2016 NFL Offseason: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers (Last Year: 10-6)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
TE Jared Cook.
Early Draft Picks:
NT Kenny Clark, OT Jason Spriggs, LB Kyler Fackrell, LB Blake Martinez, DE/DT Dean Lowry. Packers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR James Jones, NT B.J. Raji, DE/OLB Mike Neal, CB Casey Hayward.

2016 Green Bay Packers Offense:
The Packers were expected to have one of the most explosive scoring units in the NFL last year, even after Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the preseason. Green Bay had Aaron Rodgers, after all, and Rodgers had thrived with less talent around him in the past.

Well, that wasn’t the case in 2015. The Packers mustered just 23.5 points per game, down from 29.7 the year before. Rodgers’ lack of weaponry wasn’t the only culprit; Rodgers himself looked off. There were rumors circulating that Rodgers was playing with a torn tendon in his shoulder. It’s unclear if that’s true or not, but it would certainly explain Rodgers’ worst season as a pro. Rodgers maintained his worst completion percentage (60.7) and YPA (6.7) as a full-time starter, and his next-worse figures weren’t even close. There was definitely something wrong with him, but the good news is that it could mean Rodgers is due for a strong bounce-back 2016 campaign.

Rodgers will also have Nelson at his disposal once again. That’s obviously huge, and it’ll be almost equally important that Randall Cobb will be healthy again. Cobb got off to a great start last year – 20 catches, 245 yards, four touchdowns in his first three games – but sustained a shoulder injury against the Chiefs in an early Monday night game and was never the same after that. Cobb didn’t even eclipse the century mark in terms of receiving yardage in any contest following that one.

Some of Rodgers’ other aerial weapons include Jeff Janis and Jared Cook. Janis, a seventh-round selection from 2014, didn’t play much during the regular season, but went off with a huge performance at Arizona in the divisional round of the playoffs, catching seven balls for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Mike McCarthy told the media that Janis is ready to take the next step, so prepare to see more of him going forward. As for Cook, the athletic tight end was a major disappointment in St. Louis, but has never played with a talented quarterback in his entire career. Perhaps he’ll be able to revitalize his career in Green Bay.

Everything sounds positive so far, but what about the offensive line? The unit was a mess last year, failing to protect the seemingly injured Rodgers in every game. That was because of injuries, however, as most of the starters are more than capable of performing on a high level. The tackles are probably the weakest part of the group, as David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga aren’t liabilities, but aren’t great either. The former is heading for free agency after this season, which would explain the second-round selection used on the athletic Jason Spriggs. The Indiana product will serve as valuable depth in the meantime.

Green Bay’s interior is much better than the tackle situation. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang form one of the league’s top guard tandems in the NFL, while center Corey Linsley had a solid 2015 campaign. Depth was not addressed here, however, so the Packers could have issues if Sitton, Lang or Linsley goes down.

As for the rushing attack, that proved to be problematic last year as well. Eddie Lacy was so fat that after a very sluggish run of his, someone compiled all of the tweets he had made about food the previous year, and there were countless entries. Green Bay’s coaching staff acknowledged the weight gain as well, and they almost had to after Lacy’s dreadful season. The good news is that Lacy was photographed recently, and he looked very slender compared to last year, so perhaps he’ll be able to rebound.

2016 Green Bay Packers Defense:
While the Packers often sputtered offensively this past season, they were able to sneak into the playoffs because of their defense, which limited opponents to just 20.4 points per game. They have numerous talented players in their stop unit, many of whom reside in the secondary.

Green Bay has spent numerous early-round selections recently on defensive backs, and most of them have panned out. For instance, the first-round choice in the 2014 NFL Draft was used on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who has turned out to be a very good player. That said, he pales in comparison to his partner Morgan Burnett, who is one of the better safeties in the NFL. Burnett missed five games this past season because of a calf injury, but was exceptional upon his return.

Other significant draft choices used on defensive backs include the 2015 first- and second-rounders spent on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, respectively. Randall struggled to tackle last year, but was solid in coverage. Rollins, meanwhile, didn’t see significant playing time, but looked good when he was on the field. He’ll be asked to do more this season in the wake of Casey Hayward’s departure in free agency. With Hayward gone, Green Bay’s top cornerback will be Sam Shields, who is coming off a strong 2015 campaign after struggling a bit in 2014.

Speaking of struggling, that word can be used to describe the Green Bay inside linebackers last year, all of whom underwhelmed. This actually includes Clay Matthews, who clearly wasn’t at his best. The Packers took note of this and announced that Matthews would move back outside this upcoming season. This is a wise move, but who’s going to replace Matthews? In fact, Green Bay doesn’t even have one viable starter. Jake Ryan, who is decent in run support, can be a two-down player, but someone will need to handle the primary duties. Sam Barrington will have the first crack at the job, but he’s not a good player. Perhaps fourth-round rookie Blake Martinez will be able to step up, but probably not.

With Matthews on the edge again, the Packers now potentially have two potent exterior pass-rushers. Matthews will be great, but it’s unclear how Julius Peppers will perform. Peppers notched 10.5 sacks in 2015, but turned 36 in January, so he could easily regress this season. Beyond Matthews and Peppers, the Packers have Datone Jones, who moved to outside linebacker after struggling on the defensive line; Nick Perry, who has been a colossal disappointment throughout his career; and Kyler Fackrell, who was just chosen in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Green Bay’s first-round choice this past April was spent on nose tackle Kenny Clark. The UCLA product made sense in the wake of B.J. Raji’s retirement. He’ll have to fill Raji’s shoes, which may not be that difficult, given that Raji had been a big disappointment after a couple of early strong seasons in his career. Clark would play next to terrific defensive end Mike Daniels, and a rotation of some sort between Mike Pennel and Letroy Guion, both of whom are marginal players.

2016 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 133-45-1 at home since 1992 – the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he’s 45-9 as a host the past seven years, including a perfect 9-0 in 2014. He was just 5-3 at home last year, but as mentioned, he wasn’t himself because of an injury.

Mason Crosby signed a $16.1 million contract this offseason. He went 24-of-28 in 2015, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus. He converted all 36 of his extra points.

Tim Masthay was one of the league’s worst punters in 2014, ranking 30th in net yardage. However, he improved this past season, finishing 14th in that category.

The Packers had mixed special teams, outgaining opponents on punts, but losing out to foes on kickoffs.

Green Bay has a very easy start to its season. Of the first nine games, seven contests are against the Jaguars, Lions, Giants (home), Cowboys (home), Bears, Falcons and Titans. In fact, the Packers are favored in every single contest this year per the early Vegas lines, save for one: Week 2 at Minnesota.

2016 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.

2016 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Green Bay Packers Analysis: So many things went wrong for the Packers last year. Assuming Aaron Rodgers and most of his supporting cast stays healthy, 2016 will be a strong rebound season for them. Barring numerous injuries, Green Bay will undoubtedly be in the Super Bowl mix.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Packers have been focusing on adding more speed to their defense in previous years, and I expect them to continue that trend. They’ll have to address the defensive line and linebacking corps early and often. Later on, finding depth on the offensive line is crucial, considering what happened to them in 2015.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Of the seven picks the Packers made, only one was graded worse than a B-. That happened to be Jason Spriggs in the second round, who earned a “C.” I don’t have much of an issue with Spriggs, who actually has plenty of upside because of his athleticism, but I didn’t like that the Packers moved up for him. Green Bay could’ve obtained a comparable football player without pulling the trigger on that deal, and it’s not like Spriggs will help out this year anyway, unless there are injuries.

As for the Packers’ initial selection, Kenny Clark was given a B-. I was surprised that the Packers passed on Vernon Butler, who was the consensus better prospect. Still, I understand the Clark selection, as he’ll replace the retired B.J. Raji.

Green Bay spent its next couple of selections acquiring linebackers, and rightfully so. The group has been a mess for a while now, and the two choices – Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez – were solid ones. Fackrell was especially great, as there were some teams considering him in the second round.

I think the Packers deserve a “B” overall. They made some solid choices to improve the roster, but they were also guilty of some minor mistakes early in the process.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

27. Kenny Clark, NT, UCLA B- Grade
No real problem with this pick, though I would’ve preferred Andrew Billings or Vernon Butler. The Packers needed a nose tackle in the wake of B.J. Raji’s retirement, and they had their pick of the litter at this juncture. Given that, you might wonder why the Packers didn’t move down, even if they didn’t get full value. Still, Green Bay made a somewhat decent choice to fill a big hole on its defensive front.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

48. Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana C Grade
It’s surprising to see the Packers make such a splash move like this. It doesn’t seem necessary either. Jason Spriggs tested extremely well at the Combine, but he has several things to work on before becoming a starter, as he’s pretty raw. I think Green Bay could’ve waited on tackle depth and perhaps a starter for 2017. There were just other needs to address, and Green Bay could’ve obtained a better football player without trading up.

88. Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State A- Grade
Packer fans have to be thrilled with this pick. I’m basing that on all the e-mails and comments I received from them about being super desperate for an inside linebacker. Well, they finally have one, and Kyler Fackrell is pretty good. We were hearing some buzz for Fackrell in the second round, so the value here is very good. Fackrell also has plenty of versatility, as he can also play the edge and rush the passer effectively.

131. Blake Martinez, LB, Stanford B Grade
I was wondering whether the Packers planned to use Kyler Fackrell inside or on the edge. Perhaps this provides an answer, as Blake Martinez is certainly an interior player. Martinez fits the range as a low fourth-round prospect. He can play the run well, but figures to struggle in coverage.

137. Dean Lowry, DE/DT, Northwestern B- Grade
Dean Lowry probably was an undraftable prospect until he made a name for himself at the Combine. He showed off some surprising athleticism, which intrigued some teams. He’s definitely a project, but perhaps he’ll end up as a starter at some point in his career. If not, he could be a decent rotational player.

163. Trevor Davis, WR/KR, California B Grade
Trevor Davis tested as one of the top wide receivers at the Combine. However, he may not see much action at wideout, as it seems like he might just be relegated to special teams. That’s perfectly fine, as he has the talent to be a dynamic return specialist in the NFL.

200. Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford B+ Grade
I don’t have any athleticism numbers on Kyle Murphy, but what I do know is that he played on Kevin Hogan’s blind side this past season after taking over for Andrus Peat. Murphy could’ve been chosen in the fifth round without any complaints, so this is a nice selection by a team interested in further upgrading its depth at tackle.

Season Summary:
The Packers nearly pulled off a miracle in Arizona, but they were fortunate to even be there in the first place. They struggled mightily in the second half of the season, thanks to injuries on the offensive line and in the receiving corps. Perhaps Green Bay will have better luck in terms of health in 2016.

Offseason Moves:
  • Packers sign TE Jared Cook
  • Packers re-sign RB James Starks
  • Packers announce retirement of NT B.J. Raji
  • Packers re-sign DE/OLB Nick Perry
  • Packers re-sign G Lane Taylor
  • Packers re-sign K Mason Crosby
  • Packers re-sign NT Letroy Guion

    Team Needs:
    1. Rush Linebacker: Nick Perry’s contract is expiring, but he never lived up to expectations anyway. Meanwhile, Julius Peppers won’t be around much longer. An early draft choice could be used on a pass-rusher, or perhaps… Re-signed Nick Perry

    2. Inside Linebacker: …The Packers will move Clay Matthews back to the edge. Matthews would be better there, as he declined a bit as an inside linebacker. The Packers have needed major help at this position for a few years now, so an early-round selection could be used on help here.

    3. Nose Tackle: Will the Packers re-sign B.J. Raji to another 1-year deal? Raji didn’t play well in 2015, so Ted Thompson may opt to find a better run-stuffer.

    4. Tight End: Richard Rodgers made a name for himself by catching Aaron Rodgers’ first Hail Mary of the season. However, the Packers could do much better at tight end, so an upgrade could be obtained on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft. Signed Jared Cook

    5. Defensive End: As with the nose tackle spot, the Packers have an impending free agent to potentially replace in Letroy Guion.

    6. Running Back: James Starks is an impending free agent, while Eddie Lacy is doing his best to eat his way out of the league. A second-day draft choice could be used on a running back, though there are some talented free agents available. Re-signed James Starks

    7. Offensive Tackle Depth: The Packers struggled when either David Bakhtiari or Bryan Bulaga went down, so a better backup swing tackle is needed.

    8. Wide Receiver Depth: Jordy Nelson will be back, and Randall Cobb will be healthy next year. The Packers have numerous young receivers who have shown some promise at times, but a dependable tertiary target could be acquired.

    9. Fullback: I’m sure the Packers will try to re-sign John Kuhn.

    10. Kicker: Mason Crosby has improved after a dismal 2012 campaign, but he’ll be hitting free agency come March. Re-signed Mason Crosby

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Jared Cook, TE, Rams. Age: 29.
      Signed with Packers (1 year, $3.65 million)

      Congratulations are in order for Jared Cook, who stole a ton of money from the Rams’ organization. I hope he left the building for the final time holding a white bag with a dollar sign on it for good measure. Cook is very physically talented, but he doesn’t care about becoming a better player. He’s running out of time to overcome his extreme lethargy, but he’s still worth a shot on a 1-year “prove it” deal.

    Green Bay Packers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Casey Hayward, CB, Packers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years, $15.3 million)

      Casey Hayward is a terrific cover corner, but struggles mightily when it comes to tackling. He’s only 26 though, so he has plenty of time to improve that aspect of his game.

    2. Mason Crosby, K, Packers. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Packers (4 years)

      Mason Crosby went 24-of-28 in 2015, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus. He also didn’t miss any extra points, which is a big deal now.

    3. B.J. Raji, NT, Packers. Age: 30.
      Announced retirement

      B.J. Raji had a strong start to his 2015 campaign before sustaining a groin injury in October. His play has declined ever since. This is nothing new for Raji, who has been hindered by injuries his entire career.

    4. John Kuhn, FB, Packers. Age: 34.
      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 34 in September – but he was still going strong last season.

    5. Letroy Guion, NT, Packers. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Packers (3 years, $11.25 million)

      Letroy Guion’s pass-rushing ability has regressed, but he can still stuff the run very well.

    6. Mike Neal, DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 29.
      A jack of all trades, master of none, Mike Neal is a sub-par starter, but can play numerous positions in Green Bay’s defense.

    7. Nick Perry, DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Packers (1 year, $5 million)

      Nick Perry has never met the expectations the Packers put on him when using a first-round pick on him in 2012. Perry hasn’t been terrible, but he never registered more than four sacks.

    8. James Starks, RB, Packers. Age: 30.
      Re-signed with Packers

      James Starks is a solid ball-carrier, as he averaged 4.1 YPC behind a poor offensive line in 2015. However, he has fumbling issues. He killed his team with some untimely turnovers down the stretch.

    9. James Jones, WR, Packers. Age: 32.
    10. Andrew Quarless, TE, Packers. Age: 27.
    11. Don Barclay, OT, Packers. Age: 26.
    12. Lane Taylor (RFA), G, Packers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Packers (2 years)
    13. Sean Richardson, S, Packers. Age: 26.
    14. Andy Mulumba (RFA), DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 26. — Signed with Chiefs
    15. Scott Tolzien, QB, Packers. Age: 28. — Signed with Colts (2 years)

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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