Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote in his infamous political work The Prince, “either you are a prince already, or you are in the process of becoming one.” Unequivocally, any person with a swig of National Football League knowledge is aware of the fact that Aaron Rodgers is the most valuable player on the Packers. Heck, he may even be valued as the best in the NFL; but that discussion will have to be held another day.
But how does the depth chart of pure talent unravel for Green Bay after Rodgers? Which players, so to speak, are the closest to prince status for the Pack? Is anyone else there?
In an offseason that has seen the Packers swap T.J. Lang, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy and Jared Cook for Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Davon House, those who have been persistent and of a veteran ilk will look to take the reigns for the upcoming season.
1. Jordy Nelson, WR
He has consistently led Green Bay in receiving, while making players like Greg Jennings expendable. In 2015, Nelson missed the whole regular season with an ACL injury and his fellow receivers failed to eclipse 1,000 yards over 16 games. He bounced back this past year, trailing only Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julian Edelman, in receptions, while he finished sixth in the league in receiving yards with 1,257.
Nelson, many may forget, snagged nine balls for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory, back in 2011. Every regular season that he’s been a part of, since the Pack hoisted the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in franchise history, Nelson has averaged over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Kansas State product has an uncanny knack for back-shoulder catches and outmuscling opposing defensive backs, as the chemistry between him and his spirit animal, Rodgers, makes this skillset highly uncontestable. Nelson has never unshackled his hold on No. 1 receiver status, since obtaining it in 2011, and for that reason he’s atop this list.
2. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS
Though his first Pro Bowl was a good boon for directing those unfamiliar with the ball-hawking, microwavable tenacity of Clinton-Dix, the green and gold loyal have held him in high regard since the 2014 draft.
Clinton-Dix secured five interceptions (his career high) from the beginning of November to the end of December 2016, which led the NFL during that time. The Packers went 6-3 during that stretch.
The former Tide player deflected seven passes and had four tackles for loss, in a season in which he was one of two defenders to play every defensive snap. Clinton-Dix is, and will continue to be, a force around any slung pass, or in any situation that calls for him to disrupt the backfield, as he is the cement for the Packers’ secondary.
3. David Bakhtiari, LT
What would Aaron Rodgers be without his left tackle? What would the Packers’ passing attack look like without Rodgers scrambling out of the pocket? We may not know without the presence of David Bakhtiari.
With a wildly inconsistent rushing attack during the first half of the 2016 season, Green Bay relied on the pass about as much as any other team in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Bakhtiari allowed 10 clean beats all season, meaning the left tackle let rushers past him less than one time per game, which is impressive considering the volume of pass attempts.
Rodgers has been recognized as one who stalls in the pocket, too, as he often draws defenders to free up a short route across the middle, or near the sidelines. This procrastination makes Bakhtiari, a former fourth-round pick, all the more valuable as an asset in the league’s most revered passing attack.
4. Mike Daniels, DE
He may never get his props, but Mike Daniels, as both an edge rusher and interior lineman, has been a seismic, surefire presence on a usually shaky Packers’ defense.
Aside from his veteran leadership on a line that, in recent years, has lost B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, Daniels’ durability has been impressive, given that he’s only missed two games in his six-year career.
Since the 2013 season kicked off, Daniels has averaged five sacks per season, which is admirable given that he’s often double-teamed when he is rushing the pass. The low-bodied defender uses his supreme leverage and strength to trudge offensive linemen backwards, and, make no mistake, this is what led him to a four-year, $41 million deal in early 2016.
5. Clay Matthews, OLB
A player who has been dominate upon his entrance into the league, the former DPOY, Matthews, has suffered a slight decline since his second rendering as outside linebacker.
Though his explosiveness hasn’t been sharp for two or more years, the fact remains that Matthews is a leftover vet from the Super Bowl team, someone who has shown improvement as a coverage backer, one whose leadership has proven invaluable.
He’ll be 31 by the time the 2017 season begins, an old 31 at that, given his shopping cart list of injuries he’s amassed over the last handful of years. One may argue that fellow USC alum Nick Perry has taken Matthew’s place as most valuable linebacker on the team, but there is a correlation between a healthy Matthews and the success of the Pack.