Green Bay Packers: 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
Since the Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy era started in 2006, the Green Bay Packers have been one of the more successful franchises in the NFL. Since 2006, the Packers have gone 82-45-1, won four NFC North titles, been to the postseason six times and also won Super Bowl XLV.
The modus operandi of the Packers under Thompson and McCarthy in making the team a consistent winner is to draft and develop players.
Normally, the key transition period for the players to really start improving with the Packers is somewhere between the second and third year in the league.
There are certainly exceptions, like in the case of running back Eddie Lacy, who was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. But more times than not, players seem to improve quite a bit in their second or third year in the Green Bay program.
Green Bay president Mark Murphy agreed with that assessment in a February "Murphy Takes 5" column on Packers.com in responding to a question:
There is no question that we are primarily a draft-and-develop team – we use the draft as the main vehicle to add players to our roster. The draft is not an exact science, though, and we will miss on some players and injuries will often be a factor. Injuries have limited many of our top picks in recent years, for instance. For this reason, and because we are always looking for ways to improve our roster, we use other means to acquire players, including signing undrafted free agents, street free agents (players released by other teams) and unrestricted free agents. The advantage that drafted players (and undrafted free agents) provide is that they are typically less expensive (which is very important with the salary cap) and are younger and ascending as players.
In 2014, the Packers are going to need a number of their younger players to improve their level of play. I've listed five of them in this slideshow.
In fact, three of the players I've listed are former first-round picks. Four of the five players I have listed have also had injuries that have hampered their progress so far in the NFL.
Defensive End Datone Jones
Big things were expected of defensive end Datone Jones when he was selected with the 26th pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Jones was coming off a great senior season at UCLA, where he had 62 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two blocked kicks.
Jones had a promising start to life as a Packer, but then he suffered an ankle sprain that hindered his development in training camp.
Head coach Mike McCarthy talked about that situation at the NFL Scouting Combine, via Packers.com:
Datone, very talented young man. His injury at the end of training camp set him back. There's a number of packages that he was a big part of, a primary part of, and frankly we really didn't get to a lot of them just because of the way the season went with our injuries. Getting him back in the offseason, I feel he's one of those second year players who take a huge jump. That will be my expectations for him.
Jones played in all 16 games last season for the Packers but only had 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one fumble recovery.
Expect to see Jones have a much better season in 2014, especially with the addition of Julius Peppers to the defensive front.
Linebacker Nick Perry
In the 2012 NFL draft, the Packers selected Nick Perry of USC in the first round with the 28th pick. After the selection of Perry, Ted Thompson said this about No. 53, via Packers.com:
Tremendous physical specimen. He's 270 pounds and runs 4.5. At the end of the day, we felt this would be a very good addition. He's a physical guy, can set the edge and can rush the passer.
In his last year at USC, Perry had 54 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks, plus he forced three fumbles. The only problem was that Perry played defensive end with the Trojans, where as he would be playing outside linebacker with the Packers.
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene worked hard with Perry, but injuries to his knee and wrist hampered his progress. When it was all said and done, Perry was placed on injured reserve after playing in six games, in which he had 18 tackles and two sacks.
But in 2013, it looked like Perry had definitely turned the corner with his progress until he broke his foot in Week 6. Perry still had 28 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles for the season.
Perry has only played in 17 games in two seasons. If he can remain healthy, Perry could really have a big year in 2014.
One big reason is that the Packers are going to be a lot more creative with their defensive schemes, which will allow Perry to rush from the "elephant" defensive end position at times like he did at USC.
Defensive Tackle Josh Boyd
Defensive lineman Josh Boyd of Mississippi State was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft. It took him quite awhile to become part of the regular rotation on the defensive line for the Packers. Boyd ended up playing in nine games for the Green Bay and ended up with just six tackles.
But the Packers saw enough of Boyd last season to know that he has some real upside. Head coach Mike McCarthy talked about Boyd at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, via Packers.com:
I don't want Josh to bulk up. He's a big man. Josh did some good things. I think Josh has a flexibility. He's shown he can play the nose and he can play the three-technique. So I really like what Josh gave us as a rookie, but he needs to take a huge step, a big step. And I think he'll be one of those players that does that in his second year.
Look for solid improvement from Boyd in 2014.
Center JC Tretter
JC Tretter was one of two offensive linemen whom the Packers selected in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft. The other lineman, David Bakhtiari, ended up starting at left tackle for the Packers last season.
Tretter wasn't as fortunate, as he broke an ankle during an early OTA for the Packers. No. 73 ended up on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list before joining the roster later in the season.
Tretter never played in a game for the Packers last season, but he has impressed the coaching staff with his quickness. In college at Cornell, Tretter had played both right and left tackle, but he looks like a better fit on the inside in the pros, especially at center.
With Evan Dietrich-Smith leaving the team via free agency, it leaves the starting center job available for the taking.
Because he has been in the program for a year now, Tretter appears to have a clear leg up on Corey Linsley, whom the Packers selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Offensive Tackle Derek Sherrod
In the 2011 NFL draft, the Packers selected offensive tackle Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State with the 32nd pick of the first round. Sherrod struggled somewhat in training camp that year, as the Packers gave him some reps at guard as well as tackle.
As it was, Sherrod only played in five games his rookie season before he suffered a horrific leg injury late in the season in which he broke his leg in two places.
Sherrod missed all of the 2012 season and worked extremely hard in rehab to get back on the field for the Packers again in 2013, where he did appear in seven games.
The 2014 season will be a big one for Sherrod as well as another former first-round pick of the Packers, Bryan Bulaga, who is slated to start at right tackle this year for Green Bay.
Bulaga has missed the past one-and-a-half seasons due to hip and knee injuries. If both Bulaga and Sherrod are healthy and play up to their potential this season, the depth at the tackle position will be quite solid.
According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers did not exercise the fifth-year option on Sherrod's contract, which means that No. 78 will be eligible to be an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
It also means that Sherrod has a lot to play for in 2014 in terms of elevating his status again as a player—both with the Packers and the entire NFL if Green Bay decides to part ways with him.