Green Bay Packers 2014 Virtual Program: Depth Chart Analysis and X-Factor

Justis MosquedaFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

Green Bay Packers 2014 Virtual Program: Depth Chart Analysis and X-Factor

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    In 2013, the Green Bay Packers were faced with plenty of injuries, netting 15 players in total on the injured reserve list. Despite those losses, and players managing to return from injuries—most notably All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers—the Packers managed to push through the season with a 8-7-1 record, earning a playoff berth.

    The 2014 season relies on the health of the squad, which recently has had no luck on the injury front, even during their Super Bowl XLV run. If the team can stay healthy, though, the roster is in shape to make a push into the late winter. Currently, Bovada has the odds of the Green Bay Packers winning it all at 10-1, which ties them with the New Orleans Saints for fifth in the league and third in the National Football Conference.

    While his team lost a handful of starters to free agency, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson was busy in the offseason adding several contributors who will help immediately in 2014. Notably, the Packers signed two free agents—uncharacteristic given Thompson's reluctance to rely on the free-agent market to build his franchise. In addition, all nine draft picks from May's draft have made the squad; however, two of them are already on injured reserve.

    With the Packers kicking off the NFL season on the Sept. 4 against the reigning Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, here's a perspective on what to expect from individuals and the team as a whole.

Quarterbacks

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Starter: Aaron Rodgers

    Backups: Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien

     

    To the ease of Packer fans, quarterback has been an position well addressed for well over two decades. Any debate has been over the backup spot since Matt Flynn signed a three-year deal worth over 20 million dollars with the Seattle Seahawks during the 2012 offseason.

    After spending time mulling over Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman that season, the Packers proceeded to add four different quarterbacks in 2013 after camp had already started. Vince Young was the first, but he didn't make the 53-man roster.

    Seneca Wallace, who was released the San Francisco 49ers late in the preseason, was added to the roster after initial cuts, giving him the spot behind Aaron Rodgers. Scott Tolzien, another player who didn't make it through the 49ers camp in 2013, was added to the practice squad. Matt Flynn, who was the opening day starter for the Oakland Raiders, was again signed by the Packers after a string of unfortunate events that left Aaron Rodgers and Seneca Wallace on the sideline.

    With Seneca Wallace not returning, the debate became more clear. Who was the number two behind Rodgers? Would the Packers keep both Flynn and Tolzien, or would the Packers simply keep one quarterback?

    In the end, the Packers chose to retain both backups, as neither separated from the other during preseason play, though it's assumed that Matt Flynn would come in first, should Rodgers sustain any injury.

Running Backs

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Starter: Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn (FB)

    Backups: James Starks and DuJuan Harris

     

    After several seasons without a top workhorse, the Packers hit a home run on 2013 second-round pick Eddie Lacy. The bruiser showed a prowess at the running back position that hadn't been matched since Ahman Green. Comparable to Marshawn Lynch, Lacy will likely be a staple of the Packer offense for the foreseeable future.

    John Kuhn is a consistent fullback who can do a little bit of everything. Between blocking, catching, running, and making a home Packers crowd grumble his name, he's a busy man. Unlike some NFL offenses, Mike McCarthy's pass-happy offense does prefer a talented fullback, and there might not be a better system fit for the Packers than Kuhn, who seems to consistently make a handful of plays in crunch time as the season wears down.

    James Starks is a talented No. 2 back, which is needed behind Lacy. While Lacy is clearly the featured back, his career has been marred by injuries. A tall, smooth, effective runner, Starks was a key piece to the Packers Super Bowl run in 2010. In 2013, he was one of the most efficient runners in the league, despite his relatively low carry count.

    In the 2012 season, DuJuan Harris showed off his skills on a handful of occasions, leading me to think that he might be the answer to the Packers' hole at running back. But 2013 didn't pan out for Harris, as he was held out of camp early then eventually placed on injured reserve. 

    Harris demonstrated this preseason, that his talent is still present, but he's not likely to get many carries. Similar, but much smaller to Lacy, Starks is the one of the two backs most likely to become a change of pace to Lacy.

Receivers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Starters: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin

    Backups: Davante Adams and Jeff Janis

     

    The loss of James Jones to the Oakland Raiders was a factor for the Packers this offseason.

    The consistent production of Jones seemed to be filled when sophomore Jarrett Boykin stepped up to the plate and contributed in 2013, but that didn't stop the team from taking three receivers in this past May's draft.

    Expect the three remaining faces from the 2013 roster to get a lot of reps in 2014.

    Jordy Nelson recently signed a four-year, $39 million contract. If the 2014 preseason is any indication, Rodgers to Nelson is already in midseason form. During the third exhibition game, tabbed as the most important preseason game by most, Rodgers was looking for Nelson on nearly every play. With Greg Jennings and James Jones leaving in recent years, it's apparent that Aaron Rodgers has an unrivaled chemistry with Nelson.

    Most likely to take slot snaps out of three- and four-receiver sets, Randall Cobb is still the second target on the squad. Hopefully, Cobb is able to rebound from his 2013 campaign, where he fought off injuries. He did manage to finish the season with a bang, ending the playoff hopes of the Chicago Bears with a dagger and sending the Packers into the playoffs.

    Two years removed from being signed as an undrafted free agent, Jarrett Boykin has made huge strides as an NFL receiver. His numbers speak for themselves. In 2012, Boykin caught five passes for 27 yards. In 2013, Boykin caught 49 passes for 681 yards. In 2014, he's likely to be Rodgers' third target, seeing the field a majority of the time as a boundary receiver in certain sub-packages.

    The second round rookie Davante Adams has the ceiling of being a top receiver in a McCarthy offense, but the 21-year-old is unlikely to contribute huge numbers in 2014, as rookies rarely do. 2015 is likely the year that we see Adams breakout, especially if the Packers for some reason can't keep Randall Cobb.

    The final receiver to make the roster is Jeff Janis, who was a combine freak and highlight-reel receiver in camp.

    The seventh-round pick out of Saginaw Valley State may make more plays on special teams as a returner than as a receiver in 2014, but he has the kind of upside that teams feel compelled to stash on their practice squads.

    Green Bay GM Ted Thompson has had some talented prospects in the past slip away, such as Charles Johnson, a seventh-round pick from 2013. If injured wideout Jarred Abbrederis hadn't been ruled out for the season, Janis might not have made the 53-man roster. But now that he has, the athletic pass-catcher might be called on to contribute in 2014.

Tight Ends

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Starter: Richard Rodgers

    Backups: Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and Ryan Taylor

     

    A surprise Day 2 pick in this year's NFL draft, former Cal tight end Richard Rodgers has quieted critics in the preseason.

    With some assuming Andrew Quarless would fill the starting vacancy left by Jermichael Finley, Rodgers showcased his ability at every turn, earning him a nod with the starting offense in the third preseason game. While he's more of a receiving threat than a blocking presence, Rodgers still should be able to shield off linebackers in the running game, which is what McCarthy's offense asks of the tight ends.

    Andrew Quarless is a consistent TE at this point, but he hasn't been the same since a major injury in 2011. In two-tight end sets, don't be surprised to see Quarless come onto the field or even to spell Rodgers in situations asking for a more physical blocking presence.

    An interesting prospect is Brandon Bostick, a third-year player and a converted receiver. Easily the most physically gifted tight end on the roster, Bostick commits both brilliance and boneheaded mistakes. If he gets everything together, he could break into the top tier of NFL tight ends, but right now he's barely challenging the starter's pole for the Packers. 

    Ryan Taylor has never been known as much as a tight end, as he pretty much has been a special teams contributor only. Coming into his fourth season with the team, Taylor has tallied only eight catches in his NFL career.

Offensive Line

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Starters: David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, J.C. Tretter, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga

    Backups: Derek Sherrod, Corey Linsley, and Lane Taylor

     

    The tackle situation in Green Bay has finally worked out for the Packers, as it seems Rodgers has two capable bookends for the first time in recent memory. Bryan Bulaga, a former first-round pick, is more than a capable right tackle, while David Bakhtiari looked like a young Jordan Gross in his rookie season.

    Backing up those two is swing tackle Derek Sherrod, another former first-rounder, who was out for an extensive amount of time after an injury in the Kansas City game of 2011. In 2011, Sherrod was also seeing time as a starting guard, which could be useful if something were to happen to Corey Linsley early in the season or right guard T.J. Lang is moved to center.

    The Packers moving to a mix of zone-blocking and man-blocking schemes could help the starting guard tandem as much anyone on the line. Lane Taylor, a 2013 undrafted free agent is the only other true guard among the reserves, but, as mentioned before, Sherrod could also see time at guard based on his experience.

    Center is the most pressing issue on the Packers offensive line. With Scott Wells, Jeff Saturday and Evan Dietrich-Smith having starting in recent years in front of Rodgers, consistency at the center position seemed to be a given.

    Former Cornell left tackle J.C. Tretter was taken in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, but missed his entire rookie season with an injury, and he is going to start the beginning of the 2014 season injured, as well.

    This means Ohio State rookie Corey Linsley will start the season at center until Tretter is healthy enough to see the field again. While Linsley could have a higher floor, Tretter has a much higher upside, which is why it's hard to imagine he won't get the nod when healthy, no matter what Linsley does before then.

Defensive Line

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Starters: Datone Jones and Mike Daniels

    Backups: Josh Boyd, Mike Pennel and Letroy Guion

     

    Coming into camp, the depth at defensive line for the Packers wasn't great. Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and B.J. Raji seemed like a solid starting unit, but behind them were questions. Though undrafted rookie Mike Pennel had somewhat of a breakout preseason, the loss of B.J. Raji for the year to a torn bicep hangs heavy over the team.

    Due to the Raji injury, there will be a rotation of three players at nose tackle in the base 3-4 defense: Pennel, Josh Boyd and Letroy Guion. Green Bay is known to run nickel and dime as their base sets, meaning there's unlikely to be a nose tackle on the field a majority of the time, though.

    All three can also see reps at base end. Boyd, a second-year player out of Mississippi State, was even projected by some as the starting strong-side base end before the undersized Datone Jones proved to the staff that he could hold onto it. 

    Pennel is a former Arizona State Sun Devil who displayed tremendous promise throughout the offseason and made possible the deal that sent Jerel Worthy, a 2012 second-rounder, to trade to the New England Patriots.

    Letroy Guion, the former Minnesota Viking, is a solid run-stopper who missed most of the preseason due to injury. While Guion hasn't showed much in 2014, his track record is enough to keep him as a contributor in short-yardage situations.

    The “starters” on an especially deep defensive line are Mike Daniels and last-year's first-round pick, Datone Jones.

    Daniels, who had a breakout season in 2013, plays football like an under-tackle in a 4-3 scheme, where he uses his athleticism to shoot through gaps. Datone Jones plays the same way but has yet to produce the way Daniels did last year.

    The Packers are hanging their hat on Jones improving in 2014, because if someone along the defensive line doesn't step up, the group could quickly become the Achilles' heel of the team.

Linebackers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Starters: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk and Julius Peppers

    Backups: Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Sam Barrington, Jamari Lattimore, Andy Mulumba, Jayrone Elliott and Carl Bradford

     

    The starting linebacker unit looks the same as last season in three of the four starting spots, but the difference is the biggest free agent that Ted Thompson has brought in since Charles Woodson.

    Julius Peppers is now the pass-rusher across from Matthews, giving Green Bay a much-needed threat on the opposite side of their longtime All-Pro LB.

    Pressure packages are going to look very interesting for this 2014 Packers team. On top of Matthews and Peppers, the team also has Nick Perry (2012 first-round pick), Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba and Jayrone Elliott.

    Perry has flashed promise at times but has never been able to put up numbers consistently. Coming off the bench as a third rusher might be his best role, as he eases back into a potential starting role in 2015, which is a strong possibility, as Peppers, depending on his production, may not get more than one season in Green Bay.

    Neal is a former college defensive tackle who has lost plenty of weight off an already athletic body. In the preseason, he was used as a base end with Clay Matthews lined up next to him as a linebacker. If there's one matchup that can cause headaches to an entire side of an offensive line, it's that one.

    Mulumba a 2013 undrafted free agent who made some noise for the Packers. At this point, he and Elliott are reserves who will rarely see the field outside of special teams.

    At inside linebacker, there's relatively no change. Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk are again the starting linebackers for the squad. If Brad Jones starts the season off slow, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sam Barrington take over the starting job.

    Last on the linebacker chart is Carl Bradford, a rookie fourth-round pick who played defensive end and linebacker at Arizona State. After spending an offseason as a pass-rushing linebacker, Bradford was moved inside during the final week of the preseason. He's more likely to contribute on special teams than to see any significant time on defense in 2014.

Cornerbacks

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Starters: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward

    Backups: Davon House, Jarrett Bush and Demetri Goodson

     

    At corner, the Packers haven't changed all that much.

    Casey Hayward had a stellar 2012 season as a slot corner before missing significant time in 2013.

    Hopefully the Vanderbilt alum can rebound and produce at a high level again in his third year in the league. With the Packers playing so much nickel and dime, he's a starter for the defense. At the starting cornerback spots, Sam Shields, who just signed an extension, and Tramon Williams are back again for another season.

    But keep an eye on Davon House, who is in a contract year with the squad after an up-and-down start with the Packers. House usually produces in camp, then enters the next on the roster bubble.

    With Tramon Williams also in a contract year, House could potentially enter 2015 as the starter across from Shields.

    With Micah Hyde moving from slot cornerback to safety, Williams could jump into the slot, leaving House as the outside cornerback. For House to prove his worth, he'll need to hit on every opportunity he's given.

    Jarrett Bush again makes the roster but is likely to contribute more on special teams than defense. A special teams ace, Bush rarely sees the field on defense outside of the red zone anymore.

    Last year, he even saw time at linebacker due to injuries. A 2014, Day 3 selection, Demetri Goodson is the sixth and final cornerback on the roster. After a mostly down preseason, many were surprised that he made the team, but with his talent in man-to-man coverage, it makes sense. The issue is whether he'll ever be able to build on other skills, as the 25-year-old is already pretty old for a rookie.

Safeties

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Starters: Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde

    Backups: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Sean Richardson

     

    The largest hole for the Packers to fill in the 2014 offseason was safety. In 2013, the Packers got little from their secondary, which tallied zero interceptions for the season.

    While Morgan Burnett is a serviceable starting safety, M.D. Jennings was left untendered by the Packers, forcing the squad to make a move.

    nd moves they made.

    Micah Hyde, a slot corner who played significant reps as a rookie in 2013 due to injuries to Casey Hayward, was a cornerback and safety in college at Iowa.

    Now converted to safety, it seems that Hyde will at least open the season as the starter next to Burnett, if not end it. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who many analysts had as the top safety prospect of the 2014 class, was added as a first-round pick, and has played well at times this preseason.

    Be it Hyde or Burnett, Clinton-Dix seems destined to displace someone as a starting safety in Green Bay's not-too-distant future.

    Hayward showed potential in his rookie preseason, but was injured for more than a full year. Last year, he displaced Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick from the same 2012 draft class.

    Richardson is most noted for playing the “bat” role in defensive coordinator's Dom Capers' defense, where a third safety plays in the formation.

    Of all the safeties on the roster, Richardson is likely the one that is more correctly compared to a traditional strong safety.

Special Teams

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Starters: Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay and Brett Goode

    The consistency asked for on special teams is finally back. Mason Crosby has bounced back from a funk that led to a contract restructuring, hitting a 89.2 percent field-goal clip in 2013, a career high. That's an increase of over 25 percent from 2012, when he hit a career-low of 63.6 percent of his field-goal attempts.

    Tim Masthay has been a very consistent punter for several years and could make a run for a Pro Bowl in 2014.

    Brett Goode, on the other hand, is a virtual unknown, which cannot be a bigger compliment for a long snapper.

X Factor: Datone Jones

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    By far, the biggest question in the starting lineup for the 2014 season is going to be Datone Jones, the second-year first round pick out of UCLA.

    On the defensive line, the Packers lost Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson to free agency. While Pickett and Jolly are still available at this point, it seems as though the Packers staff thinks they can replace those two players in house.

    The loss of B.J. Raji for the season makes Jones' transition into a starting role even harder, as there isn't a true veteran nose tackle on the roster.

    If the defensive line doesn't step up, the Packers defense against the run could be one of the worst in the league in 2014.

    Datone Jones has shown some promise in the preseason, but the question as to whether he can do it consistently over four quarters against first-team offensive linemen is still unanswered.

    As the season wore on in 2013, Jones became less and less effective. He looked worn down, like many rookies do. But if Green Bay wants to make a title run in 2014, Jones being a consistent, dominant force will be crucial.

Biggest Game: @ Seattle Seahawks

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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    Green Bay enters the season with plenty still unanswered, and there's no better way to get a feel of how the season will fair than in the opener against the defending Super Bowl champions.

    The two largest questions are on each side of the line. How will the center position hold up in Green Bay with Corey Linsley (and eventually J.C. Tretter) lining between Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang? How will the defensive line hold up against the run?

    With the switch to a power scheme, Linsley and Tretter are at this point are question marks. Linsley is a talented rookie, but he doesn't offer the promise of Tretter, who could be a top-five center in the league.

    Linsley starts the season against a tough Seattle Seahawk defense that'll likely test him early and often. While he was able to dominate at the college level, his work against first-team NFL defensive linemen has yet to be determined.

    Seattle's offensive line is also full of question marks, but the team's running game still is elite. With two new starters in the Packers base defense, they'll also be tested early and often.

    Unless Aaron Rodgers makes the game a shootout from the start, it's hard to imagine that Seattle's offense doesn't look to exploit an inexperienced Packer defensive line and what looks to be an average linebacker corps.

    Overall, Green Bay's weaknesses and strengths could be exposed in the team's first game against a tough opponent. If the Packers can set the right tone for the season, they can soar to the playoffs.