Green Bay Packers
By Herb Ilk
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The 2010 Green Bay Packers made the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, but were able to get on a roll at just the right time and ride that momentum to a Super Bowl victory. Now they look to repeat and possibly build on that outstanding finish. To that end, the Packers return a very good and young core of players, making another deep playoff run a distinct possibility.
The Packers were able to overcome a number of injuries to key players last season and any improved luck on that front could lead to improvement this year. To begin with, talented TE Jermichael Finley is back from a knee injury that forced him to miss the last 11 games of the season. His return could improve an already potent offense. Ryan Grant returns from a knee injury as well, but the emergence of James Starks means that he might not be counted on contribute quite as much this season. On defense, Morgan Burnett returns from a season-ending knee injury to reclaim a starting safety spot.
General Manager Ted Thompson loves to keep his young players and build through the draft and this was true yet again this past offseason, when the Packers saw some players leave through free agency, but did not sign any free agents themselves. They could be left a little thin on the offensive and defensive lines due to the departures. Rookie Derek Sherrod and third-year veteran T.J. Lang will need to step up on the offensive line, while second-year pro Mike Neal will try to replace Cullen Jenkins on the defensive side.
Overall, the Packers return a very talented team. They had a reputation over the last few years of being a team that couldn't win the close games, but a Super Bowl win indicates that they have turned a corner in that department in a big way. Improved health heading into the season and valuable continuity bode well for Green Bay's quest for success in 2011. Suffice to say, the team has moved on from Brett Favre, and his successor Aaron Rodgers is now in a great position to cement his legacy with the franchise.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (32) Derek Sherrod, OT - He'll need to get up to speed quick.
2. (64) Randall Cobb, WR - Has impressed during the preseason, but will have a tough time finding playing time.
3. (96) Alex Green, RB - Could step into a third-down role.
4. (131) Davon House, CB - will add depth in the secondary.
5. (141) D.J. Williams, TE - He could push Andrew Quarless for playing time
6. (179) Caleb Schlauderaff, G - Offensive line depth.
6. (186) D.J. Smith, LB - He'll need to contribute on special teams.
6. (197) Ricky Elmore, DE - injuries may get him some playing time on the line.
7. (218) Ryan Taylor, TE - He'll need to make his mark on special teams in order to be on the roster.
7. (233) Lawrence Guy, DE - Depth guy at defensive end.
Cullen Jenkins, DE (Eagles)
Jenkins will be hard to replace on the defensive line. The Packers will use a number of players until they find someone who can provide a pass rush.
Nick Barnett, LB (Bills)
Barnett missed the end of last season due to injury, but the Packers will miss the depth that he would have provided.
Daryn Colledge, G (Cardinals)
Colledge wasn't great, but he was consistent. T. J. Lang will replace him on the line.
CAN THE PACKERS PROTECT RODGERS?
The Packers will need to rely on Bryan Bulaga and T.J. Lang to step into starting roles on the offensive line this season. Bulaga got some starting experience at the end of last season and had his moments, but also looked raw. Green Bay has never been known for its great offensive line play under Mike McCarthy, so this latest configuration shouldn't be any different. It doesn't have to be pretty, but the obvious priority here is figuring out a way to keep Aaron Rodgers upright and healthy, something they didn't always do last season.
WHO GETS THE CARRIES?
James Starks and Ryan Grant both look good enough to carry the load, so how will Mike McCarthy split the carries? There have been some rumblings that the Packers could move Grant before the season begins, with the fantasy buzz on Starks already building some steam. Ted Thompson loves his team to get younger and third-round pick Alex Green has looked good in the preseason, so he's a name to file away as well.
SUPER BOWL HANGOVER?
The Packers will need to stay focused on winning games now and not on how last season ended. They are saying all of the right things, but it will be interesting to see how they collectively handle playing as the NFL's reigning champs. There are certainly plenty of recent examples of teams tumbling mightily after attaining the summit that a championship represents. Avoiding such a drop-off is the team's biggest challenge heading into the 2011 campaign.
Rising: James Starks impressed at the end of last season and could get a full-time spot if Ryan Grant falters at all.
Declining: Despite his experience and past success in Green Bay, Ryan Grant is almost certain to lose carries to Starks and Alex Green.
Sleeper: Alex Green is trying to replace Brandon Jackson as the team's third-down back and has looked good in the preseason to date.
Supersleeper: Randall Cobb would be a definite sleeper on most teams, but on the Packers he's a fifth WR and kick returner. He's flashed top-notch ability in the preseason, but is dependant on injuries in order to make a splash.
Clay Matthews, LB
Revealed that he played the end of last season with a stress fracture in his leg.
Charles Woodson, CB
All he does is make plays.
Tramon Williams, CB
Became one of the top corners in the league in 2011.
RotoWire Rank: 2