The defense, specialist and coaching grades to follow. I did not grade players who did not play from scrimmage.
Look forward to your reactions.
Aaron Rodgers: A
Quite simply the best player not only on the team, but in the NFL in 2011, at least until the playoff game against the Giants. Improved in almost every area where he’d had even the slightest deficiency the year prior. The playoff game saw an unsure, tentative version of the quarterback that Packers fans hope never to see again. The future is very bright in Green Bay as long as he is under center.
Matt Flynn: B -
Made sure he was ready when called upon and then went out and made himself a bunch of money with his 6 TD performance against the Lions. Might not have the strongest arm in the NFL, but can make all the throws and, as the Lions game showed, isn’t limited in cold weather. Will draw a lot of interest in free agency.
James Starks: C
Started extremely strong, save for one clunker game in Chicago. Was never the same after the ankle injury suffered against Tampa Bay in Week 11. Unable to stay on the field and not overly effective when he was on it latter in the year. Improved in areas of weakness in 2010, like pass protection, but was too inconsistent in his reads and didn’t take a big step forward from his strong showing at the end of 2010.
Ryan Grant: C +
Looked completely washed up through the first two games of the season – then had a “turn-back-the-clock” performance against the Bears in Week 3. Was still up and down until the final month of the season, when he became something of a workhorse again as the rest of the backfield battled injury and inexperience. There’s a chance he’ll be back, but has most likely played his last down as a Packer.
Brandon Saine: C -
Did what was asked of him, which was just enough to get his feet wet. The rookie out of Ohio State looked like a natural catching the ball out of the backfield and showed good vision in space. If Grant is allowed to walk, will be in the mix to back-up Starks, if not split carries.
Alex Green: I
Started to get involved with a nice reception out of the backfield on a third down in Atlanta, and saw a few more snaps the following week against the Rams before being lost for the season in Minnesota. Green has an intriguing mix of speed and size and if he’s back for training camp, he will no doubt be in the mix for carries.
John Kuhn: C
Kuhn became a valuable contributor on third downs via his pass blocking and was his usual self in short yardage situations – meaning, he was much more successful when not everyone in the stadium knew he was getting the ball. Injured his MCL in the playoff game against the Giants, but should be fine for a return in 2012.
Greg Jennings: B+
The Packers’ best wide receiver, Jennings is a master at running routes and not giving anything away to the defensive back charged with covering him. The only disappointment with Jennings comes with his occasional lapses in concentration, which result in dropped balls or fumbles. But overall, he is a premiere talent at an important position in McCarthy’s offense.
Donald Driver: B -
The old man had, if not one of his most productive seasons, one of his most under-appreciated. Was a security blanket of sorts for Rodgers and made plays when the rest of the receiving corps seemed to fade. Stepped up big-time in the playoff loss to the Giants, the only offensive skill-player to do so. That said, has lost a step or maybe even two, and the Packers will most likely move on this offseason in favor of getting Randall Cobb and others on the field.
James Jones: C +
Brought back after striking out in free agency, Jones brought a familiarity with the offense and was an up and down performer, though he improved in a few areas over last year. His biggest improvement came on his play away from the ball, where he showed a willingness to block. Was also a much more physical runner after the catch. That said, was still prone to bad lapses and disappeared against the better secondaries.
Jordy Nelson: B+
A true breakout year for the Kansas State product, Nelson took advantage of single coverage due to defenses rolling safety help to Jennings and Finley. Was able to out-muscle corners and showed great body control on several deeper sideline throws. Has become an excellent route runner. Still prone to disappearing acts when faced with the better cornerbacks in the league, but overall had an outstanding season, making the Packers’ decision to extend his contract look very, very smart.
Randall Cobb: C
Has all the tools. Needs an offseason to start becoming a better route runner and generally learning the offense. Great run after the catch ability. Needs to add a bit of muscle up top. Also, simply must become better when it comes to ball security, be it while running after the catch or just catching the football. Has a tendency to want to play too fast, trying to do the next thing before completing the previous one. Overall, however, an exciting prospect for the future.
Jermichael Finley: B -
A matchup nightmare for defenses and a superior athlete at the position, should have had a much more productive season than he did. An important piece of the offensive puzzle, has an impact on the offense in ways not quantified by statistics. That said, he dropped way too many balls this year and did not seem to be on the same page with the quarterback on far too many occasions. Still young and improving, the team is right to want to sign him long-term.
Andrew Quarless: I
Was one of the most improved players on the team prior to being lost for the season while covering a kick against the Giants. Will be challenged to be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
Tom Crabtree: C -
Did good work as a makeshift fullback both in the running game and in pass protection. Valued for his versatility. With a lot of talent at the position, will need to battle once again next summer to make the roster.
D.J. Williams: D
An athletic talent who was simply overwhelmed much of the time. Needs an offseason both in the weightroom and in the classroom.
Ryan Taylor: C -
Valuable special teams contributor who saw more chances from scrimmage as the year went on. Game needs refinement on every level, but has the perfect football player temperament. Not afraid to mix it up with bigger defensive lineman and fearless on kick coverage.
Chad Clifton: D+
Played well the first four weeks of the season, then was lost for the next three months recovering from a hamstring and then lower back injuries. When pressed back into service in Week 17, looked inconsistent at best and slow and old at worst. Despite the team saying he was on a “pitch count” in the playoff game, the truth is that Clifton was benched. Very good chance he retires this offseason.
Bryan Bulaga: B +
Greatly improved over his rookie year, took the expected jump from year one to year two. Struggled against speed rushers on the road, but other than that was as near to a lock to block his man as any lineman the Packers have employed in recent years. If Clifton does indeed retire, could get a look at left tackle, but probably should stay on the right side where he has excelled.
Marshall Newhouse: B -
It could be said that Newhouse saved the Packers’ season. While he did struggle against some premier pass rushers, overall did an excellent job keeping Rodgers clean in the pocket. Not the smoothest athlete and prone to lunging, needs to work on balance and hand placement. With a real offseason, could be the starting left tackle in 2012.
Derek Sherrod: I
Wildly inconsistent when he got on the field. Lost to a serious leg injury in Kansas City that could jeopardize his availability for the start of 2012. Never looked comfortable at either guard or tackle in training camp. The lack of an offseason which will be spent in rehab rather than training and practicing could really slow his growth.
T.J. Lang: B
An upgrade over former left guard Daryn Colledge, Lang was a physical presence in the run game. Did a great job getting to the second level and taking on linebackers. Was inconsistent in pass protection, but improved as the year went on. Was asked to move around the line due to multiple injures elsewhere and played as well as could be expected. Should help solidify the offensive line for years to come.
Josh Sitton: C +
Noticeable dip in performance early on in the season. Was beat far too often in one-on-ones. Was said to be fighting several injuries, which no doubt accounts for some of the sub-par performance. Play greatly improved after he sat out a few weeks after being injured on Thanksgiving Day. Packers need to see much more of what they saw late in the year after rewarding him with a contract extension last year.
Evan Dietrich-Smith: D
Played his best game in Week 17 left guard when Lang was moved to right tackle. That said, his best was not very good. Allowed way too much penetration against the Giants and the Chiefs. A mauler who isn’t afraid to mix it up, but does not show any refinement in his game. Will be on the bubble heading into camp next summer.
Scott Wells: A -
The Packers’ best offensive lineman, did a masterful job sorting out the protection calls at the line of scrimmage. Rarely beat, even by bigger defensive lineman. Prone to an occasional mental lapse in the pre-snap phase. Set to be a free agent with both sides said to be far apart on the lineman’s worth. Despite his advancing age, should be resigned.