10 Most Important Non-Skill Players on the Green Bay Packers

Brian Carriveau@@BrianCarriveauContributor IJuly 30, 2012

10 Most Important Non-Skill Players on the Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers are plenty talented at the skill positions on their roster, particularly at quarterback and wide receiver, where they have some of the best players in the NFL.

    They have some pretty good players in their own right elsewhere on the roster, however.

    Those players might take exception at being described as “non-skilled,” but for purposes of this list, only positions not on the typical fantasy football roster are included, meaning those players who aren't quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends or kickers.

10. Ryan Pickett

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    As one of the most under-the-radar players on the team, Ryan Pickett doesn’t get much attention or garner any headlines. He doesn’t make any interceptions and rarely gets so much as a sack.

    But Pickett plays his role about as well as anyone on the team. It’s doing the dirty work, being the anchor along the defensive line, swallowing blockers and withstanding double teams.

    Pickett keeps offensive linemen off the linebackers behind him, so guys like Desmond Bishop can make bunches of tackles.

    The Packers showed the value Pickett’s services back in 2010 when they used the franchise tag on the wide-bodied defender. Pickett and the Packers eventually came to terms on a long-term contract extension to avoid playing under the one-year franchise tender, but by simply using the tag on Pickett, it proved how important the big man is to the team.

9. T.J. Lang

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    Once Daryn Colledge left the Packers in free agency following the 2010 Super Bowl to sign with the Arizona Cardinals, T.J. Lang took advantage of the situation.

    Lang withstood a challenge from first-round draft choice Derek Sherrod during training camp in 2011 to win the starting left guard job and hasn’t looked back.

    Penalties, particularly pre-snap infractions, were a small problem early last season for Lang but became less of issue as the season went on, and Lang improved his play seemingly every game.

    While there’s still room for Lang to improve, he’s obviously more aggressive than his predecessor, and he looks to be making strides entering 2012.

8. Jeff Saturday

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    The Packers signed Jeff Saturday in free agency to replace the departed Scott Wells, who left to join the St. Louis Rams. Wells was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2011, but they replaced him with a five-time Pro Bowler in Saturday.

    The concern with the Packers’ new acquisition is that at 37 years of age, he might not be the player he once was.

    In any case, Saturday is as smart and savvy as they come, has Super Bowl experience and served as the center for one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn't out of the question.

    The Packers hope they can eke just one more productive season out of Saturday, and anything above that would be a bonus.

7. Desmond Bishop

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    Desmond Bishop became a starter on the Packers' defense because of an injury sustained to Nick Barnett during the 2010 season. Barnett went down, Bishop came in, and the Packers won the Super Bowl that year.

    In fact, one of Bishop’s best games as a professional came in Super Bowl XLV when he made eight tackles and recovered a fumble.

    Bishop has remained the starter ever since that time and has become one of the most productive defenders on the Packers. In 2011, he added “Pass-Rush Threat” to his resume by notching five sacks when coming on the blitz.

    The future is bright for Bishop. While there seems to be competition brewing between A.J. Hawk and D.J. Smith for the other starting inside linebacker spot, Bishop is entrenched among the first string.

    He’s currently battling a calf issue that has landed him on the Packers’ non-football injury list, but it wouldn’t appear to be something that’s going to sideline him for a long period.

6. B.J. Raji

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    After a modest contribution as a rookie in 2009, B.J. Raji burst onto the scene in 2010 during the Packers’ Super Bowl season when he had 6.5 sacks in the regular season and another one in the playoffs.

    Perhaps above all, Raji became known for his interception return during the Packers’ NFC Championship game win over the Chicago Bears and the hula-esque touchdown celebration that ensued.

    While Raji had a decrease in production last season, he showed he’s still well respected among his peers and fans in the NFL by being named to the Pro Bowl team. Perhaps part of the reason is because of his durability.

    Raji has played a huge amount of snaps for an NFL defensive lineman the past two seasons because of a lack of depth at the position in Green Bay.

    If the Packers can find a few more defensive linemen to spell Raji occasionally on a rotational basis, he might be able to find a way to make a bigger impact in 2012.

5. Josh Sitton

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    The Packers selected Josh Sitton as a tackle out of college during the fourth round of the 2008 draft. Once in the NFL, Sitton has been moved to guard, but he’s more than exceeded expectations in Green Bay.

    Sitton got a little bit of playing time as a rookie but became a full-time starter in 2009 and has been ever since.

    Perhaps Sitton’s biggest honor was being named the NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2010 during the year the Packers won the Super Bowl, but he continued a high level of play in 2011 as well.

    Prior to last season, Sitton signed a five-year contract extension with the Packers, ensuring he’ll be a part of the team’s plans for years to come. As a player that can run- and pass-block almost equally well, he’s in the conversation to be among the very best guards in the entire league.

4. Tramon Williams

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    Tramon Williams surprised observers by making the Packers’ roster as a street free agent in 2007 and got better every year in the NFL through 2010 during the Packers’ Super Bowl season.

    It was during that year that Williams ranked first in the NFL with a combined nine interceptions between the regular season (six) and the postseason (nine).

    Unfortunately for Williams, he had a rough 2011 after sustaining a shoulder injury with nerve damage in Week 1 of the season. The aftereffects lasted the whole year, and Williams couldn’t be as aggressive in either in tackling or press coverage.

    Despite injury, he still set career highs in tackles (64) and passes defended (22). If Williams can recover from his shoulder injury and regain the strength he lost, he’ll have a chance to rejoin the elite cornerbacks in the NFL.

3. Bryan Bulaga

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    Immediately after the NFL draft back in April, head coach Mike McCarthy was asked if he’d consider moving Bryan Bulaga to left tackle.

    “I don’t see any reason to go down that road,” said McCarthy. “I think Bryan is on the verge of being a Pro Bowler at right tackle.”

    That’s music to the ears of Packers fans to be sure.

    In Bulaga’s rookie year, Green Bay won the Super Bowl after the first-year player filled in for an injured Mark Tauscher. The Packers saw little drop off despite the loss of a veteran player, and Bulaga performed superbly in the playoff run to the title game.

    The Packers parted ways with Tauscher in 2011, and Bulaga continued his solid string of play. Combined with Josh Sitton on the right side of the offensive line, Bulaga and the right guard form an impressive duo entering the prime of their careers.

    Bulaga still has room to improve, but his best years are still ahead of him. Improve, he will.

2. Charles Woodson

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    Without doubt, Charles Woodson has been one of the best cornerbacks in football for the better part of the last decade. The question facing him this season is whether he can also be effective at safety.

    Woodson is in the midst of a position switch, at least in a part-time role, as the Packers are in the beginning stages of training camp.

    Even though Woodson would appear to be playing safety in their base 3-4 defense, he’s also practicing as a slot cornerback in their subpackage defenses, which is where he’s played ever since joining the Packers.

    And Woodson has always been effective in the slot where he can play the run, make tackles, blitz the quarterback and cover receivers without having deep responsibilities.

    By tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season, Woodson showed he’s still playing at a high level.

    Perhaps a move to safety will allow him to continue to stay among the top defensive backs. It worked for Rod Woodson of the Pittsburgh Steelers more than a decade ago, and the Packers hope it will work for their own Woodson.

1. Clay Matthews

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    When rookies in the NFL are able to get 10 sacks like Clay Matthews did in 2009, that’s pretty darn good for their first year in professional football.

    Matthews showed it wasn’t a fluke when he got 13.5 sacks in his second year and finished second in the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year voting behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu.

    It was slightly disappointing for Matthews to be held to a comparatively low 6.5 sacks in 2011, but the Packers had very few other passing rushing threats to take pressure off him.

    The Packers have set about rectifying that situation by adding players such as Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy in the NFL draft, as well as Anthony Hargrove in free agency. Maybe with all the new additions to rejuvenate the Packers’ pass rush, Matthews will get back to the double-digit plateau in 2012.

    Of course, he’s already solid in other phases of the game. With three interceptions and nine passes defended, he’s as effective in coverage as any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

    He’s not bad defending the run either, but Matthews will have to get used to playing on the right side of the defense once again, where he played during his rookie season.