Positional Breakdown of Packers' 'Final' 53

We pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the roster the Packers will (mostly) take into the regular season. On paper, at least, the depth is outstanding at most positions, especially on defense.


Aaron Rodgers and Graham Harrell.

Rodgers has been Mr. August — among other months — during his career. He had posted four consecutive preseasons of 100-plus ratings, including 130-plus in 2009 through 2011, when he threw 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. This summer, his rating was 53.8 with one touchdown and two interceptions. All of that is probably irrelevant but it sticks out like a sore thumb after his 45 touchdowns, six interceptions and league-record passer rating of 122.5 last season. Rodgers is the rarest of quarterbacks, able to dissect defenses with his his arm, feet and brain. More than ever, this is Rodgers' offense. He'll need to be on top of his game as the Packers face a grueling season-opening stretch against San Francisco (No. 2 in points allowed), Chicago (No. 14), Seattle (No. 7) and New Orleans (No. 13).

Harrell was horrible in the first three preseason games but led the Packers to three touchdowns in three possessions against Kansas City in the final preseason game. If Harrell is forced to play meaningful snaps, the team is banking on him being lifted by his supporting cast.

Running backs

Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Saine and John Kuhn (FB).

What will Benson mean to the backfield? Against Cincinnati, his presence put the Bengals in a bind. Attack the line of scrimmage, only to see Rodgers go play action for a big play down the field, or sit back and play coverage, only to watch Benson run through the natural holes created by the Packers' spread attack? On the other hand, coach Mike McCarthy has no patience for fumblers, and Benson — who put it on the ground against the Chiefs — led the NFL with 12 fumbles over the last two seasons. To add some perspective, only 17 running backs have even fumbled six times during that span.

Green, who finally saw some daylight and turned it into two touchdowns against the Chiefs, will be the No. 2. James Starks, a hero of the Super Bowl run, made the team despite being hurt again (turf toe). Brandon Saine made it, as well, even though he didn't play a single snap in the preseason (hamstring). Kuhn is the only fullback and will see a lot of action as the lone back on third down until Green or the others can show they can handle the protection.

Offensive line

LT Marshall Newhouse, LG T.J. Lang, C Jeff Saturday, RG Josh Sitton, RT Bryan Bulaga, C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith and G/T Don Barclay.

The starting five is about as good as they come. With Saturday and Rodgers, the no-huddle will be the basis of the offense. The up-tempo approach allows Rodgers to take advantage of matchups and gives the offense more plays — and more opportunities to strike for big plays. The right side is tremendous and Lang's contract extension was well-deserved. Newhouse is the question mark among the starters, though Green Bay got by just fine with Newhouse and over-the-hill Chad Clifton last year en route to a league-high 560 points.

The depth is a major issue that general manager Ted Thompson is trying to address again after falling short with Herb Taylor, a late-season addition last year, and Reggie Wells, a training camp addition. Neither made the team. Dietrich-Smith is a serviceable backup for the interior spots. Barclay, a three-year starting left tackle at West Virginia, is an intriguing prospect but he's not ready for prime time.

Tight ends

Jermichael Finley, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor.

It's time to put up or shut up for Finley, who's been dominant (the second half of 2009 and the start of 2010) and disappointing (most of his drop-plagued 2011). This summer, he missed time with a concussion, quad strain and the birth of a son, and played only in the preseason finale. When healthy and focused, he's got rare skills. After settling for a two-year, $14 million contract during the offseason, Finley wants a blockbuster deal. That means he'll need to put together a consistent and productive 16-game season for the first time.

Williams had a terrific training camp when healthy but missed the final two preseason games with an ankle sprain. He's not as explosive as Finley but he knows how to get open and generally catches the ball. Crabtree brings grit to the group, and he Taylor are core players on special teams.

Wide receivers

Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin.

The Big 5 are back after leading the NFL with 3,667 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns last season. Jennings and Nelson form arguably the league's top duo. Nelson, coming off a breakout 15-touchdown campaign, was dominant in camp and the preseason. Nelson agreed to a contract extension through 2014 in September 2011 and is ridiculously underpaid with cap charges of $3.825 million, $4.025 million and $3.875 million the next three years. Jennings, who missed time with a concussion and is wearing a new helmet, added nine touchdowns even while missing three games. He's entering the final year of his contract and will turn 29 on Sept. 21. Will the Packers give big money to a receiver who's closing in on 30? Then again, Father Time still can't catch Driver, who will be more than a ceremonial player on a farewell tour. Jones will drop the ball but he'll also make big plays with 65- and 70-yard touchdowns last year. If he can hold onto the ball, Cobb will be a breakout performer who's used in some special roles.

Throughout the offseason and into training camp, there seemed to be little doubt the Packers would keep six receivers. Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley were promising young players who were ready to make their mark on the team. Instead, Borel fizzled after a fast start to camp and Gurley got going too late. Boykin, on the other hand, was Mr. Consistent. He's slow but knows how to get open and catches the ball (13 catches on 17 targets in the preseason).

Defensive line

B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Phillip Merling and Mike Neal (suspended for four games).

The Packers had no answers up front last year but Thompson's makeover made this group so strong that Jarius Wynn and Anthony Hargrove didn't even make it to the final cut and Daniel Muir surprisingly didn't survive the 53-man cutdown. If the depth translates into production, the big winner will be the overworked Raji. The Packers would love 35 excellent snaps out of Raji rather than 50 so-so ones.

Beyond Raji and, maybe, Worthy, this is a group of specialists. Pickett, Wilson and Merling are essentially run-stoppers best suited to playing end in the base 3-4 alignment. In nickel and dime, the team will count on Raji, Worthy and Daniels to provide pressure. Daniels, a fourth-round pick, outplayed second-round pick Worthy during the preseason.

The wild card is Neal, who is out for the unauthorized use of the ADD drug Adderall after playing in just nine of a possible 32 regular-season games his first two seasons. He had an outstanding training camp. Last year's knee injury is behind him and Neal looked incredibly explosive and powerful.


Inside: A.J. Hawk, D.J. Smith, Robert Francois and Terrell Manning. Outside: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Dezman Moses and Erik Walden (suspended for one game). Swing players: Jamari Lattimore and Brad Jones.

Losing Desmond Bishop was a devastating blow for a defense that was horrific from the get-go last season. Smith will pile up Bishop-like tackle numbers, but nobody can replace Bishop's playmaking ability (eight sacks, one interception, four forced fumbles in 2010 and 2011). Hawk, who wasn't involved in a turnover-producing play last season, needs to pick up some of the slack. He'll be taken off the field in dime, which, if the preseason means anything, will be a big part of the defensive package.

On the outside, Clay Matthews had an outstanding summer as he transitions back to the right side, but the real key is the first-round pick, Perry. He wasn't an impact player during the preseason, but the hope is his power and athleticism will show up as he wears out the opposing right tackle over the course of a game. Extremely coachable, Perry should get better and better as the season progresses.

Moses was a revelation as an undrafted rookie and will be featured in some special roles to get him on the field, and Walden looks like a different player after performing so poorly last year that the team was compelled to take Perry. Francois, Moses, Lattimore and Jones will be key figures on special teams.

Defensive backs

Cornerbacks Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Sam Shields and Brandian Ross; safeties Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, Sean Richardson and M.D. Jennings; and defensive back Charles Woodson.

Woodson will start at safety in the base defense and move inside to slot corner in nickel and dime. With 37 interceptions in six seasons with the Packers, Woodson needs six picks to become one of 10 players in NFL history with 60.

At corner, the Packers intend to match up Tramon Williams with the opponent's No. 1 receiver. Williams isn't 100 percent healed from last year's shoulder injury but he had an outstanding preseason, especially against Cincinnati, when he shut out young star A.J. Green in the first half. House was on his way to being the No. 2 corner until injuring his shoulder at San Diego. When he returns, he'll have to wear a harness, which will take away what he does best: playing physical at the line of scrimmage. Shields answered the challenge after losing his job because of poor tackling last year. Hayward and Bush will be in the mix, too, whether it's as the No. 2 corner or one of the slot corners with Woodson in dime.

At safety, Burnett is ready to assert himself as one of the best in the league, the coaches say. Even with a broken hand, he had three interceptions and two forced fumbles last year. McMillian, a fourth-round pick, was the other safety in the preseason finale. Jennings — the oldest player in the group at the ripe old age of 24 — started the first two preseason games. Richardson, an undrafted free agent, has the potential to be a special-teams demon.

Special teams

K Mason Crosby, P Tim Masthay, LS Brett Goode.

Crosby and Masthay are coming off breakout seasons and form one of the best kicking duos in the league. Cobb will be the returner after being one of just three players to score touchdowns on a kickoff return and punt return last year.

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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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