C Jeff Saturday, DE/DT Phillip Merling, DE/DT Tony Hargrove.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Nick Perry, DE/DT Jerel Worthy, CB Casey Hayward, DE/DT Mike Daniels, S Jerron McMillian, ILB Terrell Manning.
QB Matt Flynn, RB Ryan Grant, OT Chad Clifton, C Scott Wells, NT Howard Green, S Nick Collins.
2012 Green Bay Packers Offense:
Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. There's no debate. In addition to his precision passing (4,643 passing yards, 68.3 completion percentage, 9.2 YPA, 45-6 touchdown-to-interception ration in 2011), Rodgers was a threat on the ground, rushing for 257 yards and three additional scores. He's a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. How does one defend someone so prolific at both airing it out and running the ball?
It doesn't help matters that Rodgers has an all-star supporting cast. Greg Jennings is one of the best receivers in football. Jordy Nelson is coming off a breakout year in which he caught 68 balls for 1,263 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. James Jones is a potent third wideout who is dangerous in the red zone, while Jermichael Finley is a really athletic tight end. Finley disappointed last year, but he was coming off a knee injury, so he's expected to bounce back.
Rodgers' fourth receiver will be Eating Cereal with the Stars champion Donald Driver, who is returning at a discount. However, given that Driver (6 TDs in 2011) has been focusing on a game show with declining viewership all offseason, it's very probable that the speedy, second-year Randall Cobb will surpass him. In fact, Cobb has the talent to easily become Rodgers' third downfield option.
The offensive line is also pretty stout, save for the left tackle position. Chad Clifton was released this offseason, but he was wearing down and always appearing on the injury report. His replacement, until 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod is ready, will be Marshall Newhouse, who was just awful last year. Newhouse was guilty of seven penalties and nine sacks - a very high figure considering Rodgers' scrambling ability. Sherrod barely played last year because of a broken leg. It's unknown if he'll be ready for training camp.
The Packers lost stud center Scott Wells to the Rams in free agency this offseason, but were able to replace him with Jeff Saturday. The long-time Colt center is coming off a great year, but there's some concern because he turned 37 recently. He'll be flanked by an outstanding pair of guards, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, both of whom surrendered only two sacks in 2011. Meanwhile, right tackle Bryan Bulaga is arguably the top blocker in the entire group. He permitted only one sack in his second year.
Green Bay's only area of weakness offensively is at running back. James Starks is a talented runner, but he always seems to be injured. Alex Green, chosen in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has some potential, but is coming off a torn ACL. If Starks goes down, undrafted free agent Marc Tyler could be given a chance to battle Green for the starting job.
2012 Green Bay Packers Defense:
The Packers are stacked on offense, but their defense will have to improve because it was a colossal disappointment last year. They ranked 25th against the run (4.6 YPC) and 29th versus the pass (8.0 YPA). They allowed Eli Manning to throw for 330 yards in a major upset playoff loss.
There were several problems. One was that the team couldn't put any pressure on the quarterback, ranking 27th in the NFL with 30 sacks. Clay Matthews paced the team with just six sacks, down from 10 in 2009 and 13.5 the year after. His play didn't drop off; he still pressured the quarterback a ton, but was unlucky in some games. Of course, it didn't help that opposing offensive coordinators could double team him as they pleased. That's why Green Bay spent the No. 28 overall pick on Nick Perry, a 270-pound rush linebacker out of USC. The Packers will be hoping that lightning strikes twice pertaining to obtaining Trojan pass-rushers.
Green Bay's second-round selection was used on Jerel Worthy, who will push for playing time at defensive end, currently occupied by Ryan Pickett and Jarius Wynn. Neither player can get to the quarterback consistently, though both are solid versus the run. Pickett missed a couple of games with a head injury last season.
The best player up front is obviously B.J. Raji, who was one of the main reasons Green Bay claimed a Lombardi Trophy in February 2011. Unfortunately, Raji just had a terrible season. He started off pretty well, but really faded down the stretch. The coaching staff admitted that they played him too much; he was simply overworked. It appears as though the lockout hurt him. With a full offseason, Raji should be back to full strength in 2012.
The thing that derailed Green Bay the most was free safety Nick Collins' neck injury. Collins was knocked out of a Week 2 matchup at Carolina and missed the rest of the season. He was subsequently released, and his career could be in jeopardy. It's a shame because he was a Pro Bowl-level player. Morgan Burnett did a good job of picking up the slack at free safety, but the Packers had issues at strong safety all year. Charlie Peprah was torched on a weekly basis.
Future Hall-of-Fame cornerback Charles Woodson offered his services at safety, on the condition that second-round rookie Casey Hayward is prepared to start at corner across from Pro Bowler Tramon Williams. The Packers also have Sam Shields, but he struggled in 2011 after playing brilliantly the season before. There's also the scenario where Woodson can stay at corner if 2011 undrafted free agent M.D. Jennings can show that he can be a legitimate starting safety in this league. Jennings has looked terrific at OTAs, but that's not much of an indicator.
One other stud in Green Bay's defense is inside linebacker Desmond Bishop. Despite being a sixth-round pick back in 2007, Bishop has emerged as one of the NFL's top players at his position. He is a force against the run and can get to the quarterback on occasion. He's slated to start next to A.J. Hawk, who looked like he lost it last year. It's possible that D.J. Smith, who has flashed on occasion, could overtake him.
2012 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 115-38 at home since 1992 - the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he's 21-4 as a host the past three years, although his most recent start was a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
Mason Crosby never hit at least 80 percent of his field goals in his career - until 2011. He was 24-of-28 last season, including 2-of-3 from 50-plus.
Punter Tim Masthay did a pretty good job, maintaining a 45.6-yard average with 23-of-55 tries inside the 20.
Green Bay's special teams were awful in 2010, but Randall Cobb has changed that. Cobb scored on a punt and a kickoff return last year, boasting impressive averages in the process. However, the Packers struggled to defend returns; they were outgained on punts and even surrendered a touchdown.
The Packers have a pretty relaxing schedule for a team that just went 15-1. They have easy games against the Seahawks, Colts, Rams, Jaguars, Cardinals, Titans and Vikings twice. Their most challenging contests will be at Houston (Week 6), at Detroit (Week 11), at the Giants (Week 12) and at Chicago (Week 15).
2012 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2012 Green Bay Packers Analysis: The Packers, once again, are the best team in football. They have the league's most dynamic offense, and they've made enough improvements on defense to prevent another crazy, late-season collapse. They are, without a doubt, one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft: Green Bay's defense really disappointed last year. Ted Thompson will undoubtedly be looking for help at defensive end, rush linebacker, cornerback and safety. An offensive home-run hitter would be a possible luxury.
2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I thought the Packers had to address the rush linebacker and defensive positions in the first couple of rounds, but I never mocked it that way because players who fit the range at those positions sometimes didn't fall to Nos. 28 and 59.
Well, they did on Draft Day. Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy were both really good picks. I didn't feel like the former fit the 3-4 really well, but Green Bay's head coaches apparently disagree. At any rate, these two players will bolster a front seven that couldn't put pressure on the quarterback last year, which will make things easier for the beleaguered secondary.
Speaking of which, Casey Hayward was a solid selection at No. 62. I wish I could say the same for safety Jerron McMillian, but he was a reach at the end of the fourth round.
I really liked Green Bay's draft overall though. Two great selections in the final few rounds pushed this up from a B+ to an A-; there's no way in hell Andrew Datko should have been available in the middle of the seventh.
2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
28. Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC: A- Grade
Every single analyst on TV told me that Nick Perry wasn't a 3-4 prospect. Hmm... I guess Ted Thompson knows best. I'll trust Thompson, who's had success with USC pass-rushers. The Packers really needed someone other than Clay Matthews to get after the quarterback.
51. Jerel Worthy, DE/DT, Michigan State: A- Grade
The Packers surrendered a fourth-round pick to the Eagles for Jerel Worthy. And with that, their front seven projects to be so much better. Worthy, who was projected by some to be a late first-round pick, fills a big need at five-technique on the defensive line.
62. Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: B+ Grade
There weren't many cornerbacks who fit Green Bay's defense in this class. Casey Hayward was one of them. The Packers had to find a cornerback to bolster the secondary because Charles Woodson won't be around much longer. Green Bay moved up for him, jumping up from No. 90 to No. 62. All it cost them, however, was a fifth-round pick. I don't understand why Bill Belichick couldn't get more from Ted Thompson.
132. Mike Daniels, DE/DT, Iowa: C+ Grade
This is a reach, and I'm not sure how Mike Daniels fits into Green Bay's 3-4 defense. I trust Ted Thompson, so maybe this will turn out to be a good pick.
133. Jerron McMillian, S, Maine: D Grade
The Packers had to find a safety, but they should have drafted someone in the fourth round who was actually in the top 225 of a major big board.
163. Terrell Manning, LB, N.C. State: A Grade
This is a really good value pick because Terrell Manning should have been drafted a round earlier. Manning can play multiple positions in Green Bay's defense; he can man the middle and perhaps eventually take over for A.J. Hawk, and he can also pressure the quarterback on the outside.
241. Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State: A+ Grade
Ted Thompson knows value. Andrew Datko was a second-round prospect prior to suffering a nasty shoulder injury about a year ago. He's a steal in Round 7. He definitely has starting potential.
243. B.J. Coleman, QB, UT-Chattanooga: A Grade
B.J. Coleman was the star of the East-West Shrine Game. He's raw, but has tremendous upside. The Packers could develop him and then trade him for a nice draft pick in a few years.
When the Packers were 13-0 and headed into Kansas City as huge favorites, who thought it could possibly end like this? Green Bay shot itself in the foot time after time in its opening playoff contest against the Giants and consequently were blown out. And thus, the Packers quickly transformed from one of the greatest teams ever to one of the biggest disappointments ever in a span of a few weeks.
Packers cut S Nick Collins
Packers re-sign DE/OLB Erik Walden
Packers cut OT Chad Clifton
Packers sign DE/DT Tony Hargrove
Packers sign C Jeff Saturday
Packers sign DT Daniel Muir
Raiders sign CB Patrick Lee
Packers re-sign CB Jarrett Bush
Seahawks sign QB Matt Flynn
Rams sign C Scott Wells
Packers re-sign TE Jermichael Finley
Rush Linebacker: Outside of Clay Matthews, the Green Bay rush linebackers are pathetic. Ted Thompson may target someone like Vinny Curry in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Drafted Nick Perry; re-signed Erik Walden
Safety: Nick Collins is coming off an unfortunate, career-threatening neck injury. Unfortunately, the 2012 safety class is a dud. Drafted Jerron McMillian
Defensive End: Green Bay's current five-techniques can't get to the quarterback whatsoever. Spending a first-round pick on someone like Fletcher Cox is a possibility. Drafted Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels; signed Tony Hargrove and Phillip Merling
Cornerback Depth: Charles Woodson turns 36 in October. The Packers could use another talented corner on the roster. Drafted Casey Hayward; re-signed Jarrett Bush
Center: Scott Wells is a free agent and absolutely must be re-signed. Signed Jeff Saturday
Running Back: Ryan Grant is a free agent, while James Starks is no good on passing downs. I'm not sure what happened to third-round pick Alex Green, but he didn't even play before tearing his ACL in mid-October.
Tight End: Jermichael Finley is a free agent, but it sounds like he'll be franchised. Re-signed Jermichael Finley
Offensive Line Depth: The Packers are thin here.
2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Jeff Saturday, C, Colts. Age: 37. Signed with Packers
Jeff Saturday is coming off a great season, but the wheels could fall off at any moment because of his age. He'll be worth a 1-year deal though.
Phillip Merling, DE/DT, Dolphins. Age: 27. Signed with Packers
Phillip Merling could barely do anything this year coming off an Achilles injury. Perhaps he can bounce back and finally live up to his potential next year.
Tony Hargrove, DT, Seahawks. Age: 29. -- Signed with Packers
Green Bay Packers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Scott Wells, C, Packers. Age: 31. Signed with Rams
Scott Wells is one of the top centers in the NFL. He excels in all areas, and is due for a big contract.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers. Age: 25. Re-signed with Packers (2 years, $15 million)
Big things were expected out of Jermichael Finley this year, but he caught only 55 passes. Even worse, he had a whopping 14 drops - the most for any tight end in the NFL. The good news is that he's just 25, so the sky is still the limit for him.
Matt Flynn, QB, Packers. Age: 27. Signed with Seahawks (3 years, $26 million; $10 million guaranteed)
When Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards in a Week 17 win over the Lions, he passed for more yardage than any Packer quarterback in a single game. There's a limited sample size, but the potential is clearly there. Flynn will be a starter somewhere next season. It's also worth noting that Charley Casserly, the man who spent early picks on David Carr and Dave Ragone, doesn't think too highly of Flynn. This could very well mean that Flynn has Pro Bowl potential.
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers. Age: 29.
Ryan Grant doesn't have much left in the tank. He's a committee back at best going forward.
Nick Collins, FS, Packers. Age: 29.
I'm really not sure what to do with Nick Collins in terms of these rankings. He's a 4.5-star talent, but his career could be over because of a neck injury. The fact that the Packers cut him speaks volumes.
Chad Clifton, OT, Packers. Age: 36.
Erik Walden, DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with Packers
Patrick Lee, CB, Packers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Raiders (1 year)
2012 NFL Free Agent Rankings Coming Soon
Divisional Rival History: Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler is 1-5 against the Packers. Detroit Lions: The Packers have won 20 of the last 23 meetings. Detroit beat Green Bay at home in 2010, but Aaron Rodgers missed half the game. Minnesota Vikings: The Packers had won nine of 12 in this rivalry; 11 of 12 if you exclude the 2009 season.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)