2015 NFL Offseason: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers (Last Year: 12-4)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
Early Draft Picks:
S Damarious Randall, CB Quinten Rollins, KR Ty Montgomery, ILB Jake Ryan, QB Brett Hundley. Packers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Matt Flynn, RB DuJuan Harris, WR Jarrett Boykin, ILB A.J. Hawk, ILB Brad Jones, ILB Jamari Lattimore, CB Tramon Williams, CB Davon House.

2015 Green Bay Packers Offense:
By now, it’s obvious that the Packers need Aaron Rodgers to stay healthy if they want a shot at the Super Bowl. Rodgers missed extensive action during the 2013 campaign, and he clearly wasn’t himself when he returned to the field for the season finale and initial playoff battle against San Francisco. Last year, things seemed to be going smoothly until he hurt his calf against the Lions in Week 17. Once again, it was evident that Rodgers wasn’t 100 percent, and the Packers consequently couldn’t score enough against the Seahawks to put them away in the NFC Championship.

Injuries can be fluky in the NFL, so even though Rodgers has been hurt in two consecutive seasons, it’s not enough to say that it’s a trend. The offensive line can’t be blamed either, as it’s one of the league’s best blocking units. There was some concern that Bryan Bulaga wouldn’t be re-signed this spring, but general manager Ted Thompson was able to retain him. As a result, all five starters will return, which is huge because continuity is so key for offensive linemen.

Bulaga is an excellent right tackle, so losing him would’ve been very significant. He allowed just four sacks in 2014, and while his run blocking wasn’t as good, it was still adequate. He started next to T.J. Lang, who was even better in both departments. Lang and Josh Sitton form arguably the top guard combination in the NFL, as both are easily ranked in the top 10 of their position. They sandwich Corey Linsley, a fifth-round rookie last year who struggled in the early going. However, Linsley improved as the year went on, and he managed to finish his initial season as a reliable blocker. The fifth lineman is left tackle David Bakhtiari, who might be considered the weakest link of the group. However, Bakhtiari isn’t a bad starter; he allowed six sacks in his second NFL season, which isn’t a bad figure. He’s young, so he could improve.

Green Bay’s front pass protects better than it run blocks, but it still does a good job of blasting open holes for Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 1,139 yards on just 246 carries in 2014, which was good enough for 4.6 yards per attempt. Lacy, an absolute terror to tackle, also caught 42 balls out of the backfield. He’s one of the best, well-rounded backs in the NFL, and he has proven that he can carry the offense quite well if Rodgers is hobbled with an injury.

Lacy also makes the opposition respect the run, making things easier for Rodgers in terms of finding his talented weapons. The best of the bunch is Randall Cobb, who was also expected to sign elsewhere this offseason. However, Cobb took less money to return to Green Bay, which was wise of him because he could have easily made the same horrible mistake that Greg Jennings and James Jones were guilty of. Cobb, who caught 91 balls for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, will once again team up with Jordy Nelson, who logged 1,519 yards and 13 scores in 2014. The one concern with Nelson is that he’s coming off hip surgery, but he’s expected to be ready for training camp.

Rodgers’ other weapons include Davante Adams, who flashed at the end of the year, snatching seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown in a divisional-round victory over the Cowboys. Meanwhile, tight end Richard Rodgers has drawn lots of praise from his namesake. He could have a bigger role in 2015.

2015 Green Bay Packers Defense:
The Packers seldom make big splashes in free agency, and they don’t reach for needs in the draft. Having said that, it was a bit of a surprise that they didn’t address the inside linebacker spot until the fourth round. Thanks to incompetent players at the position last year, Green Bay was forced to move Clay Matthews there in the middle of the season. The experiment worked brilliantly – the Packers closed out the year on an 8-2 run, including the playoffs – but it’s not ideal to have Matthews at inside linebacker because that negates his best ability, which is rushing the passer.

Unless either of the fourth-rounders – Carl Bradford (2014) and Jake Ryan (2015) – can step up, Matthews will be marooned at inside linebacker once again. He’ll play well there, but once again, he would be better served starting across from Julius Peppers on the edge. Peppers, a rare acquisition in free agency by Ted Thompson, proved to be a huge addition. He notched seven sacks, which is not indicative of how much heat he placed on opposing signal-callers. Peppers turned 35 in January, so he doesn’t have many more productive seasons left in the NFL, but he should have at least one strong campaign left in the tank.

Peppers will reprise his role as a starter across from Nick Perry, who has been a big disappointment after being selected in the first round in 2012. Perry wasn’t awful last year, but he was just a marginal starter. The Packers consequently didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. Green Bay didn’t acquire any new edge rushers this offseason, so it’ll be stuck with Perry in the lineup again, unless the other inside linebackers play well enough to move Matthews back outside.

The Packers spent their early resources in the draft on players for the secondary. It’s hard to blame them, given that they lost a pair of cornerbacks to free agency. The second-rounder was used on a player at that position, Quinten Rollins. The Miami of Ohio product is expected to start out as a backup behind Casey Hayward and Sam Shields, but he could pass the latter if he struggles like he did last year. If not, a job could open up next year, given that Hayward will be on the market next spring. Hayward is a talented corner, so he could command lots of money as a free agent.

Green Bay’s top choice was safety Damarious Randall, who could also be playing behind two starters: Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Unlike Rollins, Randall doesn’t have a clear path into the starting lineup; Burnett, an excellent safety, is locked up until 2018, while Clinton-Dix was last year’s first-round selection. The Arizona State product could start at nickel, however. Micah Hyde struggled in that role last year.

While the secondary has seen some changes, the defensive line is exactly the same. It was expected that at least one of the nose tackles, B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion, would sign elsewhere this offseason, but Green Bay managed to retain them both. Raji missed all of 2014 with torn biceps, so having him back will be a nice boost. He’ll start next to Mike Daniels, who is coming off an excellent 2014 campaign, and either Josh Boyd or Datone Jones, both of whom were mediocre at best this past season.

2015 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 128-42-1 at home since 1992 – the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he’s 40-6 as a host the past six years, including a perfect 9-0 in 2014.

Mason Crosby was once considered extremely unreliable – he went 21-of-33 in 2012 – but he has improved in recent seasons. He was 27-of-33 last year, including 4-of-7 from 50-plus.

Tim Masthay was one of the league’s worst punters last year. He was 30th in net yardage and routinely struggled to pin the opposition inside the 20.

The Packers’ struggles on special teams are well documented. Though they scored twice on punts, thanks to Micah Hyde, they surrendered two touchdowns themselves, and they couldn’t cover kickoffs at all. They spent a third-rounder on Ty Montgomery to perhaps fix that.

Green Bay has a very manageable schedule. Excluding the Seahawks (home, Week 2), the team doesn’t play an opponent that made the playoffs last year until Week 8. There are only a handful of tough road games: Denver, Carolina, Detroit and Arizona.

2015 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.

2015 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Green Bay Packers Analysis: The Packers were a recovered onside kick away from reaching the Super Bowl last year – and that was with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers can remain healthy at the end of this season, Green Bay has as great of a shot as any team of advancing to the Big Game. This could definitely be the season that Rodgers claims his second Lombardi Trophy.

Projection: 13-3 (1st in NFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Packers lost several cornerbacks in free agency this offseason, so that is a position that will have to be remedied. However, the inside linebacker spot remains the greatest priority, as it’s not exactly ideal to have Clay Matthews playing there.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I wrote that inside linebacker was the team’s greatest priority, but Ted Thompson apparently disagreed, as he ignored that position until the fourth round. Instead, he spent his first two selections on the troubled secondary. I can’t exactly blame him; after all of the departures Green Bay incurred there, it was an area that absolutely had to be addressed. Thompson did well, taking two players who fit the range.

The inside linebacker Thompson acquired is a solid one; Jake Ryan could have been taken in the third frame without any complaints. He may not start right away, but he should be able to eventually push Clay Matthews back outside. Of course, the “biggest” name Green Bay took came in the following round when it grabbed Brett Hundley. I loved the pick; Hundley doesn’t know how to play quarterback yet, but has first-round physical talent. The Packers could develop him and flip him for a second-round choice in the future. In the meantime, Hundley won’t be a terrible option if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt again.

The Packers usually draft well, and this year doesn’t appear to be any different. I would have gone in another direction with some of their picks – Ty Montgomery, a couple seventh-rounders – but Green Bay had a solid haul overall.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

30. Damarious Randall, S, Arizona State: B- Grade
Eric Kendricks and Denzel Perryman fell to the Packers’ lap… and they pass on both for a second-round safety? The Randall love didn’t make much sense to me – he’s athletic, but as Jon Gruden noted, he struggles to tackle. However, I had him pegged as an early second-rounder, so this isn’t a mega reach, or anything. I just think the Packers had better options at their disposal.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

62. Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami of Ohio: B+ Grade
Quinten Rollins, as you may know by now, is a former basketball player who doesn’t have much football experience. He’s a talented prospect though, and he’s well worth this selection, as I had him pegged as a late second-rounder. He also fills a big need; the Packers lost several cornerbacks this offseason, so they had to address the position. I’m just a bit confused that they would draft a corner under six feet tall.

94. Ty Montgomery, WR/KR, Stanford: B Grade
Ty Montgomery was a Round 3-4 prospect, so the range is right for him. Some may question what the Packers want with yet another receiver, but Montgomery will be able to play special teams as a kick-returner right away. He won’t see many offensive reps unless there are numerous injuries, but he’ll still be able to make an impact because of his special-teams ability.

129. Jake Ryan, ILB, Michigan: B+ Grade
Jake Ryan is the sort of athletic inside linebacker the Packers and their fans have been pining for. Expecting Ryan to start right away is unfair, but he could eventually take over inside, which would allow Clay Matthews to finally be able to move to the exterior.

147. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: A+ Grade
I love this pick. I wouldn’t have been a fan of any team picking Brett Hundley in the second round because expectations would’ve been too high for him. Hundley has a first-round skill set, but he plays football like a seventh-rounder. He needs time to develop, and he’ll have that in a great environment. At the very worst, Hundley will be a decent option for the Packers if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt again. Best case, the Packers will develop him and flip him for a second-round selection.

205. Aaron Ripkowski, FB, Oklahoma: B- Grade
This makes sense, as Aaron Ripkowski, a seventh-round prospect, can be brought in and learn behind John Kuhn. Ripkowski can take over for the aging Kuhn in a year or two.

210. Christian Ringo, DE/DT, Louisiana-Lafayette: C Grade
I’m not sure about this one. It’s hard to argue with Ted Thompson’s success, but I don’t like Christian Ringo’s fit in the 3-4. He wasn’t in my top 400.

213. Kennard Backman, TE, UAB: C Grade
So much for J.J. Nelson being the last UAB player drafted for a very long time. Make that Kennard Backman, who might address the slight need at tight end the Packers have. As you can probably tell, I didn’t have Backman getting drafted, so I think the Packers could’ve done better than this.

Season Summary:
The Packers are going to be kicking themselves for all of the blown opportunities they had in the NFC Championship. From the field goal tries at the 1-yard line, to the failed onside kick recovery, to the near-interception on the two-point conversion, Green Bay had so many chances, but just blew it. Of course, it would’ve helped if Aaron Rodgers happened to be completely healthy. The Packers will need him at 100 percent to go the distance in 2015.

Offseason Moves:
  • Patriots sign QB Matt Flynn
  • Packers re-sign FB John Kuhn
  • Jets sign ILB Jamari Lattimore
  • Packers re-sign NT B.J. Raji
  • Packers re-sign NT Letroy Guion
  • Panthers sign WR Jarrett Boykin
  • Vikings sign RB DuJuan Harris
  • Browns sign CB Tramon Williams
  • Bengals sign LB A.J. Hawk
  • Packers re-sign OT Bryan Bulaga
  • Jaguars sign CB Davon House
  • Packers re-sign QB Scott Tolzien
  • Packers re-sign WR Randall Cobb
  • Packers cut ILB A.J. Hawk
  • Packers cut ILB Brad Jones
  • Packers waive TE Brandon Bostick

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Inside Linebackers: Clay Matthews moved to inside linebacker out of desperation this past season. He was great there, but the Packers want him on the edge. Thus, they could use their first-round pick on this position.

    2. Cornerback: Tramon Williams and Davon House are free agents this offseason, and Casey Hayward will have his contract expire next spring. The Packers have to find some reinforcements at corner soon. Perhaps they’ll do that with an early draft pick.

    3. Nose Tackle: Both Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji are impending free agents. One of them will probably be retained, but the Packers could still use an upgrade. Guion was serviceable this past year, but wasn’t exactly a strong point. Re-signed B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion

    4. Rush Linebacker: Julius Peppers was surprisingly terrific in 2014 despite looking washed up the year before. Peppers is just a short-term rental, however, so Green Bay needs to find an edge rusher for the future.

    5. Wide Receiver: Aaron Rodgers has already asked Ted Thompson to re-sign Randall Cobb. Rodgers knows how important Cobb is to the offense, and losing him would be huge. Re-signed Randall Cobb

    6. Right Tackle: Green Bay’s offensive line held up well this season, but that won’t be the case in 2015 if Bryan Bulaga leaves via free agency. He needs to be retained. Re-signed with Packers

    7. Defensive Line Depth: The Packers could use more bodies up front, and perhaps someone to push the underwhelming Datone Jones.

    8. Running Back: Green Bay wants a quality pass-catching running back, which the team thought it had with Johnathan Franklin.

    9. Backup Quarterback: Matt Flynn is a free agent. The Packers need a better backup if Rodgers misses some time.

    10. Punter: Tim Masthay has been 20th or worse in net punting average over the past two seasons.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:

    Green Bay Packers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Packers (4 years, $40 million)

      Aaron Rodgers has begged Ted Thompson to re-sign Randall Cobb. Rodgers, of course, knows how great and versatile Cobb is. Cobb didn’t get a chance to do much in 2013 because injuries limited him to just six games. He exploded this past season, catching 91 balls for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s just 25, so there’s still plenty of room for growth.

    2. Bryan Bulaga, OT, Packers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Packers (5 years, $35 million)

      Bryan Bulaga is one of the top right tackles in the NFL. He was missed last year when he tore his ACL, but he rebounded in 2014, as it appeared as though he was never injured in the first place.

    3. Tramon Williams, CB, Packers. Age: 32.
      Signed with Browns (3 years, $21 million)

      Tramon Williams played on a high level throughout his career. He continued to thrive in 2014, but he’s 32 as of March, so he could slow down soon.

    4. John Kuhn, FB, Packers. Age: 32.
      Re-signed with Packers (1 year, $870,000)

      A fan favorite in Green Bay, John Kuhn is a strong blocker who can be effective in short-yardage situations. The concern is his age – Kuhn will be 33 in September – but he was still going strong last year.

    5. B.J. Raji, NT, Packers. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Packers (1 year)

      B.J. Raji was a dominant force in 2010 and 2011, but has since severely declined – and that was before a torn bicep sidelined him this past season. Still though, the Packers thought enough of him that they offered him a contract that would pay him an average of $8 million per year prior to the 2014 offseason. The motivation just doesn’t seem to be there with Raji though, and it’s fair to wonder how he’ll rebound from his injury.

    6. Letroy Guion, NT, Packers. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Packers

      Letroy Guion was signed to just a 1-year, $1 million contract last offseason. He wasn’t the perfect nose tackle, as he didn’t do that well against the run, but he put good pressure on the quarterback for someone at his position.

    7. A.J. Hawk, ILB, Packers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Bengals (2 years)

      A.J. Hawk has regressed over the past couple of years, so his release was not surprising, especially considering that it saved $3.5 million in cap space. Hawk didn’t play much down the stretch and could be completely done. He’ll most likely get a second chance on a 1-year deal.

    8. Davon House, CB, Packers. Age: 26. — Signed with Jaguars
    9. Brad Jones, ILB, Packers. Age: 29. — Signed with Eagles
    10. Don Barclay (RFA), OT/G, Packers. Age: 26. — Tendered by Packers
    11. DuJuan Harris, RB, Packers. Age: 26. — Signed with Vikings
    12. Jamari Lattimore, ILB, Packers. Age: 26. — Signed with Jets
    13. Jarrett Boykin (RFA), WR, Packers. Age: 25. — Signed with Panthers
    14. Matt Flynn, QB, Packers. Age: 30. — Signed with Patriots
    15. Jarrett Bush, S, Packers. Age: 31.
    16. Sean Richardson (RFA), S, Packers. Age: 25.
    17. Scott Tolzien, QB, Packers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Packers


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