Normally this is the space I would type some almost witty thing about the vacant expression by Kevin Greene in the background, but I know if I did that he would find me and punch me in the face. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
How acquired: Drafted in the 5th round (163 Overall)
Chance of making the team: Probable
Reasonable expectations for 2012: Core Special Teams player and rotational ILB. Manning is a tough player to get a read on on before training camp starts. It's a mistake to evaluate a player too much based on his draft status, but then again each of those players were picked that low for a reason. Adding to the confusion is the mixture of opinions regarding which position Manning would play in the defense. Many pencil Manning as an ILB in the Packers scheme. There are also some, most notably Mel Kiper, who would say Manning would be best used as a rotational OLB pass rusher. Either analysis leads to a similar answer for Manning in 2012: he'll be a rotational player whose best opportunity to get on the field is via special teams.
How he can exceed expectations: Make things happen. I know that's a pretty general assessment, but that's the main hurdle Manning will need to overcome in order to get more playing time. He has to make a name for himself in the preseason and show some of that pass rushing ability to get more on the field time. Perhaps the best way Manning can exceed expectations is to take the very thing that causes some to wonder where he fits in, his ability to play OLB and ILB, and use that to make it on the field in subpackages. Manning could be a great option in the Psycho package if can display enough cover skill to not be a liability. Really any impact he can add will be bonus be it as a pass rusher, pass defender, or run stopper.
Why Packer fans should keep an eye on him: He's an interesting option down the line. Manning's ability to rush the passer as well as cover the middle makes him a player who could be pushing for a starting LB position in the not too distant future. This should make the contingent of Packer Nation looking to run A.J. Hawk out of town very happy. By the sounds of it Manning does not lack for self confidence, and some thought he may even be worth a second round pick, so there is a fair bit of promise to this young LB....where ever he plays.