Mike Vandermause column: GM puts new faces in important places

Sep. 5, 2012
Packers linebacker D.J. Smith (51) tackles Browns receiver Greg Little on Aug. 16. Smith will have an increased role in place of Desmond Bishop.
Packers linebacker D.J. Smith (51) tackles Browns receiver Greg Little on Aug. 16. Smith will have an increased role in place of Desmond Bishop. / Megan McCormick/Press-Gazette

The revolving door continues to spin for the Green Bay Packers.

General manager Ted Thompson never has been one to stand pat, and his 2012 roster provides proof of that.

There are 14 new Packers faces, a 26 percent turnover from last season. Even more jarring, only 26 players remain from the Packersí Super Bowl roster 19 months ago.

Thompson isnít kidding when he talks about constantly attempting to upgrade his team.

The only player not acquired by Thompson since he took over in January 2005 is receiver Donald Driver. The roster is made up of 30 draft choices, 16 undrafted free agents, five unrestricted signees and two waiver-wire acquisitions.

Here is my annual player-by-player ranking, from most to least important:

1. Aaron Rodgers

The reigning NFL MVP is the best quarterback in the league and one day might become the best ever. He is in the prime of his career and will keep the Packers in Super Bowl contention for many years to come.

2. Clay Matthews

Donít be fooled by his low sack total last season. Matthews didnít get much help yet managed to produce excellent numbers when factoring in quarterback hurries, hits and pressures.

3. Charles Woodson

After all these years, the 35-year-old defensive back is still making plays. Heís not as nimble as he used to be, but Woodson still must be accounted for, whether playing safety or cornerback in Dom Capersí various defensive schemes.

4. Greg Jennings

Itís not just the receiving numbers he puts up. He takes pressure off other targets and makes teammates look and play better. The offense sputtered without him against the Chiefs last season. When he and Rodgers get in a zone, watch out.

5. Jermichael Finley

His production doesnít rank with the very best NFL tight ends, but his presence gives defenses fits and opens things up for those around him. Heís a dangerous option for Rodgers and allows the offense to function at a high level.

6. B.J. Raji

He clogs running lanes, provides inside pass rush and generally is capable of messing up an opposing offensive attack. The numbers donít always reflect his high overall value to the defense.

7. Josh Sitton

The right guard is generally considered the best overall offensive lineman. He has allowed just six sacks in his three years as a starter and was named a Pro Bowl alternate the past two seasons.

8. Tramon Williams

When healthy, he is capable of handling the role of shutdown cornerback. Thereís a premium placed on that specialized talent in these pass-happy NFL times.

9. Jordy Nelson

All he does is catch touchdown passes and consistently make plays. When defenses try to take away Jennings and Finley, itís paramount that Rodgers has another dangerous weapon in his arsenal.

10. Bryan Bulaga

He appears entrenched as the starting right tackle for years to come. He allowed just one sack in 12 games last season and is getting better and more consistent with each passing day.

11. Morgan Burnett

The third-year safety is growing on the job but continues to improve and make plays. He joined Woodson last season as the only player to record an interception, sack, fumble recovery and forced fumble. In short, he makes things happen.

12. Jeff Saturday

Heís entering his 14th season and will provide experience and veteran moxie at the all-important center position. His five Pro Bowl seasons are behind him, but he will serve as an adequate replacement for the departed Scott Wells.

13. Nick Perry

The first-round draft pick was brought in to take pressure off Matthews from the opposite outside linebacker post. If he can do that, the Packersí defense will be light years ahead of last season. Whether he lives up to this high ranking remains to be seen.

14. T.J. Lang

Thereís a good reason the Packers recently extended the starting left guardís contract. Lang is improving and brings much-needed versatility to a thin line. If something happens at either tackle position, Lang likely will be called on to fill in.

15. Marshall Newhouse

Job descriptions donít get any more important than protecting Rodgersí blind side, which will be his No. 1 task at left tackle. He has only 13 starts under his belt and still is learning the fine points of the game.

16. Ryan Pickett

Entering his 12th NFL season, the 340-pound defensive lineman still can bring some juice rotating between nose tackle and defensive end. He led Packers defensive linemen in tackles last season.

17. Randall Cobb

He could emerge as the No. 3 receiver while also providing a major threat returning kickoffs and punts.

18. D.J. Smith

The loss of Desmond Bishop to a season-ending injury creates a gaping hole in the middle of the defense, and it will be up to Smith in part to fill that gap.

19. Cedric Benson

The halfback in a pass-first offense can be easily forgotten, but if Benson has something left in his 29-year-old tank, he could potentially take pressure off Rodgers and allow the Packers to eat up some clock late in games.

20. A.J. Hawk

Heís been showing up and doing his job for six years and counting. Splash plays are few and far between, but Hawk has either led the team or finished second in tackles in five of his six seasons.

21. Jerel Worthy

The rookie has a lot to prove, but if he lives up to his potential and gets better as the season progresses, the defense could get significantly better.

22. Jarrett Bush

Heís one of the best special teams players on the roster and continues to get better as a cornerback and should make significant contributions on defense.

23. Sam Shields

The Packers will need all the capable cornerbacks they can get, and Shields brings two seasons of experience to the table.

24. Jerron McMillian

The rookie fourth-round safety could see a lot of action in the nickel defense when Woodson moves to the slot.

25. Mason Crosby

He has emerged as a solid, reliable kicker with a big leg. Crosby has booted the three longest field goals in Packers history (58, 56 and 56 yards).

26. John Kuhn

Thereís nothing flashy about his game, but heís reliable and capable of playing fullback and halfback. Itís possible he could serve as the teamís third-down back.

27. Davon House

He looked good enough to seize a starting cornerback job early in training camp before getting sidetracked by an injury. He could make an impact when healthy.

28. C.J. Wilson

He could serve as a starting defensive end and regular contributor, at least until the rookie linemen are ready for more action.

29. Dezman Moses

The undrafted rookie is capable of bringing heat to the quarterback and will open the season as the No. 3 outside linebacker while Erik Walden serves a one-game suspension,

30. James Jones

He is entering his sixth season and is capable of making plays as either the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.

31. Casey Hayward

A team never can have enough capable cornerbacks, and itís very likely the rookie second-round pick will climb the depth chart as the season progresses.

32. Alex Green

His knee has held up after major surgery a year ago and if Benson falters, Green could see his playing time increase considerably.

33. Tim Masthay

Field position matters, and the Packers are on solid footing after Masthay posted single-season franchise records for gross and net punting yards last season.

34. Donald Driver

Heís 37 and the teamís all-time leading receiver but could slip under the radar and gash opponents with so much attention paid to other receivers.

35. Graham Harrell

Like most backup quarterbacks, he isnít ready to lead a team to the Super Bowl. But Harrell proved in the final preseason game he could win a game or two in a pinch if Rodgers got injured.

36. Tom Crabtree

He has proven to be a capable blocker as a backup tight end and will catch an occasional key pass when defenses forget about him.

37. Evan Dietrich-Smith

Heís the first man off the bench if and when an offensive lineman gets hurt. He can back up at center or either guard position.

38. James Starks

After suffering a turf-toe injury in the first preseason game, he has been all but forgotten in the backfield. But when healthy, Starks still is capable of pounding the pigskin.

39. M.D. Jennings

It appears he will open as the No. 4 safety but could climb to No. 3 if McMillian makes a lot of rookie mistakes.

40. Mike Daniels

Impact defensive linemen are hard to find, and it will take time for the fourth-round rookie tackle to find his way in the NFL.

41. Brad Jones

The fourth-year linebacker can play inside and outside and is a valuable special teams contributor.

42. Jamari Lattimore

Heís the kind of athletic, versatile backup linebacker the Packers covet and will be used primarily on special teams.

43. Brett Goode

Whatís not to like about a reliable long snapper that seldom, if ever makes a mistake?

44. Robert Francois

He made big plays on special teams during the preseason and proved last year he could capably start at inside linebacker if needed.

45. D.J. Williams

Heís strictly a backup tight end for now, but the second-year player could one day step into the spotlight.

46. Ryan Taylor

He played in 15 games last season as a rookie and should regularly see the field on special teams.

47. Phillip Merling

He played his way onto the roster with a decent training camp, but itís possible he could get bumped once Mike Neal serves his four-game suspension.

48. Jarrett Boykin

The undrafted free agent compelled the Packers to keep six receivers with a solid camp. He might not make the game-day active list much if at all this season, but his time could come down the road.

49. Sean Richardson

He made enough plays to stick on the roster as a fifth safety despite his status as an undrafted free agent.

50. Don Barclay

As the No. 7 offensive lineman, he regularly will make the game-day active list as an insurance policy and special teamer.

51. Brandon Saine

As the No. 4 halfback, he will be ready if called on because of injuries but wonít see much playing time.

52. Terrell Manning

An intestinal ailment slowed his progress during camp but the rookie linebacker has nowhere to go but up.

53. Brandian Ross

Heís the 11th defensive back and the most likely to lose his roster spot when Walden returns from his suspension.

ó mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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