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. 5: Back to the future?
For all the talk of "Revis Island," there wasn't a cornerback in the NFL better than Tramon Williams in 2010.
He made big plays, with six interceptions in the regular season and three more in the playoffs.
He was clutch, with his game-sealing interception in the wild-card win at Philadelphia, his pick-six that put the nail in the Falcons' coffin in the divisional round and his championship-clinching pass breakup in the Super Bowl. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed 46.8 percent completions and a passer rating of 48.3. In the playoffs, he allowed 10 completions out of 27 targeted passes.
He hasn't been as good the past two seasons as he's dealt with lingering shoulder problems, but he remains the one cornerback on the team who has stood tall against a gauntlet of No. 1 receivers. Williams, 30, has two years left under contract, with base salaries of $5.9 million and $6.9 million and cap numbers of $8.5 million and $9.5 million. For those reasons, the Packers need Williams to become an upper-echelon corner again.
Williams is "the least" of cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt's problems. Whitt thought Williams was on track for perhaps his best season in the NFL.
That would be saying something.
"Tramon Williams has obviously set a standard of play for himself, and that's really where you want him to get back to," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I always remember when we signed Tramon and how he worked his way up on the practice squad. To me, he would be the poster child for someone to come in to an NFL ballclub, particularly our place — sitting in the front row, taking notes and just doing the things the right way. Yes, he's had a significant injury in the past that he's dealt with. He is truly one of the ultimate professionals on our football team. We just want to get him back play back to the standard that he has set."
No. 6: Plenty to play for
Will B.J. Raji be given an in-season contract extension?
That appears to be up to Raji.
If Raji, who is entering his final year under contract, returns to something approximating his 2010 form, the Packers might be scrambling for agent David Dunn's phone number to keep him off the free-agent market.
After a ho-hum rookie season slowed by a lingering ankle injury, Raji was an all-around menace in 2010. He registered 66 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 13 quarterbacks hits, by the coaches' count, and 28 stops (sacks and impact tackles vs. the run), according to ProFootballFocus.com. Over the past two seasons, Raji had 43 tackles in 2011, 46 tackles in 2012 and a combined three sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 30 stops.
"I did not have a sack last year but, according to Trgo (defensive line coach Mike Trgovac) and Coach McCarthy, they felt last year was probably one of my best pass-rushing years. So, go figure? Obviously, I'd love to have the numbers to support that. But ultimately, I'm just about winning. Hopefully, I can help us win next year by having some more sacks."
Raji, like the rest of the defense, was a major disappointment in 2011 — his Pro Bowl selection notwithstanding. Last season fell somewhere in between 2010 and 2011. In 2012, he had 20 stops (compared to 10 in 2011) and averaged a tackle every 14.3 snaps (compared to 20.6 snaps in 2011). With Morgan Burnett getting an extension before Raji, apparently the Packers aren't entirely sure what to expect. And a little financial motivation never hurt. So, it's up to Raji. He has a lot to play for, and the team needs him to again be the anchor of the defensive line for 2013 and many years to come.
No. 7: Back to the future, Part 2?
Early in 2011, Jordy Nelson signed a contract extension that averaged $4.2 million per season. Nelson outperformed that contract in a big way in 2011, with a stunning 68 receptions, 1,263 receiving yards, 18.6-yard average and 15 touchdowns. In Nelson's first three seasons, he had 100 receptions, 1,268 receiving yards, 12.7 average and six touchdowns.
Last season, however, was a major disappointment. After a four-game stretch in which he had 27 catches, 365 yards and five touchdowns, Nelson injured his hamstring at practice. He missed one game and rushed back to the lineup.
It was a foolish decision from a team that's typically been conservative with injuries. Even with Arizona on the schedule and a bye week to follow, Nelson returned to action. He aggravated the injury on the second drive of the Cardinals game and never returned to form. Over the final eight weeks of the regular season, Nelson caught 17 passes and missed three games after injuring the hamstring again. He wound up with disappointing totals of 49 receptions, 745 yards (15.2 average) and seven touchdowns.
For the offense to be at its best with a depleted receiver corps, the Packers need Nelson at his best.
"That's a guy that loves the game," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said during OTAs. "That's a guy that's going to try to play. That's how a competitor operates, and take nothing away from guys like that. I love players like that. They want to play. And if it means fighting through some injuries that you fight though … phenomenal player."
No. 8: The bookend
Kevin Greene pulls no punches when it comes to last year's first-round pick, Nick Perry.
"I have a snap of Nick Perry doing everything," Greene said. "Every concept, every technique, every coverage technique, every pass rush — I have snap of him on film doing everything that he needs to do the right way at a high level. Yeah, he can do it all."
Perry played in six games (five starts) before going on injured reserve and having surgery on a wrist injured in Week 1. He had two sacks and five quarterback hits.
Perry plays with brute force. While he dropped some weight to improve his quickness, power will be the name to his game. The idea is, as the left outside linebacker, he'll be able to push the right tackle back into the quarterback's face, which will help the interior rushers and fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
The bull rush is "the primary move, keeps people on edge, and then I can work moves," Perry said. "I want to collapse the pocket and help my brothers make plays, as well. It's not just a me thing out there. It's for the team. Collapse the pocket, put a little (pressure) on the quarterback from the front side."
Perry was missed, even though his stats weren't great. In his six games, the Packers had 21 sacks — an average of 3.5 per game. In the 12 games without Perry, the Packers had 30 sacks — 2.5 per game. The Packers need Perry to be a force on the field. Erik Walden is suiting up for the Colts and none of the other outside linebackers have much of a pedigree.
No. 9: Encore or sophomore slump?
Casey Hayward had a brilliant season, no matter how you cut it, based on ProFootballFocus.com's data. With no touchdowns allowed and six interceptions, he allowed a passer rating of 31.1 — the best in the league by a large margin, with Richard Sherman a full 10 points back. Only Ike Taylor allowed a lower completion percentage than Hayward's 44.6. While Hayward's not the most physical corner in the league, he gets the job done in that area. His three missed tackles tied for the third-fewest among cornerbacks.
"Not mess up assignments. That's the main goal" for 2013, Hayward said. "People are going to catch some balls on you. That's the nature of the game. But just know the defense like the back of my hand and not mess up on assignments and not give up a lot of touchdowns. I think I did a great job on all that stuff last year, but that's last year. I've got to work on all that stuff again and better myself for this year."
Regardless of whether he starts in the base defense, Hayward will play the all-important nickel position. It's a demanding position with major run-defense responsibilities and as the defender oftentimes responsible for the quarterback's hot read when blitzed.
"Casey Hayward is just a natural football player," McCarthy said. "Obviously, all these professional athletes are very athletic and have a high level of ability and skill-set. Casey is exceptional in that he makes it look really (easy). It comes very natural to him. He's very fluid in everything he does — hand-eye coordination, excellent hands. He's a very good young player."
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.