There was little considered normal about the 2017 season for the Green Bay Packers. Losing Aaron Rodgers just five and a half games in made sure of that.
But looking back, oddities, unexpected letdowns, and strange coincidences abound. As Green Bay prepares to continue on into what has already been an unusual offseason as well, here is my personal top five list from the regular season.
The injury curse continues for Davon House
Anyone who has followed the Packers over the past five to ten years knows that Green Bay is consistently injury-riddled. It was no different in 2017 as the Packers faced a medley of significant injuries across its roster already in the first week of the season.
Few positions were decimated as much as the Packers’ cornerback unit. Interestingly, after appearing in 16 games both of the past two seasons in Jacksonville, Davon House returned to the Packers on a one-year contract and was stricken by the injury curse a handful of times during a season in which he battled through 12 games. Prior to leaving Green Bay, House was notorious for injuries despite his growth over four seasons with the team. Playing in all 16 games one season and only two, nine, and thirteen in the three others, House’s health oddly reverted back to its old ways in his second stint with the team.
The impact players that weren’t
The free agent additions of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks figured to bring versatility and an increased arsenal of weapons to the Packers’ offense. Likewise, a healthy, full-time running back in Ty Montgomery was optimistically going to bring a strong ground presence.
In the end, Bennett was plagued by a case of the drops before a tumultuous exit from Green Bay. Kendricks was as much of a factor in the passing game as Richard Rodgers was in previous seasons. Montgomery fought his way through eight games before rib and wrist injuries became too much to overcome. Although Green Bay’s rookie backs were able to compensate for the loss of Montgomery, the Packers struggled to find an aerial game much of the season, especially from its highly-anticipated tight end group, in the wake of Rodgers’ injury.
5. Jordy Nelson’s rise and fall
Overcoming a torn ACL to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2016, Nelson appeared to be back to his typical Jordy self heading into 2017. But after riding high with six touchdowns through the first five games, Nelson’s production slipped with the absence of Aaron Rodgers. Held to 35 receiving yards or less in all remaining games of the season after the tragic afternoon in Minnesota and never reaching the end zone again, Nelson became a non-factor in the Green Bay offense.
Targeted an average of just three times a game in that nine-game span, Nelson went from an All-Pro to a player criticized for his effort as a blocker, inconsistent hands, and ability to get open. Many are calling for Nelson to take a pay cut and questioning his fit next year and beyond. It’s been an odd, quick downward turn for the 32-year old.
4. Ricky Jean Francois ends up in the Super Bowl...but not as a Packer
Honestly, I was excited about the signing of Ricky Jean Francois in the offseason, as it seemed to provide Green Bay with versatility on its defensive front. RJF’s time with the Packers was short-lived, however, as the veteran was released after just one week of the regular season to make room for Quinton Dial. Then RJF was re-signed a little over a week later only to be cut again in early November.
Within a couple weeks, RJF was signed by the New England Patriots and recently clinched his first trip to the Super Bowl. Even more, he posted one of the best marks as a run stuffer among defensive linemen in the playoffs. In the end, RJF went from one preseason contender to another and will end up playing for a ring.
Fletcher Cox owns the highest run stop percentage among playoff interior defenders pic.twitter.com/rbyaRmsJPz— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 22, 2018
3. Brett Hundley’s trade value actually gets assessed
One of the hottest topics of the preseason was getting backup quarterback Brett Hundley enough playing time in the preseason to not only know what level of insurance he brought to the Packers, but to gauge his value as a trade asset. Hundley did get some exposure throughout training camp and, along with Taysom Hill, appeared to have promise as a backup.
Well, coincidentally, the Packers would get to know Hundley’s trade value all too well during the 2017 season with nine unexpected starts. At this point, it’s difficult to assess his value as a backup going into next season. It’s even harder to see the Packers getting a return on their fifth round investment. But, hey, now we and the rest of the NFL know who Hundley is.
2. Packers go through three long snappers in a single season
Few things were wackier during the 2017 season than the revolving door at long snapper. The Packers went into training camp with Derek Hart the lone snapper on the roster, but after struggles in preseason Green Bay released Hart and brought back long-time veteran Brett Goode.
But Goode injured his hamstring in week three and was placed on injured reserve, forcing the Packers to dip back into the market and sign Taybor Pepper. Pepper went on to break his foot in early November and land on IR himself, giving way to Hart’s second stint with Green Bay. Less than a week and a half later, the Packers cut Hart and agreed to terms once more with Goode, who had been released with an injury settlement several weeks before.
Few teams go through two long snappers in one season. The Packers went through three and, for the most part, were lucky not to feel the effects.
1. Justin McCray goes from hotel worker to starting NFL lineman.
After signing with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and spending the season on their practice squad, McCray was released the following preseason and out of the NFL for two seasons with the exception of tryouts for both the NFL and CFL. McCray signed with the Arena Football League’s Orlando Predators in late 2015 and worked at the Westgate Lake Resort and Spa in Orlando following the 2016 season.
The Packers gave McCray a shot at the roster prior to the season after participating in his alma mater Central Florida’s pro day. Former executive Alonzo Highsmith vouched for McCray and wasn’t disappointed. By the end of a rusty preseason, the offensive lineman showed enough versatility as a guard and center to make the final roster. That in itself was an oddity.
But it didn’t stop there as McCray went on to appear in 13 games, including eight starts at guard and tackle. Heading into the 2018 season, McCray may have a shot at the starting right guard position - not bad for a long shot.
#Packers OL Justin McCray, who worked a 3:30-midnight shift at the Westgate Resort last New Years Eve, spoke with gratitude during Tuesday's final locker room for the opportunity Ted Thompson and his front office gave him pic.twitter.com/3beU5Xq5h3— Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod) January 2, 2018
Are there any other peculiarities you saw in the Packers’ 2017 season? Share them in the comments below.