This marks the fourth offseason of my 5 guys that have to be good series. This list is not a top five list of most important Green Bay Packers. Not only will you find that elsewhere, but ultimately it’s the players on this list that just might define the season.
Aaron Rodgers, Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews are going to play well. If the offensive line stays healthy, it’s going to play well. HaHa Clinton-Dix is going to play well.
It’s the players that are “in the margins” that can make the difference between another 11 or 12 win team with a heartbreaking playoff loss and a 14th World Championship.
My old lists are a telling tale. My 15 guys that have had to be good either weren’t or got hurt for the most part.
2013: Terrell Manning, Greg Van Roten, Bryan Bulaga (ACL), Jeremy Ross, Datone Jones
2014: BJ Raji (torn biceps), Brad Jones, Jared Abbrederis, JC Tretter, Datone Jones
2015: Jared Abbrederis, JC Tretter, BJ Raji, Casey Hayward, Sam Barrington (broken ankle)
These are the guys that needed to be good for the Packers to get back to the promised land. They weren’t, and Green Bay didn’t. Who needs to step up for a return to Titletown?
Casey Hayward signed a relatively conservative three year, $15 million dollar contract in the 2016 offseason with the San Diego Chargers. Hayward was one of the finest inside cornerbacks in the league, and he will certainly be missed. His inability to hold up outside both limited his earning potential and possibly ended his Packers tenure.
If you consider the nickelback position a starting position in today’s NFL, then you should consider Hayward an elite starter, because he was. He consistently ranked atop Pro Football Focus’ QB rating against metric. He was a very good player.
The Packers specifically play more nickel defense than most teams. Caper’s 2-4-5 is Green Bay’s base defense against most of today’s passing-heavy attacks.
So what happens when an elite starter leaves the team? He is either replaced or the defense gets worse. All signs point to Quentin Rollins getting the first shot at being that inside man. Sam Shields and Damarious Randall appear to be the favorites to win jobs outside, and Micah Hyde is a solid fill-in at safety or nickel, but Rollins is the exciting inside play maker.
Both Rollins and Randall acquitted themselves well for first year cornerbacks, and both players had a very serious adjustment to make. Rollins had been a four year basketball player at Miami (OH), and Randall played safety at Arizona State. The production the two rookies gave the Packers in 2016 can most likely be credited largely to cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.
Whitt has long made lemonade out of lemons. Whitt made starting caliber players out of undrafted free agents Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, and squeezed production out of fifth round pick Micah Hyde and fourth round pick Davon House. Hayward was a high selection and Charles Woodson was a hall of famer, but never have the Packers given Whitt toys to play with like back to back first and second round picks.
As recently indicated by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, it’s possible that Damarious Randall is going to be a star, but right now it’s Quentin Rollins that “has to be good”. The Packers can’t struggle at the nickel corner position just because Casey Hayward is gone. The middle of the field is too important. Long have the Packers struggled against backs, tight ends, slot receivers and running quarterbacks.
Quentin Rollins has to be good.
5 Guys that Have to be Good will return Monday on CheeseheadTV.com