Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Packers Needs By Position: Defense/Special Teams

Yesterday, I looked at the Packers’ needs on offense. Today, I’ll look at the defense and special teams. Let’s go.

Defensive End
  •   Mike Neal
  •   Mike Daniels
  •   Jerel Worthy
  •   CJ Wilson
Neal, Daniels, and Worthy are all in the same boat; young players that have shown flashes of dominance but can’t maintain a high level of play over the course of a game. Neal has been around longer and has had more injury issues as well as a suspension, so he’s probably on thinner ice than the other two. Wilson is a solid run defender but doesn’t bring much in the pass rush department. An upgrade would be useful here.

Free agency doesn’t offer much, and certainly not in the 3-4 end category. The team brought in Chris Canty (who’d likely be an end in the Packers’ system) for a visit, but he’s pretty average and they haven’t offered a deal yet. Mike Devito, Richard Seymour, and Ricky Jean Francois would be fits, and Israel Idonije and Jonathan Fanene could probably handle a transition to the 3-4. I’ve always liked Trevor Scott and Matt Shaughnessy but they’re both too undersized for the scheme. All four of the current ends are Ted Thompson draft picks, and it seems likely he’d address the position that way, though a reunion with Cullen Jenkins would have been nice, however he signed with the Giants today. Oh well.
Need: High

Defensive Tackle
  •   Ryan Pickett
  •   BJ Raji
  •   Jordan Miller
Pickett is still useful but is well past his prime. Raji is their best lineman but hasn’t quite been the dominant force they need him to be. After a tremendous 2010, BJ’s performance has dropped off the last two seasons. Miller hasn’t seen any regular season snaps and is likely a non-factor.

There are some free agents with 3-4 mileage but the team isn’t going to replace Raji or Pickett, unless the team decides it’s time to cut Pickett. Isaac Sopoaga is a pretty good player and can play tackle or end, he’d be a hell of a fit but will have a high price tag. A rookie to groom behind Raji and Pickett seems like a probable thing that will happen.
Need: Low

Inside Linebacker
  •   Desmond Bishop
  •   DJ Smith
  •   AJ Hawk
  •   Brad Jones (FA)
  •   Rob Francois
  •   Terrell Manning
  •   Micah Johnson

What A.J. Hawk thinks of your run game.
Bishop and Smith should probably be the starters if healthy. Both are coming off knee injuries so that’s not a given. Hawk is an average player who’s a cut candidate because of his price tag. He played well during the Super Bowl run but has had a rough couple of years since. Jones (who’s a free agent) has always been more of a 4-3 OLB type than a 3-4 ILB but performed admirably when forced into action. Ideally, he’s a backup. Francois is a good special teamer who has played well when given defensive snaps but was passed over last year for some reason when injuries happened. The reluctance to play him was rather puzzling. Manning hasn’t been able to get on the field since being drafted.

Free agency won’t be a thing. Not much out there to begin with. Probably a couple draftees/UFAs for competition and depth but unless Bishop and Smith are slow to recover I don’t see a major move happening.
Need: Medium

Outside Linebacker
  •   Clay Matthews
  •   Nick Perry
  •   Frank Zombo (RFA)
  •   Erik Walden (FA)
  •   Dezman Moses
  •   Jamari Lattimore
Eat your hearts out, literally.
Matthews kicks balls, metaphorically speaking. Everyone else......much less so, both literally and figuratively. Perry was drafted to be a bookend to Clay but sustained an ACL injury and missed most of the season, meaning the awful backups had to play. Walden has the occasional big game but overall was pretty bad and was an absolute disaster in the playoff loss to the 49ers, contributing to the defeat in a big way. He has no grasp of what contain is. Fortunately, he’s a free agent. Moses and Zombo play hard but aren’t good enough to be any more than backups. Lattimore isn’t anything to get excited about.

Even with Perry around the team can’t put itself in the same position it was in last year, especially considering Matthews isn’t exactly an ironman either. This seems like a position where free agency may be necessary. Paul Kruger is a hot (and probably expensive) free agent name but Shaun Phillips and Connor Barwin are solid players that can take some pressure off of Matthews. As is the theme, the draft is an option but with Perry around they already have a young prospect with starting potential. Either way depth is an absolute necessity.
Need: High

  •   Tramon Williams
  •   Sam Shields (RFA)
  •   Casey Hayward
  •   Davon House
  •   Jarrett Bush
  •   James Nixon
Williams has been average at best the last two seasons, and that’s kind. He’s not the aggressive playmaker he was, and isn’t physical in coverage anymore. He’s already been told he has to compete for a starting job, and rightfully so. Hayward had fantastic rookie season, and House showed promise after basically redshirting the previous year. Shields was also excellent despite some missed time and eased some concerns after a sluggish 2011. Bush is the special teams ace that shouldn’t see many defensive snaps.
The team has their five corners. Moving on....
Need: Low

  •   Morgan Burnett
  •   MD Jennings
  •   Jerron McMillian
  •   Sean Richardson
  •   Chaz Powell
Like cornerback, there’s some promise here. Jennings and McMillian both showed some flashes, Burnett looked solid and was probably underrated amid the 2011 defensive disaster. All three could use a little work in run support, and Burnett at times seems hesitant to make plays on the ball. The team seems to like Richardson, who was a college teammate of Hayward’s. He could see a bump in playing time much like Jennings did in 2012. Jarrett Bush can also fill in here, though once again that’s far from optimal. Overall, none of these guys look like a star, but at worst they should be average players going forward.

While adding a free agent seems extremely unlikely, it’s a terrific class. It wouldn’t be outlandish for the team to bring in a veteran for depth or look to add a playmaker in the wake of Charles Woodson’s departure, but there’s better ways to spend cap space. Spending a draft pick here seems iffy unless it’s a best-player-available scenario.
Need: Low-ish

  •   Mason Crosby
Well all know Crosby had a bad year. In fact, 2011 was Crosby’s only actual good year, and he was bad enough in 2012 to even it out. His accuracy will probably never be great, but his leg cannon is a weapon on kickoffs and he’s still a threat to make a field goal from any distance.

Of the free agents, Steven Hauschka is the only guy I even remotely like, and his skill set isn’t all that dissimilar from Crosby. They won’t sign a FA anyways, it’s far more likely they bring in a camp body just to provide competition. They’re financially committed to Mason, so I doubt a change happens.
Need: Medium

  •   Tim Masthay
Masthay is really, really good. Seriously, you guys.
Need: Nope

Long Snapper
  •   Brett Goode
Most of you probably didn’t even know who the Packers’ long snapper is, which is as good a thing as you can say about a long snapper.
Need: Does anyone ever need a new long snapper?

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

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