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From 90-to-1: The 2016 Green Bay Packers (Part 6)

Our annual countdown hits the 20s and includes Jared Cook, Quinten Rollins, Davante Adams and Jeff Janis.

Part 6 of Packer Report’s annual roster countdown continues with No. 21, tight end Jared Cook, and includes Quinten Rollins, Davante Adams and some valuable backups.

Our rankings aren’t solely based on talent, as we also take into account salary and the state of the depth chart in trying to determine the importance of each player on the roster. More than anything in this incredibly unscientific process, perhaps you’ll learn a little something about each member of the roster.

No. 21: Tight end Jared Cook

Athletically, this is all you need to know about Cook. At the 2009 Scouting Combine, he measured in at 6-foot-5 and ran his 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds and jumped vertically 41 inches. At the 2016 Scouting Combine, only 10 of the 43 wide receivers ran faster and not a one of them jumped higher.

“He’s cut from a different cloth with his build and his speed,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “He was a lot bigger than what I first imagined when I first met him. He’s definitely going to be another threat for us and another guy that teams are going to have to think about.”

With a seven-year average of 39 receptions for 500 yards and 2.3 touchdowns, Cook hasn’t gotten close to reaching his potential. Then again, when Sam Bradford and Vince Young constitute your best quarterbacks, then going to Green Bay to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers would have to be considered a major upgrade.

“He didn’t have to tell me anything. This place sells itself,” Cook said. “I’ve always been a fan of Aaron. They play late-night games on our flights back, so we always used to see (the Packers) play and see the type of throws that he makes. Now that I’m here to see it in-person in practice, it’s even more incredible. I find myself sometimes still in awe of some of the things he does. He didn’t have to sell me at all.”

Cook missed most of the offseason practices after requiring minor surgery. He’ll have a long training camp to get on the same page with Rodgers and battle incumbent starter Richard Rodgers.

“It’s his show. Either you get with it or you get lost,” Cook said. “However he wants it, however he communicates it to me I’m going to do my best to duplicate it how he wants me to.”

No. 22: Cornerback Quinten Rollins

With Casey Hayward’s free-agent departure, it’s only natural that Rollins will move right into the nickel role. Rollins wasn’t asked to do much as a rookie until Sam Shields was leveled by a concussion. He played well in limited action, finishing third on the team with nine passes defensed and first in the secondary with one pass defensed for every 35.8 snaps. He picked off two passes and probably could have had five. Not only does he get his hands on the football but he’s the biggest hitter and best tackler in the cornerback corps. The sky is the limit for this former college basketball point guard.

“That’s out the door,” Rollins said during OTAs. “It’s about getting better, trying to improve on what I needed to improve on last year, and coming to this year at full stride ready to go. ... I’ve always been a confident person. Seeing your preparation and the way you work, and then seeing the results from it, that also adds to your confidence as well. I’ll take the same approach this year, study hard. Come in here ready to work every day.”

Rollins missed the offseason practices after sustaining a dislocated finger so severe that the bone popped through the skin. He was not listed among the six PUP players on Monday.

No. 23: Center Corey Linsley

Linsley, the team’s standout young center, was among the six PUP players, so he won’t practice on Tuesday morning.

Linsley, who played every snap as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2014 to earn all-rookie honors, missed three games and most of two others with an ankle injury late last season. He sat out the offseason practices with an undisclosed injury. While he said that he’d be “100 percent” for the start of training camp and that the decision to hold him out of the offseason practices was made “above my paygrade,” the injury will render him a spectator for at least a little while longer.

Will the injury open the door for Tretter? Perhaps. Linsley’s performance took a step back last season. He went from one sack and four penalties (three holding) in 16 games as a rookie to three sacks and three penalties (three holding) in 13 games this season. Moreover, the Packers averaged 0.27 yards more per run with Linsley sidelined than when he was in the game.

“J.C. Tretter is an excellent football player. I think anybody in our building would tell you that you view him as a starter,” McCarthy said on Monday. “Corey Linsley has obviously been our starter, and there’s no reason for him not to be considered a starter. I’m not going to get in here and start creating things that haven’t even been discussed internally. But once again, it’s important to get through the physical phase of it.”

No. 24: Kicker Mason Crosby

The shanked kicks of 2012 are but a distant memory. After a third consecutive strong season, the Packers rewarded Crosby with a four-year, $16 million contract on March 1. 

Among kickers who have played in at least 20 games over the past three seasons, Crosby ranks a mediocre 15th with 85.7 percent accuracy on field goals. However, kicking at Lambeau Field in December is no day at the beach, though Crosby seems impervious to the conditions. Over the same three-year span, 33 kickers have attempted at least 10 field goals during the final four games of the regular season and playoffs. In other words, crunch time with the potential of bad weather. Crosby ranks eighth with 88.9 percent accuracy, according to Pro Football Reference. Crosby also aced the new extra-point test, as he was one of five kickers to make every attempt.

Based on average salary, Crosby is the third-highest paid kicker in the league. Meaning the next time he lines up to beat an outclassed division rival at home on the final play of the game, he’s got to deliver.

No. 25: Quarterback Brett Hundley

Hundley is going to be good. Don’t take our word for it.

Said quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt: “I think he could be a solid starter and be successful. He proved that he could play the game in college, made a ton of plays doing it a ton of different ways and showed that here throughout these OTAs and the minicamp. He's a good football player.”

Said receiver Davante Adams: “The sky’s the limit for him. He’s young and he’s got the wheels and working with Aaron. It’s just a matter of time before he blows up.”

Said quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “He really spends a lot of time away from the facility thinking about football, studying, watching the film of practice, watching film of last year’s games. He’s the kind of guy that has that high ceiling where, if he continues to progress, he’s going to put himself in a really good position. And I’m impressed with how he’s improved and impressed with his competitiveness. He’s really competitive. It’s fun to practice with a guy like that who pushes you every day.”

Hundley, a fifth-round pick last year, looked like an in-over-his-head rookie throughout the spring and the start of training camp. And then, as if a switch had been flipped, he wound up leading the NFL in passer rating during the preseason. That was enough for the Packers to let talented Scott Tolzien sign with Indianapolis and hand the No. 2 gig to Hundley. That competitiveness referenced by Rodgers should push him to the next step in his career.

“I absolutely despise and hate losing. I love winning, but my hate for losing is really strong,” he said. “I've never really lost in ping pong, and Aaron's beaten me twice. So he pushed me a lot in that. And then on the football field, in quarterback drills, when you're competing against Aaron, obviously, you're trying to beat him. But that's one hard task to do, and he's very consistent with what he does. So for me, it teaches me how to be consistent, and also bring my ‘A’ game each and every day.”

No. 26: Receiver Davante Adams

Adams’ second season was an unmitigated bust. After flashing some big-time potential a few times as a rookie, most notably against New England in the regular season and Dallas in the playoffs, Adams was proclaimed an offseason MVP by McCarthy and a budding star by Rodgers.

Instead, Adams caught 50 passes for 483 yards and one touchdown with six drops. Going deeper inside the numbers, here’s where Adams’ season compared with other receivers who caught at least 50 passes since 2000:

— Adams’ 9.66-yard average per catch was the 15th-lowest.

— Adams and Peter Warrick (Cincinnati, 2001) are the only receivers with an average of 9.7 yards or less and a catch rate of 54 percent or less.

— Adams averaged 5.14 yards per passing target — the sixth-lowest figure over the past 16 seasons.

— Pro Football Reference has yards-per-target data dating to 1992 — coinciding perfectly with the start of the Favre-Rodgers eras. Among Packers receivers with at least 50 catches, Adams’ mark is the lowest by a staggering 1.29 yards.

— Also according to Pro Football Reference, there have been 64 seasons in which a Packers wide receiver caught at least 50 passes in franchise history. Adams is the only one to ever average less than 10 yards per catch.

All of that ugly history begs one question: Is Adams a bad player or was his bad season a byproduct of an early-season ankle injury. It’s easy to look at those numbers and call him a bust. However, it’s one thing for general manager Ted Thompson to miss on a college prospect. That happens all the time around the league. It’s quite another for the coach and quarterback, who have seen him perform on Sundays and work during the week, to misjudge a player’s talent. With that, let’s not write Adams’ Packers obituary just yet.

“It’s a new year,” Adams said. “Obviously, not everything goes the way you plan it to go. You can’t control some things. My thing is just control what you can control, and that’s my work, what I put in, how I go about this offseason and in-season. I hurt my ankle, I hurt my knee, I can’t do anything about that. What I can do is bounce back from it and that’s all I can do.”

No. 27: Defensive back Micah Hyde

Entering the 2013 draft, Hyde was viewed as a tweener — not fast enough to play cornerback, not big and strong enough to play safety. That’s probably true today, too. But what Hyde is is a good football player capable of filling multiple roles on the roster. When safety Morgan Burnett missed five of the first six games last season, Hyde started and the Packers won every game. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

While Hyde ranked next-to-last in the league with a 5.8-yard average on punt returns, he has a strong history in that phase of the game. During his first two seasons, Hyde ranked second in the league with a 13.6-yard average — just behind Devin Hester’s 13.8 — and led the way with three touchdowns.

Hyde figures to reprise last year’s season-ending role of dime defensive back, No. 3 safety and punt returner.

No. 28: Outside linebacker Nick Perry

Who is one of the best run-stopping outside linebackers in the NFL? Opponents averaged 0.96 yards less per run with Perry in the game last — easily the biggest difference on the team. That was actually a drop-off vs. 2014, when he was a 1.29-yard difference. Who leads the NFL in postseason sacks since 2012, when Perry entered the league as a first-round pick? Perry, with six. That includes 3.5 sacks in last year’s playoffs, with two of those coming against Redskins Pro Bowler Trent Williams.

“It was another game — a big game — that someone has to show up,” said Perry, who re-signed with a one-year contract. “I was just getting healthier and being able to showcase what I can do when I am healthy. It’s the past now. We’ve got a lot more of that to come.”

Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers will start at outside linebacker, with Perry being the No. 3. Given Peppers’ age, it’s possible Perry — assuming he stays healthy and can produce consistently — will become the bookend to Matthews over the long haul.

“This is everything,” Perry said of staying in Green Bay. “Knowing the system, good relationship with the coaches, players, a winning organization that has a rich history – all of those things played a part. You stay out of trouble here. There’s not a lot going on but it keeps you grounded on football and keeps you focused. I have a family now so my focus is even more. The urgency is there. Everything just fell in place. I felt like this was the right place for me and they felt the same.”

No. 29: Running back James Starks

Starks is coming off his best statistical season in just about every category: 148 rushes, 601 yards, 43 receptions, 392 receiving yards, 9.1-yards per catch and five total touchdowns. It’s not quite elite company, but Starks turned in one of 60 seasons of 600 rushing yards, 390 receiving yards and 9.0 yards per catch. Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard was the only other back to accomplish the feat last season. Plus, his 11.37 yards after the catch per reception led the entire NFL (regardless of position) by almost 2 yards.

Considering Eddie Lacy’s struggles, imagine what Starks could have accomplished if he hadn’t fumbled five times. That figure matched his career total from his first five seasons. If Starks can get the ball-security issues squared away, he’ll join Lacy in forming one of the best one-two punches in the league.

No. 30: Receiver Jeff Janis

Thrown into the playoff game at Arizona because of emergency, Janis turned in one of the great out-of-nowhere performances in playoff history with his seven receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. On an offense starved for a playmaker, fans clamored for Janis to get an opportunity. Well, he did get opportunities. He played 131 snaps on offense and caught just 2-of-12 targeted passes. That’s 16.7 percent, making Adams’ 53.2 percent look like he’s the second coming of Don Hutson.

Still, the physical tools are undeniable. And, if nothing else, he’s a stud on special teams with his 29.0-yard average on kickoff returns and 15 tackles on the kicking units. His performance against Dallas was the stuff of legend — three tackles on punt returns, all resulting in losses of 2 yards.

“I know you guys love Jeff Janis. All you people out there love Jeff. I love Jeff, too,” Rodgers said. “Jeff made some great plays there at the end of that game and he’s coming along. Again, these are important years for young guys like that – Years 1 to 2 and 2 to 3 are when you can really take jumps. You’ve seen a lot of them over my course of 12 seasons, where you see guys really take jumps and start to figure it out. I think he has an opportunity.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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