OLB Brandon Chillar.
QB Brian Brohm, QB Matt Flynn, WR Jordy Nelson, WR Brett Swain, TE Jermichael Finley, OT Breno Giacomini, OT/G Josh Sitton, DE Jeremy Thompson, CB Patrick Lee.
QB Brett Favre, QB Craig Nall, RB DeShawn Wynn, WR Koren Robinson, WR Carlyle Holiday, TE Bubba Franks, TE Ryan Krause, OT Tyson Walter, G Tony Palmer, DT Corey Williams, CB Frank Walker.
2008 Green Bay Packers Offense:
For the first time since 1993, the Packers enter an NFL season without Brett Favre as their starting quarterback. Looking to emulate San Francisco's transition from Joe Montana to Steve Young, Green Bay chose Aaron Rodgers with the No. 24 pick three years ago to eventually replace the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Entering his fourth season, Rodgers has seen limited action in the pros. Appearing in seven contests, his career numbers are 35-of-59, 329 yards, one touchdown and one pick. However, Rodgers was exceptional when he replaced an injured Favre against the Dallas Cowboys, going 18-of-26, 201 yards and one touchdown.
Now, there are two ways you could look at this. First, Rodgers has the talent to be a Pro Bowl quarterback in this league and was simply showing off his skill. Second, Rodgers was able to look good because the Cowboys' coaching staff didn't prepare for him, while Dallas' defense pretty much relaxed because it had a lead and Favre had to leave the game with an injury. From the Bobby Hoyings to the Chad Hutchinsons, ordinary signal callers have looked great in relief and have given their fan base false hope.
Packer fans obviously would prefer the first scenario, and that's the one I'm going to side with. There's one obvious thing that separates Rodgers from the Koy Detmers and the Craig Krenzels of the NFL world; Rodgers was a top-five draft prospect. Unlike a Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rodgers was supposed to be good in the first place, and he has the physical tools to succeed. So, even though Rodgers is very green, I have faith that he'll be adequate at the very worst as a replacement for Favre.
Whether you like Rodgers or not, you have to agree that his supporting cast is exceptional. There are no holes on the offensive line. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher form one of the top tackle combinations in the league. Scott Wells is a top-five NFL center. Left guard Junius Coston is incredibly underrated, as the former fifth-round selection has become of the better guards in football. Right guard Jason Spitz is solid as well. To top it off, the Packers are also deep up front. The only concern I really have is that Clifton and Tauscher are 32 and 31, respectively, though they should be fine for another two years or so. But other than that, Green Bay's line deserves all the praise in the world; the group surrendered just 19 sacks and blew open huge running lanes for Ryan Grant.
Speaking of Grant, the 25-year-old back took over as Green Bay's primary ball-carrier in Week 8 and never looked back. In seven starts, Grant eclipsed the 100-yard plateau five times. More impressively, he totaled 201 yards and three touchdowns against the Seahawks in the second round of the playoffs. Grant is playing for a massive contract - he is currently earning less than $400,000 a year - so he'll continue to try and prove himself until he gets the money he deserves. There's no reason not to pay him; he doesn't have much experience on his resume, but he's talented and he gained 5.1 yards per carry in 2007.
Grant had 30 receptions as well last year, but the reason he didn't have more is because Favre had a whole slew of talented receivers to throw to. Donald Driver is the most recognizable name, as he eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier for the fifth time in six years. Driver turned 33 in February, so there's a chance he could regress in 2008. That won't be the end of the world for the Packers with guys like Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson in the mix. In his sophomore campaign, Jennings notched 53 receptions, 920 yards and a mind-boggling 12 touchdowns. Jones recorded 47 receptions and 676 yards as a mere third-round rookie last year. Nelson, meanwhile, won't see the field that much in his first season, but at 6-3, 217, he'll be an imposing target for Rodgers in the future.
Green Bay is renown for using the tight end as downfield target in its offense, as Favre utilized Mark Chmura and Bubba Franks. Rodgers will have Donald Lee (48 receptions, 575 yards, six touchdowns). Rookie Jermichael Finley, 21, probably isn't ready to be a major factor in this league, he should see occasional playing time.
If Rodgers lives up to his top-five billing and becomes a solid replacement for Favre, I see no reason why the Packers can't match their average of 27.2 points per game. Sure, there will be at least a bit of a dropoff from Favre to Rodgers, but the maturation of the young receivers and the interior of the offensive line should offset that.
2008 Green Bay Packers Defense:
Take away Brett Favre's broken records and Ryan Grant's inexplicable emergence, and the biggest story regarding Green Bay's 2007 campaign was the dominance of the team's defensive line. The unit was so incredibly deep; I recall one ESPN interview where they had six or seven guys in the same room. The group is led by end Aaron Kampman, who has 28 sacks the past two seasons. Because he doesn't play in a large market, Kampman is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. In fact, I bet more casual fans recognize Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, though with a name like that you can't exactly blame them. A beast on passing downs, Gbaja-Biamila has averaged 10.4 sacks since 2001. He had 9.5 last year.
Corey Williams was the man inside. An imposing figure at 6-4, 313, Williams accumulated 14 sacks the past two seasons, but was traded to the Browns for a second-round pick. Many believe Green Bay won't be as strong inside, though Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, Cullen Jenkins and Justin Harrell may have something to say about that.
Pickett, 322 pounds, is a space-eater, and has rebounded with two quality seasons with the Packers after struggling early in his career. Jolly, entering his third year, missed the latter stages of the 2007 campaign with a shoulder injury. He'll be fine by the start of the regular season, which is a plus because Green Bay needs him to become more of a factor. Jenkins can play end and tackle; he'll slide back out to right end on running downs once Jolly is healthy. Though he's better against the run, Jenkins had 6.5 sacks in 2006, so there's a chance he could pick up for the loss of Williams. Meanwhile, Harrell, a first-round selection last April, has been way too injury-prone to see any significant time. Harrell had a biceps injury as a rookie, and is now having problems with his back.
Losing Williams to Cleveland will hurt a bit, but the Packers will still put pressure on quarterbacks and stop the run well enough to make things smoother for the back seven. Not that the linebacking corps needs much help; Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are both Pro Bowl-caliber athletes. Barnett led the squad with 131 tackles and also chipped in with four sacks. Hawk, meanwhile, was second on the team with 105 tackles. After an exceptional rookie campaign, Hawk had a bit of a sophomore slump, but still played pretty well. He should be able to rebound in 2008. At strongside linebacker, Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar figure to share snaps. I've been critical of Poppinga in the past, but he really stepped up his play in the postseason. Chillar was one of St. Louis' few quality defenders in 2007, so the battle for the third linebacking job should be a fun one to watch.
The only concern I have with the Packers' defense (and maybe their entire team) are the cornerbacks. But it's a huge worry. Charles Woodson, who had four picks last season, is still adequate, though he turns 32 in October. Al Harris, on the other hand, will be 34 in December, and should no longer be starting in this league. There isn't much behind the two corners, though Tramon Williams came out of nowhere to perform admirably toward the latter stages of the 2007 campaign. Williams will be the nickel, but whether he can replace Harris as a starter remains to be seen. Rookie Patrick Lee, chosen in the second round, will also get a shot, but first-year corners seldom do anything in the NFL.
Luckily, the safeties will make up for some of the problems the Packers have at corner. Nick Collins is very solid at free safety, but he could be out of a job because second-year Aaron Rouse has looked exceptional in offseason workouts. Like the Poppinga-Chillar competition, this battle will be fun to watch. Atari Bigby, meanwhile, really turned it on late in the year, notching a team-leading five picks and making multiple huge plays in the postseason.
Like the offense, Green Bay's stop unit essentially returns everyone except for a lone, significant player. Despite issues at corner, the Packers should once again rank in the top 10 defensively.
2008 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 98-31 at home since 1992 - the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Can Aaron Rodgers maintain the Lambeau mystique that Favre built?
Something else Rodgers will have to maintain is Favre's ability to step on the throat of his opposition; of the Packers' 13 victories last season, eight were by double digits. Opposing defenses couldn't get Favre and his arsenal off the field.
Of course, when Favre couldn't get his squad into the end zone, Mason Crosby nailed most of the kicks he attempted. Crosby was 31-of-39, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus. Not bad, especially from a rookie. Crosby can only get better, which is pretty scary.
Punter Jon Ryan maintained one of the best averages in the league last season (44.4) but he couldn't get many kicks inside the 20 (18-of-60). Two of his punts were blocked.
Despite returning less punts (14) than Charles Woodson (33), Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams each scored on a punt return. Williams couldn't take one back on a kickoff, but maintained a respectable average. More importantly, the Packers didn't allow a return to the opposition.
The Packers have the luxury of beating up on the Lions and Bears twice each (though Chicago swept them last season), but they'll have tough matchups against Dallas, Seattle, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Minnesota (twice).
2008 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 Green Bay Packers Analysis: I understand that Aaron Rodgers' ability to effectively replace Brett Favre is an unknown, but I don't get why so many people are penciling the Vikings in as NFC North champions. Even if Rodgers is mediocre, Green Bay has an excellent chance to defend its divisional crown because of its excellent offensive supporting cast and defense.
Regardless of who the winner of the NFC North is, there's a good chance both the Packers and Vikings will qualify for the postseason. Barring injury, the only chance Green Bay has of not making it is if Rodgers is the second coming of Ryan Leaf, which I really doubt. That said, a tough schedule will make 13 victories very difficult to repeat.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC North)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Aaron Rodgers: It's impossible to tell what sort of numbers Aaron Rodgers will put up, but from all the fantasy mock drafts I've seen, Rodgers is going way too low. He looked great against the Cowboys and he was a top-five NFL draft prospect, so I think he'll accumulate respectable numbers.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 3,600 passing yards. 20 passing TDs. 225 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 334.
Ryan Grant: Despite not doing anything the first six weeks of the season and carrying the ball less than 200 times, Ryan Grant totaled 956 yards, 30 receptions and eight touchdowns. Running behind one of the premier offensive lines in football, Grant's 2007 pinnacle was a 201-yard performance against the Seahawks in the second round of the playoffs. I've also seen Grant go lower than he should in some fantasy mocks, so there's definitely value here. I don't see Vernand Morency or Brandon Jackson stealing many of his carries.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,330 rushing yards. 200 receiving yards. 11 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 219.
Donald Lee: Donald Lee shattered career highs with 48 receptions, 575 yards and six touchdowns last season. He shouldn't be your starting tight end, but he'll fit in well when your starter is on a bye. Lee had most of his touchdowns late in the season, but one has to wonder if Aaron Rodgers will come close to utilizing his tight ends as much as Brett Favre loved to do.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 490 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 79.
Greg Jennings: Greg Jennings would soon become a household name if he were playing in a larger market. In his second season, Jennings collected 53 receptions, 920 yards and an amazing 12 touchdowns - all while missing three games. I feel as though Jennings' touchdown total could be a bit of an anomaly, but he's still a rising star with a very bright future.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,050 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 141.
Donald Driver: Donald Driver has eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier in five of the past six years. He's always been an underrated wide out. Unfortunately, Driver had two touchdowns last season. Even worse is the fact that he turned 33 in February. There might be a decline, though I feel that will come somewhere between 2009 and 2011. Also, keep in mind that Driver's production could decrease because Brett Favre, who loved to throw to him in desperation, has retired.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 900 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 126.
James Jones: James Jones had an excellent rookie season, tallying 47 receptions, 676 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is a talented receiver, but his numbers will be limited with all of the weapons Aaron Rodgers will have at his disposal. I'd expect more out of Jones once Driver moves on, so he's definitely a nice keeper pick. Also, keep an eye out for Jones if either Driver or Jennings gets hurt. Be the first to claim him off the waiver wire if that happens.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 83.
Mason Crosby: As a rookie, Mason Crosby established himself as one of the better kickers in the NFL, nailing 31-of-39 attempts, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus. Crosby has a monstrous leg, and as he matures, his accuracy can only improve.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 30-36 FG (3-4 50+). 44 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 149.
Green Bay Defense: Green Bay's defensive line gets to the quarterback, which means a troubled secondary should be able to force a decent number of turnovers. The Packers were also seventh in points allowed, so you'll also score that way.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 12 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
The Packers added a solid group of mid-round prospects to their roster, led by cornerback Patrick Lee. Lee's talented enough to start once Al Harris moves on ... Green Bay found its new pass-catching tight end in Jermichael Finley. Let's just hope he doesn't regress every year into eventual nothingness like Bubba Franks ... Jeremy Thompson was a bargain at No. 102. He'll take Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's spot in the near future.
Look, I understand why the Packers took Brian Brohm, I just don't really agree with pissing off your starting quarterback. When Aaron Rodgers' contract expires, is he going to remember this move? Green Bay showed absolutely no confidence in him when it snagged Brohm off the board ... Interesting choice to go with Jordy Nelson over Limas Sweed, DeSean Jackson and James Hardy. Maybe Ted Thompson knows something I don't. ... The only mid-round pick I wasn't a fan of was Josh Sitton. I'm not saying he won't emerge as a solid pro; I just feel like Green Bay took him 80 selections too early.
By the way, you may find this interesting. When people ask me why the Packers drafted Brohm, I just shrug my shoulders and respond, "As Charley Casserly once said, 'You can never have too many quarterbacks.'" Casserly said this after drafting Dave Ragone in the third round one year after selecting David Carr first overall. Oops! Ironically, both Brohm and Ragone are from Louisville. Coincidence? I think so.
Grade give on 4/28/08: B
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
36. Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State
I was "blowed away" when the Packers took Jordy Nelson with Limas Sweed, James Hardy and DeSean Jackson all left on the board. Ted Thompson loves taking the best player available, so I'm shocked he settled on Nelson. Most had Nelson as a third-rounder. (Pick Grade: C)
56. Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
Look, I understand that taking the best player available is Ted Thompson's MO. But what about the second-best player available? Brian Brohm was a steal at 56, but pissing off a former first-round pick who looked great against Dallas last year doesn't seem like such a great move. Maybe Thompson just forgot about Aaron Rodgers, seeing as how he was rotting on the bench for so long. (Pick Grade: C)
60. Patrick Lee, CB, Auburn
The Packers needed a cornerback behind Charles Woodson and Al Harris, and they got a pretty good one in Patrick Lee. (Pick Grade: A)
91. Jermichael Finley, TE, Texas
A solid tight end who figures to be a great target for either Aaron Rodgers or Brian Brohm. (Pick Grade: A)
102. Jeremy Thompson, DE, Wake Forest
Some had Jeremy Thompson in the second round. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila won't be around much longer and Thompson figures to be his replacement. (Pick Grade: A)
135. Josh Sitton, OT, Central Florida
This is the first Packers pick I wasn't a fan of, but they usually draft well, so it wouldn't shock me to see Josh Sitton emerge as a starter in a few years. (Pick Grade: D)
150. Breno Giacomini, OT, Louisville
Decent depth pick for the Packers. This is about right where Breno Giacomini should have went. (Pick Grade: B)
209. Matt Flynn, QB, LSU
I don't think the Packers have enough quarterbacks. (Pick Grade: C)
217. Brett Swain, WR, San Diego State
No one had this guy being drafted, but it's the seventh round, so it doesn't really matter. (Pick Grade: C)
Excluding everyone outside the state of Wisconsin, no one gave the Packers much of a shot prior to the 2007 campaign, so it's pretty tough to say that their loss in the NFC Championship was a huge disappointment. But for some reason, Mike McCarthy shied away from the run and Brett Favre inexplicably reverted to 2005-2006 form and began carelessly tossing the ball downfield into triple coverage. The defense also sucked and couldn't get off the field on third down, but that had more to do with Eli Manning emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
Packers cut RB DeShawn Wynn
Packers trade QB Brett Favre to Jets for conditional draft pick
Packers cut OT Joe Toledo
Packers cut WR Koren Robinson
Packers cut G Tony Palmer
Packers re-sign DT Colin Cole
Packers re-sign RB Vernand Morency
Packers re-sign WR Ruvell Martin
Packers re-sign SS Atari Bigby
Packers re-sign FB John Kuhn
Packers sign OLB Brandon Chillar
Packers re-sign OLB Tracy White
Packers announce retirement of QB Brett Favre
Packers cut WR Carlyle Holiday
Packers trade DT Corey Williams to the Browns for a second-round pick (No. 56)
Packers franchise DT Corey Williams
Packers cut TE Bubba Franks
Cornerback: Charles Woodson and Al Harris may both miss some time next year due to AARP meetings. The two corners will be 32 and 34 at some point during the season. Plaxico Burress abused Harris in the NFC Championship, so I don't see how the Packers don't utilize their No. 1 selection on a cornerback like Antoine Cason. Drafted Patrick Lee
Offensive Tackle: Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton will be 31 and 32, respectively, at the beginning of the 2007 campaign. It's not like the Packers have tons of needs, so they can afford to spend a second- or a third-round pick on a tackle. Drafted Josh Sitton and Breno Giacomini
Outside Linebacker Depth: Brady Poppinga played extremely well in the "Doggone Playoff." Until then, I had the Packers drafting a strongside linebacker pretty high in the draft. Regardless, they still need depth there. Signed Brandon Chillar
Re-Sign Corey Williams: The Packers should try to re-sign Corey Williams, the second-rated defensive tackle in the 2008 NFL Free Agent class. However, he could command tons of money, and while Green Bay can afford it, the team may just let him walk. If that happens, it will need depth at the position.
Fullback: I'm pretty confident Brett Favre wouldn't mind a pass-catching fullback like William Henderson coming out of the backfield. Peyton Hillis comes to mind as a possible candidate in Round 4. Re-signed John Kuhn
Tight End Depth: I'm not sure if Bubba Franks is sticking around. He has a huge salary for a tight end, and his knee is an issue. If he doesn't take a pay cut, he will be released. If that happens, the Packers will need a backup tight end. Drafted Jermichael Finley
Quarterback: With Brett Favre retiring, the Packers will need a solid backup quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers. Drafted Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn
Green Bay Packers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 13): $18.37 million
Ryan Grant (ERFA), RB. Age: 25.
Ryan Grant rushed for 956 yards and eight touchdowns last year, gaining 5.1 yards per carry. The thing is, he only saw extensive action in eight week. If you project his numbers over a 16-week campaign, you get about 1,750 yards and 14 touchdowns. That's not horrible, is it?
Corey Williams, DT. Age: 28. Packers trade Corey Williams to the Browns for a second-round pick (No. 56)
The Packers are not expected to re-sign Corey Williams, as they have tons of quality defensive tackles on their roster and cannot afford to keep him. Given that Albert Haynesworth will likely remain a Titan, Williams will be the top defensive tackle on the market.
Ruvell Martin (ERFA), WR. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Packers (1 year, $445,000)
Bubba Franks, TE. Age: 30. - Signed with Jets (1 year, $1.65 million)
Craig Nall, QB. Age: 29.
Tracy White, OLB. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Packers (2 years, $1.8 million)
Koren Robinson, WR. Age: 28.
Tyson Walter, OT. Age: 30.
Tony Palmer, G. Age: 25.
Ryan Krause, TE. Age: 27. - Signed with Texans
Carlyle Holiday, WR. Age: 26.
Joe Toledo, OT. Age: 25. - Signed with 49ers
Divisional Rival History: Chicago Bears: Brett Favre dominated the Bears for years. That's not the case anymore. Under Lovie Smith, Chicago is 6-2 against the Packers. Detroit Lions: The Lions' ineptness has no limit. The Packers have won 13 of the last 15 meetings. Minnesota Vikings: Remember when Favre couldn't win domes? Yeah, not the case anymore. The Packers have won four in a row and six of eight.