OFFENSE: We truly do not know how good or bad this offense will be. It is a new scheme head coach Matt LaFleur is bringing in. They didn’t show much during the preseason. All we have to go off is players will be schemed to get open instead of running go routes and depending on receivers to get open beating their man. The run game will become a focal part of the offense and take the pressure off Rodgers from passing the ball 70% of the time. Passing that much puts Rodgers at risk and increases the likelihood of injury. That percentage needs to come down closer to 50% for the offense to excel. Other than that, we truly don’t know what we have here.
Quarterbacks: Grade A-
The Packers will sink or swim with Aaron Rodgers. I know some folks hate hearing that but if Rodgers goes down their season is done and the boat sinks fast. This season will be more important than any to keep him healthy. As we stand today, his back up is Tim Boyle who has not fielded a snap-in regular-season action. While I think he is a better QB than Kizer, Boyle will not win games. In the event Boyle is pressed into action it will be important that the offense isn’t solely placed on his shoulders. Technically, their third QB is practice squad member Manny Wilkins. He was a multiyear starter at Arizona St. who has the skills the Packers can work with. Let’s be real – Gutekunst needs to find a suitable back up behind Rodgers. Their “guy” isn’t on the roster today. That is why the position is graded A-minus!
Running Backs: Grade B-
Ted Thompson did well in his last draft picking up Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. If Jones can handle an increased workload and stay healthy, he can be dynamic. He is quick to hit the hole and has great vision to see the impending hole develop. He has worked on his pass-catching skills and should be improved there. In the new outside zone blocking scheme Jones should excel. Backup Jamaal Williams is reliable and can do everything. He just doesn’t excel at any level. He runs hard and is good between the tackles but doesn’t have the speed to excel outside. He was their best pass protector last year and will likely share those duties this year with Jones and Vitale. Their third tailback is rookie Dexter Williams. Williams couldn’t stay out of trouble while attending Notre Dame but his senior year he really shined. He is a one-cut runner who has the skills to be really good. He is going through rookie inconsistencies so he likely won’t see much time unless injuries pile up. They brought in fullback Danny Vitale for a tryout last season and saw action during the second half. He a try-hard guy with a great attitude. He catches the ball well so he can be utilized in the passing game. He could be an “under the radar” player. Depth here is questionable and could become a problem if Jones and/or Williams are injured for an extended time.
Wide Receivers: Grade C
Davante Adams is a top 3 WR in the NFL. His feet are absolutely magical and can beat double teams. He can beat press coverage and off the ball coverage. He is truly one of a kind. He should receive the majority of attention and should be able to eclipse 100 catches, double-digit TD’s and exceed his 169 targets last year. For three straight seasons, he has eclipsed 100 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. Geronimo Allison is a sneaky player who doesn’t have great quickness but his catch radius is huge. He can catch most passes thrown his way. Marquez Valdez-Scantling will be a focal part of the offense and should be able to duplicate his rookie success. Trevor Davis had a stellar preseason that cemented his roster status. His speed will be utilized to stretch defenses. Jake Kumerow is a possession receiver who seems to rise to the occasion. He will be a special team’s demon. Rookie Darrius Shephard was the only UDFA to make the 53 man roster. He is smallish but quick. I do not think he will be active for much game action unless injuries derail depth. Shephard and Davis can return kicks and punts.
Tight End: Grade C-
This was one position that didn’t get the reinforcements required this offseason. Jimmy Graham is back to prove he has something left in the tank. He is the highest-paid TE in the league so he needs to produce. If anything he should be a red-zone target. His blocking is atrocious so it would be wise to keep him from blocking anyone. I am hoping LaFleur will find ways to utilize his talents downfield. Veteran Marcedes Lewis missed most of training camp and was well known for his blocking prowess when he came to Green Bay last season. He will hopefully be utilized in short-yardage and goal-line situations where he can be a big target on play action. Robert Tonyan is back and should be their best receiving threat. The Packers tried to fill a need by drafting rookie Jace Sternberger. He is taking a little longer to develop after only starting one year at Texas A&M. He will likely be inactive on game day and shouldn’t contribute much this season. His future is bright though.
Offensive Line: Grade B
This should be a solid group now they have the right side handled. LT David Bakhtiari is the best LT in the game. He can handle all rushers and excels pass blocking. Next to him, LG Lane Taylor will get the first crack at keeping his job. He was injured for most of last season and his play slipped. He is an average pass blocker who is better in the run game. Center Corey Linsley has played every snap in the past two seasons and is dependable. He excels at the second level. Right guard will be manned by free agent Billy Turner. Turner lacks experience but has all the tools necessary to be better than average. We didn’t get to see much of him in the preseason so his outlook is TBD. Steady Bryan Bulaga will be back to man the right tackle position. When he is healthy, he is one of the better right tackles in the game and better pass blockers. He has only completed a full 16 game season once in his career. Rookie interior lineman Elgton Jenkins came from being a center in college to transitioning to guard in the NFL. The team thinks highly of his capabilities and will likely be the top backup at both guard positions and center. He is very nimble which a highly desired trait in a zone-blocking scheme. He exhibits good leverage and will likely push for more playing time if Taylor doesn't excel. Lucas Patrick is another backup guard who is a brawler and brings tenacity to every snap. He is a plus run blocker but merely average as a pass blocker. Cole Madison is back after taking off his rookie season to manage some personal stuff. There isn’t a lot of film on him so the jury is still out. Alex Light is the only true backup tackle. He is young and is a quick study. If injuries creep up at the tackle position, especially RT Bryan Bulaga, Billy Turner will move over to RT and Elgton Jenkins will likely fill in at right guard. The offensive line has good flexibility with many guys able to play multiple positions. Depth is considerably better than last season.
DEFENSE: On paper, this should be the most improved side of the team. They invested heavily in free agency and the draft to shore up big holes at OLB and safety. Gute cannot be questioned for making a valid effort to fill the biggest holes. The defense should be capable of producing a top 10 unit considering DC Mike Pettine mustered an 18th ranked defense last year with remarkably less talent. This side of the ball should not lose games like in years past. But, that is a lot of assuming. They need to produce on the field. With DC Mike Pettine leading them, the odds are in their favor. Pettine finds ways to get defenders into the backfield.
Defensive Line: Grade C
I am not as high on this unit as others and think positional weakness will come back to bite them. There aren't enough difference-makers or girth to hold up against the run. Besides Clark, no one gets off blocks easily. Kenny Clark leads the group and is a monster to block in the run and pass game. He commands double teams on almost every down and still is very productive. He should be able to crack his first Pro Bowl this season. He had a career-high 6 sacks last year and seems to always be around the ball. The team picked up his 5th-year option and is technically under contract through 2020. The Packers will work diligently to get him locked up beyond. Dean Lowry received a contract extension as training camp started and will start at one of the end positions. He is a technician who works angles and gaps to be productive but asking him to be a starter might overextend his abilities. Montravius Adams will get the first crack at the other end position after the Packers let Mike Daniels go. Adams showed the ability to be unblockable during the second half last season and hopes his play continues to rise. There is a lot riding on him and they need him to stay healthy and produce. At this stage, Lowry and Adams are theoretical backups who are being forced to start. Behind them, run master Tyler Lancaster is a stout run defender and backup. He is hard to move. Rookie Kingsley Keke is on my radar. He flashes tremendous hands, ability to shed blocks, athleticism, and burst to be an effective pass rusher. He seems to hold up well versus the run for being a bit undersized by utilizing his innate ability to get off blocks with ease. It would not surprise me if he is one of the sack leaders on the team. He will likely get many chances on passing downs. Fadol Brown was a surprise addition to the roster. He also missed most of training camp due to injuries. The Packers like him and he is active when in the game.
Outside Linebackers: Grade C+
This is an unproven position so it is very hard to grade it. There are three new members here. It could get a higher grade depending on productivity. The team spent big money on FA’s Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to start at bookends and they should be improvements. Za’Darius Smith flashes great pursuit skills and his motor runs hot. He will not lose from a lack of effort. He will also slip inside on passing downs to utilize his ability to rush the passer. He is likely their best pass rusher going into the season. He is a big and strong guy who should be a big improvement over last year’s OLB class. Preston Smith was another FA addition who flashes the ability to get to the QB but did not finish off plays in Washington. He was one of the league leaders in pressures but only racked up 4 sacks. His motor runs hot and cold but is a nimble guy for being 6’6”. The Smith Brothers will not be liabilities in the run game. Backing them up is Kyler Fackrell who led the team with 10.5 sacks last season, but 6 of them came in two games (against Buffalo and Seattle). He has improved and should be ready to produce in a contract year. Rookie Rashan Gary will get a try out at OLB but should be worked inside between the tackles at “3” or maybe “5” technique. He is ultra-quick and athletic but thus far his production has been lacking. He will likely need more time to learn the game and hone his pass rush skills beyond beating blockers with speed. This is a position the Packers will be relying on heavily to produce pressure.
Inside Linebackers: Grade D
This will be the weakest position on the team. Depth is questionable at best. Blake Martinez is a tackling machine amassing over 140 tackles in two straight seasons. He is an intelligent player but isn’t the quickest defending the pass. Blake is not a featured backer and needs his DL to take on blocks so he can run clean to make plays. He will be playing on the last year of his rookie contract. Oren Burks will likely be unavailable for the first month of the season due to shoulder injury. Even when he comes back, he is a liability in run defense but can be an asset in coverage with his speed. The Packers will likely be utilizing a lot of “nickel” and “dime” defenses while Burks recovers. It is not known who will fill in for Burks. Rookie Ty Summers showed promise in the preseason but likely isn’t ready for starting duties. The Packers traded a late-round draft pick for BJ Goodson, who played for the Giants and started 13 games last season. He is an immediate upgrade to the position but it would be expecting a lot for him to be ready for the Bear game. He is a downhill “thumper” who is a plus run defender but not much in pass defense. An injury to Martinez and the Packers are in deep trouble here.
Cornerbacks: Grade B
This grade assumes Kevin King can play more than half the season. His first two seasons were riddled with injuries. He is an athletic freak when healthy can be a shutdown corner. Jaire Alexander is likely their most reliable CB who possesses great ball awareness. He led the team in passes defended last year. He should only get better but how much will depend on King’s availability. Veteran Tramon Williams returns at age 36 to man the nickel responsibilities. I personally believe he is better when pressing receivers but seems to play off the ball a lot which allows a lot of completions in front of him. He provides veteran leadership the team desperately needs. Tony Brown is likely the 4th cornerback who should see his fair share of action this season. He had an outstanding training camp and during their joint practice against Houston, he was matched up against De’Andre Hopkins and won his fair share of opportunities against a dynamite Hopkins. He is physical and excels at knocking receivers off their routes. Josh Jackson was a highly decorated rookie who didn’t have quite the production everyone expected last year. Unfortunately, he was injured for a bulk of training camp and fell down the depth chart. Rookie Ka’Dar Hollman has great skills but needs technique work and should be relegated to being inactive on game day. Chandon Sullivan made the team against great odds by showing great ball skills. He will also be lucky to be active on game day.
Safety: Grade C+
This is another position that is tough to grade because of the turnover from last year. Newcomers include veteran FA Adrian Amos who came from Chicago. He should be a steadying influence the back end sorely needs. While he doesn’t excel in any area, he doesn’t hurt the team either. That should be a welcome addition and will likely start out at strong safety. Rookie Darnell Savage is a ball hawk who can fly with top-end speed. He made a ton of game-changing plays at Maryland and the Packers desperately need him to do the same. He is lightning quick and can cover in the slot and be used at all positions in the secondary. He should be their starting free safety. Raven Greene had a stellar training camp and the team is depending on him to be heavily involved in their dime and nickel defenses. He could also play at linebacker and will get opportunities there in obvious pass downs. Will Redmond was a surprise addition for many but had a good training camp. He was a 3rd round draft pick not that long ago so the talent is there. Safety is likely the most improved position on the team.
Specialists: Grade B
Kicker Mason Crosby is not highly thought of by many but deserved to be the kicker this year. He received no competition from Sam Ficken. While it is fair to question how much leg he has left, he has always been a clutch kicker and dependable. He had one bad game in Detroit last year and it proved he is human. The Packers need Crosby to kick above 80% and he has done it many times before. Until he consistently misses kicks, he will be the kicker. Punter JK Scott had a great training camp and displayed his strong leg with booming punts and great hang time. As long as he punts the way he did in the preseason, the Packers have nothing to worry about. Long snapper Hunter Bradley seemed to improve his accuracy and should be the team’s long term solution.