Below is a list of the top 6 positions of need for the Green Bay Packers coming into the 2016 offseason. This list is fluid and represents the team’s needs right now. This list will vary based upon resignings, retirements, or off-the-field issues. These needs can be filled in the draft or in free agency, but should be treated at some point this off-season in order for the team to show improvement going into the 2016 season.
1. Inside Linebacker
Clay Matthews has played very well at inside linebacker, but with Mike McCarthy stating unequivocally in his post-season press conference that he’d like to see CMIII back at outside linebacker, the Packers are mighty weak on the inside. Thumper Sam Barrington will be back after missing 2015 on IR, but he was merely the best of a bad bunch in 2014. Nate Palmer lost his starting spot to Jake Ryan, a young linebacker who has shown some promise, but is far from a sure-thing starter, especially if he’s not standing next to CMIII. On a much-improved defense, this is the major hole on the roster. The Packers need to place no. 1 priority at this position. If they can sign an impact free agent or spend a high draft pick on an instant contributor, the defense could stand to improve even more than it already has.
2. Tight End
The scarcity of talent at tight end is alarming. Richard Rodgers has great hands, but does not look like a no. 1 tight end in the NFL. His blocking is merely mediocre, and he has almost no ability to pick up any yards after the catch. While he has never been a vertical threat tight end, he’s not a bruiser either, going down on first contact almost exclusively. He can definitely continue to contribute, especially in the red zone where has has been fairly successful, but the team needs a tight end who can make big plays.
After Rodgers, the Packers have perhaps nothing to be excited about. Andrew Quarless can fulfill a role, but is far from a major talent. Justin Perillo made a few nice catches this season, but couldn’t do much more than that even though the team was desperate for production from the position. Mitchell Henry is an intriguing practice squad player, but the team is in real need of bringing in some top-tier talent. It remains unseen as to exactly what the free agent market will look like this offseason, but with an average at best tight end class coming up through this year’s draft, if Thompson were to look at free agency anywhere, this should be a top position for consideration.
3. Wide Receiver
Some might be surprised to see this position on the list at all, not to mention at the no. 3 spot, but it’s the unknown factor of what the Packers have that makes this position in need of some reinforcement. Presumably, Pro Bowler Jordy Nelson will be back in 2016 and James Jones will be looking for work elsewhere. That leaves Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Janis, and Abbrederis at wide receiver. The Packers know what they have in Nelson and Cobb. Nelson is a clear-cut no. 1 receiver. Cobb is a nice complement to Nelson, but did not show himself capable of carrying the team in Nelson’s absence. Adams took steps backward during his second year, while Janis and Abbrederis remain mostly unknown commodities. Montgomery looked good in his limited playing time, but he spent a majority of his rookie season injured and unable to play. He has to be considered far from proven, as well.
It seems clear that the Packers will need to bring in at least one player who can legitimately push Adams, Janis, and Abbrederis for a roster spot. Ted Thompson will undoubtedly have a number of undrafted rookies in camp, but using a mid to early-round draft pick on a player with high talent would also seem judicious. The receiving game was in shambles for long portions of the 2015 season. Green Bay cannot just assume that the return of Nelson will fix those problems, nor can they rest on the laurels of the output of a younger, healthier Nelson. Maybe Adams, Montgomery, Janis, and Abbrederis show themselves to be the future of wide receiver in Green Bay, but let’s hope that Ted Thompson brings in some guys that make them prove it.
As much as I hate proclaiming doom and gloom, the team needs to be at least considering the fact that Nelson will not be able to contribute as he used to. While I do not expect it, it is at least possible that, turning 31 this offseason and coming off of a torn-ACL, Nelson won’t be quite as good as he has been. If that’s the case, it isn’t hard to imagine that the specter of 2015 could quickly return. It is important that the team does not put all of the pressure on Nelson to fix every offensive woe. I don’t think any of us want to watch Rodgers spend another year in his prime looking around the field for wide receivers that can’t get open. Based upon the play of the wide receivers this year, one could at least imagine even classic Jordy getting double-covered while the rest of the receivers play like it’s 2015 again.
If this list were ranked by sheer weakness at the position, punter would be no. 1. Tim Mathsay has consistently played poorly for the past two seasons, giving the defense the unfortunate task of defending on a short field with their backs against the wall. Couple this with poor offensive play in 2015 and its inability to give the defense much-needed breathers, and it’s a wonder that Dom Capers’ unit looked as good as they did. It shouldn’t be difficult to find someone who can play at a higher level than Mathsay, but if the Packers are serious about replacing him (and they should be), they need to bring in more than one street free agent or undrafted rookie. It would be really nice to see a 3 punter battle in training camp.
5. Offensive Tackle
Bryan Bulaga is a good right tackle. The problem is that he has not played a full season since 2011. While it would be nice to have more consistency at right tackle, the Packers are unlikely to find someone in the draft or free agency who can immediately displace Bulaga. But given the disaster that has been Don Barclay, the Packers need to immediately work on finding a legitimate back-up at right tackle, someone who can give Green Bay Bulaga-insurance now, and perhaps the ability to ascend to the starting spot eventually.
The Packers have consistency at left tackle with David Bakhtiari, but the depth behind him is another question mark. J.C. Tretter filled in for an injured Bakhtiari very admirably, but Tretter has a real shot at winning the starting center job from Corey Linsley this offseason. The team needs to fill out the roster accordingly.
6. Outside Linebacker
It is entirely possible that within the next few months this could be a position of strength rather than a position of need. However, at the moment, the team is faced with the possible retirement of Julius Peppers and the possible departure of Nick Perry and Mike Neal as unrestricted free agents. This is perhaps part of the reason why McCarthy would like to see Matthews back at the outside. Jayrone Elliott has won the right to see more playing time, as well, but if even 2 of the 3 possible departures at the position come into fruition, outside linebacker could quickly drop from a position of strength to a position of weakness.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.