TE Jimmy Graham, TE Marcedes Lewis, DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson, CB Tramon Williams.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Jaire Alexander, CB Joshua Jackson, LB Oren Burks, WR J'Mon Moore, G Cole Madison, P JK Scott. Packers Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
WR Jordy Nelson, WR Jeff Janis, TE Richard Rodgers, G Jahri Evans, DE/OLB Ahmad Brooks, LB Joe Thomas, CB Damarious Randall, S Morgan Burnett.
2018 Green Bay Packers Offense:
It goes without saying that the Packers' primary concern this season is to keep Aaron Rodgers healthy. Rodgers has missed chunks of two of the past five seasons, and he's been banged up in others. This previous year was especially brutal because it appeared as though Green Bay had a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl. Coming off a very impressive victory in Dallas, Rodgers broke his collarbone during the second drive of a game in Minnesota. And just like that, the Packers' season was completely lost.
Protecting Rodgers could be an issue, however, as there are some concerns on the offensive line. That's not the case at tackle, as blind-side protector David Bakhtiari is arguably the top player at his position in the NFL now that Joe Thomas has retired. Bryan Bulaga, meanwhile, is a stout blocker on the right side. The problem up front is in the interior, where right guard Justin McCray struggled immensely last season. Left guard Lane Taylor is pretty pedestrian. Only center Corey Linsley is reliable, and he had a poor 2017 campaign as well because of a lingering ankle injury. The good news for the Packers is that Linsley should be healthy heading into this upcoming season, and the front office has no worries, given that they offered Linsley a 3-year, $25.5 million extension in December.
Considering some of the issues on the offensive line, as well as history, the health concerns for Rodgers are real. If he can remain on the field at 100-percent capacity, he'll be able to lead Green Bay deep into the playoffs, despite the departure of Jordy Nelson. The Packers cut Nelson, which wasn't too much of a surprise because he had such trouble gaining separation last season that he was ultimately benched by the end of the year. With Nelson gone, the Packers will move on with Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison as their top three receivers. Adams took a huge step forward last season, catching 74 passes for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns despite playing with Brett Hundley for more than half the year. Cobb hasn't eclipsed 829 yards since generating 1,287 in 2014, so perhaps he'll get back on track with a larger role. Allison, meanwhile, has shown potential in the past, but a lost fumble versus Carolina late in the year ended up costing the Packers a shot at the playoffs.
Rodgers will have some new toys to play with as well. The big name is Jimmy Graham, who was signed in free agency. Graham, like Nelson, had issues separating last year, but still proved to be a threat in the end zone, hauling in 10 touchdowns. Meanwhile, draft picks were used on receivers J'Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown. Moore, chosen in the fourth round, is very athletic and has a big frame (6-3, 205). St. Brown may have been a steal in the sixth frame, as some expected him to be drafted at some point on Day 2.
While the Packers had issues moving the chains aerially in Rodgers' absence, they were at least able to run the ball effectively. That's because they finally found two potent rushing threats in Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, allowing them to avoid using receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery very often. Williams figures to be the lead back heading into 2018, but Jones has been more impressive thus far, as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year. Jones had soe huge performances against the Cowboys and Saints, and the Packers would be wise to give him a heavier workload once his two-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy is served.
2018 Green Bay Packers Defense:
Protecting Aaron Rodgers is going to be the priority during the regular season, but the main goal this spring was to bolster the worst secondary in the NFL. The Packers couldn't stop any sort of functional passing attacks, and they even made poor signal-callers like DeShone Kizer look like Pro Bowlers.
New general manager Brian Gutekunst did a good job of finding some upgrades in the defensive backfield. He spent his first two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft on Jaire Alexander and Joshua Jackson, both of whom could become solid (or better) starters for the Packers. Alexander was considered the best slot cornerback in the NFL Draft, so he'll help defend that area. Jackson, meanwhile, was widely considered a top-20 prospect before a seemingly poor combine sunk him. However, Jackson is a very gifted player, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he becomes a Pro Bowl-caliber player at some point.
The Packers also signed a cornerback in free agency, bringing back Tramon Williams after he spent three years in Cleveland and Arizona. The former and now current Packer turned 35 this offseason, but he was still an effective player for the Cardinals in 2017. Some regression is expected, but Williams should still provide an upgrade over what the Packers had in their defensive backfield last year. That would include Kevin King, who absolutley must improve his play. The 33rd-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft was atrocious as a rookie, but he's very physically gifted and should improve at least a little bit in his second season.
Rounding out the secondary, the Packers lost stellar safety Morgan Burnett to free agency, leaving just Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as the lone returning player at the position. Aside from Burnett, Clinton-Dix was the best member of the Green Bay defensive backfield last year, though that's not saying much. He'll start across from Josh Jones, who struggled as a second-round rookie in 2017. Like King, however, Jones is expected to improve now that he has some experience.
Tramon Williams wasn't the biggest splash Gutekunst made on this side of the ball in free agency, as he signed Muhammad Wilkerson to a 1-year "prove it" deal. Wilkerson disappointed after signing a big contract with the Jets, but now that he's fighting for a big pay day, he could revert to his old playing style, which had him recognized as one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. He and the prolific Mike Daniels figure to be a terrific tandem at the position, and they'll sandwich nose tackle Kenny Clark, who did a great job stuffing the run this past season.
While Daniels and Wilkerson should do a great job of collapsing the pocket in the interior, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry will once again reprise their roles as the starting edge rushers. Matthews, however, is now 32, and it's clear that he's a regressing player. Perry should still be effective - seven sacks in 12 games last year - but one of 2016 third-rounder Kyler Fackrell or 2017 fourth-rounder Vince Biegel needs to step up.
The Packers could be counting on another young linebacker in Oren Burks. Chosen in the third round this April, Burks will compete with Jake Ryan for the right to start next to Blake Martinez, who has become a dependable three-down linebacker for the Packers. Ryan is solid versus the run, but can be beaten in coverage, so perhaps Burks will be an upgrade, at least in that regard.
2018 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 137-49-1 at home since 1992 - the year Brett Favre first became a Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he's 55-11 as a host the past nine years. He was 3-0 last season.
Mason Crosby didn't get many kicking opportunities because of Brett Hundley's incompetence, but that still doesn't excuse his 15-of-19 showing with two missed extra points.
There will be a new punter in Green Bay, and he's JK Scott, a fifth-round rookie out of Alabama.
The Packers had poor special teams in 2016, as they were outgained on both punt and kickoff returns. They were still beaten on kickoffs last year, but they crushed the opposition on punt returns.
Green Bay has an easy schedule to start, playing the Bears, Redskins and Bills in three of its first four games. The Vikings are also mixed in, but that game is at home. In fact, the first time the Packers are projected underdogs in the early Westgate lines is a Week 8 tilt at the Rams.
2018 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.
2018 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2018 Green Bay Packers Analysis: This is all about Aaron Rodgers' health. If Rodgers can play almost all of the games in 2018 at 100-percent capacity, the Packers, with their improved secondary, will not only win the division, but they'll be a serious threat to prevail in the Super Bowl. If, however, Rodgers misses an extended period of time, Green Bay will once again fail to reach .500.
Projection: 11-5 (1st in NFC North)
2017 Projection: 11-5. 2017 Actual Result: 7-9. 2016 Projection: 12-4. 2016 Actual Result: 10-6.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: Defense, defense, defense. Green Bay's secondary is atrocious. Help is needed elsewhere as well - edge rusher, inside linebacker - but the defensive backfield has to be the primary concern because the Packers can't defend the pass whatsoever.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Brian Gutekunst replaced Ted Thompson as general manager this offseason, so this was his opportunity to select NFL prospects. If his initial foray into the NFL Draft is any indication, the Packers are in great hands.
Gutekunst proved to be a masterful wheeler and dealer in the first two days of the draft, moving around and obtaining value. He won the trades he was a part of, and he ended up acquiring talented players who filled needs. The first two prospects will help the secondary, as cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Joshua Jackson should both provide upgrades. Jackson was an especially great pick; he was chosen at No. 45, when it was argued that he was a viable option at the 14th-overall choice!
The Packers found some help in the linebacking corps with their next pick, Oren Burks. Wide receiver J'Mon Moore went after that, earning a B+ grade just like Burks did. Another wideout, Equanimeous St. Brown, provided ridiculously high value toward the end of the sixth frame. In fact, all but two picks Gutekunst made scored in the "A" or "B" range. One was a punter in the fifth round, while the other was some seventh-round long snapper.
Once again, Gutekunst performed above expectations. He seemingly came away with a terrific haul, and I'm willing to give him an "A" for his results.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
18. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville B- Grade
If Jaire Alexander can stay healthy, the Packers will be getting a terrific cornerback for their maligned secondary. The problem, however, is his durability. Some teams thought Alexander could slip to the second round because of all his injury issues. In fact, I think Alexander could have been available at No. 27, so I'm not thrilled about the Packers surrendering a third-round pick to get him. That said, Green Bay acquired a 2019 first-rounder in the entire process, so I'm not going to give them a bad grade. Again, if they luck out with Alexander's health, they will have made a huge upgrade to the defensive backfield.
45. Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa A+ Grade
Holy hell, I forgot Joshua Jackson was still available. How in the world did he fall this far? Jackson is a player who could've gone No. 14 overall to the Packers, and I would've been fine with it. Some people whose opinion I respect think Jackson should've been in the conversation as the top cornerback in this entire class. Jackson is tall and instinctive and in the mold of Aqib Talib, and he should be an instant upgrade in Green Bay's atrocious secondary.
88. Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt B+ Grade
Oren Burks is a solid pick in the middle of the third round. He's an athletic linebacker with nice instincts, and he could eventually become a starter for the Packers, who desperately needed some inside linebacker help.
133. J'Mon Moore, WR, Missouri B+ Grade
J'Mon Moore is a better version of Jaleel Scott, who went one selection earlier than this. Moore is highly athletic with upside, but he drops too many passes. Still, he could be developed into a solid starter.
138. Cole Madison, G/OT, Washington State A- Grade
Cole Madison was introduced as a tackle, but I think he may have to play guard. That makes more sense, as Green Bay had to bolster its interior protection. I like this pick a lot, as I could see a scenario in which Madison starts as a rookie.
172. JK Scott, P, Alabama C- Grade
Once again, punters grow on trees, and solid ones at the position can be obtained as undrafted free agents. They make sense in the sixth or seventh rounds, but a fifth-round pick should be used on a real football player.
174. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, South Florida B Grade
Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a very raw player, but has some good upside. He's a player Al Davis would've liked as a height-weight-speed guy. He could be a good player one day, or he could be a flop. Sounds like a fifth-round pick to me.
207. Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame A+ Grade
Wow, what a steal! I consistently had Equanimeous St. Brown in the second or third round of my mock drafts, and I'm shocked that he lasted past the fourth frame. St. Brown was very productive in 2016, but that changed this past season because of the quarterbacking problems at Notre Dame. St. Brown could develop into a solid NFL starter, so he's a steal this late in the draft.
232. James Looney, DE/DT, California B+ Grade
James Looney was considered a potential mid-round prospect heading into 2017, but he struggled this past season. On top of that, he's a tweener. The good news is that Looney is athletic, so he has potential. Why not swing for the fences in the seventh round?
239. Hunter Bradley, LS, Mississippi State C+ Grade
Long-snappers can be found on the street, but I'm fine with a team selecting one in the seventh round.
248. Kendall Donnerson, DE/OLB, Southeast Missouri State B+ Grade
Kendall Donnerson made a name for himself with a stellar pro day workout. He ran a 4.44 and leapt 40 inches despite weighing close to 250 pounds. Donnerson was going to draw tons of interest on the UDFA market, so credit the Packers for taking the initiative by going after Donnerson prior to the conclusion of the draft.
This was a nightmare season for the Packers. They had offensive line injuries early on, and then saw Aaron Rodgers go down following a big victory at Dallas. The Packers still had one more chance with Rodgers returning, but Geronimo Allison's lost fumble ended all hope.
Packers sign TE Marcedes Lewis
Packers sign CB Tramon Williams
Packers sign DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson
Packers sign TE Jimmy Graham
Cornerback: The Packers have spent so many early-round draft resources on this position, and yet it's still such a huge need for them. Even if one of the young cornerbacks steps up, Green Bay will still have to find another starter. Signed Tramon Williams
Safety: The safety position has been much better for the Packers, but that won't be the case if Morgan Burnett, one of the best safeties in the NFL, leaves via free agency.
Guard: Here's another offensive line concern. Jahri Evans, like Linsley, is an impending free agent who will need to be retained.
Tight End: Martellus Bennett stole money from the Packers. The front office will need to find a replacement who actually wants to play for the team. Signed Jimmy Graham
Edge Rusher: Clay Matthews is still a solid player, but he's no longer the elite pass-rusher he once was. Nick Perry, meanwhile, tends to be inconsistent. It wouldn't be the worst idea for the Packers to obtain another proven player who can get after the quarterback.
Backup Offensive Tackle: A solid reserve should be acquired just in case either David Bakhtiari or Bryan Bulaga gets hurt again.
Inside Linebacker Depth: Green Bay doesn't really have anything behind Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Jets. Age: 28. Signed with Packers
From 2012 to 2015, Muhammad Wilkerson was considered a top-five 3-4 defensive end. It could've even been argued that he was the second-best player at his position in the entire league, behind only J.J. Watt. Wilkerson was rewarded with a 5-year, $87 million deal in the summer of 2016. Ever since, however, Wilkerson has mailed it in. He disappointed on the field and had a habit of skipping team meetings. That said, Wilkerson is still just 28, and if he signs with a team that has a strong locker room, he could revert back to his pre-2016 playing days. He carries lots of risk though.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks. Age: 31. Signed with Packers (3 years)
Perhaps suffering the lingering effects from his torn patellar tendon, Jimmy Graham regressed in 2017. He caught 10 touchdowns, but saw his yards per reception total drop from 14.2 to 9.1. He's 31 now, so his best years are likely over.
Tramon Williams, CB, Cardinals. Age: 35. Signed with Packers
Tramon Williams surprisingly played extremely well for the Cardinals this past season. Unfortunately for Williams, he may not be able to repeat that in 2018, as he'll be 35.
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars. Age: 34. Signed with Packers
Marcedes Lewis is 34, and all of his receiving talent is gone, but he's still a terrific blocker.
Green Bay Packers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Morgan Burnett, S, Packers. Age: 29. Signed with Steelers
Green Bay's defense has been atrocious in recent seasons, but don't blame Morgan Burnett. The 29-year-old is the centerpiece of Green Bay's defense, playing numerous positions. He should be able to perform on an extremely high level for at least three more years.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers. Age: 33. Signed with Raiders (2 years)
Just two weeks ago, new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Jordy Nelson is "still a really good player in my eyes." Well, either Gutekunst is blind, or he was just saying this to ramp up trade value for Nelson. The Packers cutting Gutekunst is shocking at first, but quite understandable after some thought. Nelson looked done last year, doing nothing when Aaron Rodgers was out of the lineup. Nelson actually failed to eclipse 100 yards in any game. At 33, he has slowed down, but still might be able to have one more half-decent season with a talented quarterback.
Jahri Evans, G, Packers. Age: 35.
Jahri Evans used to be one of the top guards in the NFL. That's no longer the case because Evans is 35, but he was still a viable starter for Green Bay last year.
Ahmad Brooks, DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 34.
Ahmad Brooks has seen his pass-rushing skills erode, but he was still excellent in run support this past season. He's now 34, however, so he'll continue to decline.
Davon House, CB, Packers. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Packers
Richard Rodgers, TE, Packers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Eagles
Jeff Janis, WR, Packers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Browns
Joe Thomas (RFA), ILB, Packers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Cowboys