DE Julius Peppers, DT Letroy Guion.
Early Draft Picks:
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, WR Davante Adams, DE/DT Khyri Thornton, TE Richard Rodgers, ILB Carl Bradford, C Corey Linsley, WR Jared Abbrederis. Packers Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
WR James Jones, OT Marshall Newhouse, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, DE/DT C.J. Wilson, S M.D. Jennings.
2014 Green Bay Packers Offense:
If there was any doubt prior to the 2013 season that Aaron Rodgers should be considered to be an MVP candidate every single year, there shouldn't be anymore. The Packers were rolling along pretty well, holding a 5-2 record after seven games, when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter of a Monday night affair against the Bears. Things completely fell apart for the Packers after that, as they failed to win again until Week 14, when they barely beat the woeful Falcons at home. However, they somehow hung on and managed to defeat Chicago in a rematch when Rodgers returned. Rodgers wasn't 100 percent, however, though the Packers still nearly upset the 49ers in the playoffs.
Rodgers just means so much to the Packers that they need to make sure they protect him as best as possible. That's why it was shocking when general manager Ted Thompson failed to re-sign center Evan Dietrich-Smith this offseason despite Rodgers' pleas to do so. Dietrich-Smith ventured to Tampa, while Green Bay didn't find a potential replacement until they spent a fifth-round selection on Corey Linsley. That, perhaps, is an indication that they have faith in J.C. Tretter, who was chosen in the fourth round the previous spring. Tretter has yet to play, so he's a complete enigma.
The rest of the front line is solid, and it'll get a boost from Bryan Bulaga's return. Bulaga tore his ACL last August, but even if he's not at 100 percent this upcoming season, he'll still be a big upgrade over Don Barclay, who was the weakest link up front this past season. Bulaga will be stationed at right tackle across from 2013 fourth-rounder David Bakhtiari, who performed admirably as a rookie. He surrendered eight sacks in 2013, but four of them came in the first four weeks of the season. Meanwhile, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are both studs. Neither has hit 30 yet, so they'll both continue to thrive.
The Packers also lost James Jones in free agency, but his departure isn't as big of a deal. Rodgers made Jones, just as he and Brett Favre did with Greg Jennings, who predictably struggled in Minnesota. Besides, Rodgers has plenty of other talented receivers to throw to, including Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Second-rounder Davante Adams could contribute soon, while Jarrett Boykin came out of nowhere last year to accumulate 681 receiving yards despite not catching a single pass prior to Week 6. If Boykin improves and Adams emerges quicker than expected, that'll help mitigate the loss of Jermichael Finley, who was just too injured to keep around. Finley may actually return - he has yet to sign with a team - but he probably won't do much in 2014.
Rodgers will also be able to heavily lean on the running game. The Packers spent a 2013 second-round choice on Eddie Lacy, who turned out to be well worth the selection. Lacy was dominant at times as a rookie, gaining 1,178 rushing yards, catching 35 passes and scoring 11 touchdowns. Lacy did this despite barely playing the first three weeks and also missing Rodgers for half the year. His numbers should explode if he has Rodgers by his side for a full 16-game slate.
2014 Green Bay Packers Defense:
The Packers seldom make big splashes in free agency. They prefer to draft and grow their own talent. However, they made headlines this spring when they brought in a player who starred for years for their most hated rival. That, of course, is Julius Peppers.
It'll be interesting to see how the Packers utilize Peppers, who has never been in a 3-4 scheme before. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers told the media that he plans to use Peppers in a variety of spots. He began by putting him at outside linebacker in OTAs. Peppers in his prime would have formed a tremendous tandem with Clay Matthews, who mustered 13 sacks back in 2012. The problem, however, is that Peppers, now 34, struggled with the Bears this past season. He was a mere shadow of his former self, collecting just 7.5 sacks and playing the run poorly. Perhaps he'll be extra motivated after being released, but it's more likely that he just doesn't have much left in the tank.
Peppers could also be used on the defensive line. The Packers are trying to get quicker as a whole defensively, so he would make sense there instead of the 330-pound mammoths that Green Bay used to start up front. Without Peppers, the starting front appears to be B.J. Raji, Datone Jones and Mike Daniels. Raji is a big name, but he has been a huge disappointment since the Packers' Super Bowl campaign. His performance has inexplicably dropped off at such an alarming rate that he was offered just a 1-year, $4 million contract to return to the team. The plan is to use him at nose tackle again, where he's at his best, but it may not matter. Meanwhile, Jones was a 2013 first-rounder, but didn't do much last year, so he could be challenged by third-round rookie Khyri Thornton. Daniels was Green Bay's top defensive lineman this past season in every regard.
Having Raji and Jones play better would give some protection to the inside linebackers, who were pretty pedestrian this past season. A.J. Hawk was particularly bad, as he was eaten alive in run support. Brad Jones wasn't much better, prompting the front office to spend a fourth-round choice on Arizona State's Carl Bradford, who could challenge for a starting job sometime in the near future.
The Packers actually addressed their secondary with their initial selection, acquiring Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 21 overall. Clinton-Dix was viewed by most as the top safety in the class, though some were pessimistic, thinking he could fall toward the end of Round 1. Despite this, Clinton-Dix will be a clear upgrade over the anemic M.D. Jennings, who signed with Chicago this offseason. Clinton-Dix will start next to Morgan Burnett, a talented safety who had a down year because of a troublesome hamstring.
Burnett wasn't the only injured Green Bay defensive back in 2013. Casey Hayward missed some time, and his absence really hurt the team. Hayward had a dynamic rookie campaign, but was limited to just three games because of a hamstring problem of his own. Hayward will be stationed at the important slot position, with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields starting outside. Both were solid this past season, and should continue to be in 2014.
2014 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 119-42-1 at home since 1992 - the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he's 31-6 as a host the past five years, though he did lose to San Francisco in the postseason.
Mason Crosby was once considered extremely unreliable - he went 21-of-33 in 2012 - but he improved this past season, hitting 33-of-37 tries, including 5-of-7 from 50-plus.
Punter Tim Masthay was just 21st in net average for the second-straight season. He also failed to get many kicks inside the 20.
Micah Hyde was great on returns this past season, but the team was woeful when it came to covering punts and kickoffs. Green Bay desperately needs to improve in this area.
The Packers have a mixed schedule. On one hand, they have to deal with the Patriots, Saints, Seahawks, Eagles, Bears twice and Lions twice. On the other hand, they get to beat up on the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Panthers and Vikings twice.
2014 Green Bay Packers Rookies:
Go here for the Packers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2014 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2014 Green Bay Packers Analysis: The Packers won the NFC North in 2013 despite not having Aaron Rodgers around for half the year. It's difficult to see them squandering the division title if Rodgers manages to play the whole slate. Green Bay is easily one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Packers' primary objective is to get faster on defense. They are tired of losing to Colin Kaepernick, so they have to be able to defend scrambling quarterbacks. Look for them to use multiple selections on quick defenders. They also have to give Aaron Rodgers some help in terms of a new center and a replacement for Jermichael Finley at tight end.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: This was a pretty solid draft for the Packers. I wrote that their primary objective was to find speedy defenders to help against mobile quarterbacks, and they obtained three such players in the first four rounds. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was the headliner, and he was a minor steal at No. 21. Carl Bradford, who can play either linebacker position, provided even more value in the fourth frame. He should have been chosen two rounds earlier.
Ted Thompson also addressed the offense. Davante Adams was a good value selection in the second round, as he could eventually be an upgrade over James Jones. Richard Rodgers may improve the tight end position, though I feel like the Packers reached for him a bit. Corey Linsley was also taken slightly early, but he fills a huge need.
A couple of reaches will keep the Packers out of the A/A- range, but they still deserve a high mark for their class.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: A- Grade
The talented prospects just have a knack of falling to the smart teams. That's what happened here, as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was projected to go as high as No. 10 to Detroit or No. 13 to St. Louis. Clinton-Dix was one of the better players available, and he will undoubtedly improve an abysmal secondary that gave up giant passing performances to nearly every team they battled this past year.
53. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State: B+ Grade
The Packers lost James Jones, who ruined his career by leaving Aaron Rodgers and signing with the Raiders, so they had to find a new receiver. Davante Adams was a solid second-round prospect heading into the draft, so this pick makes sense from a need and a range perspective. Aaron Rodgers should be happy.
85. Khyri Thornton, DE/DT, Southern Miss: C Grade
The Packers wanted to get quicker on the defensive line to put more pressure on Colin Kaepernick and the other mobile quarterbacks. Khyri Thornton should help them, though he's a bit of a reach (I had him as a Round 4-5 player). The other issue is that Thornton has some off-the-field concerns, so it's a bit surprising to see Green Bay take him.
98. Richard Rodgers, TE, California: C+ Grade
A Rodgers out of California worked the first time, so why not try it again? There were mixed reviews on this Rodgers, as there were on the previous one. Some thought Richard would be a mid-round prospect, while others had him in the late rounds. The Packers obviously fell into the former category, but there's no doubt that their new tight end will compete for a starting job at a big position of need.
121. Carl Bradford, ILB, Arizona State: A+ Grade
Another steal, and it's not a surprise that the perennial winners are making them. Carl Bradford could have easily been chosen in the second round, and I'm not sure why he fell this far. Bradford can play either outside or inside linebacker in the 3-4, though he'll probably be stationed at the latter position in Green Bay, given what the team has on its roster. He fills a big need inside.
161. Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State: C+ Grade
The Packers had to find a center after allowing Evan Dietrich-Smith to walk in free agency. This is a bit high for Corey Linsley, but I wouldn't call it a huge reach. Considering the need, I can't blame the Packers too much for taking Linsley earlier than expected.
176. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin: A Grade
I had a tip that the Packers liked Jared Abbrederis, but I actually thought they'd choose him earlier than this. They picked Davante Adams instead, and didn't need a receiver. The value was too much to pass up on him at this juncture though. Green Bay is getting great value.
197. Demetri Goodson, CB, Baylor: B Grade
It's odd to see the Packers taking a cornerback shorter than six feet tall, but Demetri Goodson is a solid choice. He fills a need for corner depth and fits the range as a sixth-round prospect.
236. Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State: B Grade
A third receiver for the Packers may seem strange. Well, it is, but they're getting good value with Jeff Janis, who could have gone in the fifth round. Janis is one of the most athletic players in this draft, so Green Bay must like his potential.
The Packers had major defensive problems throughout the season, but even though they didn't have Aaron Rodgers for eight games, they still managed to make the playoffs. They were quickly bounced, but if Micah Hyde could have just held on to an interception at the very end of the contest, they would have triumphed over San Francisco.
Packers re-sign QB Matt Flynn
Packers re-sign FB John Kuhn
Raiders sign DE/DT C.J. Wilson
Packers re-sign RB James Starks
Bengals sign OT Marshall Newhouse
Raiders sign WR James Jones
Packers sign DT Letroy Guion
Packers sign DE Julius Peppers
Packers re-sign NT B.J. Raji
Buccaneers sign C Evan Dietrich-Smith
Packers re-sign TE Andrew Quarless
Packers re-sign DE/DT Mike Neal
Bears sign S M.D. Jennings
Packers re-sign CB Sam Shields
Safety: The safety position was a disaster area for the Packers. There were so many blown coverages throughout the season that the fans simply expected it to happen multiple times per week. An early draft choice will have to be used to fill this hole.
Defensive End/Nose Tackle: B.J. Raji will be hitting free agency this March. Coming off two sluggish campaigns, Raji isn't expected back. The Packers need to add another defensive lineman, and they could use their first-round pick on one. Re-signed B.J. Raji and Mike Neal; signed Letroy Guion
Inside Linebacker: The Packers currently need depth behind Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk. They'll need a replacement for the latter soon enough as well. A Round 2-3 choice can be used to fill this need.
Outside Linebacker: As Green Bay found out, it doesn't have much behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. It had to use Mike Neal at outside linebacker, which was a disaster. Signed Julius Peppers
Tight End: Jermichael Finley's contract expires in March. He's not expected back even though he had finally just began performing up to expectations. Green Bay may spend a second-day selection on a replacement. Re-signed Andrew Quarless
Cornerback: Sam Shields is a talented free agent, while Tramon Williams may not be on the roster in 2014 because he'll be owed $7.5 million. Re-signed Sam Shields
Center: Aaron Rodgers is begging Ted Thompson to re-sign center Evan Dietrich-Smith - and for good reason. Dietrich-Smith is talented and versatile.
Fullback: You better believe Green Bay fans will be upset if John Kuhn doesn't re-sign.
Backup Quarterback: The Packers struggled with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien, but Matt Flynn held down the fort pretty effectively. He's a free agent, so the Packers should retain him. Re-signed Matt Flynn
Julius Peppers, DE, Bears. Age: 34. Signed with Packers (3 years, $30 million; $7.5 million guaranteed)
Julius Peppers did not look like the same player in 2013. He recorded 7.5 sacks, which isn't indicative of how poorly he played. He struggled to put pressure on the quarterback and was pushed around in run support. Peppers, who turned 34 in January, will never be dominant again, but there is some bounce-back potential if he's motivated enough.
Letroy Guion, DT, Vikings. Age: 27. -- Signed with Packers
Green Bay Packers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Sam Shields, CB, Packers. Age: 26. Re-signed with Packers (4 years, $39 million)
The Packers have struggled to cover this year as a team, but Sam Shields hasn't been responsible for that. Shields was terrific in 2012 and solid this past season. He's an excellent starting cornerback.
Evan Dietrich-Smith, C, Packers. Age: 28. Signed with Buccaneers
Evan Dietrich-Smith has been a strong starting center for the Packers the past year and a half. He's solid in both pass protection and run blocking. He can also play guard.
John Kuhn, FB, Packers. Age: 31. Re-signed with Packers
John Kuhn is a stout blocker who can catch some passes out of the backfield. Unfortunately, he'll be turning 32 in early September.
B.J. Raji was a dominant force in 2010 and 2011, but has since severely declined. Still though, the Packers think enough of him that they offered him a contract that would pay him an average of $8 million per year. The motivation just doesn't seem to be there with Raji though.
James Jones, WR, Packers. Age: 30. Signed with Raiders
James Jones is a talent receiver who struggled with drops early in his career. He fixed that problem while catching 14 touchdowns in 2012. However, teams better make sure they don't overpay a 30-year-old wideout who has never tallied more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers. Age: 27.
Jermichael Finley always had great talent, but could never put it together on the field - until the first half of this past season. He was playing well, but unfortunately suffered a season-ending neck injury. It remains to be seen whether he can be 100 percent again.
Mike Neal, DE/DT, Packers. Age: 27. Re-signed with Packers (2 years)
Mike Neal is a quality situational pass-rusher on the defensive line, but he took one for the team and played some outside linebacker this year because of injuries. He didn't fare very well there.
James Starks, RB, Packers. Age: 28. Re-signed with Packers (2 years)
James Starks averaged 5.5 yards per carry this season behind Eddie Lacy. He can be used as a starter, but he's better off as a strong, chance-of-pace No. 2 back.
M.D. Jennings (RFA), S, Packers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears
Ryan Pickett, NT, Packers. Age: 34.
Johnny Jolly, DE/DT, Packers. Age: 31.
Andrew Quarless, TE, Packers. Age: 25. -- Re-signed with Packers
Marshall Newhouse, OT, Packers. Age: 25. -- Signed with Bengals