Who will be the Clay Matthews of 2010 ? Despite Ted Thompson's aversion to other teams free agents the 2010 Packers are the benefactors of several key additions through the draft, in the form of street free agents as well as undrafted rookie free agents. I will rank the players most likely to have the biggest impact on Green Bay's 2010 season.
Burnett is a ballhawking safety with great size and good speed running the forty in 4.51 seconds at the combine. He had 14 career interceptions tying for 2nd most in Georgia Tech history. Burnett will be the perfect compliment to two time pro bowler Nick Collins at safety supplanting Atari Bigby as the starter in 2010. He has the ability to play nickel corner, which he was consistently asked to do during his college career. Burnett will make the biggest impact of any addition to the Packer's roster in 2010. Burnett will likely have at least 5 interceptions returning at least 1 for a touchdown while starting opposite Nick Collins. Having two safeties that are essentially interchangeable players will allow defensive coordinator Dom Capers more creativity in his blitz packages leading to at least 1 sack for Burnett during his rookie year.
Dillon, undrafted out of Washington St. in 2008, last played arena football for the Spokane Shock. During his time with the Shock he displayed great athletic ability and quickness scoring over 20 touchdowns. He was used as a receiver, a running back , a returner, and in kick coverage. Dillon has the ability to return kickoffs as well as punts which would allow Will Blackman to concentrate solely on cornerback as he recovers from a torn acl. Dillon will end the Packers decade long drought in the kickoff return touchdown department. And, everyone remembers what Desmond Howard did for the 96' team led by Brett Favre and Reggie White propelling the Packers through the Super Bowl. Dillon also has the ability to be effective on kick coverage as he is big, strong and fast 4.45 speed. Further his ability to play both running back and receiver could allow coach Mike McCarthy to experiment with some type of Wildcat formation. Dillon also would be a dangerous shifty receiver on short routes out of the slot if the coaches choose to use him as a jack of all trades type player in the mold of Joshua Cribbs or Devin Hester earlier in his career.
Quarless had some character concerns coming into the draft which caused him to slide into the fifth round. Judged on talent alone Quarless would have gone in the second or early third round. He possess great speed for a tight end running the forty in only 4.57 seconds and athletic ability which allows him to make spectacular catches like the one pictured look routine. His skill set is actually very similar to Packers starter Jermichael Finley which gives the Packers their best combination of tight ends since Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura especially taking Spencer Havner and his penchant for finding the end zone. All three including Quarless have very good run after the catch ability something that makes them very dangerous in the west coast offense. Quarless will make the Packers two and three tight end formations virtually unstoppable especially in the red zone. He should rack up decent stats as the number two tight end, at least 25 catches for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. His ability to open up the coverage in combination with Finley will allow the Packers receivers unprecedented room to work underneath.
Bryan the man who will replace Jeremy Kapinos, at left, is set to play his first season of American football. The Packers ranked 31st in the 32 team league on special teams in 2009, continually losing the field position battle. Despite his inexperience they are counting on Bryan to follow in the footsteps of former Australian Rules footballer Nathan Chapman who has excelled in the NFL. Bryan has a strong leg which he should be able to use to his advantage in the type of weather conditions that are common in Wisconsin, wind, snow etc. His better distance and hang time coupled with improved play and speed on the coverage units will lead to a much easier job for the defense in 2010. In 2009 the Packers special teams continually let the defense down by allowing big returns at key moments Bryan will cut that down. He will record a record number of punts inside the 20 as well as fair catches and net average making him the third most impact-full addition to the 2010 Packers.
Starks is a big back who plays like a small back and I don't mean he is easy to bring down. He is a very shifty runner possessing a style that is different form the Packers starter Ryan Grant and backup Brandon Jackson. He has good, 4.50 forty, not great speed that is enough to get the edge in the NFL. Starks will provide a change of pace for the offense initially while making sure his pass protection ability is sufficient for the third down role. Starks should wrest the 3rd down back role from Jackson round the fourth game of the season. At which point his receiving skills, he caught 127 passes at Buffalo, and run after the catch ability will add another dimension to the Packers already high octane offense. Jackson's career long reception is just 18 yards, I would not be surprised if the first reception of Stark's career is longer. Starks will end up with at least 500 total yards and 3 touchdowns during his rookie year.
Shields went undrafted and the Packers are lucky to have signed him. During his college career he played at receiver initially and then switched to cornerback prior to his senior season. He has enough natural talent at the position that he started 10 games for Miami last season. However his hands are a concern as a receiver although his 4.30 speed makes him an appealing option for straight line deep routes. He is raw as a cornerback and is considered more of a project at the position. His value to the Packers in 2010 will be on special teams possibly as a kick returner alongside Charles Dillon but certainly as a key member of the kick coverage units. His world class speed allows him to excel as a gunner, he won special teams player of the year for the canes as well as most improved player for his play at corner for the canes in 2009. For the Packers he and safety Derrick Martin will team up to form a dynamic duo on the coverage units harassing opposing returners into mistakes. Expect the packers special teams ranking to jump into the top 10 in the league.
Neal is a beast bench pressing a reported 500 pounds and running the forty in just 4.89 seconds at the combine. At Purdue he lined up at both end and tackle displaying an ability to rush from the inside. Which is exactly where he will help the Packers most, in the nickel and dime defenses rushing next to Cullen Jenkins as a defensive tackle in a four man line. Neal should end up with at least a couple sacks in this role as a rookie in 2010. A line of CJ Wilson, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Neal, and Clay Matthews will be able to generate pressure by themselves without Capers having to delve into his bag of tricks to dial up blitz packages in order to generate a pass rush. This will in turn significantly help the secondary which struggled at times in 2009 against premier quarterbacks who not coincidently the Packers had trouble generating a pass rush against. Neal will be key in this area as well as in the base defensive end rotation during his rookie season in 2010.
Bulaga makes the list simply because of his value as a backup at the lines most important position. He allows the Packers to have a greater degree of stability on the offensive line since the days of bag o donuts, Wahle, and Rivera. Even if Clifton should go down in 2010 the Packers will be in good shape with Bulaga backing him up. Instead of shuffling three positions on the line as they did at times in 2009 Bulaga will step in and the line won't lose a step. Had Bulaga been on the team in 2009 the Packers may not of lost one of the games in which Clifton could not continue due to injury. If Bulaga can win the Packers one game with his steady play in relief of Clifton his impact will have been felt.
I believe Al Harris will successfully return form the torn acl he suffered last season even at the advanced age of 34 Harris will prove the doubters wrong. He will regain his starting spot by mid seasoning pushing fill in Tramon Williams back to the nickel role meaning the Packers need someone to step up and seize the dime spot. Lee will be that player, a former second round pick out of Auburn in 2008, Lee will finally get on the field avoiding the injury bug for the first time in his career. Lee will provide solid coverage in the dime for the Packers in 2010 finally showing he warranted the second round pick Thompson spent on him. He will have at least one interception in his role in the sub packages while providing solid depth in case injury again hits the Green Bay secondary hard.
The Packers will finally get something out of their 2007 first round pick. Three seasons,a scheme change, and numerous injuries later Harrell will finally stay healthy in 2010. Drafted as a 4-3 tackle he will play end in Dom Capers 3-4. While he won't start unless injuries hit the line hard, he will be a part of the d-line rotation and provide good depth along the line as he has the size and strength to play the nose in a pinch. While not an impact worthy of a first round pick at least the Packers will get something out of the pick and the millions of dollars they have already payed Harrell.