Now that the Green Bay Packers have wrapped up the 2017 NFL Draft and rookie minicamp, the team has finalized its 90-man roster heading into the start of OTAs. The Acme Packing Company writing staff has ranked the players in terms of the players’ overall talent levels and likelihoods to make an impact in Green Bay. We will present the single compiled ranking set to you over the next two weeks.
Continuing with the pre-season evaluation of the Packers 90-man roster, we take a look now at the latter end of the top 10.
#10: OLB Clay Matthews
The Packers need a big bounce-back season from Matthews, who finished with his lowest sack total of his career (five) last season. Injuries have always plagued Matthews, who has dealt with chronic hamstring setbacks and had a difficult ankle injury in 2016. When healthy, there is little doubt he can be a disruptive force and his work ethic and tenacity on the field are unmatched. But there is concern that injuries and age (31) have crept up on the former All-Pro.
There has been plenty of talk this offseason about Matthews moving back to inside ‘backer this upcoming season. While Mike McCarthy was vocal a season ago that Matthews’ true position was as an edge rusher, the “Claymaker” remains one of Green Bay’s best pure pass rushers and it seems logical to move him around the field to shoot different gaps. Interviews with offensive tackles around the league always reveal that there is a necessity to identify where #52 is lining up at all times. Whether Matthews is playing inside, outside, or a combination of both positions next season, look for Green Bay to find new ways to utilize one of its most talented defensive players.
#9: TE Martellus Bennett
Going back in time to 2008, the Packers were in dire need of a tight end that could stretch the field in the passing game. Bennett was a popular name among draft pundits for Green Bay to consider in the top three rounds. When draft day rolled around, Bennett was taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round and Green Bay drafted Jermichael Finley a round later. It’s quite a coincidence that the Packers haven’t had a reliable, playmaking tight end since Finley retired and that it’s Bennett who Green Bay is counting on to fill that void.
At 6’6 and 275 pounds, Green Bay may not have ever had a tight end the size of Bennett, who instantly gives the Packers a red zone weapon they’ve sorely lacked. His boisterous personality and Super Bowl experience figures to be a wonderful addition to a team that has lost some veteran leadership the past year with the departures of Josh Sitton and Micah Hyde. Once a public enemy of the Pack as a Pro Bowl member of the Chicago Bears, Green Bay is hoping to reap the rewards of having him on their side for the next three seasons.
#8: OT Bryan Bulaga
For the first time of his career, Bulaga started all 16 games for the Green & Gold in 2016 and was a very critical piece of an offensive line ranked number five by Pro Football Focus (PFF). While Bulaga was given a “below-average” run-blocking grade by PFF, he graded out as one of the finest pass-blocking tackles in the league. With David Bakhtiari anchoring down the left side, Bulaga has been solid bookend at right tackle since Green Bay renewed his contract in 2015.
It’s not often that an offensive line unit gets better after losing an All-Pro, but that’s just what Green Bay did, moving up two spots in PFF’s rankings from the year before after releasing Josh Sitton in training camp. Bulaga’s ability to stay healthy and put together one of his best seasons as a pro was a major reason why. As long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Bulaga’s pass protection will be a significant piece of the team’s success.
#7: S Morgan Burnett
Over the past two seasons, Burnett has quietly become one of Green Bay’s most consistent defensive players. Last season in particular, Burnett’s production flew under the radar while fellow safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix received Pro Bowl accolades. His improvement as a tackler and cover man allowed the Packers to use him in multiple ways, including as a coverage linebacker and slot corner in sub-packages. That versatility also gave Burnett more of an opportunity as a blitzer, tallying a career-high three sacks.
The ability to move Burnett around the field and along the front seven has freed up Clinton-Dix to do what he does best in roaming the field. Together, the duo has made the Packers’ safety unit one of the best position groups on the team, as well as a focal point of its defensive leadership. Among Green Bay’s most tenured defensive players, Burnett’s experience and capability to learn new roles when needed has been invaluable to the Packers.
#6: OLB Nick Perry
There is little doubt that Nick Perry had his best season in 2016, cashing in on a contract year. With a shiny new five-year, $60 million contract guaranteeing $18.5 million, much is expected of Perry to continue flashing his potential on the outside. Starting a career-high 12 games last season, Perry put together his best season as a pro with 11 sacks, just 1.5 sacks shy of his combined total from 2012-2015.
Despite a hand injury that forced him to wear a club for several games, Perry was consistently a force. That surge in effectiveness and production led APC’s writing staff to rank Perry ahead of Matthews as Green Bay’s best edge rusher heading into the 2017 season. With Green Bay allowing Julius Peppers and Datone Jones to walk in free agency, Green Bay needs Perry to at least maintain his 2016 production while it develops younger players like Kyler Fackrell, Jayrone Elliott, and Vince Biegel into contributors.
Stay tuned as we reveal the top five tomorrow.