Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Green Bay Packers Final Rankings

I knew this was going to be a lengthy post so yesterday I dealt with the roster turnover from my mid-season player rankings to the final 53-man roster.  It is a little odd doing the final rankings because some guys are set to become unrestricted free agents (i.e. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) while other guys that are under contract for next season could be cut (i.e. Charles Woodson and Jeff Saturday).  I like to factor in contract, age, and position in determining each player's value but that has some flaws since the season is over so I treat the final rankings as a hybrid of a look at how they performed in 2012 combined with their trade value.  Here are my final rankings of the 53-man roster for the 2012 Green Bay Packers (mid-season and initial rankings in parenthesis):

#53 (NR, NR) Ryan Grant (RB) - Ahman Green had a second stint with the Packers after leaving that was equally forgettable as Grant's second stint.  According to a number of players, Grant is a "consummate professional" but the NFL values production much more than being a good guy so we've most likely seen Grant play for the Packers for the last time.

#52 (28, 21) Jeff Saturday (C) -
 The ultimate tip of the cap to Aaron Rodgers and Packer fans is that Saturday was voted onto the NFC Pro Bowl team despite not even being the starting center at the end of the season.  The Packers clearly overvalued Saturday at the expense of simply re-signing Scott Wells last off-season and the two-year, $7.75 million deal they gave Saturday will go down as the worst free agent contract of the Thompson Era.  Luckily the Packers can cut Saturday this off-season with very little salary cap ramifications. The four-year, $24 million deal Wells signed with St. Louis was obviously too rich for the Packers but I have to believe they could have retained Wells if they showed interest but much like Cullen Jenkins the previous year, the Packers didn't seem to make an effort to retain Wells.  Let this be a harbinger of things to come for DD, please do not pull a Saturday to extend your career one most uneventful season.

#51 (30, 23) Donald Driver (WR) -
Speaking of DD, oh how the mighty have fallen.  DD is currently on the Mount Rushmore of Good Guy Packers in my lifetime along with LeRoy Butler, Aaron Rodgers, Reggie White (minus his speech to the Wisconsin Assembly), and Mark Chmura.  Just kidding on Chmrua.  This is Driver's last year in Green Bay as a player but he looks like the perfect candidate to takeover Rob Davis's role as Director of Player Development if the organization decides to increase Davis's responsibilities following the departure of John Dorsey.

#50 (NR, NR) Jordan Miller (DT) - The former Chicago Bear practice squad player was never given a chance to prove his worth since he was added to the 53-man roster before the last regular season game.  I would be shocked if we ever discussed Miller in this space again.

#49 (38, 27) Mason Crosby (K) -
Although Crosby had a mini bout of competence at the end of the season that does not dismiss how consistently horrible he was throughout most of the 2012 season. The Packers have to use a late draft pick or sign someone before training camp to push Crosby.

#48 (53, 53) Jarrett Boykin (WR) - Of all the players that stuck on the 53-man roster for the entire season, Boykin seemed the most expendable since the Packers have at least six better receiving options but that also means if he is healthy in September there is a good chance he will be on the 53-man roster.

#47 (49, 42) Terrell Manning (MLB) - The Packers already envision Manning, when healthy, as the regular special teams contributor.  The real question is whether Manning can push for playing time on defense, which would make certain veterans (i.e. Francois, Hawk, and Jones) expendable.

#46 (47, 41) Graham Harrell (QB) - The vaunted Mike McCarthy off-season quarterback school is going to have two or three pupils with Harrell, B.J. Coleman, and possibly a 2013 draft pick competing for one roster spot backing up Aaron Rodgers.  The early money is on Coleman but if Harrell can build on his impressive showing in Week 4 of the 2012 preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs then it might come down to who performs better in preseason next year.

#45 (46, 46) Rob Francois (MLB) - Despite being a quality special teams player, Francois owes most of his roster spot to all the linebackers that were lost for the season, which means his days in Green Bay are probably numbered.

#44 (NR, NR) Jeremy Ross (WR) - In 2012, Ross was prominently involved in the two most notorious special teams fumbles.  The bigger of the two fumbles came inside the 10-yard line on a punt return with the Packers leading the 49ers 14-7 in their Divisional Round playoff game, which turned the game on its head.  Ross is a professional but I blame head coach Mike McCarthy for putting Ross in such a pressure packed situation.  Despite the fumbles, Ross showed some spark as a return guy and might even be the 4th or 5th receiver next season if the Packers lose wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver this off-season.  Ross signed a three-year, $1.44 million contract with the Packers in 2012.  According to a number of teammates (most notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers), Ross wants to learn as much as possible, so he seems like a cheap option to keep on the roster despite being responsible for the biggest gaffe by any Packer in 2012.

#43 (48, NR) Greg Van Roten (OL) - The Packers used Van Roten as a 6th offensive lineman in the U-64 formation like they did in the past with Kevin Barry in the U-71 formation.  The sample size was too small to determine whether it was very effective but just the fact that the Packers tried to get Van Roten on the field towards the end of the season makes me think the Packers have a long-term interest in Van Roten.

#42 (45, 39) D.J. Williams (TE) -
After being named the best tight end in college football in 2011, Williams has been less than impressive in the NFL thanks to rather shaky hands.  The Packers have so many weapons on offense that Williams needs to show real value on special teams as well as the ability to lineup as a fullback if he wants to make the opening day roster next year.

#41 (44, 44) James Starks (RB) -
The fact that Starks was the 3rd leading rusher on the team behind Alex Green and Aaron Rodgers with 255 rushing yards shows you how pathetic the Packers were at running the ball in 2012.  Since the middle of his college career Starks has battled a multitude of injuries so the Packers should operate as if Starks will never be healthy again.

#40 (42, NR) Frank Zombo (OLB) -
The former collegiate defensive end turned outside linebacker showed flashes early in his career but was injured or unproductive for all of 2012.  With the emergence of some younger options, Zombo can only be counted on as positional insurance as opposed to a potential starter at outside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense.  Zombo is a restricted free agent so the Packers might as well give him a low-end tender to see if they can rent him for another season.

#39 (40, 35) Jamari Lattimore (MLB) - With all the injuries the Packers suffered at linebacker in 2012, Lattimore still never really got a chance to play in the base 3-4 defense.  Thus Lattimore better focus on being the best special teams player not named Jarrett Bush if he wants to be on the roster long-term.

#38 (41, 43) Ryan Taylor (TE) - Speaking of special teams mavens, Taylor needs to fit that bill as well because despite catching a pass for no gain against the Vikings in the playoffs, Taylor is on the roster for his special teams play.

#37 (40, 29) Alex Green (RB) - The leading rusher for the 2012 Green Bay Packers only amassed 464 yards on 135 carries for an unimpressive 3.4 yard per carry average.  Let's not forget that Green tore his ACL in 2011 and despite Adrian Peterson putting up one of the more impressive rushing season in NFL history coming off the same injury, Peterson is a freak of nature so it is unfair to compare Green to Peterson.  Injuries aside, Green does not look like an every down back based on his small body of work so far.  The Packers should get Green to focus on being a 3rd down back that can pickup the blitz but also catch some balls out of the backfield in 2013.  If Green masters that role then the Packers can look at giving him more touches on the 1st and 2nd down.

#36 (39, 33) John Kuhn (FB) - As just discussed, Green looks like a perfect candidate to takeover Kuhn's 3rd down back role.  I appreciate that Kuhntang became the 5th player in NFL playoff history to have two games with a rushing and receiving touchdown but his days could be numbered in Green Bay, especially because of his high salary cap number of $2.6 million in 2013.

#35 (18, NR) Erik Walden (OLB) - The entire Green Bay defense looked horrible in their Divisional Round playoff game against Colin Kapernick and the San Francisco 49ers but Walden was the worst of the bunch.  Almost every time Kapernick kept the ball on the read option, Walden guessed wrong and lost containment of the quarterback.  Walden showed glimpses of being a violent pass rusher in the second half of 2012 but killed his free agent value against the 49ers.  Given Walden's previous off the field problems, I wouldn't offer him anymore than the veteran minimum for 2013.

#34 (36, 45) Brett Goode (LS) -
Goode performed his job well throughout 2012 but the Crosby stink spilled onto Goode a little.  Obviously Goode cannot make kicks for Crosby but as the long snapper, Goode spends lots of time with Crosby so he gets a minuscule amount of the blame since he was unable to orchestrate any breakthroughs for Crosby.

#33 (31, 48) Brad Jones (MLB) - After playing well as the starting middle linebacker alongside A.J. Hawk thanks to countless injuries the Packers suffered at the middle linebacker position, Jones looked horrible for the last month of the season.  In the middle of December it looked like Jones was going to get a nice free agent offer but now it looks like Jones is just the next Brady Poppinga or Brandon Chillar.

#32 (33, 36) Dezman Moses (OLB) - Probably more upside than Vic So'oto or Zombo but Moses still lacks the ability to be an every down outside linebacker opposite Matthews.  Oddly the best thing for Moses is if Nick Perry can return healthy in 2013 after missing most of his rookie season due to a hand injury.  A healthy Perry means the Packers will only need Moses in passing situations, which will keep Moses fresh and effective.

#31 (35, 38) Mike Daniels (DL) - Despite having a short but wide frame, a number of scouts like the "juice" Daniels brings to the table as a pass rusher.  Obviously Daniels is not going to get any taller but if he can add a little muscle in place of fat he can morph into something more than just a situational pass rusher.

#30 (34, 37) Tom Crabtree (TE) - A blocker more than a pass catcher, Crabtree could be more of a focal point of the offense in 2013 depending on what the Packers do with Jermichael Finley.  Even if the Packers keep Finley, the NFL is evolving into a tight end heavy league.  I am not saying Finley and Crabtree will be the next Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson but it is not out of the realm of possibilities.  It will be interesting to see how the Packers tender Crabtree as a restricted free agent.  I would trade Crabtree for a 3rd round pick, especially given the glut of quality tight ends on the roster, but would be shocked if anyone offered such a high draft choice for Crabtree

#29 (29, 16) Jerel Worthy (DL) - Injuries really hurt my ability to accurately evaluate Worthy.  Unfortunately Worthy will spend the off-season rehabbing a knee injury so it might not be till the middle of next season or even 2014 before the Packers get the Worthy on the field.

#28 (32, NR) Mike Neal - For a few games towards the end of the regular season the pass rush combo of Matthews and Neal was impressive but Neal could not sustain that into the playoffs.  Neal is the strongest guy on the team but this off-season the Packers need to work with Neal on converting that raw strength into production on the field otherwise Neal will join a long list of workout champions that never actually produce on the field.

#27 (26, 32) Jerron McMillian (S) - The transition from college to the NFL is big for all rookies but especially for rookies from small schools like Maine.  Guys that play in Big "12", Big "Ten", Pac 12, or SEC face potential NFL talent regularly.  Guys like McMillian rarely see that type of talent.  Hopefully with an uneven rookie campaign under his belt, McMillian can improve enough to push to be the regular starting safety opposite Morgan Burnett.

#26 (NR, NR) DuJuan Harris (RB) - I am not sure what running back story bothered me more at the end of the season, the Ryan Grant "resurgence" story or the Harris being 2010 James Starks story. I like that Harris is a violent runner but let's not get too carried away.  Harris was cut but the Jacksonville Jaguars and attempting to sell cars just a few months ago.  I hope I am wrong but it is much more likely that Harris is the next Samkon Gado than even a poor man's Maurice Jones-Drew.

#25 (27, 34) Evan Dietrich-Smith (C) - I would have ranked EDS five spots higher but he is a restricted free agent.  The Packers should take 75% of the money they were going to spend on Saturday next year and use that as a signing bonus for the three-year contract they offer EDS to see if EDS is really the center of the future in Green Bay.

#24 (20, 26) Davon House (CB) - Much like Starks, House seems to be injured more than healthy.  There is no question that House used to fit the scheme the defensive scheme the Packers play but his should injury might preclude him from fulfilling the lofty expectations the Packers have for him.

#23 (24, 40) M.D. Jennings (S) - The Packers only owe Jennings $555,000 next season before he is a restricted free agent in 2014.  I view Jennings at worst as a core special teams player and at best the starting safety opposite Morgan Burnett.  As a result, I would offer Jennings a four-year contract extension with some up front money along with roster bonuses in 2015 and 2016 that limit the salary cap ramifications if Jennings flames out.

#22 (15, 14) Marshall Newhouse (T) - Although Newhouse was the starting left tackle all of 2012, he gave up a number of sacks and pressures.  There is no question that Newhouse has been much more impressive than you would expect from a 5th round draft pick but when the Packers committed to Newhouse as a starter in the beginning of 2012, they probably expected him to play better.  Going into 2013 I would have an open competition for the starting left tackle job between Bryan Bulaga, Andrew Datko, Newhouse, and Derek Sherrod.

#21 (21, 22) Jarrett Bush (CB) - There is never a dull moment when Bush is on the field, whether it be covering punts or opening lanes for returners, Bush continues to hold the belt as the special teams ace of the Packers.

#20 (23, 25) Tim Masthay (P) - Much like Bush, Masthay does so well on special teams that I almost undervalue how important he is to the Packers.  Luckily Masthay is a man of faith because being the holder for Mason Crosby can't be easy.

#19 (14, 28) A.J. Hawk (MLB) - The "Business HJ" of the defense turned himself into the "Naughty HJ" of the defense this season.  Jones still wore the communication helmet, which meant he was on the field more than Hawk, but that is because the Packers finally stopped asking Hawk to do things that he is clearly not qualified to do (i.e. cover a running back or tight end) and focused on his strengths (i.e. being a sure tackler and occupying offensive lineman so other people can make plays).  The Packers probably have to wait till the end of next season before cutting Hawk to avoid more than a $5 million cap hit.  Plus, Hawk is expensive insurance for Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith since there is no guarantee that both will be 100% at the start of 2013.

#18 (43, 50) Don Barclay (T) - Hands down the pleasant surprise of 2012.  Barclay played so well that the Packers have the option of moving the short-armed former starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to left tackle depending on how they view Marshall Newhouse long term.  There are varying reports on the severity of Bulaga's hip injury, which would impact whether he is even available for training camp.  The good news is that Barclay, proved he is healthy, can be the starter at right tackle no matter how things shake out with the rest of their offensive tackles.

#17 (25, 30) C.J. Wilson (DL) -
Usually when players miss an extended period of time they risk losing their job since the Packers totally subscribe to the "next guy up" mentality.  In Wilson's case, the Packers really don't have any traditional 3-4 defensive ends on the roster besides Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji so when Wilson was out of the lineup because of injury, the Packers were just bidding their time till they could plug him back in.  The Packers are only on the hook for $600,000 next season for Wilson but he is a unrestricted free agent in 2014 so they might want to extend Wilson before he prices himself out of Green Bay. 

#16 (11, 7) Charles Woodson (CB) - This kills me to put Woodson so low on the list but injuries are finally catching up to Woodson.  Two broken collar bones for Woodson in the last three years means its time the Packers force Woodson to wear larger shoulder pads, if they keep him in 2013 but with the largest cap number on the roster for next season he might have played his last snap for the Packers.

#15 (16, 9) Greg Jennings (WR) - Speaking of playing their last snap for the Packers, although Jennings is scheduled to be a free agent, the Packers should place the franchise tag on him and put him on the trade block.  I know that is not usually the way the Packers do business but after watching Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, and Scott Wells leave via free agency the last three off-seasons, it time to get something more than a compensatory pick for a stud free agent.  I am not sure that Jennings is going to break the bank on the free agent market anyhow because the salary cap is not set to go up much until 2015 but he priced himself out of Green Bay so franchising and trading Jennings is the Packer's only viable option

#14 (6, 5) Tramon Williams (CB) - This might be an emotional reaction to how horrible Williams played down the stretch for the Packers but with the emergence of other young cornerbacks, Williams is a candidate to get released this off-season.  Williams does not play physical unless it is after the play (remember the back breaking personal foul against the Vikings in the regular season finale) so with his cap number set to jump $1.6 million for next season (from $4.7 million to 6.3 million), the Packers need to decide what to do with Williams.  I think the Packers should get Williams because he had a relatively modest signing bonus ($6 million) for such a hefty contract (five-years, $38.2 million) that he signed in 2010, which would take up some much needed cap space.

#13 (19, 4) Jermichael Finley (TE) - It was nice to see Finley do some positive Finley things (make tough catches) towards the end of the season instead of negative Finely things (complain about Rodgers).  Thanks to playing well down the stretch, Finley set a team record for the most receptions by a tight end in a season with 61.  Not even a month ago I thought the Packers would cut Finley instead of paying him $8.75 million next season but this would be the perfect time to approach Finley about an extension since his market value dropped overall in 2012 despite a strong finish to the season.

#12 (8, 17) Ryan Pickett (DL) - After signing a four-year, $25 million contract that only contained a $2 million signing bonus in 2010 most observes thought Pickett would play a few more years before getting cut.  Instead, Pickett continued to improve and might actually be worth signing to a contract extension once everything is sorted out with the extensions for the "Big Three" (Rodgers, Matthews, and Raji).  Whether Pickett receives an extension has much more to do with the progression of Daniels, Neal, and Worthy than Pickett because the Packers know they have a quality defensive lineman in Pickett, the question is whether they can save some money by going young at the position along the defensive line.

#11 (10, 6) Jordy Nelson (WR) - Injuries really hampered Nelson in 2012, which really hurt his leverage with the Packers because Nelson signed what looks like a totally club friendly a four-year, $14 million contract in 2011.  The Packers owe Nelson roughly $4 million a year through 2014 so if he stayed healthy in 2012 then negotiations might have started on another extension but now I see the Packers waiting to see what Nelson does in 2013 before approaching his agent about an extension.

#10 (22, 24) Sam Shields (CB) - I know this might sound crazy but when healthy, Shields might be the best defensive back on the team.  Think back to how well Shields played during the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010.  In understand that Shields comes from the Tramon Williams school of tackling but Shields is possibly the fastest guy on the team and actually plays fast, which allows him to chase down plays that others cannot.  With Shields set to be a restricted free agent this off-season, the Packers better give him the highest tender and decide whether they want to commit to Shields or Williams long-term.  Personally I would commit to Shields ahead of Williams.

#9 (12, 18) Casey Hayward (CB) -  It is easy to point to Hayward's team high six interceptions as a rookie in 2012 to show his worth to the Packers but it is the deeper stats that showed those interceptions were less a product of luck and more a product of quality player whenever Hayward was on the field.  Shields, the player just discussed before Hayward, had a great rookie season but lackluster second season in the NFL.  It will be interesting to see if 2012 was a flash in the pan or the start of an amazing career for Hayward.  I provide it is the start of an amazing career for Hayward but only time will tell.

#8 (13, 12) Morgan Burnett (S) - With how horribly the rest of the secondary tackled in 2012, it makes sense that Burnett lead the secondary in tackles.  The Packers should appreciate what Burnett did in 2012 but plan accordingly because usually safeties that throw their body around like Burnett did last season miss some time the following season.  Especially when you factor in that Burnett and James Laurinaitis (MLB) of the St. Louis Rams were the only players to play every defensive snap for their team in 2012, the odds of Burnett doing that again in 2013 are slim.  Either way, it was nice to see at least someone in the secondary healthy for the whole season and actually tackle players.

#7 (3, 13) Randall Cobb (WR) - There is no doubt that Cobb had a season for the ages in 2012 leading the team in receiving yards en route to besting Ahman Green's all-time single-season team record for net yards.  The all-time single-season record comes with a slight asterisk because Cobb got to include special teams yardage while Green only touched the ball on offense.  In my review of the Packers/Titans game I made the case for keeping Cobb as the return guy instead of using Ross as their returner in the playoffs.  Ross's fumble against the 49ers confirmed what I advocated, but it was too late.  Finally, some people might argue that Cobb should be in the Top 5, but let's not forget that Cobb had 10 drops this season.  Those same drops almost lead to James Jones playing elsewhere.  If Cobb can fix the drops, look for him to push for a bronze medal in the rankings.

#6 (7, 11) T.J. Lang (G) - Like any other position in the NFL, the offensive line positions have gone through a number of different evolutions.  With the advent of the hurry-up offense, athletic centers that could make adjustments on the fly became the flavor of the day.  Following that trend, the rise of the left tackle became the next trend to counteract the rise of impact defensive ends and outside linebackers.  The most recent trend is a shift to larger, athletic guards to combat the rise in the amount of mammoth, athletic defensive tackles.  Since Lang is a large athletic guard, he got paid in the off-season signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract with a $5.5 million signing bonus. 

#5 (5, 19) James Jones (WR) - In less than two years Jones went from a big play threat with shaky hands to leading the team in touchdowns (14) while making a number of highlight reel plays.  Is this a one year aberration for Jones or the new normal?  With the presumed departure of Driver and Jennings this off-season, if 2012 is the new normal for Jones then the Packers need to consider extending him this off-season since he is scheduled to make $3.75 million next season in the final year of the three-year, $9.4 million contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus.  If not, Jones will undoubtedly test the free agent market to try to sign the mega deal that never materialized in 2011 unless the Packers franchise Jones.

#4 (4, 3) B.J. Raji (DL) - Without Raji, the Packers might not have been able to make a successful transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4.  After overworking Raji to the point of making him ineffective in 2011 (played 79% of defensive snaps), the Packers dialed back Raji's snap count in 2012 (played 65% of defensive snaps) to make him much more effective.  With three quality defensive lineman (Pickett, Raji, and Wilson) in the fold, now the Packers need to identify at least one more defensive lineman (Daniels, Neal, Worthy, and a 2013 draft pick) to play along the defensive line, which will continue to increase Raji's effectiveness in 2013. 

#3 (9, 8) Josh Sitton (G) - Left tackles get paid more than right tackles but that does not seem to apply to guards.  Don't get me wrong, Sitton is a slightly better version of Lang so he justifiably earned a slight larger contract (six-year, $35 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus) than Lang (five-year, $22.5 million contract with a $5.5 million signing bonus).  Look for Sitton and Lang to be a better pair of guards than Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera were for the Packers in the late-90's and early-00's.

#2 (2, 2) Clay Matthews (OLB) - With all due respect to KGB and Aaron Kampman, Matthews has been the best past rusher in Green Bay since Reggie White.  The real question is what that will cost the Packers.  Matthews is entering 2013 in the last year of his rookie contract, which is a five-year, $10 million contract with a $800,000 signing bonus.  Matthews became the first Packer to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the NFL so there is no question that the Packers have to extend Matthews at some point before the end of the 2013 season.  The real question is how much will it cost the Packers?  In 2009 the Dallas Cowboys signed outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to a seven-year, $79 million contract with a $20 million signing bonus.  Before the 2012 season the Buffalo Bills signed defensive end/outside linebacker Mario Williams to a six-year, $96 million contract with a $19 million signing bonus.  Ware looks like he is worth every dollar while Williams struggled last season in Buffalo.  Either way, it looks like Mathews is set to best the Williams contract before the end of 2013.

#1 (1, 1) Aaron Rodgers (QB) -
Keeping in mind that the NFL is a quarterback driven league, if a franchise could take any player currently in the NFL to have on their team for the next 10 years, you would be hard pressed to pick anyone besides Rodgers.  Don't get me wrong, there are other veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Payton Manning that are playing as well as Rodgers but they are all in their mid-30's while Rodgers is only 29.  There are also a bunch of young quarterbacks like Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson but they've all only done it for one year.  Rodgers is in that sweet spot where he's done it for a number of years but is still young enough to build around for the next decade, which make him the hands down #1 ranked player on not only the Packers but probably the entire NFL.

Please feel free to comment if you disagree with any of my rankings.  As always, thanks for reading my extended Packer thoughts.  Check back on Wednesday for my annual advice for general manager Ted Thompson on how to deal with the players on the current roster.

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