Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Aaron Rodgers. Backups — Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle.

Rodgers is one of the most gifted passers in league history and currently holds the all-time mark for passer rating (103.8). In Rodgers’ last 17 games, he’s thrown 43 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. He has a rocket arm, is extremely accurate, has terrific feet and a brain to match. In two of the past five years, though, Rodgers suffered broken collarbones and missed at least half of the season. Green Bay fell apart both years, going 5-12-1 in the games Rodgers missed (.306). The Packers simply can’t afford to have Rodgers out for any length of time if Hundley and Kizer don’t progress.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Jamaal Williams. Backups — Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery, Devante Mays, Joel Bouagnon.

Jones has been suspended the first two games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. When Jones returns, look for him and Williams – both second year players – to split carries. Last year, Jones was arguably the most explosive running back head coach Mike McCarthy has ever had. Jones averaged a whopping 5.53 yards per carry and had runs of 20 yards or more, on six of his 81 carries (7.41 percent). Williams was kept in mothballs the first half of 2017, then averaged 17.8 carries and 65.3 yards per game over the final eight games without fumbling once. The knock on Williams, though, is he lacks explosiveness. Montgomery was the Packers’ preferred starter at running back when 2017 began. But Montgomery couldn’t stay healthy, suffered rib and wrist injuries, and was passed by the two rookies.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jimmy Graham. Backups — Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks, Emanuel Byrd, Kevin Rader, Ryan Smith.

The Packers signed Graham in free agency, and he has the potential to be Green Bay’s best player at that position in years. Graham doesn’t run like his early days in New Orleans, but is coming off a 10-touchdown season. The free-agent addition of Lewis should be an enormous positive, too. Green Bay hasn’t had a tight end who’s been a hammer in the run game since Mark Chmura 20 years ago, but Lewis could fill that extremely important role. Kendricks had a disappointing first year in Green Bay and will compete with the undersized Byrd (6-foot-2, 240) for the No. 3 job.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Davante Adams, Randall Cobb. Backups — Geronimo Allison, J’Mon Moore, Michael Clark, Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Robert Tonyan Jr., Jake Kumerow.

In the last two years, Adams has 22 touchdowns – the most by any receiver in the NFL. Adams is also the only player in football with at least 70 receptions and 10 touchdowns in each of the last two years. Adams passed former teammate Jordy Nelson as Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver early in 2017 and went to the Pro Bowl for the first time last season. The diminutive Cobb is unlikely to ever match his 91-catch, 1,287-yard, 12-touchdown season of 2014. But Cobb has averaged 68 receptions, 697 yards and five touchdowns over the last three years. Green Bay selected Moore in the fourth round of April’s draft (pick 133), Valdes-Scantling in the fifth round (174) and St. Brown in the sixth (207). Holdovers Allison, Clark, Davis and Yancey will also battle for roster spots. Allison has 35 catches over the last two seasons, Clark stands 6-foot-6 and has 4.53 speed, Davis has 4.41 speed and Yancey was a fifth-round draft choice in 2017.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley, RG Justin McCray, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups – T Kyle Murphy, T Jason Spriggs, T Byron Bell, G Cole Madison, G Lucas Patrick, G Kofi Amichia, G Ethan Cooper, C Dillon Day, T Adam Pankey, G Alex Light, C Austin Davis.

The biggest question for this group is if – and when – Bulaga will return. Bulaga is trying to come back from a torn ACL for the second time and isn’t expected to be ready until the early part of the season, at best. Bakhtiari is athletic, light on his feet, extremely consistent and has been one of the NFL’s top left tackles the last two years. Taylor is a classic overachiever who finds a way to get it done each week. Linsley is extremely bright, quick and earned a three-year, $25.5 million contract extension late last season. McCray played four positions last season and held up well. He’s a limited athlete, but has a leg up at right guard after a solid 2017 performance.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Kenny Clark, DT Mike Daniels. Backups – DE Dean Lowry, NT Montravius Adams, NT James Looney, DE Conor Sheehy, NT Tyler Lancaster, DT Joey Mbu.

First-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has a gifted group up front to work with. Clark blossomed in his second year and is on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler. Clark has impressive power and flashed surprising quickness a year ago when he had 4.5 sacks and 18 quarterback pressures. Daniels has a motor that doesn’t quit, but saw his pressures fall to 19.5 last season, his lowest number since 2012. Wilkerson had 12.0 sacks and went to the Pro Bowl with the New York Jets in 2015, but slipped badly in recent seasons. If Wilkerson returns to past form, Green Bay’s front could be devastating. Lowry is versatile, highly intelligent and provides terrific depth.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — LOLB Clay Matthews, LILB Jake Ryan, MLB Blake Martinez, ROLB Nick Perry. Backups — ROLB Kyler Fackrell, LOLB Vince Biegel, LOLB Reggie Gilbert, MLB Oren Burks, LILB Ahmad Thomas, LOLB Marcus Porter, LILB Kendall Donnerson, MLB Parris Bennett, ROLB Chris Odom, MLB CJ Johnson, LILB Naashon Hughes, LOLB Greer Martini.

Perry and Matthews are above average starters when healthy, but the problem is that isn’t very often. Perry, now in his seventh season, has never played a full 16-game season and has missed 26 games since entering the league in 2012. Matthews, 32, is the Packers’ all-time sack leader (80.0) and remains quick around the edge and strong enough to overpower tackles. But Matthews has played all 16 games just twice in the last eight years. Fackrell, Biegel and Gilbert are the top backups, but that trio hasn’t inspired anyone to date. Martinez almost never leaves the field, is extremely bright and tied for the NFL lead with 144 tackles last season. Ryan is an overachieving tough guy, while Burks, a rookie third-round pick, is an elite athlete.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Tramon Williams, RCB Kevin King, Nickel CB Jaire Alexander, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Josh Jones. Backups – CB Josh Jackson, S Kentrell Brice, CB Josh Hawkins, S Jermaine Whitehead, CB Davon House, CB Quinten Rollins, S Marwin Evans, S Raven Greene, CB Demetri Goodson, CB Herb Waters, CB Lenzy Pipkins, CB Donatello Brown.

Green Bay’s secondary has been an enormous Achilles heel for two years now. It set franchise marks for futility in 2017 in opponent’s passer rating (102.0) and completion percentage (67.8 percent). So the Packers drafted Alexander of Louisville in Round 1 and Jackson of Iowa in Round 2. Green Bay also needs King, a second-year cornerback, to take a major jump. King (6-foot-3, 200) has terrific size, but is trying to come back from labrum surgery. Veteran corners Williams and House were signed in free agency, but are both stopgaps. Clinton-Dix is the most experienced safety on the roster, but he’s coming off a dreadful year. Second-year Josh Jones and the unproven Brice will fight for the other safety position.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mason Crosby, P JK Scott, LS Hunter Bradley, KR Trevor Davis, PR Trevor Davis.

Old pro Mason Crosby made just 78.9 percent of his kicks a year ago, but was hurt by lousy snappers and an inconsistent holder. Return ace Trevor Davis ranked third in the league on punt returns (12.0) and seventh on kickoffs (22.8). Green Bay drafted punter JK Scott in the fifth round and long snapper Hunter Bradley in the seventh round.




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