Forecasting Three Storylines leading into the 2016 NFL Season

There are always a few central storylines that exist within the NFL offseason — and each NFL team is a microcosm of intrigue, each filled with its own quirky narratives. Here are three of MANY that will likely take place as the Green Bay Packers approach the 2016 NFL regular season:

The Packers will flirt with keeping seven receivers, but ultimately keep six

I can hear the cries to keep Jared Abbrederis already. And really, based on very palpable statistics, they probably should in lieu of Davante Adams. And I anticipate that in his third season, Abby will probably have a strong preseason. So right now, these are the seven receivers who will be in the mix to make the 53-man roster.

  • Jordy Nelson
  • Randall Cobb
  • Davante Adams
  • Jeff Janis
  • Ty Montgomery
  • Trevor Davis
  • Jared Abbrederis

It’s rare that a team keeps any number other than five or six receivers. In fact, 17 teams kept six receivers to start last season, while 10 kept five. Three teams actually only kept four receivers, leaving only two of the 32 NFL teams (the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills) as teams to enter the 2015 season with seven wide outs on the depth chart.

So it does happen – but the Bills and the Browns’ models are seldom wise to follow.

But the Packers will be faced with a tough decision – cut one of the seven guys listed above, or dedicate an important roster spot to an extra receiver.

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Packers Safety Kentrell Brice Turning Heads

Former Louisiana Tech safety Kentrell Brice didn’t get a lot of opportunities to make an NFL roster, but he certainly made the most of the ones that he got. The 5’10”, 200 lb. defensive back wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine nor did he play in any all-star games. That meant that he had to impress at the Louisiana Tech pro day, which drew scouts from across the NFL given Brice’s high profile team mates like defensive tackle Vernon Butler and running back Kenneth Dixon.

Brice took the opportunity and ran with it, putting up stellar measurables. He ran a 4.38 and 4.4 forty yard dash. He also finished with a 42″ vertical and an 11-1 broad jump. According to Bill Huber, “Among defensive backs at the Scouting Combine, Brice’s vertical would have ranked No. 1, his broad jump would have trailed only first-round pick Jalen Ramsey’s 11-3 and his bench press would have trailed only Utah State’s Miles Killebrew’s 22.”

Brice received interest from multiple teams but ultimately signed with the Packers. During OTAs, Brice turned heads in Green Bay. He’s garnered attention from beat writers after making multiple plays during public practices.

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Will the Green Bay Packers lose in 2016?

OK, I’m sure they’ll lose in 2016 – but should they?

The Packers strength of schedule based on opponents’ over/under win totals gives them the easiest 16-game season. According to CG Technology Sports Book, the opponents they’ll face in 2016 average a three percent chance of winning the Super Bowl LI, which ties the Packers with the Dallas Cowboys for the lowest level of championship-caliber teams they’ll face.

Among those facts – the Packers return Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson, have a slimmed down Eddie Lacy after an offseason program with Tony Horton, a bolstered offensive line after moving up in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft to grab Jason Spriggs, and a defense that is another year experienced and used the draft to fill front seven voids.

All things considered, the Packers should be vastly improved from their disappointing 2015 campaign (that still left them a shovel pass away from the NFC Championship Game).

But when we examine the 2016 season, which game is a legitimate concern? According to Bovada, the Packers presumed over/under win total opened at 10.5, tying them with the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots for the highest mark.

Let’s look at all 16 regular season games and try to form a reasonable argument that the Packers will falter.

 

Week 1 – Sunday, September 11 @ Jacksonville

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Early Packers Defensive Line Preview and Prediction

For the past two seasons the Green Bay Packers have usually kept about 5 or 6 players on the defensive line. With the departure of BJ Raji and Josh Boyd, as well as the four game suspension of Mike Pennel, the Packers’ defensive front will certainly have a significantly different face in 2016.

It appears that there are four locks coming into training camp: Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, first round rookie Kenny Clark, and fourth round rookie Dean Lowry. Daniels is often lined up at 3-technique defensive end, Clark is slated to move into the nose tackle spot vacated by Raji, Lowry is expected to play 5-technique defensive end, and Guion can play nearly anywhere on the line. That doesn’t leave any glaring holes, but the need for depth and competition is paramount with so much youth at the position.

Mike Pennel is likely to make the final roster give his familiarity with the defense, but his suspension certainly does not help his case. Behind Pennel is a bevvy of young players who’ve had little to no NFL playing experience. Christian Ringo and BJ McBryde come into their second year in the NFL after Ringo spent last season on the practice squad for Green Bay and McBryde was placed on IR for the Philadelphia Eagles before being released in October. Tyler Kuder (Idaho St.), Brian Price (University of Texas – San Antonio), and Demetris Anderson (University of Central Florida) are all undrafted rookies who will face an uphill climb to make the roster, but certainly have a shot with at least one or two roster spots up for grabs.

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BREAKING: Green Bay Packers take Indiana OT Jason Spriggs, 48

Analysis (Kelly Hodgson): In classic Ted Thompson fashion, the Green Bay Packers moved up in the second round to take the 48th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft to select Indiana OT Jason Spriggs. In a trade with the Indianapolis Colts, the Packers moved up in exchange for picks 57, 125 and 248, the Packers chose to protect their franchise player quarterback Aaron Rodgers and elected to tap the 6’6′, 301 pound Hoosier brick wall. He’s taller and leaner than anyone else currently on the offensive line, and may be the insurance policy keeping Rodgers upright through the end of the season.

Thompson always seems to be on the hunt for the next tackle to shore up the offensive line and may have found that long-term investment in Spriggs, and with a fairly shallow depth chart on the OL, the Packers pulled the trigger to shore up that deficit and add both speed and strength to the line. A four-year starter, he brings a wealth of experience to the table and will be ready to get to work day one of training camp.

A second-team All-American (Pro Football Writers of America) and Associated Press third team, Spriggs can technically play both the blindside and the right. But he is known as a formidable blindside blocker that will give his all through the entire play. Pro Football Focus ranks him as having the third highest pass blocking efficiency among the Power-5 left tackles and could very well give David Bakhtiari a run for his money.

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What’s Eddie Lacy’s Future with the Packers?

In 2016, Eddie Lacy will be playing out the last year of his rookie contract. The workhorse back has been a major piece of the Green Bay Packers’ offense since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft. A down year in 2015, however, saw Lacy’s weight and worth ethic called into question. He even briefly lost his starting spot to James Starks (though ultimately winning it back).

The Packers know how dominant Lacy can be as a running back. With news that he shed weight with infomercial warrior Tony Horton (and pictures proving Lacy’s new, svelte physique), the team is clearly expecting him to be on the top of his game this season.

Still, they may expect Lacy to prove himself one last time before offering him a contract, something the team will likely attempt well before Lacy hits the open market after the 2016 season. I would not be surprised in any way to see the Packers attempt to shore Lacy up sometime toward the end of the season, as the team did in 2015 with Mike Daniels.

But Lacy is not going to come cheap. In this year’s free agency frenzy, the top two running backs, Chris Ivory and Lamar Miller, were paid $6.4 and $6.5 million respectively. Lacy could easily demand more. At 25, Lacy is significantly younger than the 28 year old Chris Ivory. Lamar Miller is a year younger than Lacy but has been in the NFL one year longer. Lacy trumps Miller in just about every statistic imaginable. Other teams would be happy to dish out significant dough for a proven bruiser like Lacy, who is likely coming into the prime of his career.

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Have Fans Seen the Last of John Kuhn?

It’s late April and John Kuhn is still a free agent. Has the sun set on the fan favorite? Have the echoes of “KUUUHHNN” been heard in hallowed Lambeau for the last time? Only time will tell.

At this point, the team will likely wait until after the NFL draft to see how the roster begins to shake out. Not only will the Packers, barring any trades, bring in nine draft picks, they will also sign a slew of undrafted rookies. Kuhn’s future with the team likely depends upon where those chips fall as the Packers begin to look forward toward training camp and accumulating a full squad.

Ted Thompson and company have always favored youth. If the team can land an undrafted fullback with future potential, it would not be surprising for the team to value that player more than Kuhn, a guy who can play now, but does not offer much beyond a season or two.

The largest determining factor on Kuhn’s future in Green Bay, however, likely depends upon second year fullback Aaron Ripkowski. If the Packers feel that Rip is ready to be “the guy” at fullback, there would be little reason to bring back Kuhn, even if he played for the veteran minimum, as he did in 2015.

The Packers drafted Ripkowski in the 6th round last year, a fairly high spot for a position that’s become so obsolete for most teams that it’s been phased out altogether. But fullback remains a vital role in Mike McCarthy’s offense. It’s clear that the Packers brought in Ripkowski to take the reins from an aging John Kuhn, who will turn 34 before the start of the regular season.

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