The new season is about to kick off, and that means it is time to analyze the upcoming season and where the new and old pieces fit onto the Packers team. I'll rank the competition in order of importance for the team on a star system (1 star = not important, 5 stars= imperative to the team's success), and I'll do it by position.
Quarterback - Graham Harrell/BJ Coleman/Matt Brown (2 stars)
Physically, the Packers have 4 very similar guys on the roster, all (including Rodgers) between 6'2" and 6'3" and between 215-230 lb. The backup position has as many, if not more, question marks than it has since 1992 (the year Favre was traded for). My bet here is that the job is still Harrell's to lose, and I also expect that he'll be surprisingly better than expected (though most Packers fans expect so little). A friend of mine who covers the Packers (Gerrard Diaz) has said of the three backup possibilities, Harrell had the most zip and best footwork in minicamp. The Packers will likely only carry 2 active quarterbacks and have a third on the practice squad yet again this season. The fact is that if anyone other than Rodgers is taking snaps for the Packers in meaningful games this year, the season is likely lost.
Bottom Line: Harrell wins and Coleman/Brown battle for a practice squad spot.
Running Back - Franklin/Green/Harris/Lacy/Pease/Starks (5 stars)
The Packers need to run the ball better. They probably need to run the ball more as well, but McCarthy will tell you that he won't run it more unless they run it better. The draft attempted to address those concerns. This battle will be one of the fiercest in camp, and I fully expect it to go 4-5 games into the season before a clear-cut starter is found. This is not what Packers fans are going to want to hear though. This position is extremely hard to evaluate because blocking, assignments, and opportunity all come into play. Green is probably the most assignment-sure of the group. It's why he started for so long last year even with his less than pedestrian yards per carry. Franklin, if as advertised, will probably be the second most assignment-sure guy in the group. He's more athletic than Green, but if the comparison to Warrick Dunn is any indication, don't expect an all-pro. Still, if he's as consistent as Dunn was, that would be enough for the Packers. Lacy is the big school product. He's the wild card that could be a stud or a dud. All 31 other teams passed on him repeatedly thinking he was the latter. His fall was very similar to Aaron Rodgers fall. A lot of teams believed Rodgers was a product of a system in which many QBs had college success only to fail in the pros. Alabama has a had a similar recent run. Many scouts believe that their offensive line is so good that grandma in a wheel chair will get 1000 yards. Pease is likely a camp body, but they seem to like him and he had a good minicamp. Starks appears to have run out of chances. Harris is a guy the fans really like, but unless he take the next step and really shows something, don't expect to see him much because of the politics of beating out multiple higher round draft picks. That's too bad because I really like Harris. The biggest problem is that there are some in the organization that don't think his size and style will allow him to stay healthy over 16 games (inside source).
Bottom Line: Franklin gets the most playing time early and if he falters it goes to a rotation with him and Lacy; if that proves ineffective, expect Harris to get another shot. At least early, expect a running back by committee approach again this season. Starks/Green/Pease battle it out for 1 spot. Whoever shows the most and stays healthy wins.
Full Back - Kuhn/Amosa (1 star)
The fullback is barely a member of the team anymore. Kuhn is expensive and if they want to get a few of these potential free agents locked up during the season, Kuhn may get jettisoned. That will only happen if the tight end position or Amosa can take over effectively for them. Kuhn is a fan-favorite and he's assignment-sure, but he is not a game-changer. Lacy should be better for short-distance conversions (heck, Harris was better last year in short yardage over a much smaller sample-size).
Bottom Line: I expect Kuhn to be back this year. Amosa may have a shot for the practice squad but it's unlikely with the Packers already likely to keep 4 running backs.
Wide Receivers - Boykin/Ross/Johnson/Dorsey (3 stars)
The first three wide receivers are set: Nelson, Jones, and Cobb. However, Nelson and Cobb both had injuries last year and the Packers love to run the spread with 4 wide receivers and a TE or even 5 wide. According to an inside source, Boykin is actually really good, something that Jennings commented on last week in Minnesota - he just needs the opportunity. His 4.8 40-time really hurt him despite his production in a big time college program. Last year when he was on the field, I never noticed him getting a lot of separation and when thrown to, he only managed a paltry 5 receptions for 27 yards. He does seem to uncover at the last second and does well to catch in traffic. Ross has shown value on special teams, but I have a strong suspicion that his late season muff was a bit of death knell for him. Returning will be Cobb's position to give up yet again. Johnson and Dorsey were both drafted in the late rounds and both have good size-speed numbers - which is really late to find those kinds of guys at that point in the draft. Thanks to guys like Harvin, Cobb, and Desean Jackson, the league has gone smaller again at the position looking for an effective hybrid guy that can cause match up problems for the defense. That left some of more traditional 4th and 5th round picks available at later rounds.
Bottom Line: Too close to call. I need to see Johnson and Dorsey play first.
Tight Ends - Mulligan/Bostick/Quarless/Taylor/Williams (2 stars)
After Finley, the position is pretty muddy, but that's the case for nearly every NFL team. Some don't even have a decent starter like Finley. Say what you will about Finley, but statistically he had a great season last year in every category except the most important for TEs: touchdowns. He draws a lot of coverage in the end zone though and I firmly believe if the Packers had any threat near the goal line running the ball, the options would open up immensely for Finley. Instead, the linebackers bail to the pass at the snap and that prevents Finley from any opportunity, forcing Rodgers to complete the very difficult flag route in the corner. Mulligan is the team's new version of Crabtree, noted as a good blocker and a guy that can do just enough everywhere else to stick. I still think he's only a long shot to make it. Williams showed a little bit of improvement last year, but I really expect (and hope) that Quarless can make a big jump and return. Early reports are that he's finally 100% and showing a lot of burst in minicamp. We'll see once the pads go on. Quarless showed the ability to play H-back as well before he went down potentially making Kuhn expendable if that's the case. Taylor is a needed special teams guy and only doesn't make the team if Mulligan beats him out for special teams. Bostick is still a receiving TE project and has to show he can block and play special teams at this point to stick, barring some sort of injury elsewhere.
Bottom Line: I see the Packers carrying 4 TEs this year and that would be Finley, Quarless, and Williams, and Taylor.
Offensive Tackle - Bakhtiari/Datko/Newhouse/Sherrod/Barclay (5 stars)
Bulaga has the left tackle spot locked up barring injury, but the right tackle spot is wide open. Bakhtiari was the Packers 3rd pick (4th round) of the draft this year, so I wouldn't be surprised if he was given a shot. Still, he's more of a project that, like many college linemen, needs to get stronger before he can start. The Packers tend to red-shirt rookie offensive linemen anyway (partially doing so with Bulaga, working Sherrod in slowly his rookie year only to see him get hurt, etc). Datko is a year stronger and a year away from his torn up shoulders. Newhouse is the most likely RT starter on day 1, but Barclay showed a lot of moxie and was a good anchor (and better run blocker than expected) in limited time last year. Sherrod is still hurt and if he can't recover to play this year, the Packers will likely cut ties with him at this point. It's unfortunate if that's the case. I really want to see the guy get back out there.
Bottom Line: Barclay wins and Newhouse backs up both tackle positions on game day. Bakhtiari gets trained in both tackle and guard and perhaps works his way into the 8th man on game day. Sherrod is cut or put on the PuP/IR again. Datko gets another year on the practice squad or is cut.
Offensive Guard and Center - (1 star)
The Packers are set with the durable Lang and Sitton returning as the two starters at guard. One of the backups will likely come from the tackle position and Van Roten probably has an inside track on the other spot. Van Roten should also back up at the center position behind Evan Dietrich-Smith. JC Tretter should round out the group transitioning from guard to center.
Bottom Line: This seems to be mostly a battle of the backups here. I don't think any of the guys will give the starters much push.