State of the Franchise
The Packers finished atop the NFC North in 2012 for the second straight year, but the season ended on a down note as the squad was rudely booted from the postseason at the hands of the 49ers. Despite the ugly ending, the Packers are hoping that a couple of superstars combined with a couple of rookies will help get them back to the Super Bowl.
Green Bay sat at just 2-3 after five weeks last season, but lost just twice the rest of the way and finished at 11-5. Despite the lack of a consistent running game, Aaron Rodgers provided another MVP-worthy performance, leading the NFL in QB rating and finishing with 39 touchdown passes, good for second in the league. The defense held up for the most part, but had trouble stopping the run when it needed to. The Packers won their playoff opener against the Vikings, but the issues in the running game and their spotty defense were exposed in the second round, and the team lost convincingly to San Francisco.
Recognizing that additions had to be made on both sides of the ball, the Packers addressed their needs, as they do typically, through the draft rather than free agency. The team added athletic defensive lineman Datone Jones in the first round, and then added two running backs, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, over the next three. Both Jones and Lacy should contribute immediately and have a good chance to start in Week 1. While wideout Greg Jennings and veteran safety Charles Woodson departed via free agency, as is their style, the Packers will be counting on younger players, notably WR Randall Cobb and S Morgan Burnett, to fill the void and take on bigger roles in 2013.
Though the Packers were quiet in free agency, they did spend a considerable chunk of change on a couple of their own players, inking Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the team’s most recognizable players, to multi-year deals. Matthews’ deal makes him the highest-paid linebacker in the league, and Rodgers’ pact makes him the richest player in NFL history.
While the 2012 campaign didn’t end as the Packers hoped, the pieces remain in place for the team to put together another quality season in 2013. The division, and the NFC as a whole, will provide stiff competition, but Rodgers’ presence alone will make them a threat in any matchup. If the team sees the improvements it’s expecting in the run game and defense, the Packers have as good a chance as anyone to play at The Meadowlands in Super Bowl XLVIII come February.
Eddie Lacy - RB, Alabama
(Round 2, 61st overall)
A power back who adds a new element to the run game, health permitting.
Johnathan Franklin - RB, UCLA
(Round 4, 125th overall)
Lacy’s injury history encouraged the Packers to double down at the draft and add another young backfield option with upside in Franklin.
Charles Johnson - WR, Grand Valley St.
(Round 7, 216th overall)
An athletic small-schooler, who has to prove himself against top competition.
Giorgio Tavecchio - K, 49ers
Will serve as camp competition for incumbent kicker Mason Crosby.
Matthew Mulligan - TE, Rams
Could make the roster as a blocking tight end.
Greg Jennings - WR, Vikings
His departure opens the door for other wideouts, but a division rival gets a No.1 receiver in the process.
Charles Woodson - S, Raiders
The team will be looking for a new defensive leader.
Donald Driver - WR, Retired
Franchise reception leader hangs up his cleats after 14 seasons.
WHO WILL ASSUME THE ROLE OF FEATURE BACK?
One statistic alone defines the Packers’ running game over the last few seasons: The team hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Week 5 of the 2010 campaign. Last season saw the Packers open with Cedric Benson in the backfield, turn to Alex Green when Benson went down, and finish the year with the unheralded DuJuan Harris as the team’s top back. Opposing defenses were rarely afraid of the run, and the team’s dynamic passing attack struggled at times as a result. In an effort to address the position, the Packers spent a second-round pick on Eddie Lacy and a fourth-rounder on Johnathan Franklin. Green is also finally 100 percent recovered from a late 2011 knee surgery, while Harris should be ready for training camp after an offseason procedure to remove a cyst from his lung. James Starks is also on hand. The five options all possess different skill sets, but assuming Lacy makes it through camp healthy, expect him to lead the backfield come Week 1.
WHICH RECEIVER BECOMES Aaron Rodgers’ NEW FAVORITE TARGET?
With former top dog Greg Jennings in Minnesota, Rodgers will be looking for a new No. 1 receiver in 2013. There should be no shortage of candidates. James Jones caught 64 balls and led the league with 14 touchdown receptions a year ago. Before being limited by injuries a season ago, Jordy Nelson racked up 15 touchdowns of his own in 2011. Meanwhile, TE Jermichael Finley had a disappointing 2012 as a whole, but he played better down the stretch and will also factor into the mix. While each player mentioned is talented in his own right, the player who should become the Packers’ top receiver is Randall Cobb, who burst onto the scene a season ago. The dynamic Cobb is in line to be even more involved in 2013, fueled by his athleticism and versatility.
WILL THE DEFENSE BE BETTER IN 2013?
The Green Bay defense finished 11th in both points and yards allowed a season ago, and even finished second in the league in sacks. However, the Packers struggled to stop the run, and were ultimately exposed in late-season losses to the Vikings and 49ers. There won’t be many new faces on the defense in 2013, but a big addition comes in the form of first-round DE Datone Jones. The unit will be looking to fill a leadership void with S Charles Woodson no longer on the roster, but LB Clay Matthews, who signed a hefty contract extension this offseason, should be up to the task. Health will be key for the defense, especially Matthews, but the 2013 unit figures to be more stout against the run, and should more closely resemble the stingy 2010 squad than last year’s version did.
Rising: Despite seeing a jump in production last season, the sky’s still the limit for Randall Cobb. With Greg Jennings gone, he should notch his first career 1,000-yard campaign.
Declining: DuJuan Harris was a pleasant surprise late last season, but with two talented rookies and a healthy Alex Green battling him for carries, he might find his opportunities hard to come by.
Sleeper: Injury risks abound in the backfield and Johnathan Franklin is coming off a productive collegiate season in which he ran for 6.1 YPC. He could be a fantasy factor if he finds himself atop the depth chart.
Supersleeper: If any of the team’s top three wideouts were to miss action, Jarrett Boykin would likely be next in line on the depth chart.
Morgan Burnett - S
Enters 2013 as the top fantasy option among defensive backs.
Clay Matthews - LB
Will be among the league leaders in sacks if healthy.
Casey Hayward- CB
Should see more snaps after picking off six passes as a rookie.
RotoWire Rank: 16