|21||Jarrett Boykin||WR||6-2||218||24||3||Virginia Tech|
|22||A.J. Hawk||ILB||6-1||242||30||9||Ohio State|
|24||Corey Linsley||C||6-3||301||22||R||Ohio State|
Crosby: To save his skin after a league-worst 63.6 percent field-goal accuracy in 2012, Crosby agreed to slash his $2.4 million base salary to a mere $800,000.
After emerging from a three-man kicking duel, Crosby made up for the $1.6 million cut in base salary by earning an additional $800,000 in roster bonuses and another $800,000 by making at least 85 percent of his field-goal attempts for just the second time in his seven-year career. Thus, he still pocketed $2.4 million.
Finally kicking with consistency and to his capability, he made 33-of-37 field-goal attempts. Compare that 89.2 percent to his career rate of 76.7 percent entering last season. Unbelievably, Crosby’s marksmanship ranked just 12th in the league in the greatest kicking season in NFL history. In 2007, his rookie season, he would have ranked eighth. In 1996, Crosby would have led the league.
It helped that Crosby was given more chip-shot attempts than in past seasons. He went 14-for-14 from inside of 30 yards. From 2010 through 2012, he went 18-for-20 from that range. Still, he was an impressive 5-of-7 from 50-plus yards. That was a dramatic improvement after going 2-of-9 from long distance in 2012.
On kickoffs, Crosby’s touchback rate of 22.8 percent was next-to-last in the league. Since kickoffs were moved to the 35-yard line, Crosby was 46.2 percent touchbacks in 2011 and 40.2 percent in 2012. The change was mostly strategic to help cover up for a porous coverage unit.
Boykin: Boykin rightly has been compared to James Jones. Given the circumstances with the rest of the offense, it’s possible Boykin will blow away Jones’ career-best figures of 64 receptions for 817 yards.
After Randall Cobb sustained a broken leg in the Week 6 game at Baltimore, Boykin was taken out of mothballs. In what was in essence a 12-game season, he caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns. Put that over 16 games, that’s 65 receptions for 908 yards and four touchdowns.
Boykin has gone from an undrafted free agent deemed not good enough to even battle for a roster spot with the Jaguars to a critical player for the Packers. With only Jordy Nelson, Cobb and Boykin as proven commodities in the passing game, Boykin figures to get ample opportunities. And for good reason. He caught the ball well, with three drops in the final 11 games. And he was a load to bring down upon catching the ball. He broke 12 tackles — tied for Nelson for tops on the team despite catching 36 fewer passes, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
“I kind of try to take it day by day and set individual goals for myself,” Boykin said. “I want to be a household name. I want to be a Pro Bowl receiver. I want to have 1,000 yards, I want to have big-time touchdowns — 10-plus touchdowns.”
Hawk: Hawk, the franchise’s all-time leader in tackles, had a big statistical season in 2013. His 153 tackles fell two shy of his career high and his 112 solo tackles matched his career high. His five sacks also set a career high, he forced his first fumble since 2007 and intercepted his first pass since 2010.
He plays hard, is incredibly smart and never takes a play off. He serves as the defense’s quarterback, a highly important trait that is easily overlooked, and did as best he could upon taking over the reins as the every-down inside linebacker. However, his lack of athleticism will forever be an issue. Among inside/middle linebackers, Hawk ranked 47th out of 55 who played at least 25 percent of the defensive snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He was third-to-last in PFF’s run-stop percentage metric, which measures impact tackles, and was right in the middle of the pack as a pass rusher — the impressive sack total notwithstanding.
“I felt this was A.J.’s best year since I’ve been here, in the five years I’ve been here,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “The thing I like about A.J., he’s Mr Consistency. He stayed healthy, played a high percentage of the snaps, played all three downs. He was our signal-caller and all the guys on defense have confidence that A.J.’s going to get us in the right defense, based off what the formations, the shifts, motions, adjustments, so I thought he had a very good year for us.”
There is little doubt Hawk will start. The question is, will he stay on the field on third-and-long?
Tretter and Linsley: The center shuffle continues. Whoever wins will be the least-experienced starter in the league. Tretter, a tight end and left tackle at Cornell, has never played center in a game. Linsley is a rookie fifth-round pick.
Tretter, with a year in the system, has the edge, right?
“I wouldn’t say that because the other two guys have played center and J.C.’s learning the fundamentals of it,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “From a mental standpoint, he’s ahead of them, obviously. But, hey, Garth (Gerhart) is very smart, too. He’s been on the practice squad, he knows his stuff. And Corey is very intelligent. He knows his stuff, too. He’s getting caught up with all the nuances of it. They all have strong traits. It’s going to be a great competition to see how that shakes out.”
Tretter’s path has been well-chronicled. A fourth-round pick in 2013, he sustained a broken fibula and injured ligaments in his ankle during organized team activities. He didn’t play a snap during the season, though he practiced for seven weeks. He’s incredibly smart and athletic (5.04 in the 40).
“I think I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been,” Tretter said. “Now, there hasn’t been live bullets for a while — even doing scout team at midseason, you’re not going full-go. Now, it’s getting used to going full speed and everything like that. I think I’m a much better athlete.”
Linsley started at center for two seasons at Ohio State, earning all-Big Ten recognition both seasons. He’s not a great athlete (5.24) but he’s strong, knows how to battle inside and faced much better competition in the Big Ten than Tretter did in the Ivy League.
“You have to earn it,” Campen said. “A right of passage isn’t just granted to you as a rookie. You have to earn the right and the respect from the locker room. Certainly, whether a guy’s first string or third string or 15th string, that’s not an indicator of respect. There is a right of passage in the National Football League.”
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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.