Packers Roster Countdown Part 13

Our ranking of the Packers' most-important players reaches the 20s, starting with a look at the three-headed battle at safety. Plus, a critical pass rusher and a record-setting scorer.

As we've done in past years, we're counting down the Green Bay Packers' roster, from No. 90 to No. 1.

These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players were ranked on their importance to the team. Skill, a player's position, the depth of his position group, the odds he contributes, salary and draft history all play a part in how a player is ranked. More than the ranking itself, hopefully you will learn a little something about each of the 90 players in the process.

No. 26: No pressure, Rookie

In the three- or more-player derby to start at safety opposite Morgan Burnett, fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian probably rates as an underdog to the next two players on our list. But if you want to base it on the draft, the former Maine standout is the most talented player in the discussion.

Among safeties who tested at the Scouting Combine, McMillian posted the best numbers. He topped those numbers at his pro day, with scouts putting him down for a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash and a 39-inch vertical leap.

He intercepted five passes as a sophomore, with his speed and leaping ability putting him in position to make plays. The Packers used him as one of the inside cover men in their dime defense during offseason practices. Yet, during his final two seasons at Maine, he was used primarily in the box. For a team that is making tackling a major emphasis at training camp, McMillian's potential as a tackler can't be overlooked.

Why is McMillian ranked ahead of the next guys on our list? Because he's a draft pick who has the potential — potential, being the key word — to upgrade the position.

No. 27: Calling a doctor

M.D. Jennings and Burnett were the No. 1 tandem throughout the offseason practices.

Jennings was a three-year starting safety at Arkansas State who finished with eight interceptions and 241 tackles. He was an undrafted free agent last season who made the team and contributed nine tackles on special teams. Jennings ran 4.45 at his pro day, and that athleticism was apparent both last year and this offseason.

"I think anytime you make plays against our offense, particularly as a young player, you're going to be excited," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "And you should feel good about what you're doing. To go out there and make plays against our guys, that should give (him) a ton of confidence. It's exciting to us because we see his athleticism, and now we've just got to get him into the situation of knowing what he's supposed to do play-in and play-out."

Why is Jennings ranked ahead of the incumbent starter? Because of his potential — again, potential being the key word — to upgrade the position. While he'll be fine in pass coverage, who knows if he'll be tough enough to play the run or haul down a 245-pound tight end.

No. 28: Pep in his step

In 2010, the Packers won a Super Bowl with Charlie Peprah starting at safety.

In 2011, the defense was horrible all year and the Packers went one-and-done in the playoffs, with Peprah's botched tackle on Hakeem Nicks' 66-yard touchdown being one of the signature plays of the loss to the Giants.

Peprah collected five of his seven career interceptions last season. He's an excellent communicator, which is a major asset with the soft-spoken Burnett being the other safety. However, Peprah lacks elite range, which makes him vulnerable against the pass and sometimes puts him in tough spots against the run.

That's why there's a battle royale at safety.

"If you forget, in 2010, after Morgan went down, they traded for Anthony Smith," Peprah said. "To me, that said, ‘OK, maybe they don't have any confidence in me.' That's the league. They're always looking to replace you — coaches and players and staff alike. None of that stuff, you can't let it get to you. You just keep believing in yourself, keep pushing, keep working, and the rest will take care of itself."

Why is Peprah ranked behind McMillian and Jennings, neither of whom have played a regular-season snap of defense in the NFL? It certainly wasn't all Peprah's fault that the Packers gave up the most passing yards in NFL history, but a more athletic player potentially — there's that word again — could improve the entire defense.

No. 29: Stretch run

Barring the courts stepping in, Anthony Hargrove will open his first season in Green Bay by serving an eight-game suspension.

So, why is Hargrove ranked so high on this list when he's going to be a part-time player for only part of the season?

Because Hargrove is the desperately needed interior pass rusher, and since no team has ever won a Super Bowl in September and October, having Hargrove for November, December and January is what matters.

Hargrove's sack numbers aren't overwhelming, with 19.5 sacks in seven seasons, including one with New Orleans in 2010 and three with Seattle in 2011.

Still, the numbers at ProFootballFocus.com tell a different story. Based on a formula of sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap, Hargrove ranked ninth in the league among 4-3 defensive tackles and 3-4 nose tackles. With three sacks, three hits and 14 hurries game him 20 pressures in 227 pass-rushing snaps. For Green Bay, B.J. Raji had 20 in 500 pass-rushing snaps, Jarius Wynn had 10 pressures in 344 pass-rushing snaps, C.J. Wilson six in 221 snaps and Ryan Pickett four in 200 snaps.

No. 30: Finally delivering

After Mason Crosby beat out Dave Rayner to win the kicking job as a seventh-round pick in 2007, he never faced a challenger in training camp. Then, after the lockout last summer, they locked him up with a five-year deal worth almost $15 million that included a $3 million signing bonus. All of that for a kicker who had never made 80 percent of his field goals in a season.

Crosby, benefitting from the same combination of snapper (Brett Goode) and holder (Tim Masthay) for the first time in his career, made good on the team's continued faith by drilling 24-of-28 attempts (85.7 percent). That includes a franchise-record-tying 56-yard field goal and a record-breaking 58-yard field goal.

In the long history of the team, Crosby and Paul Hornung are the only players with two seasons of 140-plus points. His 649 points are the most in NFL history by a player in his first five seasons.

"I think he's at the pinnacle of his career," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said.

If you missed ...

Bush and four on offense: 31-35

Two DL and Driver: 36-40

Make-or-break camp for two vets: 41-45

Going hog wild: 46-50

Rookies at key positions: 51-55

Gurley's detours: 56

Fighting for jobs: 57-60

Five defenders: 61-65

Don't be surprised if ...: 66-70

It's Noah's Ark: 71-81

Roster long shots: 82-89

Longest of long shots: 90


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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.

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