Ranking the 7 Biggest Upgrades the Green Bay Packers Made This Offseason
There were a number of ways the Green Bay Packers made upgrades this offseason. Some were made during the draft, while others during free agency. Another way the Packers could make upgrades was through players returning from injury or the reassigning of positions.
While all upgrades are good, there are obviously some that are better than others. The way we've determined which improvements were more important than others is by the impact that's expected to be made from the player or players. We've also factored in how weak the position was before any upgrades were made.
For example, the Packers didn't get much production from whoever was playing outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews last year. So, the signing of Julius Peppers is a significant improvement over the likes of Nick Perry and Mike Neal.
Let's take a look at the seven biggest upgrades the Packers made this offseason.
7. DuJuan Harris as No. 3 Running Back
Last year's top three running backs on the depth chart were Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Johnathan Franklin. Of the three, Franklin was easily the least inconsistent as he struggled get playing time early and then suffered a severe neck injury to end his season.
That neck injury went on to end his career with the Packers prematurely. This opens the door for DuJuan Harris, who missed all of last year with an injury, to take over that No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
While Franklin certainly had potential before getting injured, he isn't nearly as talented as Harris. Harris has better vision, speed and is far more polished as a receiver out of the backfield.
The Packers should be looking to run a more balanced offense this year with the ground game becoming more important than ever. With an upgrade like Harris as the No. 3 back, look for the Packers ground game to be among the best in the league.
6. No. 3 Wide Receiver, Whomever It May Be
What's scary for the rest of the NFL is that this year's top three receivers for the Packers should be even better. With Nelson and Cobb atop the depth chart, the big improvement will be with the No. 3 receiver on the depth chart.
That job right now belongs to Jarrett Boykin. He's improved more than any player this offseason, according to Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
However, even if Boykin is replaced by second-round pick Davante Adams, the Packers would still have an upgraded receiving corps. Adams may not be as polished as Jones, but he has more upside and is definitely more of a deep threat.
Whoever ends up winning that No. 3 job is going to end up being an upgrade over Jones.
5. Depth at Tight End
While the Packers have been blessed in recent seasons with talent at the tight end position by the name of Jermichael Finley, what they've lacked is depth.
The perfect example of this is the 2012 season. That year, Finley caught 61 passes while the three tight ends below him on the depth chart combined for 16 total receptions. That's why when Finley got injured last year, the Packers were in so much trouble.
This year will be different, however. Even though Finley is gone, the Packers have some legitimate depth with the likes of Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla. All four of those players have the potential to put up huge numbers in the Packers offense.
It may ultimately take all of training camp and the offseason to decide just how the above players fill out the depth chart, but once that happens, this should be one of the deepest groups the Packers have had in years.
4. Punt/Kick Returner
It wasn't the best of years on special teams for the Packers. The worst of the group were the kick returners, who only managed to average 20.3 yards per return, the third-worst total in the league.
While the Packers haven't settled on a starting kick/punt returner yet, the options of who could win the job are an upgrade over last year's options. The three players who are most likely to win the job are Harris, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis.
All three players have a good combination of speed and vision that should help them succeed in the return game. Whoever ends up becoming the main returner for the Packers this year should be able to make a much bigger impact than anyone could last year.
3. Starting Nose Tackle
It may be hard to understand how B.J. Raji, who was on the roster last year, could be an upgrade, but you need to remember that he didn't play nose tackle last year for the Packers. No, that job went to Ryan Pickett.
And to be perfectly honest, Pickett wasn't very good at his job last year. He was graded as the No. 54 (of 69) nose tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
So, the Packers re-signed Raji and will start him at nose tackle. This is a position he's played in the past and had success, so it's hard to imagine this not being a major upgrade.
Look for Raji to bounce back from a difficult year in 2013 now that he's back at a more natural position and for him to be one of the better nose tackles in the league by the end of the year.
2. Starting Outside Linebacker Opposite Clay Matthews
We all know what Clay Matthews brings to the field, and we also all know how much the outside linebacker that's played opposite him has struggled the past few years.
Whether it's been Perry, Neal or any other number of linebackers, they've all failed to make any type of impact on defense. The Packers knew this was an issue and addressed it in free agency by signing Peppers.
Peppers will be an upgrade at the position simply due to what he's done in the past. However, he also looks ready to make an impact this year. He's constantly impressed teammates throughout OTAs and minicamp with his athleticism and motor.
With Peppers lining up next to Matthews, the Packers should get a huge boost in production from their outside linebackers this year.
1. Starting Free Safety
There should be no question that the biggest upgrade the Packers made this year was at the free safety position. Last year's free safeties were the worst that Green Bay has seen in years.
The way in which the Packers upgraded the position initially was by drafting Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft. However, so far during OTAs, the Packers have been using Micah Hyde as the starting free safety.
While Clinton-Dix should ultimately win the starting job, Hyde would still be an upgrade over last year's group if he won the job. Either way, whether with Clinton-Dix or Hyde, the Packers did a fantastic job at upgrading the biggest weakness from last year.