Sunday, September 9, 2012

2012 Green Bay Packers Initial Player Rankings

Welcome to my 3rd annual player rankings of the initial Green Bay Packers 53-man roster (2010 and 2011).  My favorite Packers beat writer Bob McGinn does his own rankings that are relative to just the current Packers roster.  As McGinn explained on his podcast, he doesn't think Bryan Bulaga is the 4th best player on the roster, instead McGinn believes that if the Packers lost Bulaga, he would be the 4th hardest player to replace considering the position he plays and depth on the current roster.
Although that is a valid way to approach ranking a roster, my favorite sports writer Bill Simmons factors in: contract, age, position, and runs in reverse order. Simmons' approach puts all the aforementioned factors together to place a relative trade value on each player.

As I've said, I respect both writers and their approaches but I think Simmons' way is better than McGinn's way.   Keep in mind this list does not include Erik Walden (one game suspension from domestic dispute) or Mike Neal (four game suspension for failed drug test) because they are not on the 53-man active roster thanks to their respective suspensions.  Here are my rankings for the initial 53-man roster for the 2012 Green Bay Packers:

#53) Jarrett Boykin (WR) - Happy to see a Virginia Tech Hokie on the roster but don't have any grand illusions that Boykins will be the next Antonio Freeman.

#52) Brandian Ross (CB) - One of the biggest surprises on the 53-man roster might have to do with the fact that Woodson is moving to safety in the base defense so the Packers are giving anyone and everyone a chance to play cornerback in 2012.

#51) Sean Richardson (S) -
I see Richardson as a better version of Aaron Rouse but take that with a grain of salt because I've only seen Richardson play a handful of preseason snaps.

#50) Don Barclay (T) - It is no longer a surprise that undrafted free agents make the roster but in this instance it is a surprise that Barclay is one of those guys because he was merely a campy body at the start of training camp but slowly worked his way up the depth chart with solid play to make him one of only seven offensive lineman that the Packers kept on the initial 53-man roster.

#49) Phillip Merling (DL) -
It was a mild surprise that Merling made the roster instead of Daniel Muir as the nominal 6th defensive lineman.  Merling possesses the prototypical body type to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme but has never been a dominate force along the defensive line.  When currently suspended Mike Neal is eligible for the 53-man roster after Week 4, look for the Packers to decide between keeping Merling or Neal.

#48) Brad Jones (OLB) -
Players that are in danger of getting cut need to excel in at least one phase of the game.  Jones is a very good special teams player, which makes up for his lack of big plays on the defensive side of the ball.  Walden is set to return to the roster after Week 1 and despite being a quality special teams player, even that might not be enough to keep Jones on the 53-man roster.

#47) Brandon Saine (RB) -
Sharing carries in college is usually a red flag that a running back doesn't have what it takes to play in the NFL but with how injured Saine has been, it is a good thing that he was not exposed to big hits on a full-time basis at Ohio State.  Speed and special teams play is why Saine is in the high 40's not the low 50's.

#46) Rob Francois (MLB) -
No matter how much roster turnover there is from year-to-year, some guys just find a way to stick around.  Francois is that guy but that run is in jeopardy of ending this year with the emergence of younger players.

#45) Brett Goode (LS) - Apparently Goode is great friends with Rodgers, which makes him infinitely more valuable to the Packers than any other team.  Long-snapper is the most thankless job in the NFL so at least Goode gets to hang with the best player in the NFL off the field.

#44) James Starks (RB) - Injuries have always been the issue with Starks, so much so that Starks looked like he might not even make the final roster.  That is a pretty far fall from grace from the presumptive starting running back going into training camp.

#43) Ryan Taylor (TE) - The tight end/linebacker combo that excels on special teams reminds me of Spencer Havner but with more upside.

#42)Terrell Manning (MLB) -
The Packers dealt three late picks in the 2011 NFL Draft to take Manning but with such an underwhelming preseason, Manning probably would have made it through waiver to sign with the practice squad but that would have been too embarrassing for Thompson to cut a player that he gave up extra picks to draft.

#41) Graham Harrell (QB) - Let me be the next in a long line of people that cover the Packers to reiterate how important it was for Harrell to perform well in the last preseason game.  That said, Harrell looks more like Craig Nall than Matt Flynn.

#40) M.D. Jennings (S) -
Despite regressing slightly in training camp, Jennings is set to play a fair amount of defensive snaps because of the lack of veteran presence at safety after Charles Woodson.

#39) D.J. Williams (TE) - Not a physical freak like Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham but with a season under his belt, Williams is looking like an all-around polished tight end in the NFL just like he did in college in route to being named the best collegiate tight end for the 2010 season.

#38) Mike Daniels (DL)
- Every team needs an under-sized, high-energy defensive lineman.  The Packers had two on the roster in Muir and Daniels, since Daniels is a rookie he got the roster spot instead of Muir.

#37) Tom Crabtree (TE) - Besides being a funny follow on twitter, Crabtree is shaping up to be the best blocking tight end on the roster, which is great for job security when tight end Andrew Quarless is eligible to return to the 53-man roster following Week 6.

#36) Dezman Moses (OLB) - Looks like a potentially violent situational pass rusher for the Packers in 2012 but let's not forget that Vic So'oto looked poised to fill a similar role in 2011 but flopped.

#35) Jamari Lattimore (MLB) - The Packers are not only good at drafting but also identifying undrafted rookie free agents.  Lattimore is just another one in a long line of those players that will be a force on special teams with a chance to even play on defense in 2012.

#34) Evan Dietrich-Smith (C) - If any of the starting five offensive lineman are hurt, EDS is the first off the bench that could have a chain reaction of moving a few players around on the offensive line since EDS could really only fill in at guard or center.

#33) John Kuhn (FB) - Hard to see Kuhn not taking a pay cut next year when his cap number will be $2.6 million since that is more than the Packers are paying to the four other running backs on the current roster.

#32) Jerron McMillian (S) -
Although some pundits thought the Packers reached when they took McMillian in the fourth round, after the preseason, McMillian looks like a violent tackler in the mold of Atari Bigby that might be the biggest impact rookie defender for the Packers.

#31) Cedric Benson (RB) -
Seems a little low for Benson right?  Although Benson reportedly turned down offers from a few teams so he could be in the right situation, I am always skeptical of that characterization because of how self-serving it is for the person saying it.  That said, if Benson can hold onto the ball, he is just the right tonic that the Packers have been looking for at running back since Ahman Green left town the first time.

#30) C.J. Wilson (DL) -
Being a consistent defensive end in the 3-4 defense that sets the edge gives all the other pass rushers a chance to put up big sack numbers.  Basically that means Wilson will never put up huge tackle or sack numbers but is a very integral part of the defense.

#29) Alex Green (RB) -
Usually torn knee ligaments take two years to heal but Green is bucking that trend since he has been much more effective in preseason than I would have expected, especially since Green is less than a year removed from knee reconstructive surgery.  The Packers want to go no-huddle in 2012 so if Green's knee can hold up and he can continue to pickup blitzes, Green might be the perfect combo back for the Packers.

#28) A.J. Hawk (MLB) -
As the most overpaid 2012 Green Bay Packer, I can't see a team even offering a 7th round draft pick for Hawk at this point, which is a mighty fall from grace for the 5th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.  Hopefully that will motivate Hawk to have a turnaround in 2012 because when Bishop is healthy in 2013, Hawk looks like a strong candidate for a pink slip.

#27) Mason Crosby (K) -
As advanced NFL stats show, placekicker performance is inherently volatile so the Packers could get about as much for Crosby as they could for Hawk.

#26) Davon House (CB) - A shoulder injury is going to limit House in 2012 much like it did Tramon Williams in 2011, which is too bad because after Week 1 of the preseason it looked like House made the jump to be a starting cornerback for the Packers in 2012.  Instead it looks like House will not be strong enough thanks to the aforementioned shoulder injury to play the requisite bump-and-run coverage for most, if not all, of 2012.

#25) Tim Masthay (P) -
The Ginger Wolverine recently signed a four-year contract extension with the Packers.  While Masthay does not have an enormous leg, he hopefully stopped the mediocre punter carousel that dates back to when Craig Hentrich left Green Bay.

#24) Sam Shields (CB) -
After a breakout season in 2010 that attracted some national attention, Shields regressed in 2011 so much that his roster spot looked in jeopardy at the start of training camp.  Thanks to a strong performance in the final preseason game this year, Shields vaulted back into the discussion for starting cornerback.  Shields will undoubtedly get a fair amount of playing time in 2012 so hopefully we see the 2010 version not the 2011 version.

#23) Donald Driver (WR) - Not to belabor this point too much but I honestly think DD danced his way onto the roster.

#22) Jarrett Bush (CB) -
The leader of special teams each year claims that he is going to take his play at cornerback to the next level.  That happens occasionally (i.e. his INT in Super Bowl XLV) but Bush still has not done it regularly on the defensive side of the ball. Bush is worth having on the roster for his special teams play alone so I look at anything he does on defense as a bonus.

#21) Jeff Saturday (C) -
Being Peyton Manning's personal snapper for most of his career is a nice resume builder but since this season might be Saturday's last in the NFL, the Packers are putting tons of faith in a dinosaur.

#20) D.J. Smith (MLB) -
Despite racking up 525 tackles at Appalachian State, the Packers were still able to add Smith in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft.  At the time I thought Smith would not amount to anything in the NFL but that was based mostly on seeing only a small highlight tape of Smith's following the draft.  Smith has the potential to be the breakout star of the 2012 Green Bay Packers and I would have ranked him higher but for the fact that middle linebacker has the lowest positional value on the defensive side of the ball.

#19) James Jones (WR) - Certain players fit certain schemes and based on the lukewarm interest in Jones last off-season in free agency it looks like the Packers are just the right system for him.

#18) Casey Hayward (CB) -
Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to play in the NFL so Hawyward's up-and-down preseason is understandable.  The said, if Hayward can stay healthy and active this year, look for him to be one of the breakout stars of the defense.

#17) Ryan Pickett (DL) -
The second most impressive free agent signing not counting undrafted rookie free agents of the Ted Thompson Era has aged like a fine wine, which is surprising considering the wear-and-tear Pickett's suffered occupying offensive lineman.

#16) Jerel Worthy (DL) -
Let's not anoint Worthy as Cullen Jenkins 2.0 quite yet but if Worthy can continue to add moves to his pass rushing repertoire, look for Worthy to at least be Cullen Jenkins 1.5 in 2012.

#15) Nick Perry (OLB) -
As I've discussed in the past, the Football Outsiders have a SackSEER 2.0 stat that "projects" Perry as the best pass rusher from the 2012 NFL Draft.  Again that is only a projection and does not factor in that Perry is shifting from defensive end in a 4-3 scheme in college to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL.  Dropping into coverage is going to be the biggest issue for Perry in 2012 but if Perry can take even a little pressure or attention off Claymaker, he will justify being a 1st round pick.

#14) Marshall Newhouse (T) -
After allowing 10.5 sacks and 41.5 pressures in 2011 when he wasn't even the full-time starter, Newhouse will need to play much better in 2012 or Chad Clifton's agent might be getting a phone call.

#13) Randall Cobb (WR) -
I see the Packers using Cobb similar to how the New Orleans Saints use Darren Sproles as a running back, slot receiver, and special teams return man.  The Wildcat looks like a fad that will work on occasion but having a versatile skilled position player like Cobb or Sporles looks like a requirement for high-octane offenses as long as the NFL continues to keep the rules in the offenses' favor.

#12) Morgan Burnett (S) - Became the starting free safety after losing Nick Collins to a career ending neck injury, unfortunately Burnett is no Collins at least his aestheticism to be a ball-hawk if he can stay healthy.

#11) T.J. Lang (G) -
Jumping from being the 67th highest paid guard (averaging $750,000 per year) to the 12th highest paid guard (averages $5.2 million a year through 2016) moved Lang down the list a few spots but that was mitigated by the fact that Lang will be asked to play every position along the offensive line if another starting offensive lineman gets hurt.  Lang will only be 29 when the four-year contract extension he just signed expires, which gives Lang a chance to break the bank at least one more time if he continues to perform at a high level.

#10) Bryan Bulaga (T) -
Scouts thought Bulaga's arms were too short coming out of college to be a successful tackle in the NFL but so far Bulaga has been a rock at right tackle taking over for fan favorite Mark Tauscher.

#9) Greg Jennings (WR) -
Since Jennings is set to be a free agent following the 2012 season, that moved him down the list a few spots.  Absent Jennings suffering a career ending injury in 2012, his agent Eugene Parker did Jennings a great service in getting Jennings a four-year contract extension so Jennings can potentially break the bank this off-season.

#8) Josh Sitton (G) -
Knee injuries hampered Sitton in 2011 but he looks fully healthy to start 2012, which is huge for the Packers because Sitton was the weakest link along the offensive line besides the Clifton/Newhouse combo at left tackle in 2011.

#7) Charles Woodson (CB) -
With 14 forced fumbles and 37 interceptions in just six season, Woodson is already considered one of the best defenders in franchise history and continues to push Reggie White for the best free agent signing in franchise history.

#6) Jordy Nelson (WR) -
The NFL advance stat community is predicting a regression for Nelson in 2012 because of how many big plays Nelson put up in 2011 but if you listen to what Aaron Rodgers said about Nelson lately, Nelson might actually have a better year in 2012 than he did in 2011.

#5) Tramon Williams (CB) -
A shoulder injury made Williams a shell of himself in 2011.  Since the injury involved nerve damage, there is a chance that Williams will never be 100% again but he needs to be at least 90% in order to play the bump-and-run coverage that is a huge part of Dom Capers' defensive scheme.

#4) Jermichael Finley (TE) -
Following 2011 when Finley caught 55 passes (dropped 13) for 767 yards and eight touchdowns, a down year by Finley's standards thanks to drops and lingering injuries.  I like that Finley and the Packers signed a two-year contract instead of a long-term deal.  A short-term deal gives the Packers a chance to see if Finley can stay healthy for a few years before offering him a huge extension to keep him in Green Bay.

#3) B.J. Raji (DL) -
The Packers dramatically overused Raji in 2011, hopefully the rookie reinforcements of Worthy and Daniels will allow the Packers to keep Raji fresh in 2012 so that he can return to the space eating and pass rushing force that he was in 2010.

#2) Clay Matthews (OLB) -
29.5 career sacks in three seasons is impressive but that number could be much higher if the Packers actually have a regular edge rusher opposite Claymaker.  Only time will tell if Perry is that guy, if he is, Claymaker will be the lucky recipient on (more sacks) and off (more money) the field.

#1) Aaron Rodgers (QB) -
Expectations have never been higher as Rodgers enters his 5th season as the starting quarterback and 8th season overall with the Packers.  Hard to believe that Rodgers is the second longest tenured Packer behind DD.  While replicating his performance in 2011 is nearly impossible, with how well Rodgers has played since taking over for Favre, winning the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field seems like a realistic expectation if Rodgers stays healthy this season.

As always, thanks for reading.  Instead of recapping every Packers game this year, I will give my thoughts during games on Twitter: @CheeseheadSN.  I will reserve blogging about Packer games just to games that I attend in-person this season.

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