2016 cheat sheet: Green Bay Packers
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
What went wrong for the Packers last season has been analyzed and re-analyzed again and again by this point. The fact of the matter is that Green Bay once again returns almost every key contributor from the 2014 squad that was on the brink of a Super Bowl appearance. It’s a roster with very few holes, but the Packers need the offense to return to that 2014 form if they have Super Bowl aspirations in 2016.
Three biggest things to know
1. Green Bay’s receiving corps is back to full strength.
Few receiver injuries have inspired more think-pieces than Jordy Nelson’s ACL tear last preseason. He’s back now, though, and the three receivers the Packers drafted in 2014 enter their crucial third season. Add to that the free-agent signing of TE Jared Cook—who has looked superb this preseason—and there’s no excuses for the Packers’ offense. The only question now becomes, who will emerge as the third option in an offense that employed three or more receivers on 87.1 percent of their snaps in 2015?
2. The Packers boast a burgeoning young secondary.
Not many teams can field a dime package without a single weakness in the secondary, but the Packers may employ just that in 2016. Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Sam Shields, Micah Hyde, and Quinten Rollins all graded out above-average a season ago, while rookie first-round pick Damarious Randall was right at average. While the Packers were one of the first teams to utilize nickel packages as their primary defense a few years back and 53.1 percent last season, they could lead the league in dime personnel this season after using it on 22.6 percent of their snaps in 2015.
3. The linebacker corps remains a liability.
The linebacker position been the elephant in the room for some time now in Green Bay, and still remains unresolved heading into this season. Ted Thompson used a fourth-round pick on Jake Ryan a season ago, and yet another fourth rounder on Blake Martinez this spring. Joining them are the likes of Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford, and Joe Thomas—none of which has graded positively for a season. If this is going to be a respectable unit in 2016, someone is going to have to take a sizable step forward.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: DT Kenny Clark (Round 1, pick No. 27 overall, UCLA), OT Jason Spriggs (Round 2, pick No. 48 overall, Indiana), OLB Kyler Fackrell (Round 3, pick No. 88 overall, Utah St.)
Signed in free agency: TE Jared Cook (Rams)
Left via free agency: CB Casey Hayward (Chargers), OLB Mike Neal (UFA)
Retired: DT B.J. Raji
Rookie to watch
Blake Martinez, LB, Stanford (Round 4, pick No. 131 overall)
First rounder Kenny Clark is the easy choice here, but it could be Blake Martinez who sees the most snaps of any Packers rookie. Martinez has been running with the first team in the preseason at times in nickel and dime packages, which makes up over two-thirds of the Packers’ defensive snaps. Martinez was the highest-graded coverage linebacker in the FBS last season, with four pass breakups and an interception.
Highest-graded player of 2015
T.J. Lang, RG, 89.3 overall grade
T.J. Lang hasn’t received nearly as much attention as fellow lineman Josh Sitton, but the Packers right guard has evolved into an equal in many ways. Lang was one of four NFL guards in 2015 to not allow a single hit, and his 97.6 pass-blocking efficiency was the eighth-best in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers was sacked 46 times last year, but we put the responsibility on Lang for only two of those.
Breakout player watch
Quinten Rollins, CB
Quinten Rollins may not be the starter on the outside, but he’ll still see a ton of snaps in the slot. Among rookie corners a season ago, only Buffalo’s Ronald Darby—PFF’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner—graded out higher than Rollins’ 80.5 mark. He allowed only 22 catches on 39 yards for 287 yards. The only worry is all that production came on 334 snaps; that playing time figures to double in 2016.
Dime defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)