high as 60 percent in 2014. Daniels' improvement in 2013 was vast; his 6.5 sacks was second on the team behind Clay Matthews, and he emerged as the Packers' top pass-rusher when Matthews was injured. 

    Daniels was especially successful when lined up in certain sub-packages as a 3-technique and used as a pass-rusher.

    Daniels finished the season as Pro Football Focus' sixth-best 3-4 defensive end. His motor was relentless all season, and of all Green Bay's defensive linemen, he simply showed that he wanted it the most.

    Dom Capers will reward that effort in 2014. Expect Daniels to start at the right end position (with Datone Jones on the left and B.J. Raji anchoring the line at nose tackle) but be particularly visible in sub-packages. Daniels is developing into the kind of player who will make opposing offensive linemen cringe when they see him lined up across from them. 

Josh Sitton, LG

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    As a guard, Josh Sitton ranks high on this list, but there's no question he's the Packers' best offensive lineman and, in fact, one of the best guards in the league.

    Sitton's move to the left side in the 2013 offseason proved to be incredibly beneficial for the line. Pro Football Focus graded Sitton as the No. 2 guard overall in the NFL in 2013 (subscription required).

    He was also ranked the No. 1 guard in pass-blocking.

    Sitton's blocking skills helped bail out Green Bay's backup quarterbacks in their efforts to replace Aaron Rodgers last season, and the Packers certainly leaned on the left guard. Sitton played every single offensive snapthe only player on the team to do so.

    The fact that Sitton is a top NFL guard and excels at his position allowed him to jump ahead of other big-name players on this list who man higher profile positions but whose play did not approach the level of Sitton's in 2013.

Sam Shields, CB

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    Green Bay had an eye toward future production when it re-signed Shields to a four-year, $39 million deal this offseason. If he can capitalize on his potential and produce, it will be looked back on as a smart move to retain a young, system-developed player and a leader in the secondary.

    If we were comparing Shields to shutdown corners like Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, he would rank lower on this list. Shields' production had been above-average until 2013. In 2012, his three interceptions were low among cornerbacks, but he was the No. 15 corner in the league, per Pro Football Focus, due to the low catch rate he allowed and the 69.8 passer rating he gave up to opposing quarterbacks (subscription required).

    Still, among Green Bay's secondary, Shields has proven to be a playmaker and a technically skilled corner. He's often tasked with shadowing the No. 1 opposing receiver, and he set a new career high in total tackles last season with 51.

    Shields pulled in four interceptions in 2013, tying for fourth-most among all corners with four. Those four picks also tied a career high, Shields having also recorded four interceptions in 2011. If his new deal is motivating him, he'll set a new high in 2014.

    The two biggest problems with Packers secondary in 2013 were missed tackles and failure to produce interceptions. Shields has the ability to elevate the secondary in those two areas in 2014.

Julius Peppers, OLB

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    The only reason Julius Peppers doesn't rank higher on this list is that he hasn't yet proven himself in the Packers system, where he'll be asked to do things he was not with the Chicago Bears. Still, Peppers should have a huge impact on Green Bay's defense in 2014.

    And he doesn't have to lead the team in sacks or tackles to do it.

    The physical prowess Peppers brings, whether he's lined up at end or at outside linebacker, can help both in pressuring opposing quarterbacks and shoring up the run defense. But simply having Peppers on the field in 2014 will improve the entire front seven, giving the Packers the opportunity to run new and complex rush packages.

    Peppers can line up on the same side as Clay Matthews, making either of them impossible to double-team. He can also line up opposite Matthews to pose a threat off both edges.

    Peppers will be one of a handful of potential players who'll spend some plays lined up at the 7-technique "Elephant" position, which would continue to allow Green Bay to run a 3-4 scheme seasoned with 4-3 elements.

    If Peppers plays the 7-technique in Green Bay's 3-4, he can become a two-gapper whom Capers can turn loose on occasion to utilize the pass-rushing skills he honed in Carolina and Chicago. At outside linebacker, Peppers will be asked to do more than what he did with the Bears, but if he makes a successful transition, the Packers defense will boast more formations to throw at opposing offenses.

Randall Cobb, WR

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    2014 could be Randall Cobb's first career 1,000-yard season.

    Cobb's 10-game absence in 2013 only served to show how essential he has become as a multidimensional weapon in Green Bay's offense. Without Aaron Rodgers and their dynamic slot receiver, the Packers passing game was far less complex in 2013 and easier for opponents to defend.

    When Cobb returned in Week 17 against Chicago, his impact was immediate. He had two receptions for touchdowns, including the game-winning catch that won the division title.

    In Cobb's best season, 2012, he had 80 receptions, 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished that season as Pro Football Focus' No. 11 receiver overall, just below slot receiver Percy Harvin and ahead of Victor Cruz (subscription required). His high rating was due in part to his high catch rate—78.4 percent, the second best among all wide receivers—as well as the high number of tackles he evaded (15).

    That's what Cobb's role is all about. He's not asked to have the most receiving yards or touchdowns in the league—or even among his own teammates—but he's elusive, has excellent hands and gives Rodgers a reliable outlet at the end of his progressions.

    The 24-year-old Cobb ranks below Jordy Nelson on this list, but that could certainly change in a few years. He is a young player around whom this offense will continue to build, and though he doesn't possess the big-play potential Nelson does, he can certainly turn a game on a dime, like in the Week 17 must-win situation against the Bears.

    Expect 2014 to be a big season for Cobb. If Green Bay does not renegotiate his deal this offseason, it will be a contract year for him, which could lead to the most productive season of his career.

Eddie Lacy, RB

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    Eddie Lacy was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year for 2013 season despite some considerable obstacles.

    Aside from the fact that a Packers rookie running back had not rushed for more than 1,000 yards since John Brockington in 1971, Lacy battled an ankle injury and, toward the end of the season, asthma triggered by cold weather. He faced nearly eight full games without Rodgers, with the result being that defenses routinely stacked the box to slow down Green Bay's rushing attack. (Opponents played seven or more defenders in the box nearly twice as much in Rodgers' absence.)

    Even though Rodgers will be back in 2014 and James Starks has been re-signed, Lacy proved himself too productive as a rookie to hold back this upcoming season. His 11 touchdowns last year were the second most among all running backs in the league, and he was the only rookie in the top 10 in scoring.

    With an eye towards keeping Lacy healthy for the long-term, the Packers may try to limit Lacy to fewer than the 284 carries he had in 2013, the fifth most among running backs. But Lacy should still easily have a 1,000-yard season in 2014. 

Jordy Nelson, WR

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    Jordy Nelson finally had the opportunity to prove in 2013 that he's an elite receiver in his own right, not just a product of a Rodgers-led system.

    Last season, Nelson had the chance to make the quarterback look good, rather than the other way around. Many of the 22 catches of 20-plus yards Nelson made were on passes thrown by someone other than Rodgers. 

    Nelson also set a career high in receiving yards in 2013, with 1,314. That achievement may have been made more difficult with Rodgers missing eight games, but it was made easier with Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley's absence. Cobb and Finley each missed 10 games in 2013, and James Jones missed another two. 

    In 2013, Nelson emerged as the backup quarterbacks' go-to target and kept potent Green Bay's passing attack by lining up all over the field. He spent more time at slot receiver than ever before, with 57 targets there in 2013, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), as compared to six in 2012, 10 in 2011 and 27 in 2010. 

    Running routes out of the slot helped pad Nelson's reception total, but he still proved to be a scoring threat when lined up inside. In fact, of Nelson's eight touchdowns in 2013, which were his second most ever, three came from out of the slot. 

    Cobb will reprise his role as Green Bay's primary slot receiver in 2014, but Nelson displayed great versatility and productivity in 2013. He was targeted almost twice as often as in any previous season and had a career-high 85 receptions.

    After losing Jones in free agency, Nelson looks to be Rodgers' first read on every passing play in 2014. 

Clay Matthews, OLB

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    Despite playing the fewest games of his career in 2013 and posting career lows in total tackles and passes defensed, Matthews nonetheless elevates the entire Packers defense when he's healthy. 

    Proven production makes Matthews the most important player on the defensive side of the ball for Green Bay.

    Matthews' 7.5 sacks in 2013 was the fourth lowest of his career and came on the heels of a 13-sack season the prior year.

    The success of the linebacker's 2014 season will depend on two factors. Will the arrival of Peppers lead to better numbers for Matthews, freeing him up as teams have to contend with both of them? Will injuries continue to affect Matthews' play?

    In addition to missing five games in 2013, Matthews missed four games in 2012 with a hamstring injury. Hamstring issues also plagued him during training camp prior to the 2010 and 2011 seasons. It was also revealed after the Packers' Super Bowl-winning 2010 season that Matthews had played on a broken shin for half the year.

    Matthews' toughness can't be questioned. He returned from a Bennett's fracture in his right thumb after just four games because he wanted to contribute, and he was able to record 5.5 of his sacks and 12 of his total tackles with a cast on his injured hand.

    The presence of Peppers should help Matthews' production. The new addition can line up on the same side as Matthews, making it impossible for offenses to double-team both of the them. Or they can line up opposite each other for a two-sided rush threat.

     

Aaron Rodgers, QB

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    Since becoming the Packers' starter in 2008, Aaron Rodgers has continued to demonstrate his importance to the team with the success he has helped them find on the field, including a Lombardi trophy and a 15-1 record in back-to-back seasons.

    In 2013, Rodgers proved just how essential he is to the Packers by spending half his season off the field. 

    Rodgers began last season set to have his best statistical campaign yet. He set a career high with 480 passing yards in a Week 2 rout of the Washington Redskins (tying the franchise record for passing yards set by Matt Flynn in 2012) and threw four touchdowns, completing a massive 81 percent of his attempts.

    Considering the track he was on before his injury in Week 9 and his strong Week 17 comeback, it's not hard to imagine Rodgers having one of the best seasons of his career in 2014. 

    One of the many reasons Rodgers is Green Bay's most important player is the way in which he makes everyone around him better. His ability to throw his receivers open will greatly accelerate the development of Jarrett Boykin and whichever rookie(s) command snaps in the offense.

    And the fact that Rodgers often calls protections will help the Packers' new starting center—likely J.C. Tretter—learn the system.