Just to clarify, this is not an attack on the Green Bay Packers. They are still one of the best organizations in the league and also possess one of the Top Three Quarterbacks in the NFL. They are consistently in the Playoffs, always in contention for a championship. The last two years however, they have looked simply over-matched physically in the postseason, especially in 2012. The Packers’ tendency to depend on Aaron Rodgers to carry them through their offensive imbalance had gotten them a Super Bowl a couple seasons ago, but lately has just gotten them to the Wildcard round of the Playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers have had the Packers’ number the last few seasons, out muscling them and ultimately, winning. A California team came into Green Bay in frigid temperatures and defeated the cold-weather Packers. What was once a vaunted task for opposing teams has turned increasingly more common and unsettling, especially as a Wisconsin resident. In order for the Packers to re-assert their dominance in the NFC, they need to make some organizational changes and they all start in the front office. The only certain way to make the playoffs is to win your division, this is a formula that will help the Packers continue to do this more effectively.
Ted Thompson has been the General Manager for the last 9 seasons and for a while, his strategy to build almost solely through the Draft worked, the roster was stocked with plenty of young talent. From Clay Matthews, to Jordy Nelson, to Nick Collins, and Greg Jennings. Over the past few seasons adding some key pieces like Randall Cobb and Casey Heyward gave them an excess of young players on the roster. This youth may have also hindered the Packers’ depth and chances of competing, which has shown most on defense where the once successful Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense struggling to stop anything the past couple seasons. Thompson’s tendency to sign very few, if any Free Agents has also kept the Packers from adding experienced pieces to the puzzle and problem areas have continued to remain that way. The secondary hasn’t been the same since Nick Collins’ unfortunate injury and the Offensive Line has also struggled to protect the Franchise. Investing $110 million in a QB means that Green Bay should prioritize improving his protection.
The General Manager picks the players and the players should reflect the attitude of the team. This is another major change that needs to take place. In the recent past, the Packers have strewn away from the physicality that was once a staple of the Mike Holmgren led teams. When you play in a place like Green Bay, where the aura of the “Frozen Tundra” is one of the most intimidating in the league, your team should be a representation of that aura. The Packers of present are now a very soft, pass-oriented team with a bend-but-don’t-break defense. These are three things that don’t reflect that image the Packers used to have and need again to get over that hump. The NFC is ruled by teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, two very physical and smash-mouth teams with in your face styles and attitude. There is no real swagger in Green Bay, something that used to be abundant. A hiring of Joel Patten, the Director of Player Personnel, or essentially GM’s understudy, would make a great new GM. Seeing the success Trent Baalke has had in San Fran will help Patten mold the Packers into a physical, deep team that will thrive in the cold weather and post season. Like a Diesel engine in the cold Wisconsin winters, the longer it runs, the better and stronger it gets. Physicality and versatility will be the calling-cards of the “new” Packer attack.
Mike McCarthy, despite some of his short-comings, is a pretty good Head Coach in this league and has a good staff around him. They are certainly capable of succeeding with the coaches presently on staff; they’ve done a good job with the amount of talent that they’re given, which hasn’t been much in recent years.
On offense, the keys to the car are held by the Quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best drivers there is, and he is the future of this team. Behind him, Matt Flynn proved just capable enough of winning the games he should and not much else. He’ll do for the near future, however the Packers could look to draft an insurance policy to compete with Scott Tolzien for the 3rd spot. A late round pick like Georgia’s Aaron Murray or Keith Price, not great in stature, but have impressive track records in college and possess good football intelligence. Players like Murray and Price, not too different from Tolzien, can thrive due to their intangibles.
In the 2nd round last year, Ted Thompson made his best draft pick of the last few seasons, taking the team’s first feature runningback since Ahman Green ran wild in Lambeau. Eddie Lacy is an incredible young talent and should be the featured aspect of the team’s offense going forward. Before you panic, no, I’m not suggesting Rodgers shouldn’t run the show, but imagine the effectiveness of Aaron Rodgers with a lot more play action. Which will help him maintain his well-being for the distant and near future. Between the trio of James Starks, DuJuan Harris, and Jonathan Franklin, the Packers can find a backup and even a 3rd back for behind Lacy. Although an interesting proposition late in the draft could be Wisconsin’s James White, a great pass blocker and pass catcher, who’s future in the NFL is as a 3rd down back. Lacy can rest on 3rd downs, and the Pack can stymie defenses with another receiving threat in the passing game.
John Kuhn will be good enough to be the team’s fullback for the next few years. In the mold of the 49ers, multiple Fullbacks and Tight Ends will be utilized, while not only creating a bigger, physical team, will also create depth on Special Teams, another aspect of the game the Packers have struggled with. A player like Jay Prosch of Auburn could exemplify the style and attitude of the Pack, and will be available in the later rounds or even be an undrafted Free Agent.
Wide Receiver is a position that the Packers were so deep at a couple years ago, that they were saddened to see the Practice Squad players get picked up by other teams, but simply couldn’t make the already packed corps. Since then, Greg Jennings has headed west to Minneapolis, Donald Driver had retired, and with no proven young talent on the roster, it could be open season for the last few roster spots. Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are stalwarts in the group and will serve as the foundation. Jarrett Boykin had some flashes this season, but he was very inconsistent, and the other WR’s on the roster have little to no experience. In an environment like this, I’d normally advise that they look to Free Agency, however a home-grown talent who will complete what they’re looking for would suffice. Wautoma, WI native Jared Abbrederis, one of the most decorated receivers in Wisconsin history, would be a great slot receiver for the hometown Pack. He also provides special teams depth with his gunning and return ability. Another talent worth watching is Texas receiver Mike Davis, a speedster who runs good routes, and succeeded despite the Longhorns’ ineptitude at Quarterback.
Tight End is now a position of need for the Packers. Jermichael Finley’s unfortunate and tragic injury may leave the athletic Tight End unable to play football again, a true shame. Andrew Quarless, a former late round pick from Penn State is penciled in as the starter currently, with Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner waiting in the wings. While Quarless probably shouldn’t be starting in the league, he’s definitely better than the alternatives. All should be retained for depth, however the Pack’s 1st round selection could be used on Jace Amaro, an athletic receiver from Texas Tech’s air raid offense. Or even the top Tight End prospect, Eric Ebron from North Carolina could be the pick. To draw a comparison for Patten, a Vernon Davis like athlete, without quite that much speed, Ebron is a matchup nightmare in the slot or in-line. While he can be taught to block and will bulk up once in the league, that type of athleticism at the position would be welcome in this offense. C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa is also another potential target, the Illinois native possesses an NFL body already at 6’6″ 265, he could be another mid-round option. A fluid athlete for his size, he wasn’t utilized as much at Iowa as he should have been, but will be more productive in the league.
The Packers of the mid 2000’s had one of the best offensive lines in football, with guys like Mike Wahle, Chad Clifton and Mike Flanagan. Since then, they’ve fallen on hard times allowing Aaron Rodgers to be hit and sacked far too often. Rodgers’ collarbone injury was the reason the Packers nearly missed the playoffs this season and he looked gun-shy against the Bears and 49ers late in the year. They aren’t particularly adept to either pass blocking or run blocking, although the run blocking this year was improved and helped aid Eddie Lacy to reach the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. An overall bigger and more physical offensive line would benefit the Packers the most. Left Tackle David Bakhtiari played fairly well for a rookie and he may be the future at that position. For whatever reason, Josh Sitton was moved from Right Guard to the Left side and he struggled mightily. A move back to his original position would suit him well, allowing a more athletic guard on the left side to protect Rodgers’ blind side. Evan Dietrich-Smith had been a back up prior to inheriting the starting position from Jeff Saturday and he should probably go back, as he has struggled significantly in his starting role. An upgrade will be needed. T.J. Lang has done a good job of being he Packers utility lineman the past few seasons. He played alright at Right Guard, however an upgrade could be brought in at at Left, as Sitton should be moving back to the right side. Don Barclay was the starting Right Tackle this season and for a former undrafted Free Agent, he played adequately, an upgrade should still be brought in. Also, the big wildcard in this whole situation is Bryan Bulaga(the Packers best overall offensive lineman) who is coming off of a Torn ACL. He could recover his spot at Left Tackle or Right Tackle. Either way, it would be an upgrade over who played there this season. Overall, the Packers don’t have great depth, or a lot of talent on the O-Line, especially considering they’re responsible for protecting the two offensive studs of the team. As well as hitting Free Agency to help with depth, this year’s class of Lineman is deep for the draft. At left Guard, Ryan Groy, a Middleton, Wis. native could be an option in the mid rounds as the 6’5″ 317 pounder played Left Tackle, Left Guard and even Center during his time at Madison. He’s a mauler and is good in pass protection. At Center, former Arkansas starter Travis Swanson is a 6’5″, 310 pound grinder who started for 4 years in Fayetteville. He knows his abilities, and that allows him to game plan for his opponents. Also, Seantrel Henderson, an absolute mammoth of a man at 6’6″ and 331 pounds, can play both Left and Right Tackle, but would epitomize the transition of physicality for Green Bay. He’s a relentless run blocker and is good in pass protection. The Offensive Line is certainly a major position that needs to be heavily addressed during this year’s draft.
Defensively, the Packers have been regressing each season after their Super Bowl win in 2011. All three levels of the defense are lacking in talent and depth, they are also misused at times. Dom Capers is a very capable defensive coordinator and he has come up with some very good defensive schemes, but due to his lack of talent he hasn’t been able to use them all without sacrificing another facet of his defense. He can return this stop-gap unit to the top of the league’s rankings with more talent and versatility. Improvement is needed up the middle of the defense to put this unit back among the best.
On the Defensive Line, the Packers have an interesting mix of talent and experience. Their 5-Technique Defensive ends include Ryan Pickett, a veteran nearing the end of a good career, Datone Jones, last season’s 1st round pick and physical specimen. His exact role on this defense is still to be determined, but he can be a piece to build around. Jerel Worthy will be coming off of an injury that cost him his season, however if he can return to his level of play from a season ago, he could compete to be a starter. Josh Boyd and CJ Wilson are also on the roster, but both are just rotational lineman. In all, the Defensive Ends are good enough to get the job done. The middle is where the problem is. In the 3-4 defense, it is incredibly difficult to be effective without a dominant Nose Tackle. B.J. Raji, despite the well-known name and his big stature, has been a liability against the run the past few seasons and may have worn out his welcome in Packer land. Johnny Jolly has flashed, but is more effective as a End, rather than at Nose Tackle where the Packers have been playing him. Mike Daniels is an interesting player who makes a lot of plays, but lacks the physical size to be depended on as a starter or significant contributor. The Packers need to rebuild this defense, they should do so by building back through the middle, as the “strengths” are on the outsides. Louis Nix III could be an option, the 340 pound Nose Tackle from Notre Dame is the top prospect at the position and would be an immediate starter for the Packers, but he may be drafted before pick 21. Daniel McCullers, a 6’7″ 348 pound monster from Tennessee would be an option from the 2nd-3rd round area, as well as Mister Cobble from Kentucky could be available in late rounds. The 6’0″ 340 pound Cobble isn’t much for pass rush, but is very stout in run support, the biggest responsibility of the Nose Tackle.
Linebackers are the most important position in the 3-4 defense, because they’re the most prevalent. The concept of the 3-4 is to occupy the Offensive Lineman with the larger Defensive Lineman, and allow the 4 more athletic Linebackers to run around and make plays. The outside Linebackers are responsible for the pass rush and the Packers have one of the best players of all time as their Coach. Kevin Greene was an animal on the field and that passion carries over onto the sideline. Clay Matthews is one of the most recognizable players in the NFL, when he is both healthy and able to avoid being double-teamed, is one of the more exciting players to watch in the league. He needs more help on the other side and in the middle to optimize his effectiveness and increase his sack numbers. The other Outside starter is Nick Perry when healthy, however he has been miscast as at this position. His optimal role would be as a Nickel package pass rusher, when the Packers go to a 4-man front. He has the physical tools, but he’s far too raw at this point to be a major contributor. He still provides value on Special Teams and as a pass rusher however. Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba both received significant playing time this year with the injuries to both Matthews and Perry, and they played adequately, but not well enough to build around for the future. They provide good depth with their new found experience. The Packers don’t need any outside Linebackers early in the draft, but looking for a Pass Rushing specialist couldn’t hurt in Rounds 3-5. Inside Linebackers are the lifeblood of the 3-4 defense. The 49ers have Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, the Steelers had James Farrior and Larry Foote. The Packers however, have AJ Hawk and Brad Jones. Hawk, a once the fifth overall pick, has improved his play this past season and is one of the better players on the defense. However, Jones leaves a bit to be desired. Both struggle shedding blocks, which would happen less if the Nose Tackles did a better job of eating blocks. This is another position that needs to be addressed this offseason. Stanford Linebacker Shayne Skov has played in a 3-4 in college and has been a stalwart in the Cardinal’s top ranked defense the past few seasons. At 6’4″ 251 pounds, Skov is an imposing figure in the middle of the defense, routinely delivers hits when coming downhill. He’d be a good fit in Capers’ attacking defense. Trey DePriest of Alabama could also be a later round option, as the position needs a lot of attention.
The Packers have a long lineage of good Defensive Backs, such as Herb Adderly, a Hall Of Famer, LeRoy Butler, and even as recently as Charles Woodson. This makes the current state of the Packers secondary that much more saddening for the Packer faithful, watching their defense get carved up by opposing offenses weekly. The Cornerbacks are certainly the “strength” of the secondary, with Tramon Williams leading the group. He has gone on record this offseason that the Packers need more veterans, and with a new GM, that would certainly be the case. Along with the theory that every NFL team should dedicate at least one draft pick each year to replenishing the depth of the secondary, this season is stocked with long, rangy corners. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard are both valid options in the 1st round, and both could be available at #21. Both provide the physical style of play that Corners are preferred to have in the NFL, and would be upgrades over Davon House. Also in Free Agency, Vontae Davis from the Colts, and Mike Jenkins, of Oakland could be good acquisitions to cater to this phyiscal style. Overall the Packers have quite a bit of quality depth at Corner if they develop. Sam Shields, Micah Hyde and Casey Heyward can all be quality Cornerbacks if they are able to stay healthy. Again, the middle of the defense is really where the Packers struggle, their Safety play is a key part of their defensive struggles. Morgan Burnett recently received a contract extension, but is merely an average starter in the league. M.D. Jennings may be the worst starting defensive player in the NFL, Green Bay should make it a priority to replace him and find a new Free Safety to captain the secondary. In Free Agency, Jairus Byrd of the Bills should be a major target, as he’s one of the best Free Safeties in the NFL and would instantly add some legitimacy to the Safety position. Byrd would also provide some much needed leadership. He’s excellent in coverage and even led the NFL in Interceptions during his rookie campaign. In the 1st Round if he were to fall, HaHa Clinton-Dix from Alabama would also provide a talent upgrade, as well as a winning pedigree. The 6’1″ 209 pound Safety was among the best players on the best defense in college football the past two seasons. He’s a playmaker and a winner, something the Packers could use more of in the defensive backfield. Clinton-Dix could also help on Special Teams.
Special Teams are a very good way to win or lose a game and usually you only hear about some of them when they’ve screwed up. Mason Crosby seems to have gotten through the year-long slump he was in two years ago and Tim Masthay has done a good job punting for Green Bay. Randall Cobb and Micah Hyde have been doing a good job in returning, with some newcomers like Abbrederis, Cobb could focus solely on being an offensive weapon.
Overall, the Green Bay Packers have plenty of weapons on offense, as well as some impact players on defense. They can absolutely be a major contender for the Super Bowl with the Seahawks and 49ers, with just a little bit of help and a team/organizational facelift. This is simply one man’s opinion on how the once feared and vaunted Green Bay Packers can return to that glory and return more titles to Titletown USA. It will definitely be interesting to see how things play out and what the Packers decide to do in this offseason.