Please be understanding that this is an inexact science at best with players who haven't received major chunks of playing time.
The grading scale is as follows: A=Pro Bowl caliber, B=Solid NFL starter, C=Average NFL player, D=Below average player, F=Fringe NFL player.
B.J. Raji (D-): There's the built-in excuse that Raji is not supposed to be the type of guy that makes a lot of tackles or sacks, because the Packers play a two-gapping style of defense. But even taking that into account, Raji underachieved in almost every sense of the word in 2013. Not only should fans expect Raji to produce more, the team is right to expect more as well. The coaches can talk all they want that Raji held his own plugging holes, and sometimes he did, but far from a regular basis, far too often being pushed backwards. Raji's snaps were reduced in 2013 compared to previous seasons, but he made 17 tackles on the year, a career-low, even fewer than his rookie season when he only played in 14 games and started only one. He also didn't have a single sack but did have 10 quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Raji's performance against the Bears in Green Bay stands out as a lone bright spot amid a sea of less than stellar play, but even that wasn't enough to lead the Packers to victory against a backup quarterback.
Ryan Pickett (C+): Ryan Pickett is what he is. He never was a well-rounded player who could rush the passer in addition to playing the run, but he never was expected to either. In 2013, he continued to stuff the run, maintain his gap and kept blockers off the inside linebackers, but a nagging injury and age combined to impact Pickett's mobility. His lateral agility and ability to run down ball carriers to the sideline or from behind lagged behind prior seasons. He made 19 tackles in 2013 compared to 51 in 2012.
Johnny Jolly (C-): For as nice a story Jolly provided in coming back from suspension, drug addiction and a stint in prison, his play on the field could probably be described as serviceable. He's a fighter and the type who isn't going to back down from anyone, but his run defense was about the only thing he did passably well. Jolly came up with just one sack and only had one hit on a quarterback all year long, per ProFootballFocus.com. One of the best things he did before suspension was bat down passes at the line of scrimmage, knocking down 10 in 2009. That number was down to just one in 2013. His future is in doubt after being placed on injured reserve with a neck injury late in the season.
Mike Daniels (B+): For the first time since Cullen Jenkins departed in free agency, the Packers found a defensive lineman that could put pressure on the quarterback. Daniels came up with 6.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hurries in 2013 per ProFootballFocus.com, among the league leaders among linemen playing in a 3-4 defensive system. Despite being primarily an interior rusher on passing downs, Daniels also played the run remarkably well, because he's able to get penetration into opposing backfields. One of the few things holding Daniels back is a play-time percentage of only about 50. It wouldn't be a stretch to say his impact could be even greater in seasons to come.
Datone Jones (C): By no means did Jones live up to his first-round billing in just one season in Green Bay, but as far as his pass rush went, he applied decent pressure in limited playing time. In just 263 snaps, Jones took part in five quarterback sacks (including half sacks) and 10 quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He also blocked an extra point. Jones clearly has a way to go before the team trusts him as an end in their base 3-4, but considering his impact as a rusher, it's rather surprising he didn't take away more snaps from Neal, Raji and Boyd on third-and-long situations. An early season ankle injury, which was not insignificant, put Jones behind the eight ball the first few games and probably delayed some of his development.
Josh Boyd (C-): Despite not playing at all the first six games of the season, Boyd's playing time and impact grew as injuries accumulated and the season wore on. While participating in just a handful of snaps his first few appearances, his playing time spiked to being on the field for 32 downs in the win at Dallas. Boyd is obviously raw and not yet a factor as a pass rusher, but he largely held his ground against the run, especially considering the expectations as a late-round rookie.
C.J. Wilson (D): For a guy that had 27 career sacks in college, it's disappointing that he can't apply even a modicum of pressure in the NFL. But if judging Wilson solely as a run-stuffing defensive end, he's average to even slightly above average, especially for someone without the girth of a Raji or Pickett. Wilson does well to maintain his gap, disengage and track down ball carriers when given the chance.
Jerel Worthy (Incomplete): Since coming of the PUP list mid-season, Worthy made appearances in three games, playing a total of 14 snaps on defense and a handful more on special teams. As a second-round draft choice, Worthy has yet to live up to expectations, but a torn ACL was no small obstacle in his development. To become a more complete player, there has to become more to his game than just quickness.
Clay Matthews (B): Nearly impossible to judge in 2013, Matthews played moderately well before a broken thumb the fourth game of the season, and then played up and down in seven more games with a cast before breaking his thumb a second time. His quickness and motor are still unparalleled among 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL. Whenever he goes unblocked, he always makes the opposing team pay. And even when he doesn't get to the quarterback, such as he did in hurrying Tony Romo in the Packers' win at Dallas, he can still impact the outcome of a play (forcing a hurried throw into an interception). Matthews seemed to struggle holding the edge in the run game with his cast. Despite all his injury obstacles, he still managed to lead the team with 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2013.
Mike Neal (C): True, it's admirable that Neal was able to transition to outside linebacker after his first three seasons as a defensive lineman, dropping weight and playing in space. But for as far as Neal has come, the results were mixed at best. He was good when able to pin his ears back and get after the passer, coming up with five sacks and a team-high 37 quarterback hurries in 2013. He also had a strong anchor against the run. But when asked to play in space, either dropping into coverage or reading runners off-tackles, Neal just didn't have the agility to move laterally. The best development, however, may be that Neal played in all 16 games for the first time of his career and now enters free agency with momentum behind him.
Nick Perry (C): Unfortunately for Perry, a broken bone in his foot and an ankle injury to complicate matters really put a cramp in his development. With three sacks and two forced fumbles in the two games before his injury occurred, Perry looked to be coming on like gangbusters. After missing five games, Perry just wasn't at full strength the rest of the way, and his agility was severely impacted. His season ended on a sour note when Perry looked particularly bad jumping offsides on a field-goal attempt against the Steelers in Week 16 and pathetically trying to cover Bears running back Matt Forte in Week 17.
Andy Mulumba (D+): Mulumba's playing time increased late in the season out of necessity due to injuries at the position, and luckily for the Packers, his appeared to similarly be on the rise over time as well. In the early going, one of the few things Mulumba had going for him was his ability to set a stiff edge in the run game, but his pass rush got better late in the year. He even earned a game ball from the team after coming up with a sack and three tackles in the Week 17 division-clinching win over the Bears.
Nate Palmer (F): When injuries struck at mid-season, Palmer was actually thrust into the starting lineup for two games but made little to no impact. He played in six games but played so poorly that the Packers made him inactive for five of the team's final six games of the season. His performance on special teams was similarly nil. The biggest thing Palmer has going is his youth and that he can only improve.
A.J. Hawk (C-): Thanks to what appeared to be a significant weight loss, Hawk was more productive in 2013 than he had been any time since the Super Bowl season. Unsurprisingly, his 118 tackles led the team, but he also had a career-high five sacks, his first interception since 2010 and his first forced fumble since 2007. His leadership and uncanny ability to stay healthy are always appreciated, but his overall athleticism compared to other NFL inside linebackers are still lacking. You have to wonder how much better he'd look next to a better running mate next to him.
Brad Jones (D+): Like Hawk, Jones may have notched a career-high 84 tackles and three sacks, but compared to his peers throughout the NFL, he's not up to snuff. In the early going, it actually appeared as if Jones could have a successful season based upon his play the first three weeks of the season. But then both hamstring and ankle injuries struck and Jones was never the same, always a step slow, which was particularly evident in pass coverage.
Jamari Lattimore (C-): Thrust into action after injuries to Jones, Rob Francois and Sam Barrington, Lattimore proved to be a capable backup, especially considering his inexperience. There were times when Lattimore looked like a playmaker coming up with two sacks and a forced fumble, but other times he was a victim of his own over-aggressiveness, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A knee injury late in the year limited his effectiveness. Lattimore is a respected leader among his teammates and a key special teams player.
Rob Francois (Incomplete): It's too bad Francois was placed on injured reserve so early in the season with a torn Achilles. He could have been to use with so many other injuries at the position, as well as on special teams.
Sam Barrington (Incomplete): The same could be said about Barrington as Francois. His season was ended by a hamstring injury in Week 9.
Victor Aiyewa (Incomplete): Aiyewa played in six games late in the season after previously spending time on the practice squad. His contributions on special teams were not insignificant, making six tackles, an average of one per game that outpaced every other player on the team.
Sam Shields (B+): It's rather amazing that Shields was able to come up with a career-high 17 passes defensed in 2013, especially considering he missed two games at mid-season with a hamstring and toe injuries. He's Green Bay's best cover corner, although he occasionally gets beat for longer passes than he should. One might argue that if he's going be among the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL, he should come up with more than four turnovers he came up with in 2013. That being said, turnovers aren't the end-all, be-all.
Tramon Williams (B): From midseason on, Williams might have deserved an 'A.' Whether it actually took him that long to finally recover from a serious 2011 shoulder injury is debatable, but whatever the case, Williams played at a very high level, coming up with three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks. And not to be overlooked was the way he filled in as a slot cornerback at mid-season when Hayward and Bush were injured. Williams gets a bad rap for being penalized for a high number of yards (only two NFL players with more per NFLPenalties.com) and it's unfair for him to expect him to pitch a shutout against opposing receivers, but he probably avoided a potential offseason paycut with stellar play this year.
Davon House (C-): There were no shortage of both ups and downs for House in 2013. On the positive side of the ledger, he had a career-high 10 passes defensed, increased his special teams value exponentially and managed not to have a single penalty on defense. But he also let several opportunities slip through his hands, both literally (dropping interceptions) and figuratively (getting a reduced role). When forced into action in the playoff loss to San Francisco, House did a decent job in pass coverage, but showed his tackling still left a lot to be desired.
Micah Hyde (B-): Hyde isn't being graded on a rookie curve. He deserves a 'B' level grade when you take into account his contributions on both defense and special teams. Sure, his dropped interception in the wildcard loss to the 49ers stings, but his physical brand of play at the slot cornerback position was a welcome addition in Green Bay. He's a better punt returner than kick returner, but he was for the most part sure-handed on all returns. His average of 12.3 yards ranked fifth in the NFL.
Casey Hayward (D+): Hayward missed the first six games of the season before coming back to play in three games on a part-time basis and re-aggravating his hamstring and placed on injured reserve. In just 88 snaps, Hayward did an adequate job, but didn't make the same type of impact plays he did as a rookie and the injury more than likely had something to do with it. When healthy, he should be expected to be the team's nickel cornerback with expectations that he should eventually be able to play on the perimeter too.
Jarrett Bush (B-): First of all, credit the coaches for putting Bush in a position to succeed by not hardly ever putting him out on the perimeter, but credit Bush for putting together perhaps the best all-around season of his career. He continues to be the best special teams player on the team, but for once, the positive plays he made on defense might have outweighed the negative ones. His performance in the comeback win against Atlanta, breaking up a pass intended for Tony Gonzalez and intercepting another were quite memorable.
James Nixon and Jumal Rolle (Incomplete): Nixon played all of two defensive snaps at mid-season before ending up on injured reserve with a knee injury. Rolle spent the last two games of the season on the 53-man roster but wasn't active for either game. Both will get a chance to compete for a job in the offseason.
Morgan Burnett (D-): After signing a five-year, $26 million contract extension in the offseason, Burnett made 96 tackles, made zero interceptions, zero sacks, forced zero fumbles and defended just five passes. Compare that to 2011 when he made 107 tackles, one sack, grabbed three interceptions, forced two fumbles and deflected 11 passes. Burnett was fearless in coming up to fill running lanes and meeting runners head-on, but that might have been his only positive contribution in 2013. Even then, he missed too many tackles, and his lapses in coverage happened far too frequently. Like Hawk, perhaps a better running mate would make a difference.
M.D. Jennings (F): It's hard to play worse than Burnett, but if that can be accomplished, Jennings did it. A popular question among observers was 'Why did Jennings play so much?' That question can be answered in that A) he's a smart player and was frequently in the right position, and B) for a long time, there were no better options. But the fact of the matter is that Jennings is simply not an NFL-caliber player, not strong enough, quick enough, big enough and in sum, talented enough, to get the job done. Like Burnett, he didn't come up with a single interception or forced fumble and didn't so much as get his hands on a single pass. He might personify the saying, "Nice guys finish last."
Sean Richardson (D+): Since coming off the PUP list mid-season, Richardson took part in 156 regular-season snaps and at least looked less out of place than Jennings. He has the size and instincts to make tackles near the line of scrimmage in the run game, although his range and lack of experience are still a liability in coverage. Richardson has an opportunity in front of him for more playing time in the future, but it's up to him to improve and earn it.
Chris Banjo (D): At just 5-10, Banjo has his limitations in the secondary, but he was a spark plug on special teams. As an exclusive rights free agent, it can't hurt to sign Banjo once again for his special teams acumen alone, but he should have competition either through free agency, the draft or both.
Jerron McMillian (F): Seemingly incapable of playing deep off the football, McMillian was strictly a box safety. But in this age of passing in the NFL, McMillian was burned in coverage so often, he lost his job following Week 12. He also should've been a better special teams player but wasn't.
Special teams coming tomorrow.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email email@example.com.
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