Packers Roster Countdown Part 15

We reach the teens in our ranking of the Packers' most-important players, with the latest installment beginning with No. 16 Josh Sitton. There's one surprise, with a relatively low ranking for a player manning a position once held in high regard.

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. 16: Sitton pretty

Josh Sitton has established himself as one of the best guards in the NFL. In 2010, as the Packers won the Super Bowl, he was named the game's top offensive lineman by NFL Alumni. By his lofty standards, he wasn't quite as good last year, as a knee injury kept him out of two games and slowed him for much of the season.

Still, with his combination of strength, athleticism and grit, a not-at-full-strength Sitton is better than most linemen. According to, Sitton was responsible for two sacks and one quarterback hit last year and is the third-best pass-protecting guard over the last three years. A no-nonsense blocker with a mean streak, he graded out as PFF's fifth-best run-blocking guard.

Sitton, a fourth-round pick in 2008, signed a contract extension through 2016 on Sept. 2. He's got a cap number of $4.8 million for this season, rising to $5.5 million in 2013 and the mid-$6 million range for the following three seasons.

No. 17: Marshall plan

Every year, left tackles join quarterbacks as some of the most coveted prospects in the NFL draft. In the last five drafts, 24 tackles went in the first round, including eight in the top 10.

The logic seems simple. The left tackle is like the leader of the Secret Service. If the quarterback is the team's most precious commodity, then you darned well better protect him.

Similarly, for the short history of our annual roster countdown, we've always valued Chad Clifton as a top-five player. Whether he was a rock-solid starter or a declining veteran, Clifton's importance seemed paramount as the blind-side protector for Aaron Rodgers.

Maybe the tried-and-true logic about left tackles no longer holds water.

With eight sacks and 54 total pressures allowed, Marshall Newhouse had the worst pass-blocking efficiency of the 33 offensive tackles who played at least 75 percent of his team's snaps, according to

To be sure, Newhouse wasn't terrible. Like many talented young players, he had stretches of strong play interrupted by spurts of inconsistency. In back-to-back games against Chicago and Detroit late in the season, Newhouse prevented Julius Peppers from even getting a tackle and he stymied Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch while playing both tackle spots.

The only thing that matters are the results, and Newhouse must have been doing something right. By season's end, the Packers put 560 points on the scoreboard – second-most in NFL history.

We'll have more on Newhouse when our Training Camp Countdown reaches 11 days.

No. 18: Run, Randall, run

Ted Thompson's second-round track record has been filled with home runs and strikeouts. For every Nick Collins and Jordy Nelson there's been a Brian Brohm and Pat Lee.

Put Randall Cobb in the potential home run category.

Even with just 25 receptions, Cobb delivered a dynamic rookie season. The Packers' long dormant return game roared to life as Cobb was one of just three returners in the league to score touchdowns on a kickoff return and punt return. He ranked among the NFL leaders in both categories and was a driving force behind Green Bay fielding the 13th-best special teams in the league after three consecutive seasons of bottom-five rankings, according to the Dallas Morning News' annual study.

As a receiver, the hope was Cobb would eventually replace Donald Driver as the offense's primary weapon in the slot. For years, Driver would consistently make the first defender miss and turn a short catch into something more. Cobb did just that. Among receivers with at least 20 receptions, his 7.7 yards after the catch per catch ranked fourth and his catch percentage of 80.6 topped the charts.

No. 19: No pain would be a gain

New running backs coach Alex Van Pelt's message to James Starks was crystal clear.

"There's a difference between injuries and nicks, and you've got to know the difference and be able to play through that and play well through that and be there for the team," Van Pelt said.

In other words, Starks needs to stay on the field. After missing his entire senior season at Buffalo with a shoulder injury and most of his rookie season with an injured hamstring, Starks was slowed for much of the second half of last season with ankle and knee injuries.

Starks entered 2011 with such promise after a postseason run in which he got more than 20 carries in all three NFC playoff games. Last year, however, Starks never got more than 13 carries in a game. Even with that limited workload, he couldn't stay on the field. Over the final seven games, Starks missed three game and carried the ball just 19 times.

With his receiving and blocking skills, the Packers need Starks on the field. There's no Ryan Grant as a fallback plan. The other two returning running backs, Brandon Saine (18) and Alex Green (three) combined for 21 carries as rookies.

No. 20: T.J. leads the way

The Packers won a Super Bowl with Daryn Colledge playing left guard, but during last year's lockout-truncated free agent period, they bet on unproven T.J. Lang by letting Colledge sign a lucrative deal with Arizona.

The Packers won that bet. Lang, a fourth-round pick in 2009, bounced all around the offensive line during his first two seasons in the league. Last summer, the Packers stationed him at left guard, where he beat out first-round pick Derek Sherrod. Lang responded by starting all 16 games, including one game at right tackle after injuries to Bryan Bulaga and Sherrod.

One of the locker-room nice guys but a completely different person on Sundays, Lang added some grit to an offensive line that had the reputation of being a finesse unit. He had a solid first season as a starter – two sacks, 11 total pressures and PFF's sixth-best pass-blocking efficiency among guards – and should be even better with one year of starting experience and a contract beckoning as he enters the final season of his four-year rookie deal.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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