It was a meaningless tackle by Sam Shields in Week 1, but it derailed the Packers chances to win another Lombardi Trophy months later.
When Shields suffered a career-ending concussion on that tackle, the Packers depth in the secondary was tested and ultimately failed.
Former Packers beat writer Bob McGinn produced an annual ranking of the Packers’ roster on the eve of the season’s start. Before last season, he ranked cornerback Sam Shields as the seventh-most valuable player on the Packers roster.
There’s no question players like Jordy Nelson, Mike Daniels and David Bakhtiari may have been better at their respective positions, but Shields was the Jenga block that caused the secondary to fall apart.
With a few months to go before training camp begins, let’s examine the top 15 players on the Packers roster they can’t afford to see go down to an injury.
Matt Flynn ain’t walking through that door
1. Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have passed on drafting a quarterback each of the past two seasons, and traded up to draft Brett Hundley in 2015. Hundley has yet to play meaningful snaps in a regular season game, however.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this
2. Morgan Burnett. The safety has missed 10 regular season games over the past four seasons, and the Packers defense has struggled without him. Green Bay allows an average of 46 additional yards through the air when Burnett isn’t playing.
3. Jordy Nelson. Rodgers and the offense looked different without the star wide receiver on the field in 2015.
4. Lane Taylor. Free agent acquisition Jahri Evans likely fills the departing T.J. Lang’s spot, but there’s very little proven depth behind Evans on the roster. The Packers are counting on Taylor to stay healthy in 2017.
5. Mike Daniels. Daniels doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, but regularly disrupts plays on the defensive line. You can make a case that he’s the most underrated player on the Packers.
6. Mason Crosby. He’s a reliable, consistent kicker. If Crosby were to get injured in the middle of a season, there are usually few free agent options who have both the length and accuracy that Crosby possesses.
Please, stay healthy rooks
T-7. Kevin King and Josh Jones. The top picks will be counted on to play big roles on defense right away. If either were to miss extended time as a rookie, it hurts the Packers in the short term and could hurt their long-term development.
I hope we’re playing the Browns when they’re hurt
9. Nick Perry. When you’re getting paid the big bucks, your expectations go up. Perry has missed extended time before and the Packers have survived, but it will be different going forward without the safety blankets of Datone Jones and Julius Peppers.
10. David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari is far more valuable than many above him on this list, but the Packers have strong depth at the tackle position. It would be uncomfortable, but likely possible to replace Bakhtiari for an extended period of time.
11. Corey Linsley. With JC Tretter now in Cleveland, it’s to be determined who will backup Linsley. As the Packers offense continues to prefer more shotgun and pistol formations, a center who can consistently snap the ball properly is essential.
12. Damarious Randall. Given the arrival of Kevin King and Josh Jones, Randall and fellow corner Quinten Rollins face “prove it” seasons in 2017. If Randall misses time, it will force unexperienced corners into action and stunt Randall’s development even further.
13. Bryan Bulaga. Like Bakhtiari, the Packers have depth on the offensive line to withstand an injury to Bulaga. Bulaga had the best season of his career in 2016, and is one of the top right tackles in the NFL.
It won’t be fun, but we’ll be okay without them
14. Clay Matthews. He’s missed nine games in the last four seasons, and the Packers defense has statistically been the same with and without him. In fact, they’ve allowed an average of 101 yards per game on the ground when he doesn’t play against 115 yards a game when he’s on the field.
15. Ty Montgomery. When Eddie Lacy and James Starks were both lost for major chunks of the season last year, Montgomery wonderfully filled their role. Now, the Packers have stockpiled depth at the running back position, drafting three and signing two undrafted free agents.