Last year when I was brought on to the team here at PackersTalk.com my very first series was titled “5 guys that Have to be Good”. Those 5 guys were Terrell Manning, Greg Van Roten, Bryan Bulaga, Jeremy Ross and Datone Jones. Hot. Damn. These players were released, released, IR’d, released and injured/ineffective respectively. You can look at this two ways, one way to look at it is that I was right. The team went 8-7-1 and had holes at all of the positions that these players played especially return man and inside linebacker. The other way to look at it is that I should probably never write a “5 Guys that Have to be Good” column again.
The point of the series is not to list the 5 most important Green Bay Packers. You can find those any where and they usually consist of some variation of Rodgers, Matthews, Lacy, Nelson, Burnett and/or Peppers. These are the guys that we’re not 100% sure about. Guys that need to step up and develop if this team is going to reach its ultimate goal of bringing Lombardi’s trophy back home.
This year’s series starts with BJ Raji. It’s actually unbelievable how important it is to this team that Raji regain some of his 2010/2012 form. If Raji can regain his dominant form of 2010 the defensive line could be truly formidable. Mike Daniels is developing into a Pro Bowl caliber player and the chances are that someone from the Datone Jones/Jerel Worthy/Khyri Thornton scrum will be an effective player too. The Packers are more than talented enough in the secondary now that if the front 7 can create pressure (especially with 5 or fewer rushers) the pass defense will be above average.
If Raji struggles, however, the results could be just as disastrous. The Packers started out last season very good against the run. They faded down the stretch and finished with a thud, ranking 25th in the league. Gone are wide bodied run-stuffers Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett. It would appear that an injury (or multiple injuries) is the only thing that will bring either of them back to the team. With the team becoming more “multiple” and utilizing taller, slimmer, more athletic and versatile defensive linemen it would make sense to worry about the run defense. If Raji fails as a run stuffing nose tackle the run defense could really, really struggle. The only other players on the roster that project as run stuffers are Josh Boyd and recently acquired Letroy Guion. Neither player is actually a lock to make the roster.
Raji’s lack of pass rush is really no longer an area of concern for me. Datone Jones and Mike Daniels will work together as the interior pass rushers in the nickel defense. That’s pretty formidable. Both Mike Neal and Julius Peppers can kick inside and spell them and Jerel Worthy projects as an inside nickel pass rusher as well. What Raji needs to do is dominate one on one matchups and force teams to double team him. He needs to occupy blockers because his line mates are either short (Daniels) or lighter (Jones, Neal) than usual. He needs to occupy blockers because the inside linebackers that play behind him are not very good.
If BJ Raji can return to form, the defense takes on a completely different dynamic. Where once there were “just a guy” players like Frank Zombo, Erik Walden, CJ Wilson and Jarius Wynn there are future Hall of Famers like Julius Peppers and top 60 picks like Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy. The team has put enough talent around Raji for him to succeed. They’ve returned him to his natural nose tackle position in order for him to succeed. It’s time for the old BJ Raji to come back, and at just 28 years old, there’s absolutely no reason that it can’t happen.
5 Guys That Have to be Good
1. BJ Raji- 7/25
2. ??????- 7/29
3. ??????- 8/1
4. ??????- 8/5
5. ??????- 8/8