The dog days of summer are coming to a close. Training camp is only 7 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: 8 (tie)
— Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk, ILBs: These two players have more than just their position in common.
Both are coming off of injuries. For Barnett, it was a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the third quarter of a midseason game at Minnesota. For A.J. Hawk, it was chest and groin injuries that sapped him of his explosiveness, even though he made it through all 16 games.
Both are coming off of disappointing seasons, which goes a long way toward explaining how the defense went from bringing a wrecking ball to opposing offenses to being leveled by a wrecking ball during the offseason.
When he went down, Barnett was on pace to finish with 122 tackles. That would have been the fewest in his career since posting 134 as a rookie and a whopping 43 behind his total from 2007. His per-game average entering last season was 10.2. Last year, it was 7.6. Hawk, meanwhile, posted a team-high 121 tackles, but that was the fewest in his three-year career. He was regularly burned on passing plays, especially after moving to the middle to replace Barnett, and finished with only three passes defensed.
Then there are the lack of big plays, which was endemic of the entire front seven. Barnett had no sacks, no interceptions, no fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in his 8.5 games. Hawk had three sacks (two vs. Detroit in Week 2), no interceptions, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries.
As former first-round picks — Barnett was No. 29 in 2003 and Hawk was No. 5 in 2006 — these players must be key factors on defense.
Barnett, a two-time Pro Bowl alternate who is one of the heart beats on defense, generally has done so. When he’s allowed to practice at full speed during training camp and how he looks during preseason games will be major story lines this summer. He started running a couple of months ago, but running is a lot different than cutting, taking on fullbacks and making tackles.
Hawk, on the other hand, is on the verge of being labeled a disappointment. His toughness is without question, but as a top-five pick, you’d like a lot more than Hawk’s career totals of 7.5 sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Perhaps the combination of being healthy and the new scheme will bring out the best in him.
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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.