Green Bay Packers: Ranking the Top 10 Offensive Players & Projections for 2011
Truthfully, the Green Bay Packers dynamic offense is loaded with talent and difficult to rank with certainty.
What makes it an even more impossible task is the fact that Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant will be returning from the IR to potentially boost the NFL's ninth best overall offense in 2010. On paper the Pack attack will be more explosive than it has ever been with Aaron Rodgers behind center in 2011.
The only downside about paper is that it's highly flammable and it's not durable. Injuries will occur no matter how much the NFL tries to protect its players and it only takes a few critical blows for a team's season to go up in smoke.
The NFL is largely unpredictable, but here are my rankings and projections for the top 10 players on Green Bay's offense heading into what should be a productive 2011 season.
All 2010 stats taken from ESPN.com.
10. Chad Clifton
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According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, head coach Mike McCarthy claims that Chad Clifton's final six games last season (including playoffs) were the best he's seen the veteran tackle play in recent years.
Clifton was crucial in containing James Harrison in the Super Bowl and only gave up one sack in those six games which was to the Falcons' Pro Bowl DE John Abraham.
He's expected to have at least one more solid season for the Pack in 2011, his 13th since being drafted by Green Bay. Clifton certainly deserved to lift the Lombardi high. Not only because of his lengthy career in Titletown, but because his play down the stretch that kept Aaron Rodgers upright.
Outlook: His ability to stay consistent through next season will greatly affect the Packers' repeat chances. I expect Clifton to continue to do his job effectively in 2011 and maintain stability with his veteran presence on the offensive line. The chances of sneaking into the Pro Bowl again are slim.
9. Donald Driver
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Nagging injuries plagued Double D in 2010, including a high ankle sprain prior to the Super Bowl as well as the knee sprain that knocked him out of the big game.
Driver's on the decline and Jordy Nelson is slowly starting to succeed him. He claims he feels good and wants to play until he's 40, but his questionable health may defeat his desire.
2010 Stats: 51 rec., 565 yards, 4 TD
2011 Projections: 44 rec., 512 yards, 3 TD
Outlook: Driver will still be a threat if he can stay healthy. He's still got it, but he won't be targeted as often and his 1,000 yard seasons are behind him.
8. Scott Wells
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Scott Wells has had an up and down career in Green Bay, but he'll be the starter at center after a solid 2010 season.
Mike McCarthy has praised his recent performance, calling it Pro Bowl worthy, and dubbed him last year's best offensive lineman on the team.
Josh Sitton may have something to say about that, but Wells only allowed one sack and committed only one penalty in 2010.
Outlook: Wells is often underrated, but he'll be the anchor of Green Bay's QB protection squad in 2011.
7. Jordy Nelson
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Jordy Nelson's production boosted throughout the postseason and peaked dramatically in the Super Bowl.
He torched the Steel Curtain for 140 yards and a touchdown despite dropping three perfectly thrown passes. Despite those mishaps, Nelson remained confident throughout the biggest game of his NFL career and so did the coaching staff as they continued to target him.
If Mike McCarthy and Co. have faith in this kid from Kansas State, there's no doubt he could be a star in Titletown. Nelson's arrival will ease the transition away from Green Bay's all-time leading receiver, Donald Driver.
2010 Stats: 45 rec., 582 yards, 2 TD
2011 Projections: 56 rec., 707 yards, 6 TD
Outlook: Nelson will take over as the No. 2 receiver in Aaron Rodgers' arsenal and his production will increase in 2011. He'll work on his drops this offseason so expect him to be more involved in the team's offensive plans this season.
6. Josh Sitton
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Sitton is one of the best guards in the NFL; some would even argue he is the best. Not a single sack was pinned on his ability to pass block in 2010 and he was an effective run blocker as well.
As an offensive lineman, he is usually under-credited for his contribution to the offense. However, keeping a certain superstar quarterback off the ground will be essential to the Packers' success in 2011.
Josh Sitton is the best big man for the job of Aaron Rodgers' personal bodyguard.
Outlook: Sitton won't be rejected from a well-deserved Pro Bowl spot again in 2011.
5. Ryan Grant
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The best case scenario for the Packers' offense in 2011 would be the birth of a double-headed monster or simply a dynamic duo of Ryan Grant and James Starks sharing carries.
The Packers' running game was in shambles once Grant began clutching the crutches up until Starks got his hands on the pigskin.
Ryan Grant potential has reached its ceiling. He's no Adrian Peterson, but he's a solid option as a starting back. He will begin the season at the top of the depth chart, but will James Starks' steal the show in the Packers backfield?
Everyone except Grant hopes that the best of Starks is yet to come because he will be competing for his job in the upcoming season.
2010 Stats: 0 TD, 45 yards, 5.6 avg.
2011 Projections: 3 TD, 839 yards, 4.3 avg.
Outlook: Grant will gradually lose carries to Starks in 2011 and will be another team's back in 2012.
4. James Starks
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Would the Packers have reached the Super Bowl if James Starks hadn't emerged at just the right time to spark a sputtering rushing attack?
The question's a worthy one as the rookie burst from the PUP list to provide the balance that Green Bay's offense lacked since Ryan Grant went down in Week 1.
Now the only problem the coaching staff has in the backfield is the decision of who should start. Grant certainly has the seniority and two 1,200 yard seasons under his belt, but Starks could be the next elite running back on the Pack since Ahman Green.
McCarthy has hinted at a shared workload in the backfield for 2011, but didn't mask his belief in Starks' potential after his impressive playoff performances.
2010 Stats: 0 TD, 101 yards, 3.5 avg.
2011 Projections: 6 TD, 970 yards, 4.5 avg.
Outlook: Starks will just miss a 1,000 yard season in his sophomore campaign splitting time with Grant. He'll prove to the NFL that he's not one year wonder and that he'll keep Green Bay's offense two dimensional for years to come.
3. Jermichael Finley
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I can't imagine how excited Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' coaching staff are to have Jermichael Finley back on the football field.
He was supposed to have a break out season in 2010 until a knee injury destroyed that expectation in Week 5. Things had already been going well for the unique tight end as he'd already amassed two 100-yard games.
Finley recently began running routes and catching balls for the first time since his surgery. He will definitely be incorporated heavily into the offense because of his ability to create mismatches and make plays. As long as he experiences no setbacks, he could become an elite TE in the league.
2010 Stats: 301 yards, 1 TD
2011 Projections: 870 yards, 8 TD
Outlook: Finley has yet to play a full season, but he'll be ready to frustrate and dominate defenses on the way to a career year in 2011. If he stays healthy, Rodgers will make sure the ball gets to No. 88 quite frequently.
2. Greg Jennings
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Greg Jennings had two 100-yard playoff games and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl to complete the best season of his five-year career.
If the guy throwing him the ball wasn't so darn good, he could be the best offensive player on the Packers.
Hawaii will be an annual destination for Jennings unless he decides to change his name to Ochocinco. Therefore, expect him to make his second consecutive Pro Bowl in 2011.
2010 Stats: 76 rec., 1265 yards, 12 TD
2011 Projections: 70 rec., 1193 yards, 11 TD
Outlook: Opposing defenses will focus on Jennings, but he'll still get free to put up big numbers. He's a top 10 wideout and could easily cement himself in the top five with another 1,000 yard, 10 TD season.
1. Aaron Rodgers
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While all the other spots on this list could be up for grabs, there is no doubt that Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers is a major reason why the injury-ravaged 2010 Green Bay Packers took home the Lombardi Trophy, and as such, he deserves to be No. 1.
Mr. Rodgers could do no wrong in the biggest game of his NFL career. He could have pitched a perfect game in the Super Bowl had his receivers been able to reel in a few of his pin-point offerings.
Although it was a rough season for Rodgers with a slow start, multiple concussions, and a Pro Bowl snub, it ended in the ultimate glory. Not only is he the best offensive player in Green Bay and possibly in the league, but he makes his teammates better and they respect his leadership.
Obviously, Rodgers is the top passer on the Packers, but he was also the second best rusher on the team in 2010. His once doubted athleticism is second only to Michael Vick among QBs in the league and his performance under pressure is unparalleled.
Now that he won't be selected for the cover of Madden 12, Rodgers' risk of injury should decline and he will be a favorite preseason pick for MVP.
2010 Stats: 28 TD, 11 INT, 3,922 yards
2011 Projections: 34 TD, 10 INT, 4,506 yards
Outlook: Rodgers will have a career-best season in 2011. If he's snubbed from the Pro Bowl again, he'll just use it as motivation to return to the bowl that matters.