Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is at least the third-best quarterback in the NFL right now after what he did during his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
John Crist: After the Super Bowl, I said repeatedly that Aaron Rodgers is now no worse than the third-best quarterback in the NFL. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning deserve the benefit of the doubt for all they have done and how long they've done it. Where do you put Rodgers?
Bill Huber: I'd say your rankings are right on the money. I'd always put Brady at the top of the list, and it's not simply because of the Super Bowls. Outside of that 50-touchdown season with Randy Moss, who has he had to throw the ball to? It certainly wasn't the embarrassment of riches that Manning had a few years ago, when he was playing catch with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Manning's receiving corps was decimated by injuries last season, but he continued to thrive. To me, that's the mark of a true elite quarterback: Can you win games with your guys, and can you still win games when your guys are taken away?
Which brings me to Rodgers. When running back Ryan Grant went down in Week 1, there went any premise of balance. Dominant tight end Jermichael Finley was lost for the season on the first series of the Week 5 game at Washington. Old pro Donald Driver was slowed all season by injuries. Nobody consistently picked up the slack because nobody could consistently catch the ball. Even Pro Bowler Greg Jennings wasn't immune from the drops. Still, Rodgers was a concussion away from being the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000-plus yards in each of his first three seasons as a starter. With a win in the Super Bowl, complete with amazing throws in key situations against a vaunted Steelers defense, Rodgers zooms right into that top three.
JC: Take us back to the NFL Draft. Who was your favorite of Green Bay's picks? Least favorite? Did the team properly address its biggest needs and get good value with each selection? If you had been in the war room, is there anything you would have done differently?
BH: For all the oohs and aahs from what Detroit did, I thought the Packers had the best draft in the NFL. Picking Derek Sherrod in the first round, a year after taking Bryan Bulaga in Round 1, gives the Packers bookend offensive tackles, just like they had with Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Randall Cobb is a new toy for a creative offensive mind like Mike McCarthy, plus he's immediately the best kick returner since Allen Rossum. Alex Green is the perfect running back for the Packers' scheme with his size and pass-catching ability. With Charles Woodson turning 35 in October, Davon House gives them a cornerback with all the tools from a size-speed-production standpoint. Tight end D.J. Williams was a steal in the fifth round.
I guess if I had to scratch my head on anything, it was adding five more players in the final two rounds. The roster is flooded with talent, with the longest injury list in the league joining the 53-man roster from the Super Bowl. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if nine or even all 10 of the draft picks make the team.
So, to answer your questions. Favorite: Cobb. Least favorite: Undersized inside linebacker D.J. Smith, but only because I can't skip the question. Addressing needs: Yes, knocking them out of the park in the first two rounds. Personally, I didn't see defensive end as a "need," which we'll get to in a bit. Anything different: Taking a quarterback with one of those final picks, such as Alabama's Greg McElroy.
JC: Usually we have free agency and then the draft, but this year -- eventually -- it's going to be the other way around. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, what position would you most like to see the Packers address in free agency, and who could be a possible target?
BH: Come on, John. You covered the Bears for how long? Of course the Packers' scouts will be watching the 2012 draft class during free agency. In all seriousness, the Packers rank second in the NFL in contractual obligations for 2011. Even if Ted Thompson liked free agency, there'd be no money to spend this year.
JC: On the offensive side of the ball, the return of Grant should make the ground game more effective than it was a year ago. Still, Grant's injury was significant, and you can't ignore what James Starks did in the playoffs. How will the running back rotation look?
BH: To me, that's the hottest battle of any training camp in the NFL. Of course, McCarthy would answer your question with a question: "What is a starter?" It's a point well taken. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Grant was the entire running game. Now, Starks figures to make it a rotation. I suppose McCarthy will ride the hot hand, with Grant maybe getting more carries and Starks -- with a great receiving history at Buffalo -- being the run-pass guy.
Third down will be interesting, too. That was Brandon Jackson's area of excellence. Not sure if he'll be brought back -- or, better put, not sure he wants to come back -- if he winds up being unrestricted rather than restricted. If Green can pass protect, he'd fill that role. If not, it will be a mish-mash of John Kuhn (excellent pass protector), Starks and Green.
JC: Defensively, coordinator Dom Capers threw so many linebackers at the wall because of injuries at that position, and seemingly all of them stuck. Not so at defensive end. With Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins both likely gone, how does the depth chart look there?
BH: I just don't see defensive end as a need, which is why the Packers made almost no effort to re-sign Jenkins before the lockout. Heck, he didn't even start in the playoffs. Down the stretch, beefy Howard Green -- a brilliant midseason addition -- started and played on running downs, with Jenkins mostly being saved to get after the quarterback.
Without Jenkins, last year's second-round pick, Mike Neal, will join Green in that rotation. I doubt Neal can match Jenkins' pass-rushing presence from the get-go, but I think they'll be fine. He really looked like a player before a season-ending shoulder injury. Ryan Pickett is the other starter, with C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn and seventh rounder Lawrence Guy fighting for snaps.For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Packers, visit PackerReport.com.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com.|