Are the Green Bay Packers Too Soft to be Contenders?

Andy Lyons

Bob McGinn reports that the Packers' front office thinks the team lacks toughness. Is that true or just an overreaction to last year's playoff loss?

For longer than this writer has been alive, the most respected man on the Green Bay Packers beat has been Bob McGinn. Year after year, McGinn pulls from his decades of experience and extensive league contacts to provide some of the best insight into the green and gold. So when McGinn writes that the Packers have become too soft, and have conceded as much internally, it's important to take note.

"[S]ome people close to Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson say the Green Bay Packers' football leaders have freely acknowledged that perception in private over the past three months, and now are bound and determined to do something about it. Finding bigger, more physical players for their 53-man roster should be the overriding theme for what the Packers attempt to accomplish in the upcoming draft."

If true, this can only be read as a commentary on Ted Thompson's recent drafts, especially 2011.

For various reasons, three members of the 2011 draft class stand out. Chief among this group is Randall Cobb, the Packers' breakout star of 2011. The receiver/returner found his niche playing the slot and should be Aaron Rodgers' go-to target in 2013. However, he's undersized at 5-10 and requires help from the outside receivers to open up the middle of the field. While he's demonstrated great ability to high-point the football, Cobb is unlikely to become more of an outside receiver. He played over 84% of his snaps from the slot in 2012.

Following Cobb is D.J. Smith, the undersized inside linebacker from Appalachian State. As a rookie, Smith impressed during three starts in relief of the injured A.J. Hawk. Over that period, Smith posted a net 2.7 overall score as graded by Pro Football Focus. It was these performances that made Smith the obvious choice to start when Desmond Bishop tore his hamstring in the 2012 preseason. Unfortunately, Smith struggled in the fulltime role. While Smith performed adequately against the pass, he struggled mightily to stop the run. Smith's -3.2 run defense grade is largely responsible for his -2.0 overall rating by PFF last year. There's more than one cause for his struggles, but size must be viewed as the primary culprit.

Finally, there's Derek Sherrod, Thompson's top pick of the 2011 draft class. Sherrod's rookie year was plagued with problems, some innate while others the fault of the coaching staff. He was initially flipped between guard and tackle, a situation that too befuddled Bryan Bulaga as a rookie. Unlike Bulaga, however, Sherrod never recovered. He played sparingly in injury relief early in the year, but found himself playing significant snaps week 14 and 15. Sherrod's play was negative everywhere, but it was especially poor in pass protection. He was overpowered by power rushers like Tamba Hali, and once beat Sherrod failed to recollect himself and recover. Making matters worse, Sherrod's horrible leg injury knocked him out for the rest of his rookie year and all of 2012. It's unknown at this time when Sherrod will return to the field, let alone if he'll become a tougher blocker.

There are concerns from the 2012 draft class as well. Jerel Worthy, the athletic but undersized defensive lineman out of Michigan State, looked overwhelmed most of his rookie year. He'll miss most of 2013 recovering from a torn ACL. Similarly, Mike Daniels lacks ideal size for a 3-4 end and probably shouldn't play more than a situational role. Outside linebacker Nick Perry and strong safety Jerron McMillian demonstrated some toughness and physical play, but both need to improve in order to play fulltime.

Taken in all, McGinn's assertion starts to make sense. The Packers have regularly sacrificed height/weight standards the past few seasons in favor of versatility and athleticism. While teams shouldn't mindlessly grasp to these size requirements, ignoring them completely can result in the inability to handle physical teams. Such was the case with Green Bay in 2012, where teams like the San Francisco 49ers made quick work of the Packers' smaller squad.

Green Bay doesn't have to throw out the whole roster, however. What McGinn doesn't mention is how Bishop's absence hurt the Packers' defense. Since replacing Nick Barnett in 2010, Bishop has become Green Bay's "butt-kicker." A healthy return should make the defense far more physical in 2013. Additionally, Perry and McMillian stand to see more snaps this year and should help the cause. If the Packers can add a big defensive lineman like North Carolina's Sylvester Williams or a playmaking linebacker such as Alec Ogletree, the defense will start to look more like the physical force Thompson allegedly desires. This is a case of tweaks and adjustments, not a complete overhaul.

Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.

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