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2005 Team Report: Green Bay Packers

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Starter: Brett Favre
Backup(s): Aaron Rodgers, Craig Nall

Starting QB: Favre is back for another go around, making Cheeseheads smile the world round. Favre will turn 36 in October but it's hard to detect any decline in his play judging by his performance on the field. He's thrown 32, 27, 32 and 30 touchdowns in each of the last four years. He's thrown for 3,500 yards or more in 10 of the last 11 seasons breaking the NFL record for consecutive games started by a QB along the way. There's absolutely no reason to believe Favre will decline this year. Pencil him in for around 3,700 yards and 30 TDs again. The Packers defensive woes might short circuit his pursuit for another Super Bowl ring, but it only enhances his fantasy value.

Backup QB: Not knowing how much longer Brett Favre will continue to play the Packers addressed their future needs at the position by drafting Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in the 2004 draft. Rodgers appears to be an exceptional value having fallen from the potential first pick in the draft to the Packers. Rodgers has a strong arm, good accuracy and could potentially take over next year as the Packers trigger man. Despite his long-term potential, it was apparent in training camp that Rodgers isn't ready for prime time yet. As a result, Craig Nall will once again serve as Favre's game day backup.

Running Backs

Starter: Ahman Green
Backup(s): Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher
Fullback(s): William Henderson, Vonta Leach

Starting RB: Green enters his sixth season as the Packers featured running back. Green is 28 years old and still very much in his prime, but his production slipped slightly in 2004. Throw in a couple free agent losses to the Packers offensive line and Green could turn actually into a draft day value. He's averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry nearly every season (except for 4.3 in 2002). His 40 catches last year were his lowest total as a starter. Without question, Green is the driving force of the Packers offense. He's been durable only missing 3 starts in 4+ seasons and he's still got the wheels to go the distance any time he touches the ball. Ahman's nearing the end of his contract, too, which is almost always a good thing. He's a boom or bust candidate depending on his continued health and durability behind a line that looks arguably weaker.

Backup RBs: Davenport re-signed with the Packers during the offseason after failing to draw any interest as a restricted free agent. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2006. He didn't receive much interest on the market, in part, because he's still not 100%. When given the opportunity Davenport has delivered. In his first and only career start against the Rams on Monday Night Football he rambled for 178 yards on 19 carries with a 40 yard TD. Tony Fisher provides quality depth on third downs and occasionally in the red zone. He's a versatile back who spells Green on third downs and takes advantage of Davenport's injuries and occasional fumble.

Fullback: William Henderson returns for his 10th season as the Packers starting fullback. During that remarkable span he's missed one start in 2002 while scoring 5 career rushing TDs and catching 278 passes for another 14 TDs (3 in each of the last three seasons). Henderson is solid as a rock but his age is catching up to him. Vonta Leach was promoted from the practice squad and will provide an added battering ram.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Javon Walker, Donald Driver
Backups: Robert Ferguson, Antonio Chatman, Terrence Murphy

Starting WRs: Javon Walker broke out of the gates fast last year and never relented finishing with 89 catches for 1382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the prototypical "3rd year receiver". The sky is the limit for Walker as long as Favre is behind center so look for him to continue to shine bright and play at a Pro Bowl level in 2005. Walker topped 100 yards 5 times, scored in 10 different games with 7 touchdowns coming from 30 yards or longer. Walker has it all - speed, strength, size and youth. Opposite Walker is Donald Driver, one of the top comeback players in the league in 2004. Driver's performance in the playoffs was something special. Driver bounced back after a neck injury derailed his 2003 season with 84 catches for 1208 yards and 9 touchdowns. Driver topped 100 yards four times and scored 5 times from 30 yards or longer. Look for more fireworks from this tandem in 2005 unless the defense makes an incredulous turnaround. Walker is obviously the top dog here, but Driver is often featured equally in the red zone making both players valuable commodities.

Backup WRs: The Packers depth at wide receiver was addressed in the draft with the addition of Terrence Murphy. Robert Ferguson enters his 5th season having never lived up to his vast potential despite an impressive size/speed combination. Injuries have been the major drawback for Ferguson, but he remains an imposing threat as a third receiver in this offense. Chatman earned playing time last year through attrition but could have his hands full fighting off the two rookies for playing time. Murphy has better size and arguably better receiving skills, but his inexperience relative to Chatman balances things out. Murphy could prove to be a hidden gem and emerge as a starter in a couple years.

Tight Ends

Starters: Bubba Franks
Backups: David Martin, Donald Lee

Bubba Franks was unhappy with the transition tag designation the team gave him, and held out for most of training camp. But in late August he and the Packers came to an agreement on a new $28 million deal. In five seasons as the Packers starting tight end Franks has started 71 games (out of 80) with 28 touchdown catches, but it's his blocking that puts him among the league's true elite. David Martin continues to hang onto a roster spot, but he'll be pushed by Ben Steele. Martin entered the NFL with good pass-catching potential from the tight end position, but the production hasn't been there.

Place Kicker

Ryan Longwell : Other than his bad slump in 2001, Longwell has been above 80% on FGs every year. The Packers have also kept him very busy on PATs in recent years (48, 51, 44, &, 45). He is one of only three kickers to rank in the top ten each of the last three years. One of his worries this year is adjusting to a new holder. Longwell is heading into a contract year in 2005.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Robert Ferguson, Najeh Davenport, Terrence Murphy, Antonio Chatman

The Packers like to use both RB Najeh Davenport (14 returns, 20.4 avg) and WR Robert Ferguson (21 returns, 25.0 avg) regularly on kickoffs. Davenport enticed them with a 31.6 yard average in the latter part of 2003, but couldn't stay healthy in 2004. Consequently, WR/PR Antonio Chatman (25 returns, 22.6 avg) helped out often on kickoffs, a role which he had filled the previous year. Second round draft choice Terrence Murphy returned kickoffs during his final two years at Texas A&M.

Punt Returners: Antonio Chatman, Terrence Murphy, Robert Ferguson

Chatman has been the primary, and almost exclusive PR the last two years (32 returns, 7.7 avg in 2004). He's not an explosive TD threat, but makes up for it with extremely reliable hands. Ferguson can return punts if needed.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Mark Tauscher, RG Will Whitticker [r], C Mike Flanagan, LG Adrian Klemm, LT Chad Clifton
Key Backups: G Grey Ruegamer, T Kevin Barry, C/G Junius Coston [r], C Chris White, G Scott Wells

The Packers organization has been blessed with outstanding offensive line play throughout the past several seasons but that production is going to be tested in 2005 with the loss of their two All-Pro guards, Marcko Rivera and Mike Wahle. Not only is the line's continuity destroyed with the loss but the players brought in to replace the two quality starters are nowhere near as talented. Players such as Grey Ruegamer and Adrian Klemm are average talents at best. The tackle position is in better hands with Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton. Tauscher has good technique and plays hard while Clifton has the most upside of the linemen. It's going to take a lot of solid coaching in order to not see a sizeable drop off in the productivity and cohesiveness of this unit.

Team Defense

It was a rough year for the Packers defense, as they fell from being one of the better defenses in 2003 to one of the absolute worst in 2004. They finished the year ranked as the #29 ranked fantasy defense, thanks primarily to their league-low 15 takeaways. They sacked the QB a respectable 40 times on the year but were far too reliant on one player for generating pressure as DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila finished with roughly 30% of the team's sacks. The Packers won the NFC North, but were embarrassed by a loss at home in the playoffs to the Vikings, and fired their defensive coordinator for a 2nd straight season. Jim Bates came over from the Dolphins, where he had consistently produced one of the best defenses in the league over the past 4 years. He has some talent to work with in Green Bay, but there have been some key losses in recent years that will make it difficult for them to match the level of the offense and repeat as division winners. The defensive line is loaded with players that can play either DE/DT and are good at stopping the run, but they lack a complementary pass rusher to KGB. The secondary is a huge problem area as the team traded their #1 CB last year and released their best safety. The Packers decided Darren Sharper was too expensive and cut ties with him this offseason (he signed quickly with the division rival Vikings). Unless some of the young players in the secondary emerge early on, it could be a long season with a lot of shootouts as the Packers will have trouble slowing down the passing games of their opponents.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, LDE Aaron Kampman, DT Grady Jackson, DT Corey Williams
Backups: DE Kenny Peterson, DE Cullen Jenkins, DT Donnell Washington, DE Mike Montgomery [r], DT Colin Cole

Starting DL: The defensive line would likely be considered the strength of this unit. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has nearly 50 sacks combined over the past 4 years and has reached double digit sacks in each. He's obviously one of the premiere pass rushers in the league but must improve his run-stopping technique in order to be considered one of the league's best ends. His sacks tend to come in bunches, as they did last year when he had just 1.5 sacks after six games but then went on a tear with 12 sacks in his last 9 games, including four in a game against the Bears. Aaron Kampman got his first chance to start last year and made the most of it as he finished the year with 48 solo tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was a restricted free agent this offseason and signed an offer sheet with the Vikings, but the Packers decided to match it. On the interior, Grady Jackson is one of the most valuable players on the team. When he's healthy, he can command double teams and that helps make things easier for everyone around him. When he's not around, teams can run at will and shift their blocking over towards KGB. Jackson missed 4 games early in the year, and it was probably no coincidence that the Packers got off to a slow start as a result. Corey Williams, a 2nd year player, earns the starting job thanks in part to Cletidus Hunt's contractual insubordination.

Backup DL: The Packers have a lot of depth on the line, but most of the players are better at stopping the run than rushing the passer. Kenny Peterson is a young, versatile player who can fill in at either end or tackle. Cullen Jenkins played in NFL Europe in 2004, and then earned a roster spot with his strong play during the preseason. He can also play tackle or end but wound up starting 6 games at DT when various players were injured and finished the year with 4.5 sacks. Donnell Washington was a 3rd round pick last year out of Clemson who some projected to go higher. He's got all the tools to be a dominant player but missed his entire rookie season due to a foot injury he suffered in the preseason.


Starters: WLB Robert Thomas, MLB Nick Barnett, SLB Na'il Diggs
Backups: LB Paris Lenon, LB Roy Manning (r), LB Brady Poppinga (r)

Starting LBs: The LB unit looked solid heading into last year, but they didn't make enough plays. In his 2nd year at WLB, Na'il Diggs' started all but 2 games late in the year and finished as the team's second leading tackler. Diggs will play on the strongside this year, provided his recovery from a torn MCL progresses according to plan. Inside, Nick Barnett was a 1st round pick of the team in 2003 and was one of the best rookies in the league. He replaced Diggs as the defensive playcaller in 2004, started all 16 games, and led the team in tackles while also contributing 3 sacks and 1 INT. There is some concern that he might be too small to hold up at MLB given his size (6'2", 233 lbs), but the Packers don't have an adequate replacement for him on the roster yet so a position switch seems unlikely. The weakside position was earmarked for veteran Ray Thompson, who was signed this offseason. But Thompson failed to make the final 53-man roster, and the Packers orchestrated a trade with St. Louis to acquire Robert Thomas. Thomas will be immediately inserted into the lineup; but considering he was expendable by the Rams, Packers fans shouldn't get too excited about the development.

Backup LBs: Paris Lenon is a great special teams player who also served as the primary backup at both OLB positions last year. He has good size and may get a chance to start until Diggs is recovered. The Packers are definitely lacking in quality depth at this position, but Roy Manning was one of the most impressive players during training camp. Manning was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan, who didn't even start as a junior, but he looks like he will enter the year as the primary backup to Barnett at MLB. Brady Poppinga was a 4th round pick who will attempt to make the transition from college defensive end to outside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Al Harris, CB Joey Thomas, SS Mark Roman, FS Nick Collins (r)
Backups: CB Ahmad Carroll, CB Michael Hawkins (r), S Earl Little, SS Marviel Underwood, CB Jason Horton

Starting DBs: This unit has been the team's Achilles heel for several years now. Mike McKenzie was a legit #1 CB who became unhappy with his contract last year and forced a trade, which was a big hit to the overall CB depth. Al Harris is a very tenacious cover corner who can often shutdown the opposing team's top WR, but he lacks ideal size and doesn't make enough plays (just 1 INT last year). Joey Thomas is penciled in as the other starting CB. Thomas was a 3rd round pick of the Packers last year from Montana State. He struggled as a rookie, but that was to be expected for a player coming from such a small school. He got more playing time as the season progressed, and the team hopes he'll continue to show improvement. At safety, 2005 will mark the beginning of a new era as they will be without Darren Sharper for the first time since 1996. Sharper was a consistent Pro Bowl player and one of the best playmakers in the league at the safety position (31 INTs over past 5 years). Mark Roman was signed as a free agent from the Bengals last year and will return as the starter at SS. He's not a typical in-the-box SS, but he's a sound tackler who can also contribute as a blitzer (3.5 sacks in 2004). The team spent their 2nd round pick on Nick Collins, who comes from a D 1-AA school where he played both cornerback and safety. He was considered a reach by some experts due to the huge jump in level of competition, but the Packers plan to put him in the mix at FS right away. The drop-off from Sharper to him will be significant, and the key for DC Jim Bates will be finding a way to get the most out of this group.

Backup DBs: Ahmad "Batman" Carroll, who the Packers drafted in the 1st round last year to try and replace McKenzie, will will be the nickel back to open the season. Carroll has blazing speed, but was very raw coming into the league and probably could have used another year in school to work on his technique. He's a smaller CB as well and can often be taken advantage of by the taller WRs he faces (of which the NFC North has plenty). The team had a group of unproven players at CB competing for the remaining roster spots in training camp, but rookie Michael Hawkins outlasted them all for the #4 spot. The team has good reason to be concerned about the safety position, as they also lost backups Michael Hawthorne and Bhawoh Jue to free agency. The team signed a couple veteran free agents in Arturo Freeman and Earl Little, with Little winning the job (Freeman was released). Little spent the last four years of his career as a starter for the Browns and will likely step in at FS if Collins struggles. Little is a solid playmaker (15 INTs over a 3 year stretch), but he fell out of favor in Cleveland due to his struggles in coverage and poor tackling.

Last modified: 2005-09-06 20:19:17

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