We're officially in the heart of football's dry spell, folks. Draft breakdowns are over, the draft is over, post-draft analysis is over, and even the charm of OTAs and the like has worn off as we come to realize we won't find out anything about where this team is until late July or August. While trawling the Internet in search of noteworthy Packers tidbits, though, I came across a Packers depth chart breakdown written by Gordon McGuinness, a writer at the venerable Pro Football Focus. Check out his breakdown here, but the focus of the article is the colorful figure you can see at the top of the page. As I went through McGuinness' analysis (he explicitly notes that some of his choices are made less from a statistical perspective and more from his personal point of view), I found that a lot of it was, predictably, assertions we'd agree with, but also a couple that could spark some interesting debate.
Where I do agree with McGuinness
I won't go into every player whose assessment I agree with, but I'll hit the highlights here.
Starting with his elite players, Rodgers, Sitton and Matthews are obviously in the highest echelons of their respective positions. A healthy Clay Matthews is second to few pass rushers in the league. It'll be about getting a solid guy across from him (more on that later.)
Eddie Lacy has definitely deserved to be placed at the "high quality" level. He's had one year, but it was one in which he racked up unprecedented (for us, anyway) stats while often facing the vast majority of a defense's attention. As a rookie. John Kuhn gets a lot of flak for being overpaid to play a dying position, but you can't argue that he doesn't do a good job as a pass-blocker for Aaron Rodgers.
I'm fine with Gordon labeling David Bakhtiari as a below-average starter, but only because he did the same for Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Bakhtiari was thrown into the fire last season (and still made the SB Nation All-Sophomore team), so I think most of the arguments we make about him are based on an anticipation of him following the same trajectory he took last season. He'll be a solid blindside protector for Rodgers this year.
Mike Daniels is finally getting some recognition, although PFF seems to believe that Julius Peppers will be playing across from him (when in reality, Datone Jones or Nick Perry may be taking that position, the latter in an 'elephant'-type role.)
McGuinness has Morgan Burnett as an average starter, and I'm fine with that for now. I expect him to rise in the rankings as he finally gets paired with a competent safety, but these rankings are based off recent performance, so I actually think this might be a bit generous for Burnett.
I'd like to thank PFF for finally seeing Brad Jones for what he is: a league-average starter. Was his contract extension rich for what he is? Probably. But when healthy, he's a solid player. He was Pro Football Focus' "Secret Superstar" for the Packers last year, and for good reason. He was the fourth-best coverage ILB in football that year, and while it may be unfair to believe that he'll revert to that level, he should at least be a capable starter. Perhaps he'll be even better this year, but the notions that he's incompetent are probably ill-founded.
Where I Don't Agree
I'm really not sure how James Starks is a league-average backup halfback (the grades are based on role as well.) PFF created a metric to describe elusiveness, and Starks was in the top five among running backs. He had a phenomenal season as Lacy's backup, a role I'd expect him to have success in going into the future.
I probably sound like a grumpy nitpicker, but Jordy Nelson really does deserve to be in the "elite" category. McGuinness bestowed that honor upon, among others, Andre Johnson. Nelson's numbers and Johnson's are roughly equivalent - while Johnson had a little under a hundred yards more, Nelson had more touchdowns and more yards per catch. He's a top-five guy in my opinion (behind Calvin Johnson, perhaps Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green and a healthy Julio Jones)
Yes, I'm also going to grouch about Cobb being called a 'good starter'. Perhaps you'll argue that it's because he was injured, but Colts TE Dwayne Allen missed essentially the whole season because of a hip injury yet still made the cut as a 'high quality starter'. Who can beat Cobb at his own game? Victor Cruz and possibly Percy Harvin. That's it.
Calling Jarrett Boykin a league-average third receiver seems unfair when McGuinness chose Brandon Gibson of Miami as a "good starter". Gibson caught 30 for 326 while Boykin grabbed 49 for 681. I'm not sure what McGuinness was looking for in receivers, but there's really nothing that Gibson did that Boykin didn't.
If I could pick one of these ratings to contest, it'd probably be Bryan Bulaga's. He's coming off a major injury, but if he's healthy, he's a top-ten right tackle. Another PFF writer said earlier this year that Bulaga was ready to take the step from good to great (and just in time to collect a sizable contract), so this is certainly conflicting. Considering his injury, I'd be fine with Bulaga at "good starter" with potential to go up after a contract year.
How is A.J. Hawk a below-average starter? Somebody, please. PFF slammed him in their annual ratings (-12.8, which would be twelfth-worst of all qualifying ILBs), but I can't honestly say I understand their basis. The guy got 124 tackles, five sacks (yes, a couple of those came from one game, but a sack is a sack) and an awesome one-handed interception in the Steelers game. Is he spectacular? No, and no one would argue he is, but he's one of the most reliable linebackers in the league. Give him some credit.
Tramon Williams is a good starter. PFF graded him out as the 24th-best corner in the NFL. That would make him one of the top second-string corners in the league. I'm still fine with not labeling him as a high-quality starter, but he's certainly better than the average number-two guy.
Casey Hayward was a phenomenal player in 2012. He should be ranked higher for that reason alone. McGuinness asserts that he's placed Hayward with room to prove himself, but if he's giving Dwayne Allen the benefit of the doubt, I'm not sure why Hayward doesn't get the same. He should be one of the top slot corners in the game when healthy.
On a lighter note, PFF obviously doesn't understand the greatness of the Ginger Wolverine, Tim Masthay (classified as a league-average starter.) Perhaps if we stuck him at quarterback like we should have all along, he'd be an above-average player.
How is Brett Goode a below-average long snapper? In one of Bob McGinn's pieces where he talks to anonymous personnel men, one said something to the equivalent of, "I don't think he's ever botched a snap, and that's all you could want out of a long snapper." Has Goode been bad? (Awful pun, I know, but it's the best you'll get from me.)
Micah Hyde is considered an average starter in the slot. I'll take that for a guy who was drafted in the fifth round. He definitely has room to improve as well.
PFF has Khyri Thornton behind Josh Boyd (and Jerel Worthy) on its depth chart. Do you agree?
I apologize for making this so long-winded, but I thought it necessary to do justice to my sentiments. Obviously, we all have our own opinions of this team (and Gordon McGuinness' opinion of it), so please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section!