The dog days of summer are coming to a close. Training camp is only 8 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 under contract.
With that said, we continue to rank the players from No. 1 to No. 83 (a figure that includes Carson Butler, who was released this week). 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: 10 (tie)
— Charles Woodson and Al Harris
You can’t name one without the other, so we won’t here, either.
While Donald Driver has defied Father Time with continued excellent play at an advanced age, Woodson has flat-out thumbed his nose at that old guy carrying an hour glass.
Woodson, who turns 33 in October, has been nothing short of brilliant during his three seasons in Green Bay. In eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Woodson intercepted 17 passes and broke up 85, giving him season averages of 1.9 interceptions and 9.4 passes defended. In three seasons in Green Bay, Woodson has intercepted 19 passes and broken up 56, for season averages of 6.3 interceptions and 18.7 passes defended. He scored two touchdowns for the Raiders; he’s scored five touchdowns for the Packers.
After a seven-year hiatus, the supposed over-the-hill malcontent earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl with seven interceptions, 20 passes defended and two touchdowns last year. Two of his seven interceptions came in Week 2 in Detroit, when the Packers were busy blowing a big lead. The first set up a touchdown, the second was a pick-six to clinch the game. Later in the season, he blanketed Terrell Owens and Reggie Wayne, holding the Pro Bowlers to a combined four catches and 41 yards, then played a few games at safety
Not bad for a guy who fought through a toe fractured in the season opener and was forced to play on guts, guile and study rather than on-the-field preparation for several weeks. Woodson’s study habits rubbed off on safety Nick Collins, who frequently credited Woodson for his breakout Pro Bowl season.
Meanwhile, what Harris has achieved may be even more remarkable. Harris, who turns 35 in December, saw his career thrown into jeopardy when he suffered an injured spleen against Dallas that snapped his streak of 175 consecutive games. Rather than face retirement, Harris missed only four games and was back on the field as a starter against Tennessee after the bye week.
Harris’ play and guts earned the attention of his peers. He was voted a Pro Bowl alternate and wound up replacing Woodson. Harris never has been a ballhawk like Woodson — his 19 interceptions in 11 seasons match Woodson’s figure during his three years with the Packers.
Nonetheless, Harris remains an upper-echelon corner. In his first game back, he helped smother Tennessee’s receivers. Then he shut out the Vikings’ Bernard Berrian after the speedster had posted 100-yard games in three of his last four games. He finished the season without an interception for the first time since 2000 but broke up 12 passes.
Harris’ detractors always will point to Plaxico Burress’ dominating performance in the NFC championship game in January 2008. And his days of being able to handle elite receivers may be over.
But assuming they adapt to the new coverage schemes, Harris, Woodson and nickel corner Tramon Williams give the Packers a decided advantage in today’s pass-first NFL. If the new 3-4 defense provides the pressure that coordinator Dom Capers expects, this should remain an elite group.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.