|10||B.J. Raji||DT||6-2||337||27||6||Boston College|
|11||Josh Sitton||G||6-3||318||28||7||Central Florida|
|12||Tramon Williams||CB||5-11||191||31||8||Louisiana Tech|
Raji: Raji, who had a miserable season in 2013, is back on a one-year deal worth $4 million. If he returns to form now that he’s back at nose tackle, the Packers’ porous run defense will receive a desperately needed shot in the arm and Raji will have set himself up nicely for free agency next offseason.
At nose tackle in 2010, Raji recorded 66 tackles, including 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for losses, to help the NFL’s second-ranked scoring defense power the team to the championship. At defensive end the past three seasons, Raji’s production dipped to 43 tackles (three sacks, two tackles for losses) in 2011, 46 tackles (no sacks, two tackles for losses) in 2012 and 36 tackles (no sacks, three tackles for losses) in 2013. Opponents rushed for 4.7, 4.5 and 4.6 yards the past three seasons and scored 21.4 points per game after the 2010 team yielded only 15.0 per game.
“I just thought this was the best opportunity for me, this year,” Raji said. “I believe going back inside and doing some things I am accustomed to doing a few years back, I just felt like this is a good move for me.”
In Green Bay’s slimmed-down defensive front, the 337-pound Raji is the lone big man left. For the Packers to have any chance to get back to the promised land, they’ll need Raji to be a force.
Sitton: Sitton is the rock on the offensive line, and not just because he’s an All-Pro and Pro Bowl performer or that he’s started 78 of a possible 80 games over the past five seasons.
No, Sitton is the rock because he delivers, no matter the circumstances. When he was at right guard, Mark Tauscher, Bryan Bulaga, Don Barclay, T.J. Lang and Daryn Colledge were among the right tackles he lined up next to. Moved to left guard for 2013, he worked all offseason alongside Bulaga, only for Bulaga to tear an ACL on Family Night. That moved rookie Bakhtiari into the lineup.
The changes haven’t changed Sitton’s performance. According to STATS, his 1.5 sacks allowed in 2013 were his fewest since 2010. He’s allowed six sacks in the last four seasons and 10 sacks in his five seasons as a full-time starter. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Sitton ranked No. 2 among all guards in 2013, sixth in 2012, fifth in 2011, second in 2010 and eighth in 2009.
“Obviously, Josh is an excellent player,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “but he really has a great mind as far as understanding what people are trying to do, not only to our offense but the adjustments that need to be made on the move without any verbal communication. Ultimately, he needs to be recognized for what he’s done.”
Williams: After a 23-game drought without an interception, Williams returned to his playmaking ways during the second half of the season. Over the final nine games of the season (playoffs included), Williams intercepted four passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two fumbles. That’s twice as many turnover-producing plays in half a season as anyone else on the team over the course of all 17 games. Plus, he tackled better than ever and showed versatility by playing in the slot for several games.
It’s that strong finishing kick to the season that kept the 31-year-old on the roster, despite a $6.9 million base salary.
“Really, the last nine games — he played as good as everybody talked about 2010,” said cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, recalling Williams’ nine interceptions in the final 16 games of the Super Bowl season. “One thing I sort of forgot and lost, Tramon didn’t play — and I’m not looking for excuses — he didn’t go through training camp. He had two practices and hurt his knee. He had the last week and played one play in the Kansas City game, intercepted the ball and we took him out. And then we put him into the season. He hit the stride come the New York game and he took off. He played from the New York game on, you’re not going to get much better play than that. If you’re looking for much better play than that, you’re not going to get it from anybody in the league. Now, can we get it for 16 games and onto the playoffs and next year? I’m a firm believer if he’s healthy, we’re going to get it.”
Williams has grown into a team leader. Plus, he’s incredibly durable, having started 63 of the past 64 games. About the only black eye on his game last season were his 11 penalties — most among NFL corners.
Bakhtiari: The season would have been sunk had Bakhtiari not gone from fourth-round pick to starting left tackle in place of Bulaga. He started 16 games and allowed 7.5 sacks, according to STATS. Compare that to the 10 sacks allowed by Marshall Newhouse in 2012 and 11.5 sacks in 2011. He also was an enormous upgrade over Newhouse in the run game.
At age 22 and with his first NFL offseason under his belt, Bakhtiari hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling. One focal point will be cleaning up his game. He was flagged 11 times — only three tackles were whistled more. Nine of those were for holding.
“I would say for me, what’s my jump? Just back up my play,” Bakhtiari said. “Become more consistent. Keep Aaron (Rodgers) even cleaner. Just like the little things. And of course, everyone’s goal is, you want to be the best in this league. You want to be renowned. You want to be a Pro Bowler, all that. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t something I wanted under my accomplishments. But I’ve got a long way to go to get there. But those are things … I want to work on the little things and become a dominant player and work myself up to one day be a Josh Sitton on the offensive line. That’d be great. I’d love to be as good as him.”
Jones: Last year’s first-round pick had a miserable season. He looked like a stud during the first two weeks of training camp, when nobody could handle him during the one-on-one pass-rushing drill. Then he hurt his ankle on his first preseason snap.
“When Datone came in here, we were really excited about him,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “Then he got hurt and he didn’t really look the same. At the end of the year, he started being himself again. When you’re a 285-pound, 300-pound guy, some guys with that ankle sprain, it just didn’t look like he had the same steps. Hopefully, he can stay healthy this year. I think everybody when he first came in here saw his athleticism. He’s a tough kid. There’s never been a question of that. He probably fought through that thing and tried getting on the field (too soon), being a first-round pick and all of that. His maturity in everything he does, his studying, his practice habits, everything will take a leap this next year. When you’re out there on the field as a pro football player and you’re worried about, ‘How am I going to take that step on this leg?’ it’s different than, ‘How am I going to take this step and see this guy’s hands?’ I think that’ll help him out a lot.”
Jones registered 3.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, finishing sixth and fourth on the team, respectively. However, he didn’t register a tackle for loss against the run, barely played in the base defense and barely played at all down the stretch (nine snaps in the final two regular-season games). It will be a major disappointment if he doesn’t start at defensive end or, at the very least, earn a prominent role.
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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.