These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players are 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 89 players in the process.
No. 20: EDS gets his shot
By now, you've probably heard Evan Dietrich-Smith's story.
He made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and began enjoying too much of the good life. He was cut by the Packers at the end of training camp in 2010 and cut again by the Seahawks a month later. Being out of the league for three months led to some soul searching. The Packers gave him another chance during the run to the Super Bowl, and Dietrich-Smith has taken full advantage.
Dietrich-Smith started a combined seven games at guard in 2011 and 2012. Before the Week 16 game against Tennessee, coach Mike McCarthy made the bold move of replacing veteran center Jeff Saturday in favor of Dietrich-Smith. His four games (two regular season, two playoffs) were good enough to solidify Dietrich-Smith's future. While there's always competition, the Packers didn't draft a center and there are no immediate challengers entering training camp.
"He is running with the first group and he's earned that right so far to do that," offensive line coach James Campen said. "Now, for him, you have a kid who's a dense kid — he's very solid and compact. He's a 310-pound guy who really understands the scheme. He really flipped the switch two years of taking his job more professionally, here and outside, and he's reaping the benefits of that. It's through hard work that's put him in that position. He needs to grow and he understands that he needs to get better, and he will get better. He's not topped out yet, there's no question. His work ethic and attitude were displayed in those four starts and he's earned the right to be the with the first group."
Dietrich-Smith is playing under the low restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million. It's reasonable to believe that he's in line for an in-season extension if he continues to improve.
"I think every year is a big year," Dietrich-Smith said. "I don't take things for granted. I came into the league the hard way. I'm not going to take it easy on myself just because I feel I have an opportunity here. The opportunity is for me to get better and show the organization that I can be a good player."
No. 21: Lang's bounce-back season
If anyone took the offensive line shakeup in stride, it was T.J. Lang.
As a rookie fourth-round pick in 2009, Lang started games at both tackle spots. He filled in at left guard and left tackle in 2010. In 2011, Lang won the starting job at left guard but had to start a game at right tackle. In 2012, Lang again was the starting left guard but was forced to right tackle for three-plus games.
Now, he's at right guard as part of the Packers' line changes.
"You can't think too much about it, you can't make it bigger than what it is.," Lang said. "Football is football. I've definitely played a lot of different positions the last four years here. Haven't played right guard yet in a game, so you have to make sure you're working extra hard to get your skill level up. You just have to keep plugging away every day and stay positive, try not to create too many questions about it and get out there, do your job and try to get better every day."
In 2011, Lang allowed two sacks and 14 total pressures in 18 games, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That was the basis of the contract extension he signed in August 2012, keeping him in Green Bay through 2016 for $22.06 million. He struggled in 2012, though, due in part to an elbow injury and the move to tackle. Lang gave up nine sacks and 26 total pressures in 17 games, with three sacks and 10 total pressures coming at tackle.
No. 22: Crosby's challenge
Mason Crosby missed 12-of-24 field-goal attempts after a 5-for-5 start. He finished a woeful 21-of-33, and that includes makes off of both uprights.
Just as he did in breaking out of his slump with a 6-for-6 finish, Crosby is trusting his years of training. Nothing, he said, has been radically altered.
"I'm not overhauling everything," said Crosby, who missed seven times from 50-plus yards but also from 32 and 38 yards. "I have a long track record of doing things the right way. So, for me, I just stuck to the things that worked well and just fine-tuned everything. I do that every offseason. I fine-tune everything. I look at everything that happened and just move on. And I'm in 2013 now. I'm just trying to get ready for the season and for training camp and trying to be prepared for a great one."
He'll need a great camp. For the first time since 2007, when Crosby — then a rookie sixth-round pick — beat out Dave Rayner, he will face a challenger. To be sure, Giorgio Tavecchio doesn't have big-time credentials, but the message has been sent.
"Obviously, I excelled then and I'm planning on doing that again," Crosby said. "This offseason, I feel like that's happening and I feel good with it. I'm thankful for competition. I always am and I think that's good. That's how guys grow. Through this whole team that's how we're all going to grow is by looking at the guy next to you, competing and going out and trying to get better."
No. 23: Major key to the team
Last season, it made no sense to take Cobb off of special teams, given McCarthy's history of using players like Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Jordy Nelson as returners. He consistently made good decisions and provided good field position. Moreover, there were no reliable options. But when Cobb turned an ankle returning a punt in Week 16, McCarthy turned to Ross, who provided startling production. In a game-and-a-half, Ross — with an intriguing combination of speed and power — returned punts for 58 and 32 yards and a kickoff for 44 yards.
When the playoffs began, McCarthy stuck with Ross. Even though Ross was the hot hand, it was a surprising decision given McCarthy's don't-play-scared philosophy and his desire to minimize turnovers. The decision backfired about as badly as possible. Ross, who botched the trick throwback at Chicago, muffed a punt. The 49ers recovered at the 9-yard line and scored a game-turning touchdown moments later.
Fast forward to 2013, and things have changed with Cobb. Without Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, Cobb is an essential piece of the offense. With just three proven receivers, the Packers simply can't risk Cobb getting 65 or 70 touches on special teams. There are other players who have returned kicks on the bottom of the depth chart, but none of them are as dynamic as Ross, who proved that in his few opportunities last season as well as at Cal.
The job is his. Can he hold onto it?
"It's not too fresh anymore," Ross said. "I spent a lot of time thinking about other things. It does me no good, constantly thinking about what happened in the past. I just try my best to move forward and like, ‘What's the next thing?' I just take it and learn from it. It sucks that it happened, but I just take whatever I can from it."
No. 24: The No. 1 in ‘11
Ideally, Derek Sherrod would win the vacant job at right tackle. After all, the Packers didn't make him their first-round pick in 2011 and hand him a $3.3 million signing bonus for nothing.
Sherrod broke his leg when he collided with Marshall Newhouse in a Week 15 game at Kansas City during his rookie season. The injury cost him all of 2012, and a second round of surgery in December kept him on the sideline for all of the offseason work.
In two seasons, Sherrod has played 115 snaps, started zero games, and allowed one sack and six total pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Instead of having a future 10-year starter hitting his prime, the Packers haven't a clue what, if anything, they'll get out of Sherrod.
"He's champing at the bit," offensive line coach James Campen said. "All the signs have shown to be positive. I'm excited to get him back out there."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.