Outlook for the 2011 Green Bay Packers

Outlook for the 2011 Green Bay Packers
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Can Aaron Rodgers lead the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers to a repeat?
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Clay Matthews was the 2010 NFC Defensive Player of the Year, but what will he do in 2011?

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the Super Bowl after going 10-6 in the regular season. The Packers weren’t even a lock to get in the playoffs when they were 8-6, but they won their final two regular season games and secured a wild card berth. Once in the playoffs, the Packers’ defense helped the team by creating eleven turnovers through four games and Aaron Rodgers used the great field position that was given to him and lead the team to victory.

The Green Bay Packers didn’t need to make a personnel change this offseason because they have done an excellent job of drafting core players and they can overcome the losses of their older veteran players.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Packers used their first-round pick to select Chad Clifton’s eventual replacement in Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State). In the second-round, the Packers selected Donald Driver’s eventual replacement in Randall Cobb (Kentucky). The rest of the Packers’ picks will fill in their depth chart.

With the addition of their rookies, let’s take a look at the Packers’ current roster and see what positions are still in need of upgrades.

Quarterbacks (3)

Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell

Aaron Rodgers was named Super Bowl MVP last season after completing 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Packers’ 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rodgers has stepped out of Brett Favre’s shadow and will enter the discussion as the NFL’s top quarterback heading into the 2011 season after completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 3,922 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in 2010.

Matt Flynn is in a contract year and has been in trade rumors this season because he showed last year that he has the talent to start in the NFL. In Flynn’s lone start last season, he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 251 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception against a Bill Belichick-coached defense.

Graham Harrell has a below-average arm, but he produced multiple 5,000-yard seasons in Mike Leach’s Texas Tech spread offense and is the NCAA’s all-time leader with 134 career passing touchdowns. Harrell was an undrafted free agent out of college though because of the struggles of former Texas Tech quarterbacks B.J. Symons, Kliff Kingsbury, and Cody Hodges. Harrell earned a spot on the Packers’ roster by impressing their coaching staff with his velocity in their 2010 minicamp. Harrell will be the Packers’ third-string quarterback in 2011.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay has one of the best quarterbacks in the league and his backup has done an exceptional job when called upon.

Halfbacks (4)

Ryan Grant, James Starks, Alex Green, Dimitri Nance

Ryan Grant is expected to be the starting halfback for the Packers as long as he returns to pre-injury form in training camp. Grant tore a ligament in his right ankle and was placed on injured reserve after rushing for 45 yards on 8 carries. Before last season, Grant had never missed a game due to injury and had rushed for 2,456 yards and 15 touchdowns over the two seasons prior. Grant is in a contract year, but his carries will be lower because of the emergence of James Starks.

James Starks is a work in progress as a pass blocker, but he is expected to be the third-down back because his receiver skills are superior to Ryan Grant. Starks is also a proven starter as evident in the Packers’ Super Bowl run. In the playoffs, Starks rushed for 315 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Starks would only start in 2011 if Grant can’t return to his pre-injury form.

Rookie Alex Green (Hawaii) is going to be the future third-down back if the Packers opt to let Ryan Grant walk after this season. Green is an explosive downhill runner with impressive size (6’0’’, 225 pounds), elusiveness, and underrated receiving skills. Green averaged 8.2 yards per carry, but that was inflated by his college’s spread offense. The Packers will use Green sparingly in 2011, but he should get a bigger role in 2012.

Dimitri Nance is likely to get cut because he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in limited action last year. In the NFL, opportunities don’t come around often and if you don’t “seize the moment”, you will be forgotten. Nance clearly isn’t in the Packers’ future plans and will probably be cut, since they went out and drafted Alex Green in the third round.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay has a lot of depth at this position and won’t need to address this position for a long time.

Fullback (2)

Quinn Johnson, Ryan Taylor

Quinn Johnson is an old-fashioned lead blocker, but he could be released if the Packers are able to resign John Kuhn because he isn’t a core special teamer and doesn’t have the hands for the Packers’ passing game.

Rookie Ryan Taylor (North Carolina) was a special teams’ captain in 2008 and 2010, and would’ve been in 2009 had he not missed all of that season with a knee injury. Taylor played fullback and H-back a pro-style offense and averaged had 36 receptions with an average of 9.2 yards per catch. Taylor will likely be a special teamer and a backup fullback in 2011, but he has the potential to become a starter.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay will likely resign John Kuhn and release Quinn Johnson. Even if the Packers don’t resign Kuhn, they have a good prospect in Ryan Taylor and the Packers don’t need to upgrade this position.

Wide Receivers (7)

Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Brett Swain, Randall Cobb, Antonio Robinson, Chastin West

Greg Jennings easily could’ve been named Super Bowl MVP, but Rodgers’ 304 passing yards and 3 touchdowns looked better than Jennings’ 4 receptions for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jennings is among the elite receivers in the league and earned his first Pro Bowl selection with 76 receptions for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Jordy Nelson finished the 2010 regular season with 45 receptions for 582 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he stepped up in the playoffs, tying a team-high 21 receptions for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nelson proved during the playoffs that he is ready to start opposite Greg Jennings in 2011 and it will come at the expense of Donald Driver.

Donald Driver is 36 years old and his production has declined since ever since his 2006 Pro Bowl season. Driver had just 51 receptions for 565 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2010 and his recent string of leg injuries suggests that he has lost a few steps. Driver will be used in the slot receiver role because Jordy Nelson is a better receiver at this point and Driver’s body is breaking down.

Brett Swain has been used primarily a special teamer in his two-year career, but with the expected departure of James Jones, his role will likely expand. Swain will have to compete with Randall Cobb for the fourth receiver job, but he should still make the roster if he loses.

Rookie Randall Cobb (Kentucky) is a prototypical West Coast slot receiver and should eventually replace Donald Driver as the Packers’ slot receiver. Cobb will begin his NFL career as a kick/punt returner, but he will also be given a chance to compete for the fourth receiver job with Brett Swain.

Antonio Robinson and Chastin West signed reserve/future contracts, but likely won’t make the roster unless one of the receivers ahead of them gets hurt. Both have a shot to make the practice squad though.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay has a great group of receivers and will need to add just one receiver in the next few years because of Donald Driver’s age. However, they will be fine this year, with Driver in the slot and Cobb learning the offense from the sideline.

Tight End (5)

Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, Spencer Havner

Jermichael Finley tore his lateral meniscus in his right knee last October, but he shouldn’t lose any explosiveness. If Finley can stay healthy, he will be another weapon in the Packers’ already dangerous offense. 2009 was the only season that Finley was a healthy starter and he recorded 55 receptions for 676 yards and 5 touchdowns in that season. Finley is a huge breakout candidate in 2011, since he has been a starter for two years and fully understands the offense.

Andrew Quarless has excellent size and hands for a tight end, but he’s not an elite tight end because he needs to become more consistent. Quarless has 21 receptions for 238 yards and 1 touchdown in 13 games last season. Quarless will be Jermichael Finley’s backup in 2011, but rookie D.J. Williams could cut into his snaps.

Tom Crabtree was used primarily as a blocker and special teamer last year and had just four receptions in the regular season, but he caught a 7-yard touchdown in the Wild Card round against the Philadelphia Eagles. Crabtree’s job could be in jeopardy though since the Packers drafted D.J. Williams.

Rookie D.J. Williams (Arkansas) is too small to be a traditional tight end (6’2’’, 236 pounds) and won’t see much time as a blocker in the NFL. Williams has been given comparisons to Dustin Keller because of his outstanding vertical speed and athleticism, but he will only see action depending on the situation and opponent.

Spencer Havner is not going to make the Packers’ roster because there are four better tight ends ahead of him. Havner was low tendered by the Packers before they drafted D.J. Williams and it is only a matter of time before he gets released.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay is set at tight end and looks to have a bright future at this position because all of the players are young.

O-Line (13)

Chad Clifton, T.J. Lang, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga, Mark Tauscher, Derek Sherrod, Nick McDonald, Marshall Newhouse, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Caleb Schlauderaff, Adrian Battles, Chris Campbell

Chad Clifton is 35 years old, but according to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Clifton’s last six games of the 2010 season were the best of his career. Clifton allowed just one sack (to Pro Bowler John Abraham) in the final six contests. Clifton excelled in pass protection and should retain the role heading into 2011.

T.J. Lang bounced between tackle and guard last season, but appears to be the favorite to become the new starting left guard, replacing free agent Daryn College. Lang played tackle in college, but the Packers feel more comfortable with Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod at tackle. Lang is very athletic and should do well in a zone-blocking scheme.

Scott Wells had a Pro Bowl-caliber season last year, since he allowed just one sack and had one penalty in 16 regular season games last year. Wells is known as a great run blocker, but he stepped up in pass protection and is one of the main reasons that Aaron Rodgers was able to lead his team to the Super Bowl.

Josh Sitton is entering a contract year after emerging last season as one of the NFL’s best guards. Sitton is currently a bargain for the 2011 season since he is only scheduled to make $1.2 million, despite not allowing a sack last season. Sitton also did a splendid job as a run blocker and is certainly deserving of a contract extension once the Lockout is over.

Bryan Bulaga is expected to be the Packers’ long-term starting right tackle because the Packers drafted Derek Sherrod with their first-round pick. Bulaga struggled in pass protection last year and hasn’t proved to the Packers’ coaching staff that he is deserving of consideration for the blind side of Aaron Rodgers.

Mark Tauscher is scheduled to make $4.1 million in 2011 despite the fact that he is an injury-prone, declining veteran that plays swing tackle. Tauscher is also 34 years old and had surgery late last season to repair rotator cuff damage in his shoulder. In order for Tauscher to remain a Packer, he will need to take a paycut or face the possibility of being released.

Rookie Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State) is a significant upgrade over Bulaga in terms of overall length and athleticism and is the favorite to eventually replace Chad Clifton at Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. Sherrod will be a reserve in 2011 as he tries to develop a “mean streak” and picks up experience pass blocking in NFL-style 5-to-7 step drops.

Nick McDonald is a former undrafted player from Grand Valley State, but he will be given the chance to replace free agent Daryn Colledge as a starter at left guard. McDonald has Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s support, but his competition, T.J. Lang played more last season.

Marshall Newhouse played as a guard in his rookie season last year, but the Packers don’t believe that he has enough strength to play inside. Newhouse will move back to his college position of tackle and compete to become the fourth tackle on the team.

Evan Dietrich-Smith lost his roster spot with the Seattle Seahawks when they decided to bring back Chester Pitts, but he signed with the Packers after Marshall Newhouse landed on injured reserve. Dietrich-Smith will compete with Caleb Schlauderaff to stick on the roster as a backup guard.

Rookie Caleb Schlauderaff (Utah) was a four-time All-American pick in the Mountain West and was a first-team all-conference pick as a senior. Schlauderaff started 49 games in college and was very durable despite the fact that he doesn’t have much athleticism. Schlauderaff will compete with Evan Dietrich-Smith for the fourth guard job, but he might struggle and lose due to the Lockout hindering his learning process.

Adrian Battles and Chris Campbell signed reserve/future contracts, but likely won’t make the team because there are too many offensive linemen on the roster.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay can afford to let Daryn Colledge walk because they have done an excellent job in recent drafts and have quality depth at offensive line. T.J. Lang is expected to take his place and should be able to capably fill in for the Packer’s “weakest link” on the offensive line.

D-Line (9)

Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, Howard Green, C.J. Wilson, Justin Harrell, Jarius Wynn, Jay Ross, Lawrence Guy

Ryan Pickett made the switch from nose tackle to defensive end last season. As a run-clogging, double-team commanding nose tackle, he anchored the Packers’ No. 1 run defense in 2009, but in 2010 as a defensive end, he dealt with an ankle injury and the Packer’s run defense fell to 18th overall. Pickett weighed 340 pounds last season, which likely was the reason why he had the injury. Pickett likely tried to slim down this offseason, but the media won’t know how much until the Lockout ends.

B.J. Raji finished his first season as a full-time starter with 39 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Raji played 85 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps last season which was more than any other nose tackle in the NFL. Raji showed that he can rush the passer and stop the run at a high level, so it appears that he’ll continue to play a huge role for this defense

Mike Neal underwent rotator cuff surgery last October, but is apparently “close to 100 percent” recovered. Neal is the favorite to replace Cullen Jenkins, but he isn’t the pass rusher that Jenkins was. Neal is more of a “power player” and he has the potential to become an elite run defender.

Howard Green weighed 375 pounds with the New York Jets last season, but when he signed with the Packers, he lowered his weight to 350 pounds. Green is a nose tackle, but he moved to defensive end when Cullen Jenkins was hurt. Now that Jenkins is gone, Green could have a chance to play at defensive end if Mike Neal doesn’t fully recover.

C.J. Wilson made the Packers’ roster as a seventh-round pick last season because of his pass rushing skills. Wilson likely won’t start in 2011, but now that Cullen Jenkins is gone, he could see more playing time in pass situations.

Justin Harrell tore his ACL last season and he isn’t likely to remain on the Packers roster because he has missed 50 of the 64 possible games he could have played in for his career. Harrell was the 16th overall pick in 2007, but he has turned into an injury-prone bust. Harrell is scheduled to make $650,000 in base salary with a $575,000 roster bonus in 2011, but the Packers’ don’t have a lot of salary cap room and his potential release appears to be the direction that the Packers are going to go.

Jarius Wynn was a reserve pass-rushing specialist in the nine games that he was active in last season. He recorded five tackle and 2 sacks in the limited amount of time he had last season, but he could receive a bigger role in 2011 with Cullen Jenkins headed to free agency.

Rookie Lawrence Guy (Arizona State) was a 4-3 defensive tackle in college, but he will play the “five technique” end in the Packer’s 3-4 system. Guy had just 8 sacks in three seasons of college, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers believes he can coach him and get more production.

Jay Ross and Curtis Young signed reserve/future contracts, but likely won’t make the roster because there are too many defensive linemen on the current roster

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay is going to miss Cullen Jenkins badly, but they believe Mike Neal can step up and take his place. The Packers will lose in the pass rush department, but they will become a better run defense with the change.

Linebackers (10)

Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, AJ Hawk, Erik Walden, Nick Barnett, Frank Zombo, Brandon Chillar, Brad Jones, Ricky Elmore, D.J. Smith

Clay Matthews was named NFC Defensive Player of the Year after ranking fourth in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. Matthews was also named to the Pro Bowl last season which was the second consecutive selection for the two-year veteran.

Desmond Bishop was a special teamer at the beginning of last season, but he had become a building block on the Packers’ defense ever since he replaced Nick Barnett in Week 5. According to Pro Football Focus, Bishop was one of the better all-around inside linebackers last season in terms of run defense, pass rush, and pass coverage. Bishop is locked in as a starter after finishing in second on the team in 2010 with 103 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a 32-yard pick six.

AJ Hawk led the Packers with 111 tackles last season, but he also had .5 sacks and 3 interceptions. The Packers rewarded him by releasing him and then resigning him one day later with a five-year contract with a $33.75 million max value which includes an $8 million signing bonus. Hawk will earn $10.95 million in 2011, and will start in place of Nick Barnett.

Erik Walden was originally waived at the start of last season by the Miami Dolphins, but he joined the Packers midseason and took the starting outside linebacker job away from Frank Zombo. Walden made 9 appearances in the regular season last year, but received just two starts and was still able to rack up 3 sacks. Walden should be the starting outside linebacker in 2011 because he has more potential and is a better playmaker than Zombo.

Nick Barnett is expected to be either traded or released by the end of training camp. Barnett is scheduled to make $5.5 million in base salary with a $375,000 roster bonus and a $150,000 workout bonus. Barnett only played in four games last season due to a wrist injury, but the Packers were able to overcome his injury and win the Super Bowl, so it appears that they believe he is expendable.

Frank Zombo was an undrafted rookie last season, but he defied the odds by starting in eight of the thirteen games he appeared in during the regular season last year. Zombo had 4 sacks last seasons and earned himself a chance to compete for the starting outside linebacker job opposite Clay Matthews.

Brandon Chillar subbed in as a nickel backer last season, but had his season come to an end early when he was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. In eight games in a limited role, Chillar produced 16 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception. Assuming the Packers get rid of Nick Barnett, Chillar should see the same role in 2011.

Brad Jones lost his starting job to Frank Zombo after not producing any sacks in his five starts last season. Jones was placed on injured reserve with a right shoulder injury a week after being benched. Jones will have a chance to challenge for the starting outside linebacker job, but all signs point towards Erik Walden taking the job.

Rookie Ricky Elmore (Arizona) was drafted for his pass rushing skills. Elmore had a career high season as a senior in college with 11 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Elmore won’t challenge for a starting role, but he could make an impact on special teams.

Rookie D.J. Smith (Appalachian State) was drafted to become a special teamer despite the fact that he was a productive four-year starter in college. Smith is small (5’11’’, 239 pounds) and has below-average strength, but he has athleticism and could become useful on kick coverage.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay needs a complement pass rusher opposite of Clay Matthews. The Packers played musical chairs at that position last year and could definitely use some consistency there. Potential Free Agents include: Thomas Davis, LeRoy Hill, Kawika Mitchell, Matt Roth, and Pisa Tinoisamoa

Cornerbacks (7)

Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Patrick Lee, Davon House, Brandon Underwood, Josh Gordy

Tramon Williams made his first Pro Bowl as the top cover corner for the NFL’s No. 5 pass defense. Williams had a play-making, shutdown-caliber season last year, finishing the regular season, leading the Packers with 6 interceptions and 20 pass breakups. In the postseason, Williams was just as good (if not better) as he had 3 interceptions and a scored a crucial touchdown at the end of the first half in the Packers’ Divisional round game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Charles Woodson will be 35 years old in October, but he is still playing at an elite level. Woodson is a seven-time Pro Bowler and might become a safety in the future, but he will remain at cornerback in 2011 after finishing 2010, ranking third on the team with 92 tackles to go along with 5 forced fumbles, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions.

Sam Shields was an undrafted rookie last year, but he played a key role for the Packers as a nickel back. Shields best performance came in the NFC Championship game where he had 2 interceptions and 1 sack. Shields could become the eventual replacement for Charles Woodson since he has the speed (4.28 forty) and play-making skills.

Patrick Lee dealt with knee and ankle problems during all of last season and will have to compete for a spot on the roster in 2011. Lee was originally drafted as the eventual replacement for either Al Harris or Charles Woodson, but he has been injury prone over the last few seasons, and hasn’t been able to show case his talent yet.

Rookie Davon House (New Mexico State) showed toughness by playing all of last year at around 70 percent due to a high ankle sprain. House was a four-year starter in college and had 11 career interceptions with 3 touchdowns. House lacks ideal fluidity, but his size (6’1’’, 200 pounds) and speed (4.32-4.35 forty) gives him the potential to become a future starter in the league.

Brandon Underwood was a role player for the Packers in recent seasons, but his roster spot is in grave danger since he was convicted of “prostitution non-marital intercourse” and has been accused of allegedly assaulting his wife this offseason.

Josh Gordy was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster towards the end of the season when Patrick Lee was dealing with an ankle injury. Gordy played mostly a reserve role in his limited time, but he should be able to compete for the last corner spot on the roster. If he doesn’t make the team though, he could still be added to the practice squad for another year.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay is set at cornerback and Packers’ GM Ted Thompson deserves a lot of credit for finding the right players to make the Packers pass defense ranked as fifth best last season.

Safeties (6)

Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett, Jarrett Bush, Charlie Peprah, Michael Greco, Anthony Levine

Nick Collins played through a rib injury towards the end of last season, but he was rewarded for gutting it out when he helped the Packers win the Super Bowl. Collins finished fourth on the team with 70 tackles and finished second on the team with 4 interceptions. Collins will be healthy going into training camp and will once again play a crucial role for the Packers as a roaming free safety.

Morgan Burnett should regain the starting strong safety job after suffering a year-ending torn left ACL last year. Burnett was a rookie last season, but he made his presence known with 14 tackles and 1 interception in just four games before being placed on injured reserve.

Jarrett Bush is one of the Packers’ top special teamers, but he has also seen some time as a nickel and dime cornerback. Bush can play both cornerback and safety, but he will remain at safety because the Packers have too much depth at corner.

Charlie Peprah is at his best when he plays in the box to support the run defense, but he needs to work on his coverage skills before he can become a full-time starter. Peprah became a starter last season when Morgan Burnett went tore his ACL, and although he did a solid job with 63 tackles and 2 interceptions in eleven starts, Burnett is the better safety when he is healthy.

Michael Greco and Anthony Levine signed reserve/future contracts, but only one will have a chance at making the roster since the other four safeties are more qualified.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay is set at safety and their depth in the secondary is among the best in the NFL.

Kicker (0)

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay needs to resign Mason Crosby because he has proven he can kick in colder environments.

Punter (1)

Tim Masthay

Tim Masthay averaged 43.9 yards per punt last season. Masthay was really good at directional kicking last season as he landed 25 punts inside the 20-yard line with only 5 touchbacks.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay is set at punter because Masthay had a great season last year.

Long Snapper (1)

Brett Goode

Brett Goode was “virtually flawless” last season and had an even bigger impact when he tackled Devin Hester twice on punt returns in Week 17. Goode was undrafted out of college, but he has found a home with the Packers as a three-year veteran long snapper.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay signed Goode to a two-year, $1.6 million extension through 2012.

Kick/Punt Returners (1)

Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb is a better option than last season’s returners for the Packers. Cobb ran a forty time of 4.45 at the Scouting Combine.

Free Agent Analysis:

Green Bay is selected Randall Cobb to be the eventual replacement for Donald Driver, but he has elite return skills.

Packers Unrestricted Free Agents (10)

Atari Bigby, Daryn Colledge, Mason Crosby, Brandon Jackson, Cullen Jenkins, James Jones, John Kuhn, Donald Lee, Anthony Smith, Jason Spitz

Atari Bigby was a former starter for the Packers, but he has dealt with injuries over the last three seasons and has become expendable. Bigby’s latest injury involved arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle and he spent the first half of last season on the PUP list before playing in just four regular season games. Bigby should be able to land a job though because he has proven that he can be a big-time hitter with ball skills when he is healthy.

Daryn Colledge is expected to resign with the Packers since they ignored his request for a long-term extension last year. The Packers’ offensive line is very deep and the team would rather have T.J. Lang, Nick McDonald, and Derek Sherrod challenge for the starting left guard job than overpay for Colledge. Colledge should be able to be land a starting job, but it’ll likely be in a zone-blocking system because his athleticism is his best attribute. The Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins are among teams that could possibly sign Colledge.

Mason Crosby is an overrated kicker and has been inconsistent during his four-year career. Crosby has failed to convert at least 80 percent of his field goals during any season in his career, but the Packers like his upside as a cold weather kicker.

Brandon Jackson is expected to resign with the Packers because he wants “an opportunity to start” which he won’t get since Ryan Grant is returning from injury. Jackson is more valuable in the passing game as a third-down back though because he excels in blitz pickup and has good hands. Jackson had an opportunity as a starter last season, but he rushed for only 703 yards on 190 carries (3.7 yards per carry average) and scored just 3 touchdowns on the ground. Jackson will likely become a third-down back on another team and his price tag shouldn’t be too high.

Cullen Jenkins has missed 17 games over the past three seasons, but has been a dynamic pass rusher when he has been healthy. Jenkins started eight of the eleven games he appeared in last season, but he was still able to produce 7 sacks. Jenkins is in the prime of his career can play as a 3-4 defensive end and as a 4-3 defensive tackle, so he should be able to attract a lot of interest in free agency and secure a long-term deal.

James Jones isn’t expected to be back with the Packers next season because of his tendency to drop the ball in crucial moments of the game. Jones could compete for a starting job with another team though since he has received comparisons to Anquan Boldin as a physical playmaker and had a productive season last year. In 2010, Jones had 50 receptions for 679 yards and 5 touchdowns.

John Kuhn will likely resign with the Packers because he has established himself as a short-yardage ace and a core special teamer. Kuhn received a bigger role in 2010 and scored 6 touchdowns while also proving to be exceptional in pass protection.

Donald Lee was released prior to the lockout because he was scheduled to make $2.2 million and was buried on the depth chart behind Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, and Tom Crabtree. Lee will be 31 years old by the end of August and his production has fallen over the past few years, but he should be able to find a job and become a mentor to younger tight ends.

Anthony Smith could be brought back as a cheap backup. Smith was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a conditional seventh-round pick last season, but he only made 7 tackles in four appearances as a Packer.

Jason Spitz is not likely to resign with the Packers since they didn’t extend a tender to him prior to the Lockout. Spitz’s versatility as a guard and center will be appealing in the free agent market, but he may have to become a backup elsewhere. The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles are rumored as teams with possible interest in Spitz