It’s hard to call any season that ends in the conference title game a disappointment. Yet, one could argue that any season short of a Super Bowl win while Aaron Rodgers is under center is indeed discouraging. It’s almost embarrassing to face the fact that the Green Bay Packers have only appeared in three Super Bowls with two all-time greats at quarterback over nearly two and a half decades. In those seasons the Packers did make it to the grand stage, they were the epitome of balance across all positions. Other than at quarterback, the current Packers could certainly upgrade at every position, which is imperative if the team wants to win a fourteenth world championship. Here’s how.
Quarterback grade: A+
How to improve: N/A
No explanation necessary. Moving on.
Runningback grade: B-
How to improve: Commit to a two-back system again
Eddie Lacy looked good during his brief 2016 stint. He averaged more than five yards per carry despite reports of him gaining the weight he lost last offseason. Lacy has been marred with several injuries during his short career, however, and at this point it’s not reasonable to expect him to be a three-down back. If he is re-signed, short-term or otherwise, Lacy would likely have to move to a two-back system, similar to what he and James Starks accomplished over the last few seasons. Ty Montgomery will be back, and he proved that he can be reliable. A Lacy-Montgomery backfield wouldn’t be bad at all, but Ted Thompson might also want to look for some outside veteran help *cough* Adrian Peterson *cough* Jamaal Charles.
Wide Receiver grade: A
How to improve: Figure out who the fourth receiver is
Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams are all Pro Bowl caliber players. Adams dismantled any doubts in his game when he hauled in 75 passes for 12 scores in 2016. Is Geronimo Allison the next guy? Jeff Janis? Janis, the people’s champ, struggled to see much field time last year, and he could be the next man out. Allison, on the other hand, played more down the stretch, and he impressed fans, coaches, and, most importantly, his quarterback. Right now, it seems likely that Allison will be the fourth wide out on the depth chart next season, that is unless Trevor Davis exceeds expectations, or Thompson can snag a stud in the draft.
Tight End grade: B
How to improve: Give Jared Cook a long-term deal
Jared Cook was everything the Packers hoped he’d be once he returned from injury–fast, explosive, big, reliable. Now what Thompson’s number one priority should be, as agreed on by Rodgers, is to re-sign Cook for three to four years. The Packers haven’t had consistency at Tight End in what seems like ages, and Cook is their perfect solution. Cook brings stability, which is all this position group needs.
Offensive Line grade: A-
How to improve: Find the answer at Center
The pass blocking done by Green Bay’s big boys was unprecedented in 2016. Rodgers had more time than I’ve ever seen any quarterback have on a weekly basis. With that being said, there was still some uncertainty at Center. Corey Linsley played only nine games, and J.C. Tretter just played seven. The play at Center was never a concern, but if there’s one thing that could help this offensive line, it’s less injuries (and re-signing T.J. Lang, of course).
Defensive Line grade: C+
How to improve: Find another playmaker
For much of 2016, the Packers were among the best run defenses in the league. That was a little misleading, given that they rarely faced a marquee halfback. Other than Mike Daniels, it seemed like nobody could ever be relied upon week in and week out. Rookie Kenny Clark shines in moments and Letroy Guion was serviceable. But neither of them are known for striking fear in the offense. If Green Bay can pick up a playmaking edge rusher with an impressive resume, that could be a huge difference in getting this defense back to a championship level.
Linebacker grade: B-
How to improve: *see above*
Nick Perry put together a solid season after he led the team with 11 sacks, but he might not be back if he sees what other teams are willing to pay him. Clay Matthews is expected to play inside and outside again, and Julius Peppers’ future remains uncertain. Jake Ryan made great strides in his sophomore season, and Joe Thomas was somewhat of an unsung hero. Nonetheless, the linebacking corps lacked that fear factor that defines great defenses. If Thompson can find a gem in the draft, or if he actually branches out in free agency, this defense would be greatly improved just by pressuring the quarterback more.
Cornerback grade: D+
How to improve: Sign a notable free agent
We all know about Thompson’s reluctance when it comes to free agents. Yet, when he’s signed big name guys, it’s worked out handsomely e.g. Charles Woodson, Peppers, Cook. With guys like A.J. Bouye, Darrelle Revis, Stephon Gilmore, and Logan Ryan all potentially being available, the buying time at cornerback seems to be now. Yes, Sam Shields’ concussion problems among a plethora of other injuries contributed to the poor play at the position. But even when the top players on the depth chart were healthy, opposing offenses seemed to complete everything. One diamond in the rough could be Ladarius Gunter, who still struggled, but was the best cornerback on the roster for much of 2016. If Thompson decides to spend some cash on a Pro Bowl cornerback, it could mean immediate success for a defense that has seen very little production since 2010.
Safety position grade: A-
How to improve: Lock up Clinton-Dix
While the corners got burned all season long, the safeties played consistent, made plays, and hit hard. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had a Pro Bowl season after he tallied a team-leading five interceptions, and he never missed a snap. That’s how you earn that captain patch right there. Morgan Burnett has quietly been a second tier safety in the league, and even the depth at the position has been impressive. Micah Hyde, who is more of a secondary utility man, has never been flashy, but he always does the right things and makes the needed plays. Kentrell Brice played sparingly, but delivered hard hits and a different kind of energy to the team. It became clear last season that Clinton-Dix was becoming the elite safety scouts thought he would be during his time at Alabama. A defense with so many question marks needs an anchor, and Clinton-Dix is the one to captain the ship. Get him locked up long-term, and build the defense around him.
Special Teams grade: B
How to improve: Find THAT returner
Mason Crosby: spectacular. That is all. Jacob Schum: not bad. Better than expected. Everything else? Meh, not a lot to complain about. Certain players like Janis or Hyde were perfectly suited for their special teams roles. Whether it was in the return game or punt coverage team, one of those guys was always expected to make a play. But the Packers haven’t had a lethal return man like some teams are so privileged to have. Montgomery and Christine Michael were by no means bad kick returners. And Cobb and Hyde had the occasional 20-30 yard punt return, yet no special teams (or defensive, for that matter) touchdowns were scored by Green Bay in 2016. Not to say that they need to find a Devin Hester, but if the Packers can find a guy who thrives in the return game and is constantly a threat to return one all the way, they could work towards having the most complete team in the league.