We all know the Green Bay Packers are a beat-up bunch. It’s something we at OBOD have tried to steer away from as much as possible because, well, we don’t like making excuses about our team. We’re just so un-Vikings fan-ish that way.
So, instead of simply griping about it, I’ve decided to go a different way. I’m going to rank the nine key players currently on the team’s injured reserve list (sadly, I left Josh Bell out). This is not a ranking of their skills, but rather their overall importance. For example, the No. 1 player listed is the player I’d most like to see healthy. I’ll also take some guesses on where each player’s future with the team stands.
Everyone good? Okay, here we go. As always, enjoy.
- Jermichael Finley, tight end (knee) - There is simply no bigger reason for the offensive struggles over the past month than the absence of No. 88. Granted, the offense wasn’t looking elite before Finley’s injury, but with him out, the field has definitely shrunk for the rest of Green Bay’s pass catchers. It’s clear the offense never had much of a plan B in the event of a Finley injury. And, most damning, Aaron Rodgers still seems lost much of the time minus his top read. Finley’s stats, projected over a full season: 84 catches, 1,204 yards, four touchdowns. He likely won’t get that fat new contract now, but should be hungrier than ever come next year.
- Ryan Grant, running back (ankle) - It took all of about three seconds for us to downplay Grant’s importance upon hearing he was lost for the year. Eight games later, I’d like to take back much of what I said. That’s not meant to be a shot at Brandon Jackson or John Kuhn because, actually, those two have been pretty okay. But, either alone or combined, they do not bring the same threat Grant did. Grant, while certainly not an elite back, at least gave opponents something to think about when gameplanning for Green Bay’s offense. He was at least a threat to break the century mark every week. With him gone, Mike McCarthy has been allowed to fully explore the dark side of his “shotgun, five-wide” philosophy. Not a good thing. With such a big salary for next year (he could earn as much as $6 million in salary and various bonuses), you have to wonder if cheaper options won’t be explored by the team.
- Mike Neal, defensive end (shoulder) - At first, you might snicker seeing Neal this high on the list. Don’t. Despite only playing two games before seeing his season end, Neal showed some flashes of serious potential. Stout and strong enough to play the run - and quick enough to get to the passer - Neal would have been a key cog on the d-line. His presence would have given Green Bay three dual-threat linemen (Neal, B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins). It also would have allowed Dom Capers to do a whole lot more mixing-and-matching, depending on the situation. In 2011: Neal, Raji, Jenkins (he’ll be re-signed, fear not), Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly (starting to think he’ll be back). Yes, please.
- Nick Barnett, inside linebacker (wrist) – The emergence of Desmond Bishop and the improvement of A.J. Hawk knock Barnett a little further down the list than originally thought at the time of his injury. Still, you know those times Hawk goes too high on a tackle or gets caught out of position in coverage? Yeah, those are the times you wish Barnett was still around. And his leadership is still sort of missed, as well, though that void has been filled somewhat filled by committee (Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, etc.). Hawk is likely gone after this season, so even with a salary approaching the $6 million range, Barnett should return.
- Morgan Burnett, safety (knee) - Solid, if unspectacular, for the two games he played before getting hurt, it’s highly likely Burnett would just be taking his game up a notch about now. Remember, Burnett has “big-time playmaker” written all over him. Luckily, Charlie Peprah’s emergence and the impending return of Atari Bigby (could happen this week) have made up for Burnett’s loss. With Burnett solidly in the fold for the foreseeable future, it’s likely that either Bigby or Peprah will not be back come 2011.
- Brad Jones, outside linebacker (shoulder) - Jones played his best game of the season, hands down, in the win over Minnesota. With the luck the Packers have had this year with injuries, it’s darkly fitting that his shoulder injury – problematic since camp – would flair up so bad he’d have to have surgery immediately afterwards. Jones did not provide much pressure opposite Matthews, definitely disappointing. He was good against the run, though, and his pass rushing looked to be improving before he got hurt. Finding a more proven pass rushing commodity to play opposite Matthews – thus keeping Jones in a more limited role – is definitely a possibility in the offseason.
- Derrick Martin, safety (knee) - As we all know, Martin brings limited value as an actual safety. His true value came as Green Bay’s best special teams player. With the Packers giving up at least one big return in each of the past four games, you can see why he’s been missed. Coming off such a severe injury, his return to the team next season seems in doubt, especially when you consider Green Bay’s considerable depth at the position.
- Justin Harrell, defensive end (knee) - Harrell would have been a key member of the rotation along the d-line as he turned in a very solid training camp. Of course, we all know what happened next, don’t we? Harrell, as always, was bitten by the injury bug, less than two quarters into the season. Harrell deserves a great deal of credit for continuing to work his way back from injury. Unfortunately, it’s just never going to happen for him in the NFL. The Packers have given him four years. They can give him no more.
- Brady Poppinga (knee), outside linebacker – Buried on the depth chart to start the season, injuries forced Poppinga into a key role, only he didn’t last long in said role. He showed a bit more potential in the 3-4 than he did last season (example: his huge overtime sack of Donovan McNabb in the Washington game). But when you consider that he’s due over $2 million next season, it becomes clear Poppinga has probably played his last down for the Packers.
What do you think of my rankings? As always, comment baby, comment!