Sunday, September 4, 2011

2011 Green Bay Packers Initial Player Rankings

Since this post is going to get lengthy, I will make the introduction short. These rankings are based on a combination of ability, age, contract Status, and strength at the position. With that in mind, here are my initial rankings of the 2011 Green Bay Packers roster:

#53) M.D. Jennings (S) - The biggest surprise to make the 53-man roster might only be on the actual roster for a short time because the Packers need to add at least one more interior offensive lineman.

#52) Evan Dietrich-Smith (G/C) - Another surprise member of the 53-man roster ahead of Nick McDonald (cut) and Caleb Schlauderaff (traded). Dietrich-Smith can play guard and center so versatility is probably the main reason why he made the 53-man roster.

#51) Jamari Lattimore (OLB) - With Frank Zombo hurt, Lattimore gives the Packers depth at outside linebacker. Once Zombo is healthy, look for Lattimore to get cut and hopefully added to the practice squad.

#50) Pat Lee (CB) - Did not start at Auburn till his senior year yet the Packer used a second round draft pick on him in the 2008 NFL Draft. This will be Lee's fourth year in the league but unfortunately he has more years in the NFL than memorable plays.

#49) Brad Jones (OLB) - Has struggled to regain his form in 2011 after a promising start to the 2010 season (started five games and appeared in seven games) was cut short by injury. Some Packers coaches compared Jones to Chad Brown (former Steeler and Seahawk) but he is a homeless man's Chad Brown at best. It is put up or shut up time for Jones because the Packers have a ton of young outside linebackers vying for playing time.

#48) D.J. Williams (TE) - An undersized, athletic tight end that needs to prove the Packers made the right decision keeping him as their 5th tight end.

#47) Robert Francois (MLB) - After Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar were cut the Packers suddenly went from having the deepest group of middle linebackers in the NFL to being rather thin at the position after their two starters. Francois showed promise in the preseason but still looks like a mediocre backup at best.

#46) Davon House (CB) - A fast (4.41 second 40-yard dash) rookie cornerback with raw athletic talent that is an unknown commodity because injuries limited his repetitions throughout the preseason.

#45) C.J. Wilson (DE) - Registered 21 tackles, six QB hits, and one sack in 2010. Those are not terrible numbers since the 3-4 defense is not set-up for defensive lineman to put up big numbers. It is more important that Wilson eats up blockers in running and passing situations to open up big play opportunities for linebackers and defensive backs.

#44) D.J. Smith (MLB) - A bit undersized (5'11" and 240 lbs) for a prototypical 3-4 middle linebacker that makes up for being undersized by being an absolute tackling machine.

#43) Tom Crabtree (TE) - Not the most polished tight end on the roster but does a little bit of everything well. Crabtree's strongest asset is his blocking ability, which makes him a candidate to play both tight end and fullback since the Packers traded Quinn Johnson.

#42) Alex Green (RB) - The departure of Brandon Jackson left the Packers searching for a new 3rd down back. Green is trying to prove that he is not a one-hit wonder that benefited from playing in a pass first offense at Hawaii. If Green can improve his blocking ability he looks like the ideal candidate to be the new 3rd down back.

#41) Ryan Taylor (TE) - A few weeks ago it looked like Taylor was fighting for a practice squad spot and now he is fighting for the backup tight end spot behind starter Jermichael Finley. Much like Crabtree, Taylor blocks well so he has a chance to play tight end and fullback.

#40) Jarius Wynn (DE) - Defensive lineman in the 3-4 defense are asked to do all the dirty work (eat up blockers) without having free reign for any of the glory (sacks and tackles for a loss) most of the time. That doesn't diminish how important defensive lineman are in the 3-4 defense though. Look for Wynn to continue to do the dirty work along the defensive line for the Packers in 2011.

#39) Derek Sherrod (OT) - At 6'5" and 320 pounds, Sherrod is the left tackle of the future in Green Bay after struggling at left guard throughout the preseason. The coaching staff should not be surprised that Sherrod struggled as a left guard because he started 47 games (appearing in 49 games total) at left tackle at Mississippi State. Hopefully Sherrod will settle in at left tackle because the Packers are one Chad Clifton injury away from needing a new blindside protector for Aaron Rodgers.

#38) Frank Zombo (OLB) - Transitioned to playing outside linebacker in his rookie season in the NFL in 2010 after playing defensive end in college. Zombo had four sacks (including the only sack in Super Bowl XLV), six tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, and seven quarterback hits. Unfortunately Zombo broke his shoulder blade in the preseason and his availability for 2011 is up in the air otherwise he would be ranked 10 spots higher.

#37) Marshall Newhouse (OT) - The 3rd tackle on the depth chart despite the fact that the Packer drafted Derek Sherrod in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Look for Newhouse to fill in at either tackle position as opposed to Sherrod if either Clifton or Bulaga get hurt in 2011.

#36) Randall Cobb (WR) - Although he might not be healthy enough to play in the season opener, when healthy, Cobb will help the Packers improve in the return game because they were horrible in 2010: 26th in kickoff return average and 22nd in punt return average. In fact the Packers have not had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum's 92-yard return against the Colts in November of 2000.

#35) Vic So'oto (OLB) - The pleasant surprise of the 2011 preseason for the Green Bay Packers played well against the Colts and the Chiefs to not only secure a roster spot but also serves as the primary backup spot at outside linebacker. I know it seems crazy but So’oto looks like the second coming of James Harrison.

#34) Andrew Quarless (TE) - A homeless man's Jermichael Finley has a ton of young competition (Williams, Crabtree, and Taylor) for playing time in 2011. Look for Quarless to improve his blocking or find his playing time severely limited.

#33) John Kuhn (FB/RB) - The only fullback on the 53-man roster is really more of a tweener fullback/running back then a true blocking fullback. Look for Kuhn to fill multiple roles (fullback, running back, and special teams) in 2011 to justify his three-year, $7.5 million contract extension.

#32) Jarrett Bush (CB/S) - Is the hardest non-starter on the roster to figure out. Bush plays great on special teams most of the time. Unfortunately on defense Bush is like temperamental14-year-old girl, sometimes he plays great on defense and sometimes he looks absolutely lost. Bush's special teams makes him worthy of a roster spot, the wild card is how he will do on defense in 2011.

#31) Brett Goode (LS) - Clean as the long snapper for the last three years (89 punts and 94 place kicks), hopefully Goode can continue that form in 2011 because you never want to hear the long snapper talked about because if his name comes up it means he made a horrible gaffe.

#30) Charlie Peprah (S) - Signed a two-year, $2 million contract ($150,000 guaranteed) in the off-season to give the Packers a quality back-up safety to Collins and Burnett.

#29) Matt Flynn (QB) - At some point Flynn will be an NFL starter but for all the praise he got after his performance against the Patriots with Rodgers sidelined with a concussion at the end of last season, Flynn is still a bit of an unknown commodity. Hopefully Flynn will not get any extended looks in 2011 besides moping up in garbage time because that would mean Rodgers was seriously injured again.

#28) Howard Green (DE/DT) - Big Sexy of the defensive line will be called upon often to play in 2011 because he is the primary back-up at both defensive end and defensive tackle.

#27) Mason Crosby (K) - Moving the kickoff to the 35-yard line will help Crosby but that doesn't mean he is worth the five-year, $14.75 million deal ($3 million guaranteed) he signed after the lockout was lifted. Compare that deal to the four-year, $12 million deal ($3.5 million guaranteed) that Ryan Longwell got from the Minnesota Vikings. I guess that is the going rate for a kicker but Crosby has only converted 78.1% of his FG attempts and 219 of 220 PATs. Crosby’s below average numbers are due in part to kicking in Green Bay but he is still an average kicker at best that is being paid like a borderline Pro Bowl kicker. Let’s compare recent Packer kickers. Crosby is better than Chris Jackie who converted 76.4% of his kicks in Green Bay from 1989 to 1996 but not better than Ryan Longwell who converted 80.9% of his kicks in Green Bay from 1997 to 2005. Crosby makes the kicks he should make (67 of 75 (89.3%) inside 40-yards and makes some of the longer kicks 26 of 37 (70.4%) from between 40 and 49-yards. Unfortunately Crosby is only 1 for 4 in game winning kicks as well (made a 42-yarder in his NFL debut but missed from 52, 38, and 53). There are only 32 starting place kickers in the NFL and Crosby has been below average since the Packers drafted him: 2007 - 26th (79.5%), 2008 - 28th (79.4%), 2009 - Tied for 25th (75.0%), and 2010 - 26th (78.6%).

#26) Mike Neal (DE) - Missed three games with an abdominal strain to start his NFL career in 2010. When Neal returned he registered three tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. Unfortunately Neal suffered a season ending shoulder injury Week 5. Keep all of that in mind as you try to process that the Packers are expecting Neal to start at defensive end in place of the now departed Cullen Jenkins. Unfortunately Neal is not even a lock to be healthy enough to play in the opener so you can see why Big Sexy (Howard Green) is so important to the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

#25) T.J. Lang (OG) - After an early camp battle with rookie Derek Sherrod for the starting left guard spot, Lang beat out Sherrod with a good performance against the Arizona Cardinals earlier in the preseason. Hopefully we get the impressive 2009 version of T.J. Lang as opposed to the lackluster 2010 version.

#24) Ryan Grant (RB) - The Packers paid Grant a big roster bonus ($1.75 million) at the start of training camp and then re-negotiated Grant's contract so that he makes $1 million less in 2011 but the entire contract is guaranteed. Grant turns 29 during the 2011 season but Grant's body is not really that old because he has only played a few full NFL season. How well Grant and Starks play in 2011 will go a long way towards determining where Grant plays in 2012.

#23) James Jones (WR) - After catching 50 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns as a borderline starting wide receiver for the Packers in 2010, it looked like Jones was going to break the bank to become a primary receiver for another team. Thanks to one of the deepest groups of free agent wide receivers in NFL history, Jones didn’t break the bank and ended up signing a three-year, $9.6 million deal ($1.5 million guaranteed) with the Packers. Jones needs to limit his drops in big situations because he dropped 10 balls in 2010, five that could have gone for TDs (against Dolphins, Jets, Giants, Eagles in the playoffs, and Steelers in Super Bowl XLV). If Jones limits his drops, he signed one of the most club friendly contracts ever.

#22) James Starks (RB) - Adopted a gluten free diet during the lockout and gained eight pounds to tip the scales at 225 pounds. After a number of impressive performances at the end of the 2010 season, look for Starks to pick up where he left off with an improved body physically to become the primary ball carrier by the end of the season.

#21) Tim Masthay (P) - Preformed very well in 2010: 13th in gross punt average (43.9 yards), 18th in net punt average (37.6 yards), and 16th in placing punts inside the 20 yard line (25 times). If Masthay kicks as well in 2011 as he did in 2010, look for the Packers to sign Masthay long-term.

#20) Donald Driver (WR) - The "starter" at wide receiver opposite Greg Jennings is just 41 yards shy of breaking James Lofton's teams record for most receiving yards in franchise history (9,656 yards). Kudos to Driver in advance of breaking Lofton's record, he is one of the classiest guys in franchise history. For everyone that is anointing Nelson and Jones as bigger threats than Driver, slow down because Driver has been defying the odds his entire career. I expect Driver to have a great bounce back season in 2011.

#19) Morgan Burnett (S) - After an lost rookie season to a knee injury, Burnett opens 2011 as the starter at safety opposite Nick Collins. As long as Burnett can stay healthy, he looks like the next great safety in the making in Green Bay.

#18) Erik Walden (OLB) - It is nice to have some consistency opposite Matthews with Walden because last season the Packers started four different guys (including playoffs) opposite Matthews: Robert Francois (1 game), Erik Walden (5 games), Brad Jones (5 games), and Frank Zombo (9 games).

#17) Jordy Nelson (WR) - For all the praise Nelson is receiving throughout the preseason let's not forget that he did not put up huge numbers in 2010 with 45 catches for 582 yards and two touchdowns. I know Nelson had a nice statistical performance in Super Bowl XLV with nine catches and 140 receiving yards but he dropped a sure touchdown in that game. Let's hope Nelson can have a breakout season in a contract year in 2011 to earn the big extension the Packers presumably already have in the works.

#16) Sam Shields (CB) - Allowed four TDs and 10 plays of 20-yards or more in 2010. Those stats don't seem great but Shields played much better then just the raw statistics. In fact, Peter King ranked Shields as the 100th best player in the NFL in 2010. Not too shabby for a guy that wasn't even drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Packers lured Shields to Green Bay with a $7,500 signing bonus that might go down as the most cost effective signing bonus in franchise history.

#15) Ryan Pickett (DT) - Registered a tackle every seven snaps in 2010. Although Pickett will be a big part of the defensive line in 2011 if he stays healthy, look for him to regress statistically in 2011 because he is moving from defensive end to defensive tackle.

#14) Chad Clifton (OT) - In what might be Clifton's last season in Green Bay let's hope he can stay healthy for the whole season because an injury to Clifton might force the Packers to shuffle the entire offensive line (move Bulaga to left tackle, move Lang to right tackle, and insert a new player at left guard) because Newhouse and Sherrod don't look like starting left tackles in the NFL yet.

#13) A.J. Hawk (MLB) - The Business HJ of middle linebackers signed a five-year, $33.75 million contract ($10.95 million guaranteed) right before the start of the lockout. Hawk plays almost every down contributing 666 tackles, 33 passes defended, 15 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, 8 INTs, 4 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles for his career. That seems great but Hawk was the 5th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. When you are picked that high, you expect more explosive plays.

#12) Bryan Bulaga (OT) - The new school Mark Tauscher in Green Bay sans the glorious neck beard had an all-around impressive rookie season in 2010. In fact a very compelling argument could be made that without Bulaga in the fold, the Green Bay Packers would not have won Super Bowl XLV.

#11) Desmond Bishop (MLB) - Following former starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett's season ending injury, Bishop shed the "Mr. August" title making 150 tackles, 3 sacks, and a pick-six in the final 16 games of the season (including playoffs). The Packers rewarded Bishop with a four-year, $18 million extension. Having Bishop and Hawk in the fold made Nick Barnett expendable but it was still sad to see Barnett go after all he contributed in his Packer career (started 107 of 128 regular season games, registered 575 tackles, 15.5 sacks, and 9 interceptions. Barnett was healthy at the start of his career, he only missed two games in his first five years in the league but a torn ACL in 2008 (missed 8 games) and wrist injury in 2010 (missed 12 games) made him expendable. Barnett signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Buffalo Bills ($6 guaranteed) after getting cut by the Packers. It will be interesting to track Bishop and Barnett the next few years to see if the Packers made the right decision going with the younger guy.

#10) Scott Wells (C) - Despite trying to replace Wells every year with a bigger guy, Wells (6'2" and 300 lbs) continues to anchor the offensive line. With Evan Dietrich-Smith as the only real back-up at guard or center, if Wells is lost for an extended period of time the Packers season could go south in no time.

#9) Jermichael Finley (TE) - Reminds me of Rickie Weeks. There is no denying his talent but Finley missed 15 games in three years and only finished one season healthy. Finley needs to prove he can stay healthy before the Packers invest a large amount of money in Finley since he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2011 season.

#8) Nick Collins (S) - Has a knack for getting his hands on the ball, whether he catches it is another story. Although Collins had four interceptions in 2010 (remember the pick-six in Super Bowl XLV), that total could be even bigger because Collins dropped five interceptions in 2010.

#7) Charles Woodson (CB) - Has been an absolute turnover machine since joining the Packers. Woodson has 48 takeaways in five seasons in Green Bay (including playoffs). For all those that think Woodson is getting a little long in the tooth, let’s not forget that Woodson set season career highs in 2010 with 115 tackles and five forced fumbles. Woodson will play in the slot in 2011 to allow him to continue to play as a hybrid cornerback/safety.

#6) B.J. Raji (DE) - Lead all defensive lineman with 1,070 snaps in 2010 where he registered 6.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 12 QB pressures. The Packers moved Raji to defensive end to let him get after the quarterback more in 2011 so look for Raji to increase his sacks, QB hits, and QB pressures.

#5) Josh Sitton (OG) - With the influx of big, fast defensive tackles there has been a waterfall effect that impacted offensive guards. Six or seven years ago guard was not that highly paid of a position but the only way to counteract the influx of stud defensive tackles is an influx of big offensive guards. As a result the undisputed stud of the offensive line just signed a five-year extension with the team keeping Sitton in Green Bay through the 2016 season. The numbers of Sitton's extension have not been revealed but look for Sitton to justifiably be one of the highest guards in the NFL.

#4) Tramon Williams (CB) - In 2010 Williams only gave up one touchdown and six plays of 20-yards or more. The Packers rewarded Williams with a nice contract extension last year before a myriad of cornerbacks signed even more lucrative deals. As crazy as it sounds, Williams is the undisputed best cornerback on the roster (sorry Chuck) so if Williams continues to play as well has he did in 2010 the Packers might have to renegotiate the extension that Williams signed in 2010 sooner rather than later.

#3) Greg Jennings (WR) - The offense struggled to utilize Jennings and Finley while Finley was healthy for the first part of the 2010 season. The only positive thing about losing Finley last year was that Jennings thrived in Finley’s absence. The Packers will need to get Jennings and Finley to co-exist in 2011. If they can, the Packers will have the most explosive offense in the NFL.

#2) Clay Matthews (OLB) - In only two years in the NFL Matthews already registered 23.5 sacks. Very accomplished former outside linebacker and current outside linebacker coach Kevin Greene called Matthews the most complete OLB he's ever seen. I could say more but Clay's numbers and Greene's quote says it all.

#1) Aaron Rodgers (QB) - I mean this in all sincerity, if Rodgers plays anything like he did against the Falcons in the playoffs last year he is going to start collecting Lombardi and MVP trophies yearly for the next decade.

Check back Wednesday for more Packer coverage ahead of their season opener Thursday in Green Bay against the Saints that pits the last two Super Bowl champs.

No comments:

Post a Comment