The Green Bay Packers missed the playoffs in 2017 after eight consecutive trips to the postseason. With more roster turnover than previous years, this team will be headed in a different direction next season. There are several players and coaching personnel that should shift philosophies on both sides of the ball. As new faces emerge and impact this year’s squad, certain players will have to prove their worth to the future of the organization. There are several Packers under pressure to continue playing at a high level while others must find a way to break out as impact players in 2018.
Green Bay Packers Under Pressure to Succeed in 2018
The decision to cut Jordy Nelson shakes up the rest of the receiving corps. Each member will be facing certain pressures. Davante Adams must prove he can step in as the team’s go-to receiver and continue to strive without the threat of Nelson on the other side. Jimmy Graham signed a lucrative free-agent deal that made it impossible to carry Nelson’s cap number, so he will be counted on to replace the lost red zone production. Geronimo Allison has to ward off three draftees to hold down the third receiver role. Randall Cobb faces the most pressure as the team’s number two pass-catcher heading into training camp.
Cobb hasn’t been the same player since his career year in 2014. That was Cobb’s sole 1,000-yard season as well as the only time he has recorded double-digit touchdowns. He has averaged only ten yards per reception the past three seasons. The former second-round pick has had various shoulder and ankle injuries the past two seasons and it appears he will be starting training camp on the sidelines. Cobb is entering a contract year at age 28, so if he wants to continue making over $ten million/year, he will need to come close to his 2014 totals.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
In a league that continues to devalue safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix must prove he is one of the top players at the position. In order to receive a second contract from the Packers next off-season, Clinton-Dix must play better than he did in 2017. The former Pro-Bowler took a step back with a limited supporting cast in the secondary. Longtime strong safety Morgan Burnett left the organization in free agency, so Clinton-Dix becomes the de facto leader on the back end.
Clinton-Dix looked like one of the best players on the team and the future of the Packers’ secondary just two years ago. He would be the first to admit that he had a down year in 2017, but Clinton-Dix has also declared that he will be back on top this year. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine should help the development of the team’s safeties. His best defenses have never had premier players at that position. If Clinton-Dix is able to parlay his role in a new scheme into a career year, he could become the highest paid player at the position.
First-year general manager Brian Gutekunst has made several moves to improve the Packers’ needs at cornerback and wide receiver. Viewed as a major hole at the start of the off-season, Gutekunst mostly ignored adding to the depth at outside linebacker. There is little-proven talent behind Clay Matthews and seventh-year pro Nick Perry. These two are a formidable duo when healthy but therein lies the problem. They rarely are at full strength at the same time.
The Packers will be looking for key contributions from Vince Biegel, Kyler Fackrell, and Reggie Gilbert, names that don’t inspire much confidence at this stage in their careers. Matthews will be required to lead this group and generate a consistent pass rush without the help he has had in previous years.
Matthews is entering the final year of a $66 million extension he signed in 2013. He just turned 32 and will be fighting for his last major contract next off-season. He was still the team’s best outside linebacker in 2017 but will need to prove that he can continue to contribute at a high level moving forward. The Packers are asking a lot of Matthews this year. If he is able to have a strong season and reach near double-digit sacks, there’s a good chance Matthews will earn another contract from the team.
A few years ago, Muhammad Wilkerson was one of the game’s most dominant defensive linemen. He compiled 33 sacks and over 250 tackles with the New York Jets from 2012-2015. Wilkerson never matched his totals from that span after signing a five-year $86 million extension in 2016.
He signed a prove-it deal with the Packers in hopes of recouping his image for next off-season. On a defensive line packed with talent, Wilkerson will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities to show he can still be a dominant interior pass-rusher.
Wilkerson doesn’t have to carry the weight of the D-line by himself. He’s not under pressure to create havoc on his own while line up next to Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark. He won’t be facing the same pressure as Matthews to continue being the face of the defense. Wilkerson simply must prove to the rest of the league that he was worthy of becoming one of the highest paid defensive players and that he is worthy of another lucrative deal in 2019.
Jason Spriggs finds himself in the midst of a career crossroads. Former general manager Ted Thompson traded up in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft to secure Spriggs. The plan was for Spriggs to replace David Bakhtiari on the left side. Shortly after, the general manager signed Bakhtiari to a lucrative extension, signaling Spriggs’s place as a swing tackle in case of injury. Spriggs has gotten onto the field each season but hasn’t performed up to his draft status. Even after suffering hamstring and knee injuries last year, Spriggs enters camp as one of the team’s healthiest tackles.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL in week 11 last year, and he’s not expected to be ready for training camp. Kyle Murphy, a sixth-round draft pick in 2016, also ended last season on injured reserve and is coming back from foot surgery. Byron Bell was signed in free agency to add competition on the right side. Spriggs should be looked at as the favorite to begin training camp next to Justin McCray at guard. If he is ever going to live up to his billing as a high draft pick, Spriggs must take advantage of these extra snaps and make a big jump in his third year.
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