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. 4: All right on the left
When coach Mike McCarthy did his right-to-left, left-to-right flip of the offensive line, one word was on his mind.
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 168 times over the past four seasons, including a franchise-record 51 last season. Both figures were worst in the league.
Bryan Bulaga, who was moved from right tackle to left tackle, is the focal point of McCarthy's line dance.
"That's just not acceptable. You can't have that. We need to be better," Bulaga said of the sacks. "It doesn't matter what factor goes into a sack. Overall, we need to be better. That starts with the run game. It starts with pass protection. That's everything. We just need to be better as a unit. That's something that we're working towards this offseason."
As the first-round pick in 2010, Bulaga was drafted to be the eventual replacement for longtime starting left tackle Chad Clifton. Instead, Bulaga replaced injured right tackle Mark Tauscher early in his rookie season. The Packers won the Super Bowl with Bulaga at right tackle in 2010 and scored 999 points with Marshall Newhouse (mostly) at left tackle and Bulaga staying at right tackle in 2011 and 2012.
With the switch, the Packers are staking the passing game on Bulaga. Before and after the 2010 draft, there were questions about Bulaga's arm length — questions Bulaga laughed at upon being drafted. Maybe the bigger issue is health. He missed four games (a pair of knee injuries) in 2011 and seven games (hip) in 2012. At Iowa, Bulaga missed three games (thyroid) in 2009 and five games (shoulder) in 2007.
No. 3: Rockin' Randall
Randall Cobb caught 25 passes as a rookie in 2011 and 80 in 2012. In 2013, Rodgers said Cobb might catch 100.
Entering training camp last year, Cobb was just a budding talent who had earned a bigger role on the offense. He was not, however, a go-to threat. Entering training camp this year, not only has Cobb established himself as the No. 1 receiver, but he's established himself as one of the NFL's top young stars.
Cobb led the NFL with a franchise-record 2,342 total yards last season. Over his two seasons, his catch rate of 78.9 percent leads the league by a wide margin over No. 2 Percy Harvin's 74.9 percent.
Cobb is the No. 1 chess piece for McCarthy and Rodgers, especially with Greg Jennings in Minnesota. He's got the quickness to routinely beat press coverage. He's smart and knows how to find holes in the defense. He's also incredibly tough for his size.
"He's fast, he has great suddenness, quick change of direction, he has great ball skills," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said before last year's playoff game. "Yards after the catch are always a problem and when they put him in the backfield, he runs the ball like a running back. He's a dual threat with how they use him. I don't know if you're just going to shut a guy like that down, you just have to limit the big plays that go to him."
Cobb quickly became a go-to receiver on third down, due to his ability to get open and knack for getting the necessary yardage after the catch. He led the team with 17 third-down catches that he turned into first downs.
"There's certain philosophies on third downs," McCarthy said late last season. "Some people feel your route combinations, you need to make sure they need to exceed the down markers. There's some people who will tell you if you have a player such as Randall Cobb, you don't necessarily have to do that because he'll get the extra 2 or 3 yards after the catch. Those are all a part of your decision-making, game-planning. It's great when you can get the ball in Randall's hands because of his ability to get north and south to get that extra yardage is obviously important in converting third downs."
No. 2: Claymaker
Clay Matthews has earned every penny of his $69.7 million contract extension.
He's been a one-man wrecking ball. Over the last three seasons, he's got 32.5 sacks and 135 quarterback hits, based on the team's count. That's almost as many sacks as the next four on the list combined (B.J. Raji, 9.5; Erik Walden, 9; Desmond Bishop, 8; Cullen Jenkins, 7). That's more than twice as many quarterback hits as second-place Walden's 61.
With a career rate of 0.733 sacks per game, Matthews is the most-productive pass rusher in franchise history. (Though he probably ranks behind Hall of Famer Willie Davis, who played before sacks were counted.)
With his relentless style against the run and pass, Matthews is arguably the game's best linebacker.
"I'm not going to take your bait, but I think I play this game at a high level. I think I bring a lot to this game," Matthews said.
"I'm starting to get to the prime of my career," he added. "You know, I wasn't a pass-rusher at (USC). I had one year and a half a year of rushing the quarterback, so I'm still developing. It's funny how in 2012, I thought I had my best year. And during this last year, I went back and watched that, and I think I'm light-years ahead of where I was that year. And it's been like that every year. Yeah, it's going to continue. The numbers, I'm going to continue to put them up, I'm going to continue to lead this defense, and you're going to continue to get the same type of player that you have seen."
As the unit's best player and highest-paid player, Matthews knows he's being look to for more than sacks and impact plays.
"I think it's just the natural progression of leadership on this team," he said. "Obviously, the more comfortable I am in this scheme and the longer I'm here, the longer tenured I am, the more I have to take that leadership opportunity. Especially in light of all that has happened in the offseason with Charles Woodson departing, the new contract. A lot of these young guys look up to you, especially having some personal success myself. I'm going to do everything I can to help this defense get to where we need to go and if that means being a little more vocal, running around having some fun then hopefully these guys follow."
No. 1: Simply the best
It's taken just five seasons as the starting quarterback for Aaron Rodgers to assemble Hall of Fame-worthy numbers.
His career passer rating of 104.9 is a whopping 8.1 points ahead of second-place Steve Young in NFL history. For perspective, there are six quarterbacks within 2.5 points of Young and 12 quarterbacks within that 8.1-point gap, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
No quarterback has ever walked that fine line better between making plays and avoiding mistakes. Rodgers is the NFL's career leader with a 1.73 interception percentage, yet he led the NFL in touchdown percentage in 2011 and 2012. He's highly accurate, ranking second all-time with 65.7 percent career accuracy, but isn't a dink-and-dunker, with his fourth-ranked 8.1 yards per passing attempt.
Now, the task is to get back to the Super Bowl. As it is with just about every quarterback since the beginning of football time, the key to it all will be Rodgers.
Rodgers will be challenged there like never before. His elite receiving corps has been depleted by Jennings' signing with Minnesota and Father Time forcing Donald Driver to dance into retirement. That leaves three proven receivers and inconsistent Jermichael Finley as the primary pass-catchers. It's a good starting point, to be sure, but it's not the juggernaut Rodgers enjoyed for most of his starting career.
He'll have to deal with the growing pains of a revamped offensive line, two rookie running backs who figure to have key roles and a bunch of unproven receivers — including two seventh-round picks who didn't participate in the offseason practices.
If anyone can do it, it's Rodgers. Last season, he essentially had three receivers and Finley and no running game. It wasn't always pretty, but the Packers ranked fifth in scoring with 27.1 points per game.
"You have to be playing the right way at the end of the season," Rodgers said. "You have to have a little bit of luck with injuries and you have to win playoff games. The first order of business is to get them all at home. That usually gives you a little better opportunity. Had that game been at home, you would've had home-field advantage, a home crowd and things might have turned out a little differently. As they were, we were on the road in a tough environment. We won some of those games before, but it definitely makes it easier when you get can those games at home."
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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.