2017 NFL Offseason: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers (Last Year: 10-6)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
TE Martellus Bennett, TE Lance Kendricks, G Jahri Evans, DE/DT Ricky Jean-Francois, CB Davon House.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, DE/DT Montravius Adams, LB Vince Biegel, RB Jamaal Williams. Packers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Eddie Lacy, RB Christine Michael, RB James Starks, TE Jared Cook, G T.J. Lang, C J.C. Tretter, DE Julius Peppers, DE Datone Jones, DT Mike Pennel, CB Sam Shields, S Micah Hyde.

2017 Green Bay Packers Offense:
Considering the Packers had one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, some dynamic weapons on offense, and a stalwart blocking unit, it was absolutely shocking that they were 4-6 at one point during the 2016 campaign. However, Aaron Rodgers said that they were going to run the table, and they nearly did before sustaining some bad luck in Atlanta during the NFC Championship.

Rodgers was tremendous this past season, maintaining a 40:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but there are some lingering concerns on this side of the ball. The primary issue is the running game, which was non-existent for the Packers this past season. Once Eddie Lacy went down, Green Bay had to move wide receiver Ty Montgomery to running back. Montgomery had some bright moments, but he couldn’t exactly shoulder the entire workload. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and caught 44 passes, but he had more than 11 carries in a game only once. The Packers inexplicably failed to find an upgrade here, so Montgomery is slated to start once again. Third-day draft choices were used on Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, so perhaps one of them will convince the coaching staff to be heavily involved in the game plan.

Another problem for the Packers’ offense is the aforementioned blocking. Green Bay had one of the top lines in the NFL this past season, but the team lost two blockers in T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter. The latter’s departure wouldn’t matter much if Corey Linsley weren’t coming off ankle surgery. Linsley is a skilled center, but hasn’t been very durable; he has missed 10 games over the past two seasons. If he gets hurt again, the Packers won’t have a viable backup to plug into the lineup. Meanwhile, Lang’s defection for Detroit is much more serious, as he was one of the top guards in the NFL last year. He’ll be replaced by the declining Jahri Evans.

The third interior blocker is Lane Taylor, who isn’t very good either. The good news, however, is that the tackles are returning. David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are a terrific tandem, so considering the state of the interior of the offensive line, Rodgers will be very happy to have both edge players back.

Rodgers’ downfield arsenal remains the same as well, save for one exception: Martellus Bennett has replaced Jared Cook. The latter has always been a tantalizing player for teams because of his athletic ability, but hasn’t ever lived up to it. Bennett has, and he’s coming off a season in which he caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns for the Patriots. He’ll be a much more reliable intermediate weapon for Rodgers than Cook, Richard Rodgers and his other tight ends have been.

Meanwhile, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams will once again reprise their roles as Rodgers’ top three receivers. There’s a bit of an age concern with Nelson, who just turned 32, so he could begin to slow down soon. Cobb, meanwhile, needs to step up after two lackluster, injury-ridden seasons.

2017 Green Bay Packers Defense:
The primary reason the Packers were 4-6 this past season was their atrocious secondary, particularly their anemic cornerbacks. None of their corners performed on a high level, so it’s no surprise that the team spent its initial draft selection on a player at the position. That player was Kevin King, a tall, athletic cornerback from Washington. King is very physically talented, but a bit raw, so it remains to be seen if he can take over a starting job right away.

Then again, if 2016 is any indication, King won’t have much of a challenge in training camp. The top three cornerbacks from last year were Quinten Rollins, Ladarius Gunter and Damarious Randall, and like King, Randall and Rollins were both highly regarded as first- and second-round picks from the 2015 NFL Draft. Both players dealt with injuries this past season, however, so that may have affected their performance. However, the Packers aren’t exactly banking on them bouncing back, as they selected King and also signed Davon House via free agency. House struggled with the Jaguars, but had performed well at times for Green Bay prior to departing following the 2014 campaign.

The safeties at least are promising. Morgan Burnett and HaHa Clinton-Dix are both terrific talents, and there’s no reason for either to regress, given that they’re 28 and 24, respectively. Burnett is entering his contract year, however, so this could be his final season with the Packers.

Speaking of players who will, or have, moved on from the Packers, Julius Peppers departed for Carolina, leaving Clay Matthews and Nick Perry in his wake as starting edge rushers. Peppers, despite being on the decline, was needed last year because Matthews wasn’t himself. Matthews labored through a shoulder injury this past season and wasn’t nearly his dominant self. He can return to form if healthy in 2017. If so, the Packers will have a solid tandem with Perry, who recorded a career-high 11 sacks in 2016. The issue here is depth, as one of Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell or Vince Biegel will have to step up. Fackrell and Biegel were recent third- and fourth-round picks, respectively, while Elliott is young as well (25).

With Matthews expected to continue playing at outside linebacker on a permanent basis, the Packers will really need to figure out their inside linebacker situation. Jake Ryan is the one quality player they have at the position. He’s not great, but he’s a steady force against the run who isn’t embarrassed in coverage. The favorite to start next to Ryan is 2016 fourth-rounder Blake Martinez, who struggled as a rookie. He missed some time with a sprained MCL.

As for the defensive line, the Packers selected Montravius Adams in the third round and signed Ricky Jean-Francois in free agency. Both players will rotate with 2016 first-round pick Kenny Clark, who is expected to take a step forward after a middling rookie campaign. The best player up front is Mike Daniels, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves because the numbers don’t show it. Daniels has just eight total sacks in the past two seasons, but he’s an excellent pass-rusher who also plays well in run support.

2017 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 133-45-1 at home since 1992 – the year Brett Favre first became a Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he’s 52-11 as a host the past eight years, including a perfect 9-0 in 2014. He was 7-2 as a host last year.

Mason Crosby signed a $16.1 million contract last offseason. He went 26-of-30 in 2016, though he missed three extra points.

Tim Masthay was one of the league’s worst punters, and the Packers replaced him with Jacob Schum. However, he wasn’t much better, ranking 24th in net yardage.

The Packers had poor special teams in 2016, as they were outgained on both punt and kickoff returns.

Green Bay has a difficult start to its season, battling the Seahawks and Falcons right away. Things will get easier after that, though there are some other extremely difficult games like at Cowboys and at Steelers.

2017 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.

2017 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Green Bay Packers Analysis: The Packers are considered the favorites to win the division, but it’s definitely not a lock. They lost some key offensive linemen; they still lack a reliable running game; and they continue to have some holes on defense. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Green Bay lost the division to Detroit or Minnesota, though the Packers are most likely to stay atop the NFC North.

Projection: 11-5 (1st in NFC North)

2016 Projection: 12-4. 2016 Actual Result: 10-6.

NFL Draft Team Grade: A Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Packers were completely incapable of containing the Falcons in the NFC Championship. Adding a pass-rusher, an inside linebacker and a couple of defensive backs is imperative. The offense, meanwhile, is mostly set, though a running back and a guard are needed.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: A team puts together a truly great draft class when it trades down and still obtains talented prospects throughout the weekend. That’s exactly what Ted Thompson was able to do in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Packers moved out of the first round when the Browns wanted to move up for David Njoku. This gave them more ammunition, and Thompson took advantage of it. He began by selecting two talented defensive backs in the second round, Kevin King and Josh Jones. Both players could’ve gone earlier than they did, as they provided great value at Nos. 33 and 61, respectively.

Thompson turned to his front seven next, selecting Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel. These picks weren’t as great as the first two, but they still earned a “B” and a B+, respectively. Adams will bolster the interior pass rush, while Biegel could earn playing time at inside linebacker in the near future.

Of the Packers’ first seven picks, they scored three “A” grades, and they didn’t get anything below a B-. There were some sketchy selections late in the draft, but even then, Green Bay obtained a tremendous value in Malachi Dupre. This was an awesome draft for Green Bay.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

33. Kevin King, CB, Washington: A Grade
There was some speculation that Kevin King could’ve gone toward the end of the first round. I had him going No. 24 to the Raiders, and I thought he was a very realistic target for the Packers in the first frame. They could’ve taken him with the 29th pick, but they moved down and still filled a need by selecting a player at very good value. King has great size and athleticism, which is exactly what Green Bay looks for.

61. Josh Jones, S, N.C. State: A Grade
Here’s another talented safety to go in the second round. Josh Jones is a very athletic player whom I had going off the board in the middle of the second round. The Packers are getting with some solid value with Jones at this juncture. He also fills a need, as Green Bay lost Micah Hyde to free agency. He’s a very nice replacement for Hyde.

93. Montravius Adams, DE/DT, Auburn: B Grade
I thought Montravius Adams was going to be chosen a bit earlier than this, as he’s an athletic, interior pass-rusher. However, he struggles to defend the run and doesn’t have a very good motor, so I’m not crazy about this pick. I think it’s fine, as he can be a decent rotational defensive lineman.

108. Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin: B+ Grade
Vince Biegel seems like a nice pick for the Packers. They’ve needed inside linebacker help seemingly forever, and he could finally fill that void. He could also rush the passer in a pinch. I had Biegel going around this range, so Green Bay deserves a good grade.

134. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU: B- Grade
Jamaal Williams is not going to run away from anyone, but he’s a powerful back who could become a solid goal-line contributor in a platoon. I had Williams in the fifth round, so the range is close to being correct. However, there were other running backs I would’ve chosen over Williams, including Marlon Mack and Jeremy McNichols.

175. DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue: B- Grade
DeAngelo Yancey drew a lot of interest prior to the draft, so even though I had him in the sixth round, I’m not surprised that he was taken a bit earlier. Yancey struggled with passes at Purdue, but he tested well, so there’s upside. The Packers may need a replacement for Davante Adams next year.

182. Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP: A Grade
I like this pick a lot, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Aaron Jones becomes Green Bay’s starting running back at some point. He was productive at UTEP and displayed good vision, and then he went on to test at an extremely high level during the pre-draft process. He easily could’ve been chosen much earlier than this, so I think Green Bay got a steal.

212. Kofi Amichia, G/OT, South Florida: C Grade
With several guards hitting free agency after this season, I thought the Packers would address the position earlier than this. I also thought they’d obtain a better player than Kofi Amichia. I didn’t have Amichia getting drafted, and he wasn’t on my board. He played tackle in South Florida, but will need to learn a new position in Green Bay.

238. Devante Mays, RB, Utah State: C Grade
I liked Green Bay’s other running back picks, but not this one. Devante Mays has some upside – he posted a 40.5-inch vertical – but I didn’t have him anywhere close to being drafted. The Packers could’ve gotten him as a UDFA.

247. Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU: A+ Grade
It’s crazy that Malachi Dupre dropped this far. I’ve had Dupre slotted in the third round pretty consistently, though I did move him into the fourth frame at the end. There are some separation questions with Dupre, but one thing that is for certain is that at 6-foot-3, he’s a vertical threat in the end zone. Davante Adams will be a free agent after 2017, and the Packers could have Dupre replace him in 2018.

Season Summary:
Aaron Rodgers said the Packers were going to run the table, and it appeared as though they were going to do that. However, they made countless mistakes in the NFC Championship, capsizing their chances and ruining Rodgers’ prediction. Moving forward, the Packers have more than $35 million in cap space to work with, so they’ll continue to be one of the top teams in the NFL in 2017.

Offseason Moves:
  • Packers sign G Jahri Evans
  • Packers sign DE/DT Ricky Jean-Francois
  • Packers sign CB Davon House
  • Packers sign TE Lance Kendricks
  • Packers sign TE Martellus Bennett
  • Packers re-sign G Don Barclay
  • Packers re-sign DE/OLB Nick Perry
  • Packers cut CB Sam Shields
  • Packers cut RB James Starks

    Team Needs:
    1. Cornerback: Anyone who has watched the Packers at all this season knows what their top priority is this spring. Their defense has been abysmal at times, especially in the secondary. It’s unknown if Sam Shields will be able to play again because of a severe concussion. Meanwhile, Micah Hyde is an impending free agent. Signed Davon House

    2. Inside Linebacker: It feels like the Packers have needed a big upgrade at inside linebacker for years now. Will this finally be the year that they’ll address their huge need?

    3. Edge Rusher: Julius Peppers and Nick Perry have their contracts expiring in March. Peppers has told the media that he’s contemplating retirement, so it sounds like the Packers are very unlikely to have both players back. Re-signed Nick Perry

    4. Guard: The Packers possessed one of the top offensive lines in the NFL this past season, but they could lose T.J. Lang to free agency. Lang was one of the top guards in the NFL last year. Signed Jahri Evans; re-signed Don Barclay

    5. Running Back: Eddie Lacy is a free agent, but even if he’s re-signed, can the Packers go into 2017 with Lacy, Ty Montgomery and James Starks as their running backs? A second-day selection can be used on a new runner.

    6. Tight End: Jared Cook is an impending free agent as well. Cook is about to turn 30, so the Packers should probably look for a younger, more-reliable option this offseason, especially with this draft class being so stacked at tight end. Signed Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks

    7. Wide Receiver: The Packers could stand to add another receiver because of how injury-prone Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have been over the years.

    8. Center Depth: J.C. Tretter is set to hit free agency, so the Packers will need a new backup behind Corey Linsley.

    9. Punter: Jacob Schum was one of the league’s worst punters in 2016, ranking 24th in net yardage. He barely pinned opponents inside the 20.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots. Age: 30.
      Signed with Packers

      Martellus Bennett turns 30 in March, but he’s still a very effective player. He caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, as he’s had to be the primary tight end with Rob Gronkowski injured. He also blocked well.

    2. Jahri Evans, G, Saints. Age: 34.
      Signed with Packers

      Jahri Evans has been a terrific guard for the Saints since 2006. Unfortunately, he’s 34 now, and he’s slowing down. Evans is still a quality blocker, but he’s not on a Pro Bowl level anymore. Guards can play well into their mid-30s though, so Evans should still have a couple more solid seasons.

    3. Ricky Jean-Francois, DE/DT, Redskins. Age: 30. — Signed with Packers (1 year, $3 million)
    4. Davon House, CB, Jaguars. Age: 28. — Signed with Packers
    5. Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams. Age: 29. — Signed with Packers

    Green Bay Packers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $35.5M
    1. T.J. Lang, G, Packers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Lions (3 years)

      T.J. Lang missed some time with a foot injury this past season, but still performed as one of the top guards in the NFL. The one downside is that he’ll turn 30 at the end of September, but interior linemen can usually play on a high level well into their mid-30s.

    2. J.C. Tretter, C/G, Packers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Browns (3 years, $16.75 million)

      J.C. Tretter began the year as Green Bay’s starting center, but lost his job when suffering a sprained MCL. It’s a shame for Tretter because he had been performing on a high level, especially in pass protection. The other center, Corey Linsley, has just been better.

    3. Micah Hyde, S/CB/KR, Packers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills

      Micah Hyde, a solid return specialist, is very good in run support, but could stand to improve as a coverage safety/nickel corner. He won’t be 27 until New Year’s Eve, so he’ll have plenty of time to improve that facet of his game.

    4. Nick Perry, DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Packers (5 years)

      With Julius Peppers declining a bit at the end of the year, and Clay Matthews hobbled with an injury throughout the season, Nick Perry was Green Bay’s best edge rusher in 2016. It’s a concern that Perry had struggled prior to his contract year, but he’s a former first-round pick and obviously has lots of talent.

    5. Jared Cook, TE, Packers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Raiders

      Jared Cook has teased everyone with his high talent level over the years, but he’s ultimately disappointed everyone – at least until the divisional round of the playoffs. He dominated the game, and he made one of the greatest catches in NFL history to set up the win for Green Bay. Cook, however, turns 30 this offseason, so time is running out for him.

    6. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Seahawks

      Eddie Lacy looked like he was going to eat himself out of the league in 2015, but slimmed down a bit this past season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry before suffering an ankle injury. Lacy told the media that he plans on doing a P90X workout this offseason, so perhaps he’ll continue to lose weight.

    7. Datone Jones, DE, Packers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Vikings

      Datone Jones was drafted to be a five-technique, but was moved to outside linebacker. He did well there in 2015, but regressed a bit in 2016. He still has a ton of talent as a former first-round pick, however, and perhaps he’ll improve once his role becomes fully defined.

    8. Sam Shields, CB, Packers. Age: 29.
      Sam Shields is difficult to rate. He was considered the Packers’ top cornerback heading into 2016, and while that’s not saying much, he’s worth a four-star rating at least under normal circumstances. Shields, however, missed all but one game last year with a concussion. As of this writing (Feb. 8), he still hasn’t been cleared. Shields may never play again, and even if he’s cleared, another concussion could knock him out of the league forever. However, his upside makes him worth signing to a 1-year “prove it” deal.

    9. Julius Peppers, DE, Packers. Age: 37.
      Signed with Panthers

      Julius Peppers was great to start the 2016 season, but he declined a bit down the stretch and told the media that he was contemplating retirement.

    10. Mike Pennell, DT, Packers. Age: 26. — Signed with Jets
    11. Christine Michael, RB, Packers. Age: 27. — Signed with Colts
    12. Don Barclay, G/OT, Packers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Packers
    13. James Starks, RB, Packers. Age: 31.
    14. Jayrone Elliott (RFA), DE/OLB, Packers. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Packers


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