Did The Packers Get Better Or Worse This Offseason?
This is the first installment in a series that will look at the offseasons for all of the teams in the NFC North and form a hypothesis about whether each team improved or regressed. First up is the Green Bay Packers.
2016 Season Recap
The Green Bay Packers had a wild 2016 season. They started out with a 4-6 record over the first 10 games. The defense was playing awful, and Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like himself. Then, from the 11th game onward, Rodgers started to play at arguably the highest level of his NFL career. The Packers went on to win eight straight games, before finally losing in the NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons. Overall, 2016 was a very successful season for the Packers in spite of their slow start.
Biggest Needs Going Into The Offseason
In 2016, Green Bay had arguably the worst cornerback group in the NFL. Sam Shields, Green Bay’s top cornerback, was injured with a concussion early in the season. From that point on, the cornerback position became a revolving door for the Packers, with none of the players they tried proving to be effective. Even on their winning streak, the Packers still really struggled at this position, constantly allowing big passes.
Green Bay’s leading rusher for the 2016 season wasn’t even a runningback, it was wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Montgomery was forced to switch positions after Eddie Lacy was placed on injured reserve, and although Montgomery was somewhat effective and will likely continue to be a good change of pace back, he has no business getting the majority of the handoffs on any NFL team.
Green Bay doesn’t have any real stars at pass rusher. Nick Perry had 11 sacks, but last year was the first season of his entire career in which he’s been decent. Clay Matthews had been steadily regressing over the last few years, and Julius Peppers left the team in free agency. Going into the offseason, Green Bay had a massive hole at pass rusher.
Martellus Bennett, Tight End (New England)
Signed a three year $21,000,000 contract
Martellus Bennett is the biggest free agency signing by the Packers in years. Bennett is coming off of a Super Bowl win with the New England Patriots, and before that spent three seasons in Chicago, where he was very productive. Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards last year while scoring seven touchdowns. Bennett is going to be the best tight end Aaron Rodgers has ever had to throw to. Aaron Rodgers to Martellus Bennett has potential to be a very scary connection for the Lions, especially with Detroit’s struggles to cover tight ends.
Lance Kendricks, Tight End (LA Rams)
Signed a two year $4,000,000 contract
The other tight ends that Green Bay signed this offseason was Lance Kendricks from the Rams. Although Kendricks is nowhere near as good as Bennett, he is still a very solid player. Kendricks is coming off of the second best season of his career, in which he caught 50 passes for 499 yards and two touchdowns. Kendricks won’t have anywhere near the impact of Bennett, but he is still another solid target for Aaron Rodgers to throw to.
Davon House, Cornerback (Jacksonville)
Signed a one year $2,800,000 contract
Davon House started his career as a Green Bay Packer, where he was a solid role player for three seasons. He then left to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he spent the last two seasons. Now, he is returning to Green Bay to help with their depth at the cornerback position. House is not a great cornerback (he might not even win a starting position in Green Bay) but he is a solid player.
Eddie Lacy, Runningback (Seattle)
Signed a one year $4,250,000 contract
Eddie Lacy was very up and down in terms of production during his time with the Packers. He rushed for over 1000 yards in each of his first two seasons. However, Lacy started to become somewhat injury prone and had issues with controlling his weight over the last two seasons. At his best, Lacy is a very good runningback. At his worst, he is overweight and underproductive. Last season, he only rushed for 360 yards and had no touchdowns.
TJ Lang, Guard (Detroit)
Signed a three year $28,500,000 contract
TJ Lang was a very good player in his time with the Packers. After his most recent contract ran out, Green Bay decided that he was good enough that somebody else could sign him to a big deal for more than he was worth. That team ended up being that Lions. It has yet to be seen whether he will live up to the big contract the Lions gave him, but Green Bay did lose a good football player when they let TJ Lang leave.
Datone Jones, Defensive End (Minnesota)
Signed a one year $3,750,000 contract
Datone Jones was a first round pick for the Packers in 2013. Although he never lived up to his draft status, he was still a solid rotational player for the Packers, racking up nine sacks in his four seasons with the team. He signed with the Vikings, and there is speculation that he will be a much better fit in their defense than he was in the Packers’.
Julius Peppers, Defensive End (Carolina)
Signed a one year $3,500,000 contract
Julius Peppers has been one of Green Bay’s best pass rushers over the last three seasons, registering no less than seven sacks in each of them. His presence will greatly be missed, as the Packers have very few reliable pass rushers. Peppers went back to the team that drafted him this offseason, the Carolina Panthers.
JC Tretter, Center (Cleveland)
Signed a three year $16,750,000 contract
Over the last two seasons, JC Tretter had been splitting time with Corey Linsley, Green Bay’s other center. Although Linsley was the better center, Tretter is still a good football player. Tretter is probably better served taking more money to be a starter with another team than to take less and be a backup in Green Bay. Although Tretter is a good player, this won’t affect Green Bay much unless Linsley is injured.
Micah Hyde, Cornerback/Safety (Buffalo)
Signed a five year $30,500,000 contract
Micah Hyde is a do-it-all defender: he has played both outside corner spots, the nickel corner position and safety. Besides this, he is also a good kick returner. Hyde has had six interceptions and 15 passes defended over the last two years. He has had 189 tackles in his four years as a Packer. Hyde has also returned three punts for touchdowns in his time in Green Bay. Hyde isn’t a superstar, but he is a very good football player, and Green Bay will miss his versatility.
Kevin King, Cornerback from Washington (Round 2, Pick 33)
Kevin King is a massive cornerback, standing at 6’3″. He is very sticky in coverage, but excels in zone or off man coverage. King doesn’t have great speed, and because of his size may struggle against smaller receivers. He also isn’t a great tackler. However, King is good enough in coverage that he could shut down big receivers in the NFL for years to come.
Josh Jones, Safety from NC State (Round 2, Pick 61)
Josh Jones is an ultra aggressive safety who can play corner if needed. He always goes for the big play, whether it is a hard hit or an interception. This results in a lot of big plays, but when he misses he gives up big plays too. If Jones learns to reel in his aggressiveness, he could be a very good player for the Packers. He is a good team fit, as Dom Capers loves players who can force turnovers.
Montravius Adams, Defensive Tackle from Auburn (Round 3, Pick 93)
Montravius Adams is a big defensive lineman who can play nose tackle or defensive end in the Packers system. He is great at taking up space and stuffing the run. His pass rushing leaves a lot to be desired, but he has lots of potential in that area too.
Vince Biegel, Outside Linebacker from Wisconsin (Round 4, Pick 108)
Biegel is a team leader type, as he was team captain at Wisconsin. His biggest strength is his constant effort on the football field, but he has physical limitations and will likely never be a great player. He looks to be a solid rotational pass rusher who can play on special teams as well.
Jamaal Williams, Runningback from BYU (Round 4, Pick 134)
Jamaal Williams will compete for the starting running back position on the Packers in his rookie year. He is a very physical runner, he is usually looking to go over defenders with stiff arms rather than around them. His weaknesses are sub-optimal ball carrying vision and he isn’t great at creating his own space.
Deangelo Yancey, Wide Receiver from Purdue (Round 5, Pick 175)
Yancey is a big receiver and is known as a good deep threat. He averaged over 19 yards per reception last season. His weaknesses are he isn’t good at creating separation from defenders and he is prone to drops.
Aaron Jones, Runningback from UTEP (Round 5, Pick 182)
Jones is a shorter but quicker running back. He excelled in agility drills at the combine and had 1773 yards last season on his way to making the first team All-Conference team.
Kofi Amichia, Offensive Lineman from South Florida (Round 6, Pick 212)
Amichia is a very versatile lineman: he can play any position on the offensive line. He is also very athletic. His weakness is his weight. Amachia only weighed in at 280 pounds at his pro day, which is extremely small for a lineman.
Devante Mays, Runningback from Utah State (Round 6, Pick 238)
Mays is a huge bruiser of a running back, weighing 230 pounds. He will immediately take over the short yardage back position for the Packers, and will likely see the ball a lot when the Packers are trying to run the clock out. He is going to be hard to tackle.
Malachi Dupre, Wide Receiver from LSU (Round 7, Pick 247)
Malachi Dupre is a very big receiver capable of making physical catches. He can struggle to get open and doesn’t have great athleticism, but he has good hands and a knack for out leaping defenders.
Did They Get Better Or Worse?
Green Bay lost a lot of key players in free agency. Their already questionable secondary lost it’s best cornerback in Micah Hyde. They have to replace one of their longest tenured lineman, TJ Lang, which could leave them in big trouble protecting Aaron Rodgers. They have even more questions at the rushing the passer with the departure of Julius Peppers. However, they added Martellus Bennett, making their offense even more explosive than it was last season.
Overall, the success of this offseason is going to come down to how successful the Packers draft picks are. They had a few great picks with Kevin King and Josh Jones, but also seemed to have a few reaches with the receivers and runningbacks they drafted.
So, is Green Bay a better team today than they were when the season ended for them against the Atlanta Falcons? At this point, I don’t think you can firmly say they are with the questions that remain in their secondary, linebacking corps and now offensive line. However, as long as they have Aaron Rodgers, they still deserve to be the favorite to win the NFC North.