Injuries tormented the Packers entire 2016 season, especially in the secondary. That did not mean expectations lowered for the team of Titletown. Rookie Blake Martinez became a contributor on defense, while Lane Taylor was a solid gamble to replace Josh Sitton. Ty Montgomery is the new starting running back and HaHa Clinton Dix is about to get paid big money after making his first Pro Bowl. Plenty of Packers stepped up in 2016 and the same narrative is hopeful for 2017. Some players in particular need to step us as they play for new contracts. Otherwise, they may not be a Packer much longer.
Packers with the most to prove next season are:
CB Damarious Randall:
Entering his third NFL season, Randall hopes to make 2017 a rebound year after a sophomore slump. He gave up career days to both Marvin Jones of the Lions and Stefon Diggs of the Vikings. The two caught 15 passes for 387 yards and Randall was mostly responsible. His Pro Football Focus grade ranked 108th in the league. His coverage grade was last on the team at 39.2. A lot of faith was placed in Randall when Sam Shields was lost with no timetable for a return. And yet, he failed to take a step forward after an impressive rookie year when he became an immediate contributor. Randall was drafted to be a playmaker with a baseball background. It is important that he stays healthy and proves he can cover the opposing team’s number one receiver week in and week out.
TE Richard Rodgers
Rodgers is currently melting on the hot seat with the signings of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Rodgers has had zero glory since his Hail Mary catch to beat the Lions in 2015. He lost weight heading into 2016, however it never translated to the field. Rodgers played only 603 snaps compared to 799 in 2015. Yes, less snaps even though Jared Cook played ten games and started in five. Adding two more tight ends may have shut the window on Rodgers career in Green Bay completely if he does not make any noise next season.
LB Clay Matthews III
Whether it is at inside or outside linebacker, Matthews has to regain his status as an impact player on this defense. Lingering hamstring issues and other injuries try to become a scapegoat for him, but a guy making $66 million does not get a free pass. Matthews should be getting 10 sacks year yet he has not done that since 2014. The most alarming stat is that he played 46 percent of the snaps on defense last season. That number better be above 80 percent in 2017.
___________________Brandon Carwile was a Cheesehead at birth. His dad grew up attending games at Lambeau and passed on the legacy. He has covered the Packers for over five years and currently works with packerstalk.com. Find him on twitter at @PackerScribe.