So many factors go into a successful football season, but so many more make that season into a Super Bowl season. As we make our way through the summer getting closer and closer to training camp we take a look at which Packers will be in the spotlight - but specifically which ones will be the most critical to the team's overall success in 2015.
The choices of these influential players are based on their 2014 performance, the effect their respective positions have on the rest of the team, external expectations from around the NFL, and improvements made over the course of the offseason so far. Let's take a look:
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB
If you don't have a quarterback, your chances for a winning season are slim to none. Luckily for the Packers, Rodgers is one of the best in the league and coming off another MVP season in which he threw for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. Surrounded by the same core passing and rushing game as last year, his ability to spread the ball around to the likes of Cobb, Nelson, and Lacy will be crucial as he looks to lead the highest scoring offense in the NFL last season. Still only 31 years of age, you don't have to tell Rodgers he's got the talent around him for another Super Bowl run, but he knows they still have work to do before September rolls around:
"When the team really comes together and believes in itself, guys raise their level of play. So it will be interesting to see how this team comes together. It's very important we find a way to jell together the next couple of weeks and into training camp when we get back."
Rodgers surely will be looked to by his team and the rest of the country to bring the Lombardi trophy back home to Titletown, and makes an obvious case for the most influential player on the offensive side of the ball. If we're being honest, there's really only one option here for number one, so the rest of these nominations are fighting for the second spot.
2. Clay Matthews, ILB/OLB
As if Matthews wasn't already looked at as one of the most influential players on the team, his versatility at the linebacker position sealed it. Moving to inside linebacker due to depth concerns in 2014 has made Matthews even more of a threat. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers says that it doesn't matter where Matthews is lined up at, he would be a Pro Bowler at any slot, and they knew that when they drafted him. That, in combination with his 61 tackles and 11 sacks last year makes him the heart of the Green Bay defense, and barring any more injury he will be sure to have another Pro Bowl year this coming fall. Dom Caper's defense finished #23 in rushing defense in 2014, and hopefully Matthews move inside will help close off running lanes and force the play outside to Peppers, Bradford, and Perry.
3. Corey Linsley, C
The Packers will be going into fall with one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, finally having a couple seasons together under their belt. Linsley, a rookie out of Ohio State started 18 games (including playoffs) for the Pack in 2014 giving the line a much needed anchor in the middle. Led by veterans Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, and Josh Sitton, the offensive line looks to improve upon the 11th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL last year, as well as counting on Linsley to protect Rodgers in the passing game. Not only does Linsley look to be successful this coming season, but he has the skill set and veterans around him to be an All-Pro for seasons to come.
4. Julius Peppers, OLB
Peppers will be entering what is thought to be one of his last few seasons in the NFL. He did not show his 35 years of age in 2014, recording 7 sacks, 2 picks, and found himself in the end zone twice along the way. He will need to continue to play at that level in 2015 and continue to create pressure on the outside, especially with Matthews likely to stay at inside linebacker at least part of the time. Peppers isn't the player he once was with Carolina but he is still a very solid defensive player and mentor to the younger players on the front seven, some of whom will be taking his place in the near future. He won't be putting up any 14.5 sack seasons as he nears the end of his outstanding career, but its the intangibles that come into play almost as much as the physical side. I think we all would love to see some more of this in 2015:
5. Davante Adams, WR
Adams started slow, but broke out late in his rookie year last season, and much of his production came unexpectedly. Playing alongside Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb freed up Adams in the secondary for some huge games including against New England (6 catches for 121 yards) and Dallas (7 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown). He ended the season with 38 catches for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns, but it was his playmaking ability and flashes of pure athleticism in creating separation from the defense that earned him national recognition. It doesn't look like Adams will go through a "sophomore slump" either, as McCarthy had this to say about Adams' offseason:
"Davante, if you wanted me to pick an MVP or an all-star [of the offseason] he would definitely be atop the list. If you want a clear illustration and example of a first-year player taking a jump in his second year, you just saw it here the last four weeks."
With Adams looking to gain more attention from defenses, that could potentially free up Nelson and Cobb for big plays down the field, and some more Lambeau leaps for #17 himself courtesy of Aaron Rodgers.
Honorable Mentions: Sam Shields, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Eddie Lacy, B.J. Raji