The best place to start with a review of the 2009 Green Bay Packers is with last year's draft. The Packers have been quiet in free agency over the past three years, so the draft has been where the team gets better. And I'd expect that will be the case again in 2010.
Despite the recent departure of John Schneider to Seattle, the top 2 talent evaluators in the front office, Ted Thompson and Reggie McKenzie, remain, so I don't expect Schneider's departure will have a negative effect next April.
Here's a very good evaluation of the Packers' draft from 2006-2008. Bottom line: the Packers have found a lot of starters in the draft, along with some top tier players (WR Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley to name two). That trend continued in 2009, draft order provided Pro-Football-Reference.com:
|B.J. Raji (9th overall)
|Clay Matthews (26th overall)
|4 (in Buffalo)
DE/DT B.J. Raji. It's understandable if you weren't blown away with Raji's rookie season. 1 start, 25 tackles, and 1 sack doesn't sound like a dominant defensive lineman. He got off to a slow start with an ankle injury, but he made the occasional great play as the season went on. Playing the role of a DE or DT in a 3-4 scheme is not a Hollywood role. He's doing the grunt work, and trying to occupy multiple blockers. He did what I expected from him as a rookie.
LB Clay Matthews. I wasn't thrilled at first when the Packers traded three picks to move up and select Matthews. I thought he might become a better version of LB A.J. Hawk. Instead he blew away my expectations. He gets into the backfield to run down backs, sack the quarterback, and he makes big plays. And makes the Pro Bowl as a rookie. A brilliant evaluation by the personnel department.
OT/OG T.J. Lang. I thought he was going to be Josh Sitton v.2.0. And that isn't a bad thing: Sitton claimed the starting right guard job early in the preseason, and his role was never in doubt. Sitton would have won the job as a rookie in 2008 too he hadn't gotten hurt during the preseason. Lang was never discussed as a potential starter during the preseason, but he got his chance after LT Chad Clifton and C Jason Spitz were knocked out with injuries. He's got a promising future ahead of him. He will likely start somewhere in 2010 (LT, LG, or RT) once all the moves are worked out this offseason. Another player who exceeded expectations, though not at a Matthews-like level.
FB Quinn Johnson. He didn't clearly beat out FB Korey Hall or FB John Kuhn, so maybe he's a potential starter, or maybe he's just a potential special team ace. My best guess is that he'll be the starting fullback in either 2010 or 2011. Not an outstanding pick, but he's pretty solid for a 5th round selection.
OL Jamon Meredith. I thought he looked good in the preseason, but he didn't make the 53 man roster and started 2009 out on the practice squad. He began the exodus of players from the practice squad to Buffalo, and he even started 4 games on the Bills' depleted offensive line. He didn't impress me in the one game I saw him play for the Bills, but he could have a good career as a backup. Or as a starter until the Bills find someone better. Obviously the Packers didn't benefit from him, but he's pretty good for a 5th round pick.
DE Jarius Wynn. A good use of a 6th round draft choice. He didn't play much this season, and only recorded 4 tackles, but he's a solid backup 3-4 defensive end. He seems to hold up well at the point of attack, and showed some ability as a pass rusher during the preseason. This might be his ceiling, I don't believe he's the next DE Cullen Jenkins, but I'm expecting he'll stay on the roster as a backup in 2010.
CB Brandon Underwood. He was awful in the playoff game at Arizona, though I'm not sure whether he had trouble choosing the proper receiver to cover or someone else was leaving receivers wide open. He played safety last year in college, so he does need some time to adjust to a new position and the speed of the NFL. I'm still surprised he made the 53 man roster out of training camp. He's got some potential and I'll be watching him next preseason.
LB Brad Jones. What a steal in the 7th round. 7 starts in place of LB Aaron Kampman, with 33 tackles and 4 sacks. I'm not sure he should be penciled in as the starter in 2010, but he deserves to be in the discussion. He did end the season on a sour note, with a vanishing act during the playoff loss at Arizona, but that doesn't take away what he did during the regular season. Considering he was a 7th round selection, he blew away all expectations.