Green Bay Packers: Key Players Ready to Become League-Wide Stars
When you win a Super Bowl like the Green Bay Packers did last February, those around the league notice you. For many Packers players, they received national attention that they would not have garnered if not for playing "The Big Game."
Some of these players are set to make the jump from being well-known and appreciated by both Packers analysts and fans to becoming league-wide stars.
Here is a list of those Packers players to watch this season that are next in line to become league-wide stars.
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Tim Masthay is quickly becoming one of the best punters in the game and should receive recognition for his stellar play this season. In his first season, Masthay took some time to adjust to the NFL game, but he seemed to get better each week of the season.
He was the MVP of the Week 8 shutout of the Jets. In a game where neither team found the end zone, field position became the most important aspect of the game and Masthay's dominating punts helped the Packers win that battle. He earned NFC Special Teams Player of Week honors for his spectacular performance.
After one of his punts was returned for touchdown by Devin Hester in Week 3, Masthay's punting completely took Hester out of the Week 17 matchup. He improved his directional punting, allowing the Packers special teams unit more options.
This preseason, Masthay has shown he is no one-hit wonder. He has done very well when called upon and is averaging 49.3 yards per punt. With the great defense the Packers have, an excellent punter that can help in the field position battle will that the defense that much more dangerous.
There are not many punters in the league that can be viewed as having big impacts within games. Masthay has quickly become one of these punters and will look to improve even more in his second year with the team.
When you play behind Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, it's hard to get the credit you deserve. But Sam Shields is ready for stardom. Undrafted out of Miami, Shields used an incredible preseason and training camp last year to become the Packers third cornerback.
Last season, Woodson was used all over the field, combining roles of a traditional cornerback, linebacker and safety. When playing corner, he mostly lined up in the slot against a slot receiver or a tight end. This allowed Shields to play outside opposite Williams. Shields usually saw plenty of action against opposing teams second best receiver.
This preseason, Shields has played fairly well, but definitely would have benefited from the Packers offseason program. Against the Colts, he was matched up with Reggie Wayne on plenty of snaps. He battled away and gave up four catches for 33 yards.
The biggest moment of Shields young career came in the NFC Championship, as his interception sealed the deal and carried the Packers into the Super Bowl. Shields has big-play ability and looks to continue his success in the 2011 season.
Shields has all the gifts to become a star corner in the league, and paired with Williams, they are a dynamic duo that should dominate the league for years to come.
After not playing in an organized football game of any type for two years, James Starks had fresher legs than any player halfway through the 2010 season. Starks came to rescue the Packers woeful rushing attack last season after being activated from the PUP list.
Starks had a successful debut for the Packers in Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers, rushing for 73 yards on 18 carries. He provided a spark in the backfield that others had failed to do since Ryan Grant was injured in the second quarter of the Packers season opener. He was inconsistent, playing in two of the remaining four games combining for 28 yards.
It wasn't until the playoffs that Starks really got it going for the Packers. In his playoff debut, Starks pounded the Eagles defense for 123 yards on 23 carries—the most by a Packers running back all season long. Starks continued his playoff run, averaging 64 yards per game over the last three games.
Starks has burst that no other rusher on the Packers roster has. He is a very physical runner and always falls forward to get the extra yard or two. He has shown an incredible amount of promise and is competing for starting job with Ryan Grant.
If Starks gets the job, he is poised to a very successful year, as he is healthy and will have had weeks of practice before being asked to step in and contribute this season. He is a much better receiver out of the backfield than Grant which may factor in if the Packers continue to implement the no-huddle offense.
When Nick Barnett went down with a wrist injury at the start of the 2010 season, Desmond Bishop seized the opportunity and never gave it back. He started the remaining games and didn't miss a beat. Those worried about a drop off at the position were silenced as soon as Bishop took the field.
After being frustrated with this limited opportunities over the first three years of his career, Bishop was willing to go elsewhere to get his chance during the 2009 season.
"It crossed my mind," Bishop told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after he was asked about being traded. “I didn’t know the deadline was Tuesday (10/20/09). I thought about it. Shoot, if anybody has reason to want a player, I wouldn’t oppose it.”
Luckily for the Packers, Bishop got his opportunity and proved his worth to the franchise—so much so that he earned a four-year, $19 million contract extension. The Packers then cut Nick Barnett this offseason, showcasing their believe and investment in Bishop.
Bishop made many highlight plays last season for the Packers. Most notable were his pick-six of Brett Favre against the Minnesota Vikings in a tense Monday Night Football game facing the hated rivals and his fumble recovery late in the Super Bowl that stopped a crucial Pittsburgh Steelers drive.