Green Bay Packers: Who Is at Risk of Losing Starting Role to 2014 Draft Prospect
The draft ushers in a new group of young talent each year.
Less appealing to veterans, it also ushers out the aging players.
Several Green Bay Packers veterans will see their statuses as starters challenged. As this is Green Bay, a team with a majority of its starters acquired via the draft, those challengers will emerge in early May.
Injuries, lackadaisical play and transitional lineup questions will provide opportunity for rookies to vie for crucial roles on both sides of the ball. This will especially true on a defense that allowed the most points by any Packer team since 1983, Bart Starr’s last season as head coach.
Conversely, the offense struggled through a litany of injuries that took out stars Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley for parts of the season. Cobb and Finley played a combined 12 games.
The following three positions present the greatest opportunities for players to make a Week 1 impact, though if history is any indication, injuries will continue to challenge the status quo as the season progresses.
ILBs Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk
Green Bay’s dreadful showing on defense in 2013 will likely culminate in an overhaul of the unit.
General manager Ted Thompson has already stepped out of his usually conservative character this offseason by signing Julius Peppers this offseason, who could turn out to be the most significant non-draft acquisition since Charles Woodson in 2006. And while Peppers will improve the pass rush and provide much-needed versatility, Green Bay’s defense remains vulnerable.
Interior linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk don’t shore up the interior of the defense; Hawk almost completely lacks coverage skills while Jones' play in 2013 was disappointing after signing a three-year, $11.75 million deal in March of that year. Hawk, after restructuring his deal around the same time, now earns slightly less than Jones ($10.6 million over three years), though to his credit, his play seemed to improve in 2013 over prior seasons.
Both can be replaced, and Jones is the most likely candidate. Green Bay may see Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, considered by many to be the draft’s top interior linebacker, drop to No. 21 overall where Thompson could pull the trigger for an instant upgrade.
But if Mosley isn’t there...
Free Safety Micah Hyde
Some talk this offseason suggests Micah Hyde will move to free safety, though he’s mostly participated as a nickel corner and on special teams thus far. But that talk is mostly an interpretation of this statement from head coach Mike McCarthy (via NFL.com):
Micah Hyde deserves the opportunity to be an every-down player on our defense. And as we go into 2014, that's our responsibility as a coaching staff to create those competitive opportunities for him to get that done. I got to a point in the season where Micah was standing on the sidelines too much.
Read into that as you will. From this contributor's position, it suggests that if Green Bay doesn’t draft a safety, Micah Hyde will likely start there. But if a player like Pryor is available, ignoring him in favor of trusting Hyde or alternatives Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson to fill the gap doesn’t seem wise.
Granted, Thompson makes a habit of surprising fans with his selections each year. Even so, expect at least one pick to address the defensive backfield.
Tight End Andrew Quarless
Andrew Quarless represents the incumbent replacement to Jermichael Finley, the latter of whom remains a free agent and is not yet cleared by doctors to play again.
A four-year veteran in Green Bay, Quarless posted career-high numbers last season. Playing 16 games and starting 10, Quarless caught 32 passes for 312 yards—just a tad more than Finley posted (25 for 300 yards) in six games.
Quarless can be forgiven for lacking the dynamic receiving talent Finley brought to the offense, but he functions best as a stopgap. In 2013, for example, the Packers offense functioned more productively with Finley in it. Green Bay was 4-1 in games last season in which Finley caught at least one pass. No surprise there: he produced a touchdown in three of those five games.
But as of now Finley does not appear to be an option for 2014. Quarless is serviceable, and, for now at least, the likely starter. Green Bay has four other tight ends on the roster, but only one—Brandon Bostick, who has been praised frequently by McCarthy this offseason—will vie for receptions.
Open to loose interpretation, those compliments suggests Bostick could surpass Quarless if he doesn’t land on the IR as he did in late December (foot injury).
Regardless of potential injury, however, Green Bay ought to invest in another tight end cut from Finley’s mold to complement Bostick and push Quarless.
Dependence on the latter proved far from fruitful in 2013.