We kick off our position-by-position preview of training camp, starting with the kicking units,…
The dog days of summer are coming to a close. Training camp is only 10 days away. At this point, the Packers have 82 players on their roster. The limit is 80, but the draft picks don't count until they're signed. With the Packers officially at 80 players, the team will have to make a corresponding roster move when linebacker Clay Matthews III and defensive lineman B.J. Raji are signed.
With that said, we continue to rank the players from No. 1 to what was No. 83 when Carson Butler was on the roster. This list doesn't necessarily list the players from best to worst, but we take into account the players' importance on the roster and other factors such as contracts and potential.
Packer Report Ranking: 15
— Nick Collins, S: Is it any wonder why Collins (5-foot-11, 207 pounds) wants a new contract? He's coming off of a season in which he tied for the NFC lead with seven interceptions to become the Packers' first Pro Bowl starting safety since Darren Sharper in 2002. He returned a league-high three of those for touchdowns and finished second on the team with 99 tackles, all while battling through some nagging bumps and bruises that led to a five-game streak with no interceptions. Obviously, for a player who had only four interceptions in his first three seasons — including none in 2007 — you have to wonder whether he's capable of producing anything close to an encore performance.
Packer Report Ranking: 16
— Atari Bigby, S: Bigby (5-11, 213) started only six games last season. In the 11 games in which he either was out or barely played, the Packers went 3-8 and gave up at least 24 points six times and at least 30 three times. He ended the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and needed ankle surgery in the offseason, which kept him out of the spring practices. When healthy, Bigby's an impact player. He intercepted five passes and emerged as an enforcer in 2007, and he picked off a pass to clinch the Week 1 win over Minnesota last year. He'll play the Troy Polamalu role this season as in-the-box defender, blitzer and big-play center fielder.
Packer Report Ranking: 17
— Mason Crosby, K: Crosby sure gets plenty of attention in fantasy football commercials for his meager accomplishments. Never mind that he led the NFL in scoring as a rookie in 2007. That year, he connected on 79.5 percent of his field goals. He followed that with 79.4 percent accuracy last season, which ranked in the bottom quarter in the league. Yes, he's got a big-time leg, making him an asset on kickoffs and long field goals. But he needs to improve his accuracy — he hit on only 76.9 percent of his kicks from 30 to 39 yards last year — and stop getting his kicks blocked (two last year, three in his career).
Packer Report Ranking: 18 and 19
— Clay Matthews III and Jeremy Thompson, OLB: Who will be the Packers' right outside linebacker? Matthews, the first-round pick from USC who cost the Packers two second-round draft picks and a third-round selection? Or Thompson, the fourth-round pick in 2008 who looked natural at the position during offseason workouts? Thompson took all of the first-team reps in the spring, in part because Matthews was being brought along slowly after straining a hamstring on the first day of organized team activities. Thompson (6-4, 260) played in nine games with three starts last year as a defensive end in the old 4-3 scheme, picking up 13 tackles and no sacks. He played a lot of coverage in Wake Forest's 4-3 scheme, so he enters his new role with some valuable experience. Matthews (6-3, 250), who played some 3-4 outside linebacker in USC's diverse defense, has the explosiveness, genes and desire to win the job. He'll also have first-round money when he finally gets his contract, putting him one notch ahead of Thompson in these rankings, even though he figures to open training camp behind Thompson on the depth chart.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.