FS Anthony Smith.
NT B.J. Raji, OLB Clay Matthews, OT/G T.J. Lang, FB Quinn Johnson, OT Jamon Meredith, DE Jairus Wynn, FS Brandon Underwood, LB Brad Jones.
OT Mark Tauscher, DE Jason Hunter, DE/OLB Kenneth Pettway, DT Colin Cole.
2009 Green Bay Packers Offense:
Last fall, the Packers entered an NFL season without Brett Favre for the first time since 1991. While many media members and fans were ready to pounce on Aaron Rodgers' every mistake, I'd say the transition to the new era went over pretty smoothly.
Rodgers threw for 4,038 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 picks. He also maintained a solid 7.5 YPA, and rushed for 207 more yards and four scores. Unfortunately, Rodgers struggled late in games, as the Packers were a depressing 0-7 in contests decided by four points or less. Rodgers was essentially a rookie, however, so there's no reason to think he won't improve in this department in his second year as a starter.
Rodgers is a very skilled quarterback, but with all of the talent around him, it was pretty improbable that he would fail. The Packers are stacked at receiver, including Greg Jennings, who notched career-highs in 2008, garnering 80 receptions for 1,292 yards. He also scored nine times. At only 25 years old, Jennings' production can only increase as his bond with Rodgers strengthens.
Donald Driver eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving barrier for the fifth-consecutive season, notching 74 receptions for 1,012 yards and five scores. Unfortunately, Driver turned 34 this offseason, so those days could be over. Luckily, the Packers have Jordy Nelson waiting in the wings. At 6-3, 217, Nelson caught 33 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last season. Look for him to be more involved in the offense this year. Meanwhile, James Jones will also be in the mix; Jones had 47 catches for 676 yards as a rookie in 2007, but tore his PCL last season.
While Green Bay's aerial attack thrived, the running game was a weakness. Ryan Grant rushed for 1,203 yards in 2008, but averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Grant had just two runs of 22 yards or more, and there were way too many futile efforts, including 39-yard, 56-yard and 20-yard outings against the Panthers, Jaguars and Buccaneers, respectively. Grant wasn't much of a factor as a checkdown option; Brandon Jackson handled that role, grabbing 30 balls for only 185 yards.
Grant could have more trouble running the ball this season, while Rodgers' sack total (34) may increase. The offensive line is very suspect right now. Left tackle Chad Clifton is coming off knee surgery. He also gave up 7.5 sacks in 15 starts in 2008. At right tackle, Mark Tauscher wasn't re-signed because he tore his ACL. That means the position is up for grabs between Allen Barbre, Breno Giacomini and T.J. Lang. Lang is a rookie, while the former two linemen have a collective zero starts.
The interior of the line is better, but only by default. Left guard Daryn Colledge surrendered six sacks and was called for six penalties in 2008. Center Scott Wells also struggled, allowing 3.5 sacks in 13 starts. Right guard Jason Spitz was effective, but could be moved to center so that Josh Sitton could enter the lineup.
2009 Green Bay Packers Defense:
I'm never a big fan of established teams switching defensive schemes. An example of this epically failing is when Eric Mangini attempted to install the 3-4 with the Jets. Most of the players there were made for the 4-3, so he had to get rid of a lot of talent. By the time Mangini got his defense set up, he was canned. Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin decided not to change Pittsburgh's scheme to his beloved 4-3 cover-2 style; he kept things the same because he recognized what was best for the personnel. It's no coincidence that Tomlin won the Super Bowl in his second year as a head coach.
As you can tell, I don't like Green Bay's decision of switching to a 3-4. Granted, new defensive coordinator Dom Capers is a 3-4 mastermind, but that won't matter if the Packer players can't transition effectively into the system.
There are already grumblings - Aaron Kampman, who had 10 of the Packers' 27 sacks last season, has been upset with having to transition to a 3-4 rush linebacker. Kampman is easily Green Bay's best defender, so if he's disgruntled, things could get pretty rotten in Green Bay.
As indicated, the Packers' pass rush stunk in 2008, so the team spent the second of its first-round draft choices on Clay Matthews. Matthews puts forth as much effort as anyone and has great bloodlines, but he's just a rookie, so there's no telling what to expect from him. If Matthews takes a while to develop and Kampman struggles in the 3-4, Green Bay won't put any pressure on the quarterback and will consequently see its ninth-rated pass defense worsen dramatically.
The secondary was already an issue regardless. Starting corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris turn 33 and 35, respectively, at some point during the 2009 campaign. Woodson should be fine, but I don't expect Harris to say in the lineup for long; Tramon Williams started nine games last season and picked off five passes.
Free safety Nick Collins qualified for the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career last season, thanks to seven interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Meanwhile, strong safety Atari Bigby played in just five games in 2008 because of a leg injury. Bigby shined in the 2007 playoffs, but really has only one year as a starter under his belt.
While the Packers thrived versus aerial attacks in 2008, they were horrific against the run, ranking 25th in that department (4.5 YPC). To improve this area, they spent the ninth-overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft on the monstrous 337-pound B.J. Raji. Raji will help clog running lanes and take on blockers, allowing inside linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk to make plays. While Barnett and Hawk are undoubtedly talented, they'll have to somehow fit into this new system as well. There's a chance at least one of them could struggle.
Joining Raji up front are Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett. Neither has ever played in the 3-4, and that's because neither is a particularly good fit in the scheme. Both players are a bit too short and may consequently struggle. Reserve Justin Harrell would be a better match, but he has missed 19 games in his two NFL seasons.
2009 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 102-35 at home since 1992 - the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. However, Aaron Rodgers was just 4-4 as a host in 2008. He needs to develop the same Lambeau mystique that Favre built.
Something else Rodgers will have to do is obtain the same clutch ability Favre had early in his career. As mentioned, the Packers were 0-7 in games decided by four points or less. While this can also indicate that the Packers weren't as bad as their 6-10 record indicated, it also means that Rodgers has to step up late in fourth quarters.
Moving on to special teams, Mason Crosby nailed 27-of-34 attempts, including 3-of-6 from 50-plus in his second NFL season.
The Packers had major punting problems in 2008, as Jeremy Kapinos maintained a depressing 39.2 average, while sinking 7-of-17 kicks inside the 20. They brought in Durant Books, who was equally horrific with the Redskins.
Will Blackmon struggled on kick returns, but managed to bring two punts back to the house. Green Bay didn't surrender any touchdowns on special teams.
If you're a Packers fan, you have to love your schedule. In addition to destroying the Lions twice, Green Bay gets the 49ers, Rams, Buccaneers, Browns and Cowboys.
2009 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 Green Bay Packers Analysis: While moving to the 3-4 may seem lucrative to some faithful fans, I'm not convinced it'll work - at least not right away. There have been far too many instances where transitioning an established squad to a new scheme has failed. Green Bay's top defender has already expressed some concern, while two of the three starting defensive linemen don't seem to be made for the 3-4. Changing the defense could expose some new warts instead of covering up old ones.
Aaron Rodgers and his receivers will keep the team's playoff aspirations alive, but Rodgers needs to step up in the clutch. That may be easier said that done; as I've expressed, I have some concern with Green Bay's rushing attack and offensive line.
Unlike the other teams that are changing to the 3-4, the Packers did a great job of acquiring talent to fit their new system. What a concept.
B.J. Raji was a no-brainer at No. 9. Ryan Pickett, in his contract year, has no experience as a nose tackle. Raji should be the centerpiece of this defense for years to come. Clay Matthews, meanwhile, should become a potent pass-rusher across from Aaron Kampman.
I also liked what Green Bay did in the later rounds; the team selected a bunch of players who were high in both draft and positional value, including Jamon Meredith, who could possibly take over as the starting left tackle in 2010.
The Packers still have a lot of work to do to improve their defense, but they're certainly headed in the right direction.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
9. B.J. Raji, NT, Boston College
This pick was pretty easy with Tyson Jackson off the board. The Packers needed a nose tackle for their new 3-4 defense. They could have drafted Michael Crabtree, but he would have been a poor fit when you consider all of the receivers they have on their roster. (Pick Grade: A)
26. Clay Matthews, OLB, USC
The Packers traded up to secure a rush linebacker for their new 3-4 defense. Clay Matthews has NFL bloodlines and is a blue-collar player. Matthews had the potential to go No. 15, so this is a solid selection. (Pick Grade: A)
109. T.J. Lang, OT/G, Eastern Michigan
Green Bay needed an upgrade on its offensive line and T.J. Lang can play multiple positions up front. Another very good selection. (Pick Grade: A)
145. Quinn Johnson, FB, LSU
Arguably the top fullback in this class, Quinn Johnson should be able to open up huge holes for Ryan Grant. (Pick Grade: B)
162. Jamon Meredith, OT, South Carolina
Outstanding value for the Packers in the middle of Round 5. Jamon Meredith could have been drafted in the second round. He could take over at left tackle in the near future. (Pick Grade: A)
182. Jarius Wynn, DE, Georgia
I thought the Packers would take a 3-4 end a bit earlier than this. They needed a player at that position here, and Jarius Wynn is in this range. (Pick Grade: B)
187. Brandon Underwood, FS, Cincinnati
With Nick Collins threatening not to report to camp, the Packers had to find a free safety. Nick Collins fits into this draft range. (Pick Grade: B)
218. Brad Jones, LB, Colorado
Not sure if Brad Jones fits into the 3-4. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see it. (Pick Grade: C)
For all the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers controversy that festered throughout Packer Land all offseason, it was the defense that let the Packers down in 2008. In fact, one could argue that Green Bay probably would have been worse off with Favre as quarterback; Rodgers out-performed the old veteran in 2008. While missing the playoffs is unacceptable, Rodgers' performance as a first-year starter bodes very well for the future.
Cowboys sign C Duke Preston
Packers cut C Duke Preston
Packers re-sign CB Tramon Williams
Lions sign DE Jason Hunter
Giants sign WR John Bodiford
Packers re-sign WR Ruvell Martin
Packers re-sign SS Atari Bigby
Packers re-sign FB John Kuhn
Packers cut DE/OLB Kenneth Pettway
Packers re-sign TE Tory Humphrey
Packers sign C Duke Preston
Packers re-sign DE Jason Hunter
Packers re-sign DE Michael Montgomery
Packers re-sign CB Jarrett Bush
Packers sign S Anthony Smith
Seahawks sign DT Colin Cole
Packers hire DC Dom Capers
Two Offensive Tackles: Left tackle Chad Clifton turns 33 in June. He just allowed 7.5 sacks and he's coming off of knee surgery. Mark Tauscher, a year younger than Clifton, is a free agent who tore his ACL in December. It's pretty obvious that the Packers are in desperate need of help at both tackle slots. Drafted Jamon Meredith and T.J. Lang
Rush Linebacker: The Packers had problems getting to the quarterback in 2008. If you take away Aaron Kampman's 10 sacks, the team had just 17. Kampman will be one of the rush linebackers in Green Bay's new defensive alignment. Perhaps a second-round selection like Michael Johnson or Clint Sintim can man the other side. Drafted Clay Matthews
Defensive End: Cullen Jenkins will play one of the defensive end positions in Green Bay's new 3-4. The other slot is pretty much open. If the Packers don't go after someone like Chris Canty or Igor Olshansky, they'll find a player in the 2009 NFL Draft. Drafted Jarius Wynn
Nose Tackle: Ryan Pickett is slated to play nose tackle, but considering that he turns 30 soon and has never played in the 3-4 at any level of his football career, the Packers will need help at the position. Drafted B.J. Raji
Cornerback: Assuming Al Harris is released, the Packers will need depth behind Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. They'll also need someone to take over on a full-time basis once Woodson is forced to move to safety in a year or two. Re-signed Tramon Williams
Inside Linebacker Depth: A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett will man the middle linebacker slots in Green Bay's new 3-4, but the team needs depth behind them.
Strong Safety: Atari Bigby played extremely well in the 2007 postseason, but spent way too much time on the injury report last year. This isn't a huge priority, but the Packers might want to add some insurance here just in case Bigby's playoff heroics were just a fluke. Re-signed Atari Bigby
Punter: Derrick Frost was one of the league's worst punters, averaging 42.1 yards per kick despite hitting just 8-of-48 attempts inside the 20.
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Anthony Smith (RFA), S, Steelers. Age: 25. Signed with Packers
You may remember Anthony Smith as the guy who predicted that the Steelers would knock off the undefeated Patriots back in 2007. For an encore, Smith has projected himself to be offered a $125 million contract. Good luck with that.
Green Bay Packers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 9): $18 million
Tramon Williams (ERFA), CB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Packers (1 year)
Tramon Williams played really well this season and showed tons of promise as a young corner. The Packers needed someone to step up because Charles Woodson and Al Harris are getting, as Emmitt would say, "long in the mouth."
Atari Bigby was supposed to follow up his great playoff run in 2007 with a solid season in 2008. Didn't happen. Bigby was injured all year and played in just seven games. Bigby will need to prove himself in 2009 to land a big contract.
Mark Tauscher, OT. Age: 32.
Mark Tauscher tore his ACL in December. At 32, he's a risky multi-year signing.
Colin Cole, DT. Age: 28. Signed with Seahawks (5 years, $21 million)
A monstrous defensive tackle weighing 330 pounds, Colin Cole played in all 16 games but didn't log a start.
Duke Preston, C. Age: 27. Signed with Cowboys
In addition to sucking royally, Duke Preston ruined Buffalo's chances of kicking a field goal in the last seconds of the first half of the season finale because he started a fight with some of the Patriots defenders.
Michael Montgomery, DE. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Packers (2 years)
Jason Hunter, DE. Age: 26. - Signed with Lions
Jarrett Bush (RFA), CB. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Packers
Ruvell Martin (RFA), WR. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Packers (1 year, $1.01 million)
Tory Humphrey (ERFA), TE. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Packers
John Kuhn, FB. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Packers (1 year, $1.01 million)
Divisional Rival History: Chicago Bears: Brett Favre and the Packers dominated the Bears for years. That's not the case anymore. Under Lovie Smith, Chicago is 7-3 against Green Bay. Detroit Lions: The Lions' ineptness has no limit. The Packers have won 15 of the last 17 meetings. Minnesota Vikings: The Packers have won five of six, as well as seven of 10 battles in this intense rivalry.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)