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2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC North: Green Bay Packers – 2nd

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 30, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC North: Green Bay Packers – 2nd

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Aaron Rodgers’ elite 2012 performance probably deserves even more acclaim for the level of difficulty he had to overcome. The Packers offense lacked any semblance of a running game, starting receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson were banged up and missed significant time, and the pass protection was close to the worst in the league. Still, Rodgers completed 67% of his passes and threw 39 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. He has a tremendous arm with elite accuracy to all levels, and is even a threat on the ground, rushing for over 250 yards in 2012. Rodgers can be a little conservative about forcing balls into tight spots, leading to more sacks. But the result is that he protects the ball better than any other elite quarterback, finishing the season with a 108 passer rating. Vince Young and 2012 7th round pick B.J. Coleman are competing for the backup spot and both should be adequate in that role.

 

Running Back:

The Packers focused on significantly upgrading the talent in the backfield after a 2012 that saw the top three rushers average around 3.5 yards per carry. Big, fast and versatile Alex Green is back after leading the team in attempts but only producing 3.4 yards per rush. DuJuan Harris flashed later in the season with his speed but is now out for the season. Figuring heavily in the backfield will be rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. The rookies are different types of backs though, with Lacy a violent, skilled power back with great bulk and Franklin with more speed and quickness in space. The rookies have the complimentary skills to form an effective group. James Starks returns as a big and explosive back, but unless he is more productive, he is in danger of not making the team after missing 13 games in the last two seasons. Fullback John Kuhn is an effective short yardage weapon.

 

Wide Receiver:

The Packers are confident in the talent of this group, even without former number one receiver Greg Jennings. The offense’s three receiver formations will once again prove problematic for opposing secondaries. Randall Cobb broke out as the leading receiver, showcasing his speed and skill from the slot position, even lining up in the backfield on occasion. While he was largely a short area player with great run-after-catch ability, he was a big play guy, racking up 17 receptions of 20 yards or more. James Jones was the most productive outside receiver, grabbing 14 touchdowns and taking advantage of single coverage with his physicality and route running. Jordy Nelson was the team’s best vertical threat, combining excellent size, speed and hands.  Behind them, second-year Jarrett Boykin brings size and hands while small-school rookie Charles Johnson may be the most talented receiver on the roster going forward.

 

Tight End:

The Packers are in the conversation for best receiving tight end group in the league. The trio of Jermichael Finley, D.J. Williams and rookie Jake Stoneburner are all matchup problems for defenses due to their skills and athleticism. Finley has the physical tools of a big, athletic wide receiver but has struggled with consistency and drops issues. One day he could put it all together as has the experience and the talent to flourish as one of the elite tight ends in football. Williams is itching to get an expanded opportunity among the Packers’ deep cast of pass catchers. He has the speed, quickness and hands to be a move tight end or play an H-back kind of role. Stoneburner was a steal as an undrafted free agent this year, with all the size, speed and ball skills to be elite as well. The biggest issue with the group is that they are much better receivers than in-line run blockers.

 

Offensive Line:

The source of the drain on the offense was unequivocally the offensive line. Injuries and general ineffectiveness at tackle and center hindered both the running game and was largely responsible for Rodgers being sacked 51 times. The Packers face uncertainty and inexperience at the tackle spots once again. They were hoping to be able to count on Bryan Bulaga being a good starter at left tackle in 2013 but he is out with a season-ending injury. Now, rookie David Bakhtiari and second-year Don Barclay are slated to start at left and right tackle, respectively. Solid veteran Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang should start at left and right guard. Evan Dietrich-Smith looks to be the starter at center. The unit has the athleticism necessary to execute some of its zone blocking principles but overall, it will be a light, finesse group. Bakhtiari and Barclay should also struggle somewhat when facing top edge rushers but they have the feet to be long term fixtures.

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Best Offensive Rookie – TE Jake Stoneburner

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – WR Jarrett Boykin

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Offensive Tackle

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – OT Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State

 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Line:

The Packers defense struggled mightily in 2012 to hold up against the run, especially in nickel situations. But from a talent perspective, the team has a nice mix of versatile athletes and big run pluggers. In the middle, 33 year old Ryan Pickett is the biggest interior presence. He and fellow massive lineman B.J. Raji failed to generate a sack last year and are mostly counted on to anchor against the run game. The other linemen, however, haven't consistently proven able to be stout against power run teams. Rookie Datone Jones is projected to start opposite Raji in the three-man line and provides more pass rushing ability and athleticism on a versatile frame. Also figuring into the rotation are Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Mike Daniels. They are disruptive rushers who made a number of plays getting off blocks and into the backfield. Promising second year player Jerel Worthy is recovering from a Week 17 ACL injury but should be back later in the season.

 

Outside Linebacker:

One of the major keys to the defense will be to find a way to get more production opposite 13-sack Clay Matthews. Matthews is a very athletic, flexible, high motor edge rusher who is still improving year after year. Powerful Nick Perry is expected to join the party but only managed two sacks in 2012. Erik Walden is gone. But surprising second-year Dezman Moses has the skills and explosiveness to build on a four sack debut in a rotational role.

 

Inside Linebacker:

Inside, the Packers deeply enjoyed A.J. Hawk's 120 tackles and three sacks as an every-down worker with good speed and open field tackling ability. The question is how much the run defense can get away with Brad Jones starting beside him. Jones is a good athlete but may lack the necessary physicality, power and bulk, especially in nickel situations when he isn't protected by as much size on the defensive line. Unfortunately, the team lacks adequate depth and competition behind Hawk and Jones.

 

Cornerback:

One of the deepest position groups in the NFL, the Packers have been racking up corners over the past few years and have a bunch of good players. Smooth ball-hawk Tramon Williams and sticky, speedy Sam Shields return to start for the defense. Natural playmaker Casey Hayward had a remarkable rookie year, translating his collegiate play into six interceptions in the nickel. Davon House is another talented press-man coverage guy with all the speed and fluidity. Rookie Micah Hyde has already impressed with his physicality and versatility.

 

Safety:

Even after losing Charles Woodson, the team remains deep at safety. Morgan Burnett played 100% of the 2012 defensive snaps and returns as a rangy open field tackler with good ball skills. M.D. Jennings will start next to him. He's fast but lacks the same physicality and instincts. Versatile Jerron McMillian played a major role in his rookie year, often playing man coverage in the box and being asked to support the run.

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Best Defensive Rookie – DL Datone Jones 

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – CB Casey Hayward

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Inside Linebacker

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford