The dog days of summer are coming to a close. Training camp is only 4 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 last 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: 2
— Chad Clifton, LT: Can Chad Clifton get through one more season?
The 33-year-old left tackle is entering the final season of his contract. He had arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees during the offseason in hopes of alleviating the chronic pain that sidelined him for dozens of practices last season. With that combination of age and health, Clifton probably isn’t in the Packers’ plans for next season.
But he’s very much in their plans for this season. The Packers took a step toward replacing Clifton in April when they selected South Carolina’s Jamon Meredith in the fifth round. But Meredith, even though he started 38 games in the Southeastern Conference, is nowhere near a finished product. He needs at least a year of seasoning to learn the game and add strength. If he has to play this year, the Packers are in big trouble.
That’s what makes Clifton so valuable. Along with still being an above-average left tackle — he’s the 11th-best tackle in the NFL, according to Sporting News’ RealScouts — the Packers have nothing in reserve. First in line likely would be Daryn Colledge, but the coaches really want to let Colledge settle in at one position to see if he can develop into a top-notch left guard. Tony Moll filled in during offseason practices, but considering he couldn’t hack it at right tackle, it’s hard to imagine him being a legit fill-in at the line’s most important position.
Clifton allowed a career-high 6.5 sacks last season. The painful knees have robbed him of his once-superior ability to mirror a pass rusher’s moves. Clifton and the coaches are hoping the surgeries will allow him to practice more frequently and return some of the nimbleness of his youth.
Packer Report Ranking: 3
— Aaron Kampman, OLB: Since the first day of offseason practices, all eyes have been on Kampman as he makes the move from left defensive end to left outside linebacker.
Kampman’s credentials are obvious: He went to the Pro Bowl following the 2006 and 2007 seasons, when he tallied 27.5 sacks. Last year, as the only pass rusher on defense and the focal point for opponents’ game plans, he managed 9.5 sacks. The grind took its toll. Only two of his sacks came in the second halves of games, he had none in the fourth quarter and none in December.
How will he fare as a linebacker? Judging by his reluctance to talk in depth about the issue during the offseason, it appears even he doesn’t know the answer. Those who know in the NFL, though, say Kampman’s combination of often-forgotten athleticism and renowned work ethic will make him a success. They point to Greg Ellis, who played in one Pro Bowl for Dallas after moving from end to linebacker, and say Kampman is the better athlete.
It’s critical for Kampman to be a success. On a defense that too often failed to make plays last season, Kampman is the only proven playmaker on the front seven. They simply can’t afford to see his pass-rushing talents evaporate. And if he does struggle in the new scheme, you can kiss him goodbye in free agency following this season.
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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.