The Green Bay Packers won the 45th Super Bowl over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Dallas.
Now those same two teams will play a Super Bowl rematch on Feb. 5 about 250 miles to the southeast in Houston.
At least that’s the judgment of a seasoned executive in personnel for a National Football League team who agreed to dissect the Packers and forecast the season for the Journal Sentinel and PackersNews.com.
In an extended mid-week interview, the personnel man assigned a grade to each of the 69 players under contract to the Packers and broke down the roster position by position.
Selected because of his level of expertise and success in the NFL, he has watched the Packers this summer, this September and for many years before that.
Despite a sluggish start offensively, the scout is picking the Packers to defeat the Steelers just as they did in the Super Bowl six years ago. He’s pinning the blame for the Packers’ 31st-place ranking in passing after two games on coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers for misreading the value of exhibition games.
“How many preseason games did the quarterback play? How many series?” said the personnel man. “There you go. That’s the answer to everything. You can’t go from stop to 1,000 miles an hour. You’ve got to play the game.”
McCarthy, with the apparent blessing of general manager Ted Thompson, pulled back like never before from exposing starters in August due in part to the season-ending injury suffered by wide receiver Jordy Nelson in August 2015.
Rodgers, who famously said he missed “nothing” by not playing more in exhibition games, called it a summer after playing two series in one game.
“Everybody’s panicking about the offense,” the scout said. “I think the offense will be fine. I was going to put the offense in the top 10 but they’ve got to wake up.”
As for Green Bay’s defense, the executive ranked Dom Capers’ unit among the top 12 in the league.
Nevertheless, he stayed with the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC North despite season-ending injuries to their quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), their running back (Adrian Peterson) and their left tackle (Matt Kalil).
“I picked the Vikings and I’m still going Vikings,” said the scout. “With T.J. Clemmings at left tackle they’ll be all right. I think (Sam) Bradford is better than Teddy Bridgewater. They’ve got a really good defense.”
After analyzing the Packers’ schedule, which on paper ranks as the easiest in the NFL, the personnel man predicted a 12-4 finish and wild-card playoff berth. Green Bay finished second in the division with a 10-6 record in 2010 before reeling off four playoff victories.
He picked Green Bay over Carolina in the NFC championship game. In his view, Arizona and Seattle are the other legitimate contenders besides Minnesota.
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In the AFC, he went with Pittsburgh over New England in the title game. Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati, Oakland and Houston also could contend.
“Pittsburgh’s good,” the executive said. “They have an explosive offense passing and running. They have a really good offensive-line coach (Mike Munchak) who has those guys playing.
“They have one of the better quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger) in pro football. He knows how to win. And they have a very dependable defense that can consistently create havoc.”
Here is a position-by-position look at the Packers through the eyes of our personnel man:
“Overall, it’s above average for the league. Jordy (Nelson) still can go vertical. He has timing with the quarterback. The chemistry between them is phenomenal. He’s 31. This will be a big year for him. I think (Randall) Cobb is the perfect slot receiver. He has the tools, he’s smart, crafty. His chemistry with the quarterback helps. There’s a great understanding there. (Davante) Adams has to be more consistent catching the ball this year. He’s got the size. He’s got enough speed to get vertical and clear. I think he’s improving upon his route running. (Ty) Montgomery plays special teams, too, so he has some value there. (Jared) Abbrederis’ value is on punt returns. I look at Trevor Davis as a tall, vertical threat who just has to learn the offense. He’s got to grow. Geronimo Allison has got size and speed. He just has to be consistent catching the ball.”
“It all revolves around (Jared) Cook and his ability to get up the field and give the quarterback another option. There are flashes of greatness but there’s so many inconsistencies, it scares the crap out of you. He’s not mentally tough. It’s lack of concentration. I’ll give him six to eight touchdowns because he is fluid and athletic. I’ve always said Richard Rodgers has really good hands. His thing is lack of short-area explosion and true foot speed. He’s functional in a role. He catches the ball with his hands. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt because of that. The blocking of those two is just average. As I look at (Justin) Perillo, I don’t like him. I never have liked him. (Devon) Cajuste is one of their better practice-squad player."
“It would rank in the top-15 in the NFL. Solid. They were smart locking up the left tackle (David Bakhtiari). You always overvalue your left tackle because he’s protecting that side, and he does it reasonably well. They have some veteran leadership with (Bryan) Bulaga and T.J. Lang. Lang is probably their most consistent player. Bulaga is consistent, too. He found a home at right tackle and he just kind of goes about it and does his work. Lane Taylor has stepped in and done a nice job. (Josh) Sitton has done pretty good with the Bears. I don’t know the makeup of what Sitton brings but from a performance standpoint, any time you lose a Pro Bowler, it’s going to hurt. (JC) Tretter has versatility. It’s his time, his fourth year. He’s found a home at center and it looks like he’s filled in very nicely. He and (Corey) Linsley are two different guys. One’s always been a center, one (Tretter) was always a left tackle in college. One is a heart and soul player (Linsley), and one’s a better athlete (Tretter). (Jason) Spriggs is going to have to get stronger. He’s got stuff to work with, though. I think (Don) Barclay has improved. I didn’t like Kyle Murphy in college. I don’t think he’s strong. They could develop him. That’s the art of doing that. That’s why you take him in the sixth round. Blake Muir needs to work on strength and balance.”
“(Aaron) Rodgers has got everything you want for the position. He’s got command of the offense. I don’t think you can really trick him. The Vikings showed if you can get pressure on him you can get him a little bit, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t come back next week and get you. I’ll take him. He needs to eat more cheese. I still think Tom Brady has got it. Rodgers is next after him. I kind of like where they picked (Brett Hundley). Now it’s just a matter of becoming comfortable with the No. 2 position. I’d rather have him than Matt Flynn in a heartbeat. I think he’s the best backup Rodgers has had. I will say that (Joe) Callahan played admirably well in preseason. The numbers he put up in Division III were astronomical. You can see the game’s not too big for him. He’s got athletic movement. He’s lucky to have a coach that can develop him. He’s got enough traits to work on. They probably could have gotten him on the practice squad.”
“They complement each other. One (Eddie Lacy) is a pounder. One (James Starks) is a downhill, one-cut runner. Both of them are large guys. It all depends on (Lacy) and his weight. He needs to lose a little bit more weight. That’s the whole thing. The older you get, you’ve got to keep losing weight. He’s a solid starter. Starks is an adequate role player. He takes care of himself. He’s a role player. I kind of like (Aaron) Ripkowski. He plays special teams pretty good. I think that’s what you ask of the fullback position nowadays. He moves guys as a blocker.”
“They fit the scheme that the defensive coordinator (Dom Capers) runs. They have the proper pieces in there. You have to factor in Datone Jones because he’s more of a hybrid guy. He’s such a unique individual. Mike Daniels is more of a penetrator than a pure two-gapper. I think he is a relentless tough guy. I love that kid. (Letroy) Guion does the heavy lifting. He serves a purpose. He’s not a Rhodes scholar but he plays football OK. Kenny Clark is a two-gapper. He is a little short. He’s not a pass rusher; he’s a run stuffer. (Dean) Lowry is relentless. He’s got length. He has to get a little bit bigger, but you’ve got to admire guys that never give up. He’s one of those guys. Mike Pennel is hard to move. Size guy. He clogs up a lot. He’s hard to block. I like Brian Price. He’s got a chance.”
“Any time you have Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers lining up that will make any offensive scheme aware. I think Nick Perry kind of came on late last year, and they’re using Datone Jones as a rusher as well. They have four pretty good complementary pass rushers. Datone Jones has gotten better in his role. The more you play him the better he gets. I don’t think (Peppers) has much left but we’ll see. He’s going to have to have a pitch count. He’s a designated pass rusher. I think this is it for him. To be a blue you have to establish yourself week in and week out and alway play the games. (Matthews) does have a little bit of a knack for getting hurt. I see a high-effort guy that gets close but doesn’t finish it like he has done in the past. Perry is a power player who is beginning to find his niche as a pass rusher. He’s displayed that he can set the edge. I think (Kyler) Fackrell is a finesse guy who needs to grow into his frame. (Jayrone) Elliott is determined. … (Blake) Martinez and (Jake) Ryan are young but have a degree of athleticism and are smart. You’ve got to watch them play for half a season to see. Martinez is a heady player. He sees a lot. He gets in the proper positions. He’s going to let the guys up front do the dirty work and he’ll slip and slide around. I’d take the bigger, faster guy, and that’s Ryan. (Joe) Thomas fits a role as the dime backer. He’s improved.”
“When you combine the corners and the safeties it’s the strength of the defense. They have four corners, which is pretty good. (Sam) Shields is their best corner but I think Damarious Randall is a really good player. Randall can run vertical. He’s got stop-start. I think he’ll tackle. Shields is one of the better corners in the NFC. Sam is a red now but pretty soon he’ll be a blue. (Quinten) Rollins has incredible up side. He’s made a seamless transition from basketball. With the quality coaching that they get I can see him still improving. With (LaDarius) Gunter, there’s something to be said about size. He’s got length and he knows how to press. Hawkins has speed and long arms. He has natural body control and turning and stopping. That’s a good get on their part. (Makinton) Dorleant was OK. … It may be one of the best starting safety combinations in the NFL. (Ha Ha) Clinton-Dix is ascending fast. He’ll be a red by the end of the season. Morgan Burnett is a steady guy. Micah Hyde provides veteran leadership and is very dependable. He’s OK. Love Kentrell Brice. He’s a guy to watch. He is a really good young player in the making. Special teams is what makes Chris Banjo special. Marwin Evans has a combination of size and speed. They have some young safeties that will be good. They’ve done a nice job. I like (Jermaine) Whitehead a little bit.”
“(Mason) Crosby is solid. I don’t know anything about the punter (Jacob Schum). (Brett) Goode is solid. He’s a veteran pro. He doesn’t cover very well but he can snap.”
Rating the Packers players
At mid-week, an experienced executive in personnel for an NFL team provided this color-coded rating of the 53 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster, the three players on injured reserve, the two suspended players, the one player on the physically unable to perform list and the 10 players on the practice squad. He has watched tape of the Packers throughout the exhibition season and the first two regular-season games.
Players were evaluated primarily on positional value rather than special-teams value.
Each player was assigned a color code, which is standard in NFL pro personnel departments. Teams, however, use different colors to mean different things. Blue and red are used by most teams to denote the top two categories.
The beauty of scouting is seldom do two scouts see a player in exactly the same light. Sometimes their evaluations of the same player can be significantly different. While encouraging independent thinking, most organizations try to work toward a consensus on players.
Here’s how the personnel man defined his seven color categories:
BLUE: Pro Bowl player.
RED: Above-average starter with a chance to be exceptional.
PURPLE: Starter you can win with.
GREEN: Lower-tier starter, or a backup with a chance to improve.
YELLOW: Below-average backup; needs to be replaced.
WHITE: Incomplete; insufficient information to grade.
The scout used a plus sign (+) to indicate that a player was ascending within that category and a minus sign (-) to indicate that a player was descending within that category.
Here are his grades:
BLUE (1): QB Aaron Rodgers.
RED (5): WR Randall Cobb, WR Jordy Nelson, DT Mike Daniels, OLB Clay Matthews, CB Sam Shields.
PURPLE (10): T David Bakhtiari, T Bryan Bulaga (-), G T.J. Lang (-), RB Eddie Lacy, OLB Nick Perry, OLB Julius Peppers, CB Damarious Randall, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (+), S Morgan Burnett, K Mason Crosby (-).
GREEN (20): WR Davante Adams (+), WR Jeff Janis, WR Ty Montgomery (+), TE Richard Rodgers, TE Jared Cook, T Jason Spriggs, G Lane Taylor, C JC Tretter (+), C Corey Linsley (+), RB James Starks, FB Aaron Ripkowski (+), NT Letroy Guion, DT Mike Pennel, OLB-DE Datone Jones, ILB Blake Martinez, ILB Jake Ryan (+), ILB Joe Thomas, CB Quinten Rollins (+), S Kentrell Brice, LS Brett Goode.
YELLOW (15): WR Jared Abbrederis (+), TE Devon Cajuste, C-G Don Barclay, QB Brett Hundley (+), DE Dean Lowry, NT Kenny Clark (+), DT Christian Ringo (+), NT Brian Price, OLB Kyler Fackrell, OLB Jayrone Elliott (+), CB LaDarius Gunter, DB Josh Hawkins, CB Demetri Goodson, S Micah Hyde (+), S Chris Banjo.
WHITE (16): WR Trevor Davis, WR Geronimo Allison, WR-CB Herb Waters, T Kyle Murphy, G Lucas Patrick (+), G Blake Muir, QB Joe Callahan, RB John Crockett, RB Don Jackson, DT Tyler Kuder, OLB Reggie Gilbert, CB Makinton Dorleant, CB Robertson Daniel, S Marwin Evans, S Jermaine Whitehead, P Jacob Schum.
BROWN (2): TE Justin Perillo, ILB Carl Bradford.