2011 Green Bay Packers Offseason Preview: Free Agency and NFL Draft Preview

Jake CoxCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2011

2011 Green Bay Packers Offseason Preview: Free Agency and NFL Draft Preview

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    The Green Bay Packers have brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Title Town for the first time in 14 years.  With the 2010 season now in the books, it is now time to take a look at how the 2011 version of the Green Bay Packers might look.

    The Packers have some key personnel decisions to make this offseason, including which of their free agents they would like to bring back for next season.  I’ll take you through each of the Packers’ free agents, and I’ll state my opinion on which of these players will be brought back for the 2011 season.

    The Packers also have some decisions to make on players who are under contract for next season, but they might be to expensive to bring back.

    The NFL Draft is what the current Packers have been built on, and they will look to select some more future contributors in April’s Draft.  I’ll go through my full seven round mock draft, and I’ll tell you why I think the Packers should consider drafting those players. 

    The Packers appear like they will be Super Bowl contenders for many years to come, and I personally can’t wait for next season to begin.

DE Cullen Jenkins (Free Agent)

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    Cullen Jenkins has been dominant at times along the defensive line.  Jenkins is a surprisingly good pass rusher for a player of his size, and he put up seven sacks during the regular season, despite playing in just 11 games.

    That is the problem with Jenkins, he has been prone to injuries.  He has only played a full season once in the past three seasons, and in those three seasons he has missed a total of 17 regular season games.

    Yet there is no denying the impact that he makes when he is in the lineup, as evidenced by how the play of the defensive line improved when he returned in the playoffs.

    I expect Jenkins to carry a high price tag, and a lot of teams are going to show some interest in him.  Despite the fact that he is already 30 years old, I expect the Packers to lock him up long term.  He is just too important to their defense, and they don’t have a suitable replacement for him currently on the roster.

    If for some reason they don’t re-sign Jenkins, look for them to draft a replacement for him early on in the Draft.

WR James Jones(FA)

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    James Jones has been a very reliable option for Green Bay over the past few seasons.  He is a solid third option for Aaron Rodgers, who put up 50 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns. 

    His penchant for dropping passes has driven me crazy over the past few seasons (even though he seems to make up for his drop later in the game with a big time reception).  I also think that fellow WR Jordy Nelson has passed him up as the number three receiver, making Jones a little bit more expendable.

    Despite all of his drops, I personally would like to have Jones back for 2011, but I don’t see that happening at this point.  He is due for a raise, and some teams that are desperate for a number two receiver may overpay to get Jones out of Green Bay. 

    Some people have speculated that Donald Driver may retire now, and if he does, it would be very important for Green Bay to re-sign Jones.  However, I don’t think Driver is going away just yet, so I expect to see Jones in another uniform for the 2011 season.

K Mason Crosby(FA)

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    Mason Crosby isn’t considered to be one of the best kickers in the league, but he also isn’t considered to be one of the worst.  Crosby has been pretty solid throughout his career, and he made 22 of the 28 field goals he attempted in 2010, with a career long 56 yarder back in week one.

    Good kickers can be hard to find in this league, and I would be completely shocked if Crosby isn’t brought back for next year.  He has been fairly reliable, and I don’t think they would let him get away if they don’t have a replacement already in place.

    Green Bay should’ve learned their lesson when in 2006, they had to go through an entire season with Dave Rayner as their kicker after letting Ryan Longwell leave.  They can’t afford to let something like that happen again.

FB John Kuhn(FA)

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    John Kuhn became a big time fan favorite in Green Bay during the 2010 season.  He proved himself to be a very effective short yardage/goal line running back.  He only averaged 3.3 yards per carry during the regular season, but he always seemed to get the job done on 3rd down and short situations.

    Now, Kuhn is never going to be a starting running back in the league, but his impact on the team can’t be ignored.  I fully expect the Packers to bring back Kuhn next season to be the starting fullback.  I think there might be an uproar among fans in Green Bay if he isn’t brought back.

OG Daryn Colledge(FA)

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    Daryn Colledge has had an up and down career with the Packers.  Some games he makes all of the key blocks, yet in others he can get dominated by opposing defensive linemen.

    The problem with getting rid of Colledge is the fact that there isn’t a replacement that could step in right away and take over his spot.  T.J. Lang could get an opportunity, but he hasn’t had much experience at guard in the pros, and he might not be ready to take over full time.

    I would personally prefer it if the Packers didn’t re-sign Colledge, but unless they are ready for Lang to become a full time starter, I think that they will bring Colledge back next season.

RB Brandon Jackson(FA)

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    Brandon Jackson was thrust into the starting running back role after the season ending, week one injury to starter Ryan Grant.  Jackson never really looked comfortable as the feature back, and he struggled running the ball.

    Jackson was an important factor in Green Bay this past season, as he caught 43 passes last season out of the backfield.  His best fit would be as a situational runner who would most likely be no more than a third down back.

    I don’t expect Jackson to be back, as he would be the third string running back next season behind Ryan Grant and James Starks.  He will most likely end up as a second string running back for the 2011 season.  Look for Green Bay to find his replacement in this year’s draft.

S Charlie Peprah(FA)

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    Charlie Peprah was a player who really increased their value this past season.  He began the season as basically just a special teams player, but he really proved his worth after replacing rookie safety Morgan Burnett in week five.  He completed the regular season with 63 total tackles and two interceptions.

    In my opinion, Charlie Peprah needs to be brought back for next season.  The Packers need to bring back either him or Bigby, and Peprah seems to have more talent and Bigby has been injury prone in recent years.

    I think that the Packers will re-sign Peprah, and I think they may give him the chance to keep his starting job.  Even though Burnett played well early on, I think that Coach Mike McCarthy should have a training camp battle between Peprah and Burnett for the starting strong safety job.

    Even if Peprah doesn’t start next season, he will provide great depth, and he should be able to make a contribution on special teams.

S Atari Bigby(FA)

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    Atari Bigby has been a very solid player for Green Bay in recent years, but he has just become too much of an injury liability to remain on the roster.  He has only played 16 games in a season once in his career, and he has missed a total of 24 games in the past three seasons.

    As I said earlier in this article, I think that Charlie Peprah is currently a better safety, and I expect Green Bay to choose him over Bigby.  I think that some team will take a chance on Bigby, and they’ll give him an opportunity to win the starting safety job.  At this moment, I just don’t see that team being the Green Bay Packers.

FB Korey Hall(FA)

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    The impact that Korey Hall makes for the Packers doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.  In his four year career with Green Bay, he has a total of 21 receptions and zero rushing attempts.  That’s right, Hall hasn’t run the ball once in his career in Green Bay.

    Yet, Hall is a very solid blocker, and he really makes a big impact on special teams.  He does have some injury concerns, and with Quinn Johnson and John Kuhn already on the roster, there might not be a spot for Hall next season.

    It is a very tough call on whether the Packers keep Hall or not.  On one end, Hall is a great blocker and special teams contributor, and Packer fans know how important special teams are to Coach McCarthy.  He has kept guys in the past just because of their ability to contribute on special teams, as he kept WR Brett Swain over WR Ruvell Martin in 2009, and he kept TE Tom Crabtree over TE Spencer Havner in 2010.

    On the other side, Green Bay already has two fullbacks who can contribute more to the offense than Hall can, and for that reason, I don’t think Hall will return next year.

OG/C Jason Spitz(FA)

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    Jason Spitz has been mostly used as a backup the past two seasons, after starting for the majority of his first three seasons in Green Bay.  He offers very nice versatility, as he has starting experience at both guard and center.

    I think Spitz’s fate may be tied to whether or not the Packers bring back Daryn Colledge.  It is possible that they could bring back Spitz to start if Colledge isn’t re-signed, but with Colledge being back in Green Bay next season, I expect Spitz to go elsewhere to try and win a starting job.

    The Packers will miss his versatility, but I think that another team is going to be able to offer him more money, and a chance to start.

WR Brett Swain(FA)

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    Brett Swain doesn’t make a big impact on offense, but he has made his mark on special teams over the past two seasons.  I don’t see him ever making a big impact as a receiver, but his special teams contributions will make him a serious consideration to be with Green Bay next year.

    I think Swain will be back next year, but I think that the Packers aren’t going to guarantee him a roster spot.  I expect them to draft a receiver or two who might challenge to take away his roster spot.

LB A.J. Hawk

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    A.J. Hawk really fell out of favor with Green Bay earlier on in this season, as he didn’t play one defensive snap in the season opener in Philadelphia.  Yet he took over as the defensive play caller after Nick Barnett went down with an injury, and Hawk flourished.  Hawk ended up with 111 tackles in the regular season, and he was a defensive leader.

    With the emergence of Desmond Bishop, it is said by some that the Packers won’t be able to keep both Hawk and Nick Barnett because their salaries are too high.  It would be very hard to let Hawk go after the impact that he had on the defense this year.

    I think A.J. Hawk wants to stay in Green Bay, despite the adversity that he faced early on in the season.  I think that the Packers will try to get Hawk to restructure his contract for next season, and whether or not he does that remains to be seen.  But, I really don’t think the Packers can let him go even if he doesn’t restructure his contract, so expect to see him back next season.

    Don’t be surprised if Hawk gets moved back to his original position of outside linebacker if the Packers decide to keep both him and Barnett.

LB Nick Barnett

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    Nick Barnett is in basically the same position as A.J. Hawk, as it might not be financially feasible to keep both of them, along with Desmond Bishop.  Barnett has been a team leader for the Green Bay defense since being drafted in the first round in 2003. 

    Barnett has been injury prone in recent seasons.  He didn’t miss a game in 2009, but he missed a combined 19 games in 2008 and 2010.  This may work against him when management is trying to decide between him and Hawk, as Hawk has stayed healthy throughout his career.

    My opinion may surprise some people, but I expect both Hawk and Barnett to be back next year.  I think that Barnett will take back his role at middle linebacker, while Hawk will be moved to outside linebacker.  If the Packers had to choose between the two, I think Barnett would be the one to go, but hopefully they can find a way to keep them both.

DE Johnny Jolly

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    Johnny Jolly missed the entire 2010 season due to a suspension handed down for Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Jolly was a very good player for Green Bay in 2009, and the fact that the Packers didn’t have him for this season really hurt the quality of the defensive line depth.

    I think Jolly’s fate might be tied to whether or not Cullen Jenkins is re-signed.  I think that if the Packers lose Jenkins, they may be wise to give Jolly a second chance.  He may be rusty after a year off of football, but he is a solid run defender who should be able to contribute right away.

    I think that Jenkins will be brought back, so based on that fact, I think that the Packers would be better off not bringing Jolly back after his suspension.  Another team will give him a second chance, and I think he will go on to have a solid career.

OT Mark Tauscher

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    Mark Tauscher has been a bookend at right tackle for over ten years now, but he has been very injury prone in recent years.  It appears that he doesn’t have a lot left in the tank, and he probably has lost his starting spot to Bryan Bulaga for the time being.

    Tauscher is due $4.1 million in 2011, which is a very hefty price to pay for a backup offensive tackle.  It’s possible that Tauscher might just call it quits now, but if he doesn’t, it may be a wise decision to release him before the season. 

TE Donald Lee

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    Donald Lee was once the number one tight end in Green Bay, but that is now in the distant past.  Lee had 11 receptions this past season, despite the fact that current number one tight end Jermichael Finley missed most of the season.

    As it stands now, Lee would be the number four tight end, behind Finley, Andrew Quarless, and Tom Crabtree.  With a $2.2 million salary hit for the 2011 season, he’s another longtime Packer who has probably played his last game in a Green Bay uniform.

DE/DT Justin Harrell

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    A former first round pick, Justin Harrell went down with an injury in week one of the 2010 season.  That seems to be a recurring theme in his career, as he has only played in 14 total games in his four NFL seasons, including a total of one game in the past two seasons.

    I think it is time to move on from Harrell, and I don’t expect Harrell to be back in Green Bay next season.  You have to feel kind of bad for the guy, but I just don’t ever see him becoming a productive player in Green Bay.

OLB Brady Poppinga

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    Brady Poppinga is set to make over $2 million dollars in 2011, which is more than the combined salaries of Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, and Eric Walden.  Those three players are cheaper options, and they have been just as productive, if not more.

    I like Poppinga as a player, but I don’t really see much of a need to keep him at this point.  He may be able to find a starting spot somewhere else, so releasing him might be best for both parties involved.

    Up next, is my seven round Packers mock draft.

Round 1, Pick 32: OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

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    Gabe Carimi seems like a perfect pick for the Packers if he is still available at the end of the 1st round.  The Packers have found their left tackle of the future in Bryan Bulaga, but they still need a guy who can step in at the right tackle position in a year or two.

    Carimi is solid in both pass protection and run blocking, and he is a very good technician.  He’s known as a hard worker, and he’s been a four year starter for a Big Ten school, so he has a lot of experience.  He's also a Wisconsin Badger, which would be a plus in the eyes of Wisconsin Packer fans.

    Carimi would probably back up Bryan Bulaga at right tackle in his rookie year, before moving into the starting role in a year or two when Chad Clifton retires and Bulaga takes over for him at left tackle.

    Alternative Picks: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado; DE Corey Liuget, Illinois; OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College; OG Mike Pouncey, Florida

Round 2, Pick 32: CB Curtis Brown, Texas

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    Curtis Brown is the lesser hyped of the two starting Texas Longhorns cornerbacks, but he has the skill set to be a very solid player at the next round.  The Packers have a good set of cornerbacks, but there isn’t great depth, and they need to groom someone who can step in as a starter or nickel back when Charles Woodson retires.

    Brown has good height and he is an all round good athlete.  He can defend the run just as well as the pass, and he can excel in either man to man, or zone coverage.

    Brown is a guy who could contribute in 2011 in the dime package, while developing into a corner we can count on once Charles Woodson decides to retire.

    Alternative Picks: CB Jalil Brown, Colorado; OG Danny Watkins, Baylor; OT Ben Ijalana, Villanova

Round 3, Pick 32: WR Vincent Brown, San Diego St.

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    The wide receiver position is one of the best in the league for the Packers.  Yet, I don’t expect James Jones to be back next season, and Donald Driver probably only has a couple of seasons left in him before he retires.

    Enter Vincent Brown, who was really impressive during Senior Bowl week.  Brown doesn’t have the height that Jones has, but he catches everything thrown his way and he is an outstanding route runner.  He is a player who could contribute right out of the gate in 2011 as the fourth option, and he can be developed into someone start someday.

    Brown really raised his stock at the Senior Bowl, but I still think that this is a good spot for him.

    Alternative Picks: OG John Moffitt, Wisconsin; RB Derrick Locke, Kentucky; CB Davon House, New Mexico

Round 4, Pick 32: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon St.

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    I don’t expect Brandon Jackson to be back in Green Bay next season, so they are going to need to find someone who can replace him as the third down back/ backfield receiver.  Jacquizz Rodgers might not seem like a good fit to some people, but I think he could be.

    He is short, but he weighs about 190 pounds so I think he could handle a pounding by the bigger defenders that he’ll see in the NFL.  He is a great pass catcher out of the backfield, and I think that he may be able to help the Packers in the return game, which would be a huge plus.

    Rodgers would be a nice change of pace back who I think could bring a lot of things to their team. 

    Alternative Picks: RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State; DE Lawrence Guy, Arizona State; WR Ronald Johnson, USC

Round 5, Pick 32: WR Jeff Maehl, Oregon

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    I know a lot of people are wondering why I have the Packers taking two wide receivers, but I think that if Maehl is still available at this point, the Packers would have to jump on him. 

    Maehl has very good hands and he is a great route runner, despite not having overwhelming height and speed.  I think that he could challenge Brett Swain for the number five receiver spot, and I think he’ll make a bigger impact on the offensive side of the ball then Swain will.

    Alternative Picks: OG Andrew Jackson, Fresno State; ILB Mario Harvey, Marshall; C Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU

Round 6, Pick 32: DE/DT Karl Klug, Iowa

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    This is another guy who could provide some depth for Green Bay along the defensive line.  I don’t think Johnny Jolly and Justin Harrell will be back, and it will remain to be seen if Mike Neal can stay healthy.

    Karl Klug may be a bit small for a 3-4 defense, so he might not be the best fit.  But I think he has the frame to where he can add about 15 pounds so that he’d be a better fit.  I love his motor and intensity, and I think he would fit very well in the defensive line rotation.

    Alternative Picks: DT David Carter, UCLA; OLB Kenny Rowe, Oregon

Round 7, Pick 1: QB Greg McElroy, Alabama

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    Now McElroy might not be here at this point, but he would be a pretty good pickup if he was.  I think that he has some potential, and while he’ll be nothing more than a backup in Green Bay, he could develop into a solid backup who the Packers would be comfortable putting in the game if Aaron Rodgers goes down with an injury.

    I think it would be wise for Green Bay to take a developmental quarterback in the later rounds this year.  I’m not sure what they have in Graham Harrell, and Matt Flynn is a free agent after the 2011 season and he might get a chance to compete for a starting spot somewhere else. 

    Alternative Picks: ILB Josh Bynes, Auburn; CB Kevin Rutland, Missouri

Round 7, Pick 32: OG/C Chase Beeler, Stanford

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    Chase Beeler would have to battle for a roster spot, but I really like his versatility.  He has the ability to play both guard and center, so he could be a good pickup here towards the end of the seventh round.

    Alternative Picks: RB Baron Batch, Texas Tech; CB Curtis Marsh, Utah State

2011 Offensive Depth Chart

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    Here is what I think the Packers depth chart on offense might look like in 2011:

    QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Greg McElroy

    RB: Ryan Grant, James Starks, Jacquizz Rodgers

    FB: John Kuhn, Quinn Johnson

    WR: Greg Jennings, Vincent Brown, Jeff Maehl

    WR: Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Brett Swain

    TE: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree

    LT: Chad Clifton, T.J. Lang

    LG: Darryn Colledge, Evan Dietrich-Smith

    C: Scott Wells

    RG: Josh Sitton, Marshall Newhouse

    RT: Bryan Bulaga, Gabe Carimi

2011 Defensive/Special Teams Depth Chart

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    DE: Cullen Jenkins, C.J. Wilson, Karl Klug

    NT: B.J. Raji, Howard Green

    DE: Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal

    OLB: Clay Matthews Jr., Frank Zombo

    ILB: Desmond Bishop, Brandon Chillar

    ILB: Nick Barnett

    OLB: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Eric Walden

    CB: Charles Woodson, Curtis Brown

    FS: Nick Collins, Derrick Martin

    SS: Morgan Burnett, Charlie Peprah

    CB: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Jarret Bush

    K: Mason Crosby

    P: Tim Masthay

    LS: Brett Goode

    KR: Jacquizz Rodgers, James Starks

    PR: Jacquizz Rodgers, Tramon Williams