By Chris Peterson @cpetersonHDN on May 18, 2014
After what looks to be another successful haul in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers boast one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. While there are not a lot of changes since last season, some new faces will crack the starting lineup. Here is my prediction of all 22 starters for next season.
Aaron Rodgers enters his seventh season as the Packers' starting quarterback. During that time, he has started 77 regular season games and posted an impressive 58-29 record. As long as he can remain healthy in 2014, the Packers can contend for the Super Bowl.
Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien will compete to be Rodgers' backup.
The Packers struck gold when they landed Lacy in the 2013 NFL Draft, and he is the unquestioned starter at running back. Lacy should be even better in 2014 with a healthy Aaron Rodgers.
Behind Lacy, the Packers have plenty of depth with James Starks, Johnathan Franklin and DaJuan Harris back in the fold, as well as John Kuhn at fullback.
Nelson and Cobb have become one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL and continue their run as starters in 2014. Nelson has been Green Bay's most consistent wideout the past three seasons, catching 30 touchdowns, while Cobb is a dynamic playmaker when healthy. Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis should also see significant playing time.
Tight end is one of the few positions where there is a question mark entering 2014. This is thanks for the undetermined status of Jermichael Finley, who could return to Green Bay if he gets medical clearance following a neck injury suffered last season. However, if Finley is not cleared, then the job should go to Quarless, who caught a career-high 32 passes last season. Brandon Bostick and Richard Rodgers will also figure into the mix.
Bulaga was supposed to start last season at left tackle, but after a knee injury in training camp sidelined him for the season, Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft, started 16 games at left tackle and held up surprisingly well. He will be given the chance to prove he is the long-term starter there this season, while Bulaga moves back to his old spot at right tackle. Don Barclay and Derrick Sherrod will compete to be the top backup.
Green Bay has one of best guard combinations in pro football with Sitton and Lang entering their fourth consecutive seasons as starters. Sitton may be the best guard in the NFL and Lang is no slouch. They were a big reason why the running game was so successful last season, even without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The depth behind them is a concern, but Don Barclay could shift inside if needed.
In a bit of an upset, I am projecting Linsley to beat out second-year man J.C. Tretter to be the Packers' starting center. Linsley is the first true center Green Bay has drafted in quite some time, while Tretter played left tackle at Cornell. Tretter also missed most of last season due to a broken ankle and has no game experience at center. This will be one of the most interesting training camp battles in Green Bay this summer.
Jones was slowed by an ankle injury as a rookie and had a disappointing season, but I expect him to make a big jump in 2014 and lock down a starting role in the base defense and as an interior pass rusher. Peppers will start, but he will be moved around and not just a traditional 3-4 end spot. Mike Daniels will be the top pass rusher in the nickel defense, while Letroy Guion, Josh Boyd and Khyri Thornton will all see snaps on a rotational basis.
Raji was disappointing last season and has gone two straight years without a sack. Yet, after signing a one-year deal to return to the Packers, Raji will go back to his old nose tackle position where he was at his best in 2010, when he registered 6.5 sacks. Expect a much more productive season from the former Pro Bowler. Letroy Guion and Josh Boyd look to be his primary backups.
Matthews coming back healthy in 2014 will be a big key to the Packers' success. He is an elite pass rusher and routinely makes game-changing plays. His presence was sorely missed in Green Bay's playoff loss to the 49ers. Opposite Matthews will likely be Perry to start if he can battle off his own injury issues. In two seasons, he has played in just 17 games, limiting him to only six career sacks. Mike Neal and Carl Bradford are also in the mix.
Hawk has started eight consecutive seasons for the Packers, and he will make it nine in 2013. The Packers were criticized for not addressing the inside linebacker position in the draft, but Hawk has had eight sacks the past two seasons and is still a solid player. Jones had 63 tackles and three sacks last season. He did not play as well as he did in 2012, but if he can return to form, he and Hawk will give Green Bay a solid duo inside.
Williams is entrenched as the Packers No. 1 corner, especially after a season with three interceptions, two and a half sacks and 14 passes defensed. Shields will join him on the other side after signing a lucrative four-year contract this offseason to stay in Green Bay.
Micah Hyde, Casey Hayward and Davon House will compete for playing time in sub packages.
Clinton-Dix is destined to be the Packers' lone rookie starter on defense and will be counted on to make an impact on the back end of the defense. Clinton-Dix is a versatile player who can cover, play the deep middle and stop the run. His playmaking presence should make him a starter from day one and a possible rookie of the year candidate.
Burnett struggled last season, his third as a full-time starter. After intercepting five passes the previous two seasons, Burnett came away with none in 2013. Yet, with Clinton-Dix playing next to him, Burnett can focus playing in the box and helping in run support. One bad season does not define a career, and no other safety on the roster outside of Clinton-Dix has anywhere near the same talent of Burnett.
After a terrible 2012 season, many were calling for Crosby to lose his job as Packers kicker. Yet he bounced back in a big way, connecting on 89.2 percent of his field goals last season compared to just 63.6 percent of his field goals in 2012. Therefore, he has solidified himself as the kicker at least for this season. Brett Goode will be the long snapper for the seventh consecutive season, while Tim Masthay enters his fifth as the punter.
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