The Green Bay Packers' 2010-2011 defense was one of the best in the NFL under the tutelage of Dom Capers. Ranking second only to the Steelers in points allowed and fifth in total yards, the Packers kept some of the league's best offenses in check, all while losing one of their starting middle linebackers, starting safety and starting outside linebacker.
With many depth players coming back and new rookies coming in, the Packers' defense can only get better. The question is, who will be the starters once the season begins?
Note: The offensive position predictions are here.
B.J. Raji had the most sacks of any nose tackles in the league last year, but many now know the big man because of his interception returned for a touchdown in the NFC Championship against the Chicago Bears.
He has no real challenger to take his starting spot on the roster, unless you consider 31-year-old former nose tackle Ryan Pickett as a problem.
Raji is a great pass-rusher, which is a rarity at the nose tackle position.
Ryan Pickett is only getting older, but he is one of the most underrated and least known players on the roster.
A terrific run-stopper and space-eater, Pickett is a quiet man with a lot of passion for the game. At 31 years old (as I mentioned in the last slide), he's not looking to be the starter in the long-term future, but he's going to continue being a starter, especially with Cullen Jenkins definitely leaving via free agency.
The second-round drafting of Mike Neal, a second-year player out of Purdue, raised huge questions. People are now praising the decision to draft this guy because of his high ceiling and the need for a defensive end.
My guess is Neal beats out Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Justin Harrell (who will subsequently be released by the end of the season).
Clay Matthews is one of the best players in the league—no need for explanation. He'll be a starter for the next decade for the Packers.
Opposite of him, people still wonder why Green Bay hasn't put much thought into that position.
But the Packers have picked up a lot of high-potential guys, two from the 2011 NFL Draft in Ricky Elmore and D.J. Smith.
It's hard to tell who will be the starter for the Packers, but I believe whoever it is will show why they won over the handful of other outside linebackers on the roster. It'll come down to Brad Jones, Erik Walden and Frank Zombo.
I like all three guys and think all three may very well develop into great players in the league, but I have to give the tip to Zombo and his high motor. Starting eight games last year, Zombo had four sacks and two forced fumbles, not to mention a sack on Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl.
He was an undrafted free agent rookie last year. Many say he doesn't have what's needed to be an outstanding outside linebacker in the NFL, but you have to remember, he was a defensive end in college. He's only going to get better.
After Nick Barnett was placed on injured reserve, Desmond Bishop once again got a chance to shine after all of his previous chances. He showed up in a big way, recording 103 tackles, two forced fumbles, an interception and three sacks while starting 12 games.
With Barnett getting older, his contract getting higher and three other inside linebackers on the roster with big contracts, it's three strikes.
A.J. Hawk hasn't played up to his high first-round draft selection years ago, but he's been a consistent, above-average starter for the Packers.
Charles Woodson isn't as fast or as athletic as he used to be, but he's just as strong, and he only gets more instincts as he ages. He may eventually move to safety, but when he does, the third corner on the roster is already ready to be a starter.
Sam Shields is a speedy, very athletic player who will only get better learning from two of the best in the league in Woodson and Tramon Williams.
Speaking of Williams, what's there to say? By the end of next season, he will be in the same discussion as Revis and Asomugha as the best in the league.
After re-watching the Super Bowl the other day, I'm convinced Nick Collins is underrated.
He's well known and constantly talked about, but Collins is never mentioned when people talk about the best safeties in the league—and he should be.
Sometimes he misses, but he usually hits. And when he does get his instincts right, things like this happen.
Morgan Burnett was injured most of the season, but everyone is sure he's the safety opposite Collins for a long time. He's a high character guy who has one of the biggest ceilings out of all the Packers' draft picks last season.
As long as he progresses more, Burnett will keep the job from Charlie Peprah and will rise to the same level as the rest of the league's best secondary.
One thing is for sure, after breaking down who will be the Packers' starters and realizing who their backups will be, this team may very well be a dynasty that rivals the best previous dynasties in NFL history.
The only problem I see is who will Green Bay be paying, and who will they let go? After signing many to new contracts and having new people to re-sign in the near future (Sitton, Finley, Starks, Nelson, Shields), what will the Packers do?
For me, it's in Ted we trust. I believe he'll keep the right people and let go of the guys who least fit the team chemistry.
And in Green Bay, it's all about team chemistry.