Green Bay Packers Grades the Total Packers’ Way
Alas, this is that time of year, immediately after the demise of the season, when all the media sources dedicated to the Green Bay Packers come out with grades for everyone on the roster. If you follow said sources, then you’ve already seen some of these report cards. I have seen them, and some have made me wonder if they actually watch game film or just log on to ProFootball Focus and look up stats.
Since I figure, for better or for worse, I’ve spent about 150 hours watching game film this season, I’ve decided to get one more use out of that time and compile my own report card. Yes, this is somewhat an exercise in tedium and stating the glaringly obvious, but we all hope at least that these grades and the almighty dollar will largely determine who probably stays and who probably goes this offseason.
Or, as the Joker once said… here..we…GO.
Aaron Rodgers: C+ I’ve seen lists giving Rodgers an A. That is pretty amazing considering no matter how you slice it, this was Rodgers’ worst season as a pro. Sure, that’s mostly because he was out injured for half the season, but availability is the first key to being successful. It’s tough to help the team while in street clothes on the sideline. Rodgers also was part of the Packers’ disastrous drop from first in the league in red zone efficiency to 26th. Remember that this started in the preseason when the Packers’ first team couldn’t get in the end zone either. From what I’ve seen, defenses have wisely adopted the same red zone philosophy as they have on most key downs: rush four and drop seven into coverage. They know that Rodgers won’t force the ball into tight spaces. Instead, he typically hangs onto it until sacked or runs out of the pocket to throw it away. Yes, there are other factors involved, but I mostly hang third down and red zone efficiency on the quarterback. Good quarterbacks are great between the 20s. Great quarterbacks are great on third down and in the red zone. By the way, Rodgers is typically one of the best on third down and in the red zone. Not this season.
What I find most troubling is that the Packers have played four playoff games since winning the Super Bowl, and Rodgers has not had a great performance in any of them. Yeah, he performed adequately in both the games against San Francisco, but he isn’t being paid the highest contract in football to drive for field goals to tie the game and leave it to the defense. He is being paid to win games. Period.
I do give him a plus for the fourth down to Cobb that beat the Bears though. Props.
Matt Flynn: A- In case you missed it, Matt Flynn came out of the top shelf of the cupboard where grandma keeps the fine china and saved the Packers’ season. Some people seemed to confuse not winning with not being ABLE to win and claimed that without Rodgers, the Packers had no chance. Well, then Matt Flynn erased a 16-point second half deficit against the Vikings, and an 11-point deficit against the Falcons, and a 23-point halftime deficit against the Cowboys, and we should have all learned that the Packers CAN win as long as the defense can play just one half of decent football and the quarterback can actually pick up a third down or two.
Without Flynn, the Packers, frankly, weren’t worth watching. With him, they were a competitive football team. Yes, not on Thanksgiving against Detroit, but the rumor is that instead of the Packers offensive line, the guys in the Packers jerseys in that game were allegedly Josh Sitton’s bowling team. Just a rumor.
If the Packers don’t re-sign Matt Flynn to be the back up, then that’s why evil will always win — because good is dumb.
Scott Tolzien: C Scott Tolzien racked up some impressive yards in slinging it around for the Packers. He showed he has some skills. Unfortunately, when he wasn’t a deer caught in the headlights, he was displaying classic symptoms of Brett Favre Playoff Syndrome — or throwing back-breaking picks in crucial moments. In short, he was who we thought he was.
Eddie Effin’ Lacy: A Enough said, yo.
James Starks: B+ Wow, shook off another early season injury and didn’t see the injury report again on his way to his best season as a pro. Some guys flourish in the tandem role, and Starks appeared to be that guy. He had more explosiveness than we’ve seen before. Love the guy, but he should go get paid elsewhere.
John Kuhn: B Inauspicious beginning of the season, but great finish. KUUUUUUHHHHHNNNNNN!!!
Jordy Effin’ Nelson: A The local fishwrap gave The Nelson an A-, and I want someone to effin explain to me where the “-” comes from. Short of the guy throwing himself the football or pulling a Don Hutson and playing safety as well, I have no idea what more the guy could have done. Catch short passes and turn them into long gains — check. Catch the deep ball — check. Make acrobatic catches — check. Take the football right from defenders — check. Show up in the cold — check. Show up in big games — check. The Nelson is a top five receiver in the game, and it is time for some people to recognize.
James Jones: B+ JJ did not have the season that he had a year ago. That being said, the man still made a bunch of plays and helped anchor the unit that was by far the best part of the team this season. His sick, though meaningless, catch up the sideline against Detroit that accounted for about half of the Packers’ offensive output that game is still one of the highlights of the season. It should be JJ’s final season with the Packers, as some team out there has to realize this guy is worth over $5 million a season.
Jarrett Boykin: B Boykin had a quiet preseason, and so, when Randall Cobb went down against the Ravens and Boykin proceeded to come in and crap the bed, the Packers appeared in trouble at the receiver position for the first time in years. Wrong. Boykin did nothing but make plays from that point forward. So good was he, that the Packers have little choice but to let Jones go if he gets offered any kind of money.
Randall Cobb: C+ Cobb is a big-time player and the injury certainly was no fault of his. That being said, it is what it is. The Packers need him on the field.
Andrew Quarless: C+ The door was flung wide open for Quarless when Jermichael Finley went down. He was quiet for awhile before finally coming on strong at the end of the season. There are basically two things he needs — to run block better, and secondly, a quarterback that will throw him the ball. Matt Flynn made Quarless his primary third down option, and Quarless responded with his two best games as a pro. Quarless needs to build that kind of confidence with Rodgers now.
Josh Sitton: A The fact that he didn’t make the Pro Bowl shows how much of a shit-show that is. Sitton had his best season and is one of the best guards in football.
David Bakhtiari: B- Bakhtiari started every game for the Packers at left tackle, being the only rookie in the NFL to do such a thing. There is room for improvement, but I don’t think the Packers could have hoped for much more. He was surprisingly good in the run game, making the left side the Packers’ preferred side to run the football to. He held his own in the passing game, with only the Detroit game being a debacle. Yeah, he gave up more sacks than anyone else on the line. He also faced by far the best pass rushers.
Evan Dietrich-Smith: B Room for improvement, but EDS certainly played the best center for the Packers since Scott Wells left town. In my estimation, he is a better run blocker than Wells ever was while being only a small downgrade as a pass blocker. Whether he returns is entirely up to the market.
T.J. Lang: B- After getting man-handled by Ray McDonald in the season opener, Lang was solid for the rest of the year, including the rematch against San Francisco. We didn’t hear his name much, and that is a good sign for an offensive lineman.
Don Barclay: D+ Don Barclay took a step back in 2013, and it is quite possible that is because he is not a tackle after all. Guard is likely Barclay’s best position, which puts him in a fight with T.J. Lang for playing time next season. Though he ultimately gave up fewer sacks than Bakhtiari, Barclay was the Packers’ worst pass blocker this season. He is good in the run game, but not enough to justify the potential carnage with having him at tackle.
Clay Matthews: C- Clay was pretty much his usual self until he broke his thumb against Detroit. From that point on, he was virtually a non-factor for the Packers, and didn’t play in either of the biggest games of the year — at Chicago and in the playoffs against San Francisco. Pass rushers aren’t cheap in the NFL. With Clay now signed to the kind of contract that he is, the Packers can hardly afford to spend money on another one. In short, the Packers need Clay Matthews on the field and making a difference.
Nick Perry: C I’ll see your broken thumb and raise you a broken foot. Nick suffered his second significant injury in two seasons, though to his credit, he managed to play most of the season with it, and he was one of just two OLBs left standing at the end of the season. When he plays and is healthy, he is the Packers’ best edge setter, and he developed a little bit of an outside rush to go with his bull rush. It was the outside rush that netted Perry two sack fumbles this season. However, Perry is still lost when forced to drop into coverage, and his injury greatly affected his impact this season, even dropping him below Andy Mulumba on the depth chart. Next season is a huge year for Perry.
Mike Neal: C+ It ended up complete serendipity that Mike Neal was moved to OLB for the Packers. When the injury scourge blew up that position, Neal, though nursing a strained abdominal muscle most of the time, quickly became the Packers’ best player at that position. He has lapses setting the edge and lacks a go-to pass rush move. However, he is a great athlete who moves well in space, and for his size, was probably the Packers’ second best OLB in pass coverage. He needs to keep improving. Given Nick Perry’s injury situation, Mike Neal is an important free agent for the Packers to reacquire.
Andy Mulumba: C A free agent acquisition with only a small chance of making the team in training camp, Mulumba became a full-time starter after the dominoes at OLB began to fall. Mulumba didn’t embarrass himself and was there for the Packers at the end. He is a good athlete, but lacks the speed or power that is going to dominate an offensive tackle. For Mulumba to be successful in this league, he needs to learn how to use his hands to get off blockers, and he needs a high motor.
A.J. Hawk: B With 118 tackles, five sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles, A.J. Hawk had probably his best season as a Packer. His production, however, did tail off in the latter half of the season, not surprisingly when the defensive line began to struggle. Hawk probably had his best season in pass coverage, though that is still not his strong suit. Out of 10 linebackers retained on the roster for opening day, A.J. Hawk was the only one to not miss time due to injury, playing all 16 games. Props.
Brad Jones: D Jones had an injury-plagued season where he clearly took a step back from last season, right after the Packers gave him a new contract. His length made him the obvious dime linebacker, but he even lost that job to A.J. Hawk after injuries slowed him and coverage mistakes mounted. I expect his position to be a point of competition in next season’s training camp.
Jamari Lattimore: C Lattimore appeared to be a better alternative to Jones after Jones went down to an injury early in the season. However, when he got his chance again at the end of the season, he struggled. He has good speed and is a decent tackler, but his size gets him in trouble if an offensive lineman can get out to him on running plays. He is a decent special teams player on a crap special teams unit, whatever that means.
Ryan Pickett: C+ Ryan appeared to have found the fountain of youth through the first six games of the season. Unfortunately, like you’re my sunlit sky, that all went away. I don’t know if he got tired or was injured or the drugs wore off, but Pickett couldn’t get off blocks down the stretch. Partially as a result, the sterling Packers rush defense tanked in spectacular fashion. I give him a plus for at least showing up against San Francisco. He might have something left in the tank, though I believe his time as a starter is over.
BJ Raji: D Raji was actually very good through the first six games of the season, consistently getting into the backfield and blowing up plays. Where that production went midway through the season remains the biggest mystery of 2013. Raji eventually became so invisible on defense that I was looking on the back of milk cartons for him. The big man has quick feet. The problem is he has arms like a tyrannosaurus rex, which allows running backs to run right by him without him getting a finger on them. The nose tackle is Raji’s natural position, and he must be allowed to play there if the Packers bother re-signing him.
Johnny Jolly: B- Jolly was a difference maker for the Packers defense when he was healthy and in the lineup. His play tailed off near the end of the season, possibly as the length of the season wore him down. His age is a concern. Otherwise, he should be an easy re-sign for the Packers.
Josh Boyd: C+ Boyd really came on at the end of the season. He is another big man with some quickness to him. He is going to need to keep improving, but he should be in the mix next season and gives the Packers some leeway on the defensive line.
Mike Daniels: B+ Daniels took another step forward and was the Packers’ best pass rushing defensive lineman, by quite a margin. He has some attitude to him and isn’t terrible against the run, even though generally outsized there. If Daniels could add some more strength, he could become a three-down player for the Packers.
Datone Jones: D Unfortunately, Datone’s best moments came in OTAs. If Packers fans were hoping for some immediate impact, they didn’t get it. Part of the problem is that Datone was regularly lined up inside in the nickel, which is a pass rush position that routinely gets double-teamed. The couple sacks Datone did get were from lining up on the outside and taking on a tackle. His speed flashed a couple times, but he has to put on some weight and gain some power to play in this defense.
Sam Shields: B+ Sam had his moments, and when Tramon was injured, Sam was the clear No. 1 corner on the team. Sam is the fastest player on the team and has the best ball skills among the defensive backs. His tackling was just okay this season, and I don’t think it will ever be a strong point for him. He is a small guy, which puts him at a disadvantage against the big NFC North receivers. However, for that being the case, he managed to hold his own in jump ball situations. I would love to have Sam back for Tramon-like money, but I don’t see that happening. His speed and ball-hawking skills, along with his penchant for making big plays during big games, will earn him a premium in free agency.
Tramon Williams: B+ Though he lacks the speed and ball skills of Shields, I still believe Tramon is the more natural No. 1 corner due to his size and athleticism. After being the only defensive back to have a strong game against San Francisco in the opener, his performance lulled some through the beginning to middle of the season, with the Cincinnati game probably being his worst performance. However, Tramon was the Packers’ best defensive player down the stretch of the season and almost single-handedly tried to keep the Packers in the playoff game against San Francisco. Tramon appears ready to take on more of a leadership role with the team. He is clearly worth the $7.5 million he is scheduled to make next season. If you can lower his cap hit by turning some of his money into a bonus, then fine, but I think it is more likely the Packers let Tramon finish is current contract.
Micah Hyde: C+ Hyde is a ball player, and between saving the Packers’ return teams and manning the difficult slot position in the nickel, Hyde was relied on a lot for a rookie this season. It was, however, an up and down campaign for Hyde. He is a great tackler with good instincts. However, he lacks quickness, which he covers up for in the slot by playing overly physical defense. Fortunately, he got away with it for the most part. However, next season, teams will know it’s coming and likely tip the refs to watch him. It is possible that safety is Hyde’s best position, but then strong safety is a better fit for him than free safety, when free safety is the greater need for the Packers,
Davon House: C- Davon was something of a enigma this season. He played well enough on the outside during one early stretch to put Williams in the slot. Then, as if slowed by injury, his play began to deteriorate, and he was horrible down the stretch on special teams. His size makes him a great match-up for outside receivers, but he has yet to show the consistency needed to be a reliable corner. Next season will likely be House’s last chance to show he’s a viable corner in the NFL.
Morgan Burnett: D The Packers have yet to assess $6.8 million of Burnett’s signing bonus t0 their salary cap. That means we are all stuck with Burnett for at least a couple years. Burnett makes the third key Packer to sign a contract in the offseason and then respond with his worst season as a pro. Since we know we are stuck with Burnett, the question really is — at which safety spot do we plug him in? Burnett’s lone highlights this season come from the goal-line defense, where he excelled at stopping the run. He appears to be a better strong safety than a free safety. I believe the Packers need to keep him there and fill the same need they had going into last year’s draft — a centerfielder type free safety.
M.D. Jennings: F The next time I see M.D. Jennings, it better be as an Oakland Raider or as part of the arena league, both of which are about an equal distance from the NFL. Jennings had no interceptions, no passes defensed, and he is a terrible tackler. Other than that, he’s fine.
Sean Richardson: D+ Richardson missed most of the season with a neck injury that could have easily ended his career. He saw spot duty at the end of the season, frankly, because Jennings was so damn bad. He is a big guy with some speed, but I don’t know if his hips are smooth enough for him to be an effective safety. He will have his chances in camp next season, but he may not be the answer at either safety position.
Mason Crosby: A Come on, we can all say it. Ted and Mike were right. We were wrong. Crosby was given a chance I would have never extended and responded with the best season of his career.
Tim Masthay: B Masthay was good enough this season that I didn’t feel like puking every time another team’s kicker punted. Feeling good is good enough.
Mike McCarthy: B Unlike prior years and prior injuries, McCarthy failed to get the team to respond to Rodgers’ injury. We all knew the offense would suffer, but the defense and special teams also tanked when they needed to pick it up. McCarthy also failed the team when he proved incapable of turning Graham Harrell or B.J. Coleman into a reliable NFL back-up. It is doubtless that he assured Ted Thompson that he could.
On the other hand, with the season on the brink, McCarthy made the halftime decision to start Matt Flynn for the second half against the Vikings. In doing so, he saved the season. He also had his best game of the season against the Bears in the game that won the division, and despite an onslaught of injuries, he had the Packers without their best defensive player competing against possibly the best team in the NFL until the very last seconds of the game.
Yes, McCarthy would probably be a better coach if he either didn’t have to call all the plays or had a game manager in the box to assist him, but the man won a championship doing what he’s doing and I’m not going to begrudge him his confidence. The NFC North next season will feature one second-year coach in Marc Trestman, two first-year coaches in Jim Caldwell and Mike Zimmer, and then McCarthy. Needless to say, McCarthy’s ownership of the division is a big reason why no other coach can keep their job.
Ted Thompson: B- Time will tell, but the 2013 draft class looks like a winner. Eddie Lacy, David Bakhtiari, Micah Hyde and Josh Boyd all could be impact players next season. Datone Jones should be, but even if he isn’t, four impact players in one draft would make it an A class. Thompson did not do as well in his free agent pick ups as prior seasons, with only Andy Mulumba and maybe Sean Richardson as possible impact players. Thompson also was right in releasing Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith rather than waste roster spots and cap space on them. Bishop couldn’t start for a sad Vikings’ defense and ended up back on the IR. D.J. Smith couldn’t make a San Diego squad forced to start the near invisible Manti Te’o,
Many and most may criticize Thompson for the back-up quarterback situation, but that overlooks the fact that Seneca Wallace got hurt. I was no more encouraged by the performance of Wallace as the next guy, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’ll never know if Wallace could have been successful or not because he got hurt. Everyone seems to just assume that he wouldn’t have been. No team is prepared to have their third-string quarterback play.
The real error by Thompson was believing that M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian would make viable NFL safeties. On the other hand, how do you know until they play? Not only did both flop in supernova fashion, but his other safety, Burnett, was hardly any better. From the Steelers to the Ravens to the 49ers, this defense needs strong safety play to work. Thompson has to address the position or continue to see the defense struggle.
To their credit, the Packers do not use injuries as an excuse, but the fact of the matter is, it isn’t Thompson’s fault that his top draft picks and defensive players keep getting injured. It is near impossible in this league to stay competitive when the two players you have 25 percent of your salary cap tied up in are missing significant time. It remains a testament to the depth of Thompson’s roster that the Packers overcame their injuries enough to give the 49ers the battle that they did.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.