NFC North Roundup – Green Bay Packers

Check out other NFC North teams:

Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears

2016 Season Summary

There seems to be a winning formula for the Packers. Play poorly throughout the season. When you get to the point where you need to win out, crank it up to 100.

Last year that formula took them to the NFC Championship. The time before that it won them a Super Bowl.

Dumb theories aside, overall it was a very good year. The Packers really had two big areas of concern. First, they weren’t able to get the rhythm going in the passing game. Second, they weren’t able to stop the pass on defense.

The first issue they were able to remedy and that’s really all it took to get the Packers off and running. That, in and of itself, should tell you everything you need to know about the Packers. Get Rodgers going and there is no reason to expect them to lose.

The second issue plagued the team all year. Although I think the doom and gloom by fans and commentators is ridiculous, if the issue isn’t remedied in 2017 the Packers will struggle to win consistently.

Offseason

By any other teams standards, it’s been an incredibly quiet offseason. For the Packers, however, it’s been a wild ride.

To date there have been 3, count ’em, 3 offseason acquisitions. If you’re new here, that’s pretty unheard of.

Signings so far

Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots

A major reason the passing game was able to finally get going was the 1 big signing from 2016, Jared Cook.

Cook brought a physicality that seemed to be missing from the Packers wide receivers and when others WR’s were having trouble with press man coverage, Cook was planting his hand in the chest of defenders, knocking them into next week, and converting those tough third downs.

It was an absolute shock to see him leave considering how crucial he was to the offense down the stretch but the signing of Bennett should allow the offense to continue to operate in the same way. They have a big physical receiver that isn’t going to allow anyone to get physical with him and will fight for territory.

Davon House, CB, Jaguars

I get it and I don’t. Corner is a need and House is a known commodity. That said, it’s sort of a “meh” signing.

House had a good season in 2012. Other than that he’s fluctuated between not bad and horrible. If we get an average year out of him he will be probably about as good as the other three corners were in 2015.

Even with all the corners at their best, the Packers lack a true number 1 corner to match up with the Julio Jones’ of the world. House didn’t really fix that so the draft will need to.

Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams

A lot of people are excited but I can’t really get this pickup either. It’s entirely possible that Kendricks is another Cook that is just in need of a good quarterback, in which case, look out!

Unfortunately, although Cook had his best year in 2016, Rodgers didn’t boost him into elite status. He only really got a modest boost as far as his PFF grade goes.

If the same holds true for Kendricks, he’ll get a boost to mediocrity.

Unsigned

The current unsigned players are as follows:

Jayrone Elliot, OLB
Christine Michael, RB

In both cases I think the fans like the players more than the Packers do. Elliot has graded extremely poorly in his 3 years with the Packers. Although he provides depth, I can’t imaging what price is worth keeping him.

Michael got very limited time. I think the fans were chomping at the bit to see him on the field but he really never was given much of a chance. As the season wore on the tandem seemed to be Montgomery and Ripkowski.

As with Elliot, Michael provides depth but I don’t feel the Packers are overly excited to bring him back before they explore their options in the draft.

Roster Breakdown

I’ve already touched on quite a few players and positions but let’s take a closer look.

Quarterback

What is there to say?  Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. I give Brady all the respect in the world for what he’s accomplished but there is a list a mile long of things Rodgers can do on the field that no other quarterback can do and he does it with regularity.

As long as Rodgers is on the field, is allowed to stay upright, and has a place to throw the ball, he is going to drag this team to the playoffs every year. Kicking and screaming if necessary.

Wide Receiver

The Packers are in a good position here. In terms of grades, the Packers currently have two above average receivers (Nelson, Cobb) and two average receivers (Adams, Allison).

Not only does that already make them the top receiving group in the NFC North but Adams arrow is pointing straight up, Allison came out of nowhere and there’s no telling where he could end up, and there is another young buck by the name of Trevor Davis that has the ability to make a leap.

Overall the unit has the youth, depth and talent needed to keep defenses on their heels for a long time.

Running Back

Ty Montgomery deserves a ton of respect for what he did. He was taken from the WR spot and thrown into the RB position simply because of injury. He didn’t have the offseason to grow as a RB, he wasn’t able to study or spend time in the RB room, he was a receiver.

To be able to simply jump in and perform is incredibly impressive and with a full offseason to train and prepare as a back, there is no reason to think he won’t get even better.

That said, his performance through the year was average. He did some incredible things with the ball in his hands and absolutely shredded the Bears, but there were times the run game just wasn’t working, especially in short yardage situations.

This year is a great year for backs in the draft. By simply adding some depth and maybe a little thump to the roster in 2017 the running backs should be able to contribute a lot more and take some pressure off of Rodgers to put the team on his back.

Tight End

McCarthy’s coveted position, a lethal tight end is something the team has been trying desperately to find. They were just finally hitting their stride with Cook last year before they lost him in free agency. To prove that point, if you took Cook’s numbers in the post season and stretched it over 16 games it would be 96 receptions for 1,227 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s insane.

Strangely, those are almost exactly Jordy Nelsons stats for all of 2016.

If the Packers are able to even come close to continuing Cooks numbers with Bennett, you can just forget about defense. They don’t need one.

Offensive Line

The Packers currently boast one of the best, if not the best tackle duos in the NFL with Bakhtiari and Bulaga.  Corey Linsley is also a pretty good center.

The issue right now is guard. Fortunately for the Packers, Lane Taylor isn’t great but he’s far from a liability and is actually a pretty fantastic pass blocker.

If the Packers are able to find a guard that can run block to plug into the right side of the line, I think they will not only be fine but will have one of the best lines in the NFL.

Defensive Interior

Mike Daniels is the man in the middle. He is the enforcer and he is really really good. PFF ranked him as the 9th best defensive lineman in the NFL.

Behind him is one of the most promising players on the team, Kenny Clark. Kenny was a surprise first round pick in 2016 and his arrow is going straight up, gaining more and more playing time as the year went on.

There are three others that are in the “average” category that provide a great amount of depth including newly signed Ricky Jean Francois.

The player of note, however is Dean Lowry. Another player that was a rookie in 2016, Lowry went from very little playing time to the number three guy behind Clark and Daniels. He gets no recognition but if his arrow continues the way it has, the Packers interior will be scary.

Edge Defenders

A position not talked about much, OLB might be the Packers biggest need. Not only is it incredibly thin in terms of bodies, the two notable players are Matthews and Perry.

Matthews hasn’t been himself the last couple of years and in 2016 he was really…. not good.

Perry was fantastic but the guy has been an average player for 4 years and then comes out of nowhere when the Packers flash money in his face.

Best case scenario, Clay returns to his old self (to be fair, he was hurt) and Perry continues to play like the monster he was in 2016 and the issue is depth with only Kyler Fackrell to fill in.

Worst case scenario, Perry regresses, Clay shows his tank is empty and Kyler stays barely average… and the Packers have 0 edge presence.

In today’s NFL, especially in Capers system, outside linebackers are essential. He needs them. Lots of them. He puts them down as lineman for crying out loud.

That said, I expect the Packers to grab at least one edge defender, possibly 2 in the 2017 draft.

Linebacker

The inside linebacker spot isn’t great but it’s not exactly dire. Jake Ryan made an unlivable jump from year 1 to year 2. He managed to hold his own against the run and pass.

First year player Blake Martinez was a decent compliment to Jake and plays pretty well against the run.

On passing downs, Joe Thomas came in to play in coverage. Not because he was good at it but because Blake was really really bad at it. Therein lies the problem.

If Jake and Blake are both able to make strides in 2017, specifically Blake in the pass game, there isn’t a ton to worry about here. If they aren’t, adding a little help isn’t the worst idea.

The Packers apathy in free agency with ILB’s available, and the lack of any real strong prospects in the draft tells me they have a good amount of confidence in the Jake and Blake combo.

Cornerback

This is the scapegoat for all the Packers woes in 2016. Although I completely understand that the cornerbacks were the weakest link in 2016, I have no real reason to think 2016 is an automatic reflection of what 2017 will look like.

In fact, 2015 was actually a pretty good year for the young corners. Quinton Rollins was  phenomenal in his first year. If he were to match his 2015 year in 2016, Rollins would have been ranked the 27th best corner in the NFL. Although it doesn’t sound overly impressive, he would have been in the same company as Josh Norman and Jalen Ramsey. Dude can play.

House and Gunter also have played in the average range making them viable options.

In my opinion, the Packers simply need a number 1. Although I don’t think in any way the sky is falling, I think a first round pick on a guy like Marlon Humphrey would allow talented players like Rollins to match up with guys a little more their speed.

It was said in 2016 and didn’t come true but I’m still of the opinion the Packers corners could become a real strength in the near future.

Safety

It’s been true of every team in the NFC North and it’s true of the Packers. They have two incredibly good starters in Clinton-Dix and Burnett, but have very little depth.

Considering the safeties play every defensive snap there isn’t a huge need for depth other than in the event of injury.

I expect the Packers to rely on the young talent they have on the roster to be able to step up when called and don’t expect the Packers to draft anyone. Then again it’s Ted and if the right player is there, he’s gonna nab him.

2017 Draft

As it stands now, the Packers will have 8 selections in the 2017 draft.

  • Round 1, pick 29: #29 overall
  • Round 2, pick 29: #61 overall
  • Round 3, pick 29: #93 overall
  • Round 4, pick 28*: #134 overall
  • Round 5, pick 29: #174 overall
  • Round 5, pick 39 (compensatory): #184 overall
  • Round 6, pick 29: #214 overall
  • Round 7: #249 overall

I’ll be rolling out a 7 round mock pretty soon so be on the lookout for that.

In the meantime, however, I think there are a few solid ways to go in round 1. The first is to take advantage of the depth at corner and running back and wait on those positions, grabbing a pass rusher. There are a ton available and the “experts” are all over the board on which are a good value at 29.

I personally like Takkarist McKinnley and T.J. Watt. If the Packers are looking for a pass rush specialist, Haason Reddick or Charles Harris might be good options.

The other option at round 1 is to acknowledge the height of talent at corner and running back. With that is the realization the Packers may not be able to get a player with this level of talent for quite a while.

At running back my favorite picks are Dalvin Cook or Joe Mixon. I’ve been arguing in favor of McCaffrey not getting enough respect and even suggesting he may be better than Cook. That said, I think he’s entirely too similar to Ty Montgomery for the pick to make sense.

In addition, Cook will probably be gone and Joe Mixon knocked a woman out cold so… we’ll see what happens.

At corner there is probably a list of 10 corners who’s names have been in the first round at some point. The three I would be extremely excited about would be Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, or Teez Tabor.

Looking Ahead

The Packers are very much up in the air. If you take their best case scenario, including draft picks, there is no question they could be the top team in the NFL. Simply adding a running game and improving the pass protection would just about do it.

The bad part is the worst case scenario. The team has some fragility and we’ve seen the depths this team can go with something as easy as disrupting the rhythm of the passing game.

Overall I will always be optimistic about the Packers chances. They seemingly win the division, make it into the playoffs, and take a real good swing at the Super Bowl every year. Anyone upset with the Packers and their body of work the last several years needs to have their head examined.

 

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About Ryan Schlipp

Metal forged, mettle tested, and medal earned as a Packers fan growing up in the heart of Chicago Bears country. Now a contributor to Packernet, it’s my honor and privilege to represent the Green and Gold.

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