Lemons Into Lemonade

Proving that one man's trash is another man's treasure, nearly one-third of the general manager's Super Bowl-winning roster was new to the team this season. We examine the contributions of all of those fresh faces.

The definitive award for NFL Executive of the Year is handed out by The Sporting News, since that voting is conducted among fellow front-office peers.

Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff won the award, which is based on regular-season performance. The Falcons went 13-3 and had homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But if the award were based on a full body of work, the Green Bay Packers' Ted Thompson probably would have won in a landslide.

Part general manager, part magician, Thompson left no stone unturned in doing much more than just keeping this injury-plagued team afloat despite a league-high 91 games missed by starters due to injuries. Of the Packers' final 53-man roster, 19 players were new this season, including eight who were added during the season.

Draft picks

Bryan Bulaga (first round): The heir to Chad Clifton's job at left tackle, Bulaga couldn't beat out Daryn Colledge at left guard but eventually settled in at right tackle in place of an injured Mark Tauscher. He gave up 10.5 sacks during the regular season but was much more polished in the playoffs and did a fine job against Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley in the Super Bowl. Woodley did have one sack – giving him at least one in each of his seven postseason games – but he wasn't a consistent menace.

Andrew Quarless (fourth): Quarless wasn't even active at the start of the season but got the lion's share of the snaps after Jermichael Finley went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first series of Week 5. Quarless had a critical fumble on the Packers' first drive at Detroit and occasionally lined up incorrectly, drawing the ire of Aaron Rodgers. But he finished with 21 catches, and his ability to run at least made him a factor as the Packers liberally used him split out in three-receiver, one-tight-end sets.

James Starks (sixth): The Packers absolutely would not have won the Super Bowl without Starks' postseason contributions. After a mostly invisible regular season due to a hamstring problem that dated to organized team activities, he rumbled for 123 yards in the wild-card win at Philadelphia. He made the most of his 11 carries in the Super Bowl with 52 hard-charging yards against one of the best run defenses of this generation. Incredibly for a player without a single attempt in training camp, Starks didn't cough it up all season as he embraced the coaching of Edgar Bennett.

C.J. Wilson (seventh): A role player used mostly to spare the front-line players, Wilson has a future as a rotational guy for years to come because he can play the run and rush the passer. His hustle allowed him to drill Brett Favre on Desmond Bishop's key pick-six in the game at Lambeau Field. If only defensive line coach Mike Trgovac can get Wilson to think less early in games.

(Mike Neal, Morgan Burnett and Marshall Newhouse finished the season on injured reserve. Second-round pick Neal was durable at Purdue but had a miserable year. He missed the first three games with a strained abdominal, then suffered a shoulder injury during a strong performance at Washington in Week 5 that included a sack. With his renowned strength and surprising quickness, he looks like a long-term starter. Burnett, a third-round pick, won the starting job in camp and played in four games before tearing an ACL against Detroit. He showed his highly regarded ball-hawking skills by making a great break on the ball for an interception against Buffalo. Newhouse, a sixth-round pick, was inactive all season and was put on IR with back issues on Dec. 31. A left tackle at TCU, he seemed at home there during training camp and has definite long-term upside.)

Undrafted free agents

Tim Masthay: Finally, the Packers have a punter. Masthay's season-long numbers were fine (43.9-yard average, 37.6 net) but he was consistently strong after horrible performances against Chicago in Week 3 and Washington in Week 5. Masthay had five inside-the-20 punts in his first seven games but 20 in his last nine. He was a huge factor in the Packers beating Chicago in the season finale and again in the NFC title game.

Nick McDonald: He surprisingly made the final roster after a tough training camp but was inactive all season. The coaches love his athleticism and smarts but he's a developmental prospect at center.

Sam Shields: Considering Green Bay lost to Arizona in the playoffs last year because it didn't have a third cornerback to match up on Steve Breaston, you could argue Shields was the team's most valuable rookie. A raw talent with minimal experience at cornerback in college, he soaked up knowledge from cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and veteran Charles Woodson to be a reliable performer. He finished with four interceptions, including the two in the NFC title game.

Frank Zombo: Without Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga, Zombo was thrust into the lineup and did more than hold his own. After missing the final three regular-season games and the first three playoff games, Zombo was back in the starting lineup in the Super Bowl and contributed a sack and a tackle for loss.

Street free agents signed before season

Tom Crabtree: Crabtree couldn't make the Chiefs' roster as a rookie last year but was a find for the Packers because of his no-nonsense blocking. He made perhaps the unsung play of the Super Bowl with a diving, 1-yard catch on the Packers' final possession. Had he not made the play, the Steelers would have had another 40 seconds for their final drive. He scored his only touchdown in the wild-card win at Philadelphia. Plus, he ranked second with 12 tackles on special teams.

Graham Harrell: Harrell, the prolific Texas Tech passer and son of a Texas coaching legend, might not have the arm strength to carve out a lengthy career. But he's smart and has an obvious feel for the game.

Charlie Peprah: Where would the Packers have been without Peprah? Burnett tore an ACL in Week 4 and veteran Atari Bigby wasn't ready after ankle surgery. Peprah turned in a solid season but his lack of deep speed almost got him burned for touchdowns in the NFC title game (Devin Hester) and Super Bowl (Mike Wallace).

In-season additions

LB Diyral Briggs: Contributed eight tackles on special teams after being signed off waivers.

C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith: Dietrich-Smith was surprisingly cut at the end of training camp and landed in Seattle for several games before being released. The Packers added him at the end of the season but he was never active.

CB Josh Gordy: Gordy was promoted off the practice squad on Dec. 1 and played in two games on special teams.

DE Howard Green: Green was a brilliant signing, and not only when the Packers were short-handed with Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett battling injuries (not to mention Neal and Justin Harrell). Down the stretch, the Packers used Green and Pickett as their ends in running situations, which kept Jenkins fresh to get after the quarterback. Green made one of the big plays of the Super Bowl, with his hit on Ben Roethlisberger resulting in Nick Collins' pick-six.

RB Dimitri Nance: Desperate for a running back with Ryan Grant out for the season and Starks still on the physically unable to perform list, Nance was signed off the Falcons' practice squad on Sept. 14. He finished with 36 carries for 95 yards but was a key performer on special teams.

LB Erik Walden: Would the Packers have won the Super Bowl without Walden, a street free agent signed after the injuries to Jones and Poppinga? Heck, they might not have made the playoffs without his 16 tackles and three sacks against the Bears' Jay Cutler in the must-win season finale. As it stands, he'll battle Zombo and Jones to start next season.

LB Matt Wilhelm: The eight-year veteran made his mark on special teams. His block helped spring Tramon Williams' 41-yard punt return that set up a field goal in the finale against Chicago.

DE Jarius Wynn: A sixth-round pick last year, Wynn failed to make the opening day roster. He was back quickly, though, after Justin Harrell suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Wynn had a huge sack of Favre in the final 2 minutes at Lambeau Field and played in the Super Bowl eight hours after becoming a father.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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