12 Green Bay Packers With Something to Prove in 2011

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The Green Bay Packers proved everyone wrong in 2010.

Despite several key injuries, a rash of heart-breaking losses and their dire playoff situation heading into Week 16, the Packers overcame it all and won the Super Bowl.

But guess what? 2010 was last year. It was a great season, but it’s now in the rearview mirror.

And if there’s a season in 2011, expectations are going to be at an all-time high. Here are 12 Packers with something to prove next year.


RB Ryan Grant

Despite owning two 1,200-yard rushing seasons, a lot of things are working against Grant’s future in Green Bay. He’ll be 29 years old in Decemeber, hasn’t played a full NFL game in over a year and a half and the Packers now have two young backs that will fight over his playing time.

Add in the fact that the Packers are paying him over $5 million next season, and it’s easy to see what Grant has to prove. Either produce early on or he’ll likely be seeing a lot of the bench and a new home for 2012.


QB Matt Flynn

If the Packers don’t trade Flynn—which is the smart move in my opinion—he’s going to be expected to produce if Aaron Rodgers has to miss any time in 2011. There will be no excuse if he plays like he did in Detroit.

And the real pressure comes from what the Packers aren’t getting by keeping him. If Flynn could bring back a third or fourth round pick and the Packers still hold on to him, he better prove he’s worth it as a backup.


WR Jordy Nelson

2011 is the year that Nelson should take over Donald Driver’s spot as the No. 2 receiver. Driver is 36 and slowing down, James Jones is likely going to find starter’s money in free agency and rookie Randall Cobb isn’t ready for that much responsibility.

Nelson needs to be more consistent, but there’s no reason why he can’t be the kind of threat he was in the Super Bowl week-in and week-out. With so many weapons in the Packers offense, now is the time for Nelson to step to the plate.


TE Jermichael Finley

There’s no denying the talent of Finley. He’s a tight end that defensive coordinators have to game plan for, and there might not be a defender in the NFL that can handle his size and speed combination.

But at this point, that’s all Finley is—good on paper. He’s missed 14 games over the past two seasons, and, to make matter worse, he’s a free agent after the 2011 season. Finley needs to produce and stay healthy to warrant the Packers giving him a big deal to stay in Green Bay.


OL T.J. Lang

The clock is ticking on Lang’s chances to crack the Packers starting lineup. Daryn Colledge might be leaving in free agency, which would leave a hole at left guard. Lang’s name has always been the first one to get plugged into that spot, but is it that simple?

Don’t rule out the possibility of the Packers moving Bryan Bulaga to left guard and plugging 2011 first rounder Derek Sherrod at right tackle if they think that gives them their five best lineman. Lang needs to prove he finally belongs.


DE Mike Neal

The biggest shoes the Packers will need to fill for 2011 is at defensive end, where Cullen Jenkins is almost certainly gone. Neal, a second round pick in 2010, will likely be the first player they call upon to replace him.

Neal showed flashes of brilliance before his shoulder injury, but that in itself is a concern. He’ll need to play at a high level and stay healthy to ensure the Packers defense doesn’t take too big of step backwards after Jenkins.


OLB’s Erik Walden/Frank Zombo/Brad Jones

These three are lumped together because I have a sneaky feeling they all will see significant snaps in 2011. Zombo is going to get the first crack, but Walden might be the better playmaker and Jones showed his rookie season that he can get to the passer.

Also, don’t forget about Ricky Elmore. He’s going to push these three to play well or risk losing playing time.


ILB Desmond Bishop

Bishop always claimed to have a chip on his shoulder after not being picked until the sixth round in 2007. Will he relax now that he’s the undisputed starter?

There’s a long list of players who have busted after receiving their first big contract, and Bishop received a four-year, $19 million contract in January. I’m not saying it will happen with Bishop—I’d guess the opposite, in fact—but he needs to prove 2010 wasn’t just an aberration.


CB Sam Shields

There isn’t a player on the roster that is hurt more by the lockout than Shields. He’s a rising star in the league (SI’s Peter King ranked him No. 100 in his top 100 NFL players this week), but losing important offseason programs could stunt his development.

Think about it—any time lost with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams on the practice field and film room isn’t good for Shields. He needs to prove he can take the next step without the benefit of an offseason.


S Morgan Burnett

Burnett was a promising rookie in 2010, but an injury cut his season short just four games into the schedule. In his absence, journeyman Charlie Peprah took hold of the position and played well.

However, the Packers want Burnett to be the starter opposite Nick Collins in the both the short and long-term. For that to happen, Burnett needs to have a good camp and prove his knee is healed enough to be a better option than Peprah, who was re-signed this offseason.


Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.


  • FireMMNow

    good stuff zach. i wanted to be able to trade Flynn during the last draft but that was not a possibility. If he plays another good game or has a great preseason he could be the hottest FA on the market next season. Since he is a QB his salary will be inflated and could quite possibly net the packers a 3rd round compensatory pick. (assuming compensatory picks are included in the new CBA.) therefore, i would prefer to use him for the year and take the compensatory pick rather than trade him prior to the start of the season. if someone offered a first round pick in next years draft i would feel differently, but for a second i would just keep him.

    T.J. Lang is my biggest concern out of the guys on the list. If he does not start this year he never will. He should be healthy and ready to go.

    Shields is probably the most important guy on the list. He allowed Dom to call a super creative scheme and use Woodson in a way that makes him a dominant player. If Shields regresses this defense will regress. But a guy with that size and 4.2 speed cannot regress too far in my opinion. He should be sleeping on Woodson’s couch this offseason.

    • CWood21

      While I understand your logic, I like a 3rd round compensatory pick for Flynn is VERY optimistic. Look at the compensatory picks for this past draft. Carolina got a 3rd rounder for Peppers, who signed for 8 years, $91 million. The Titans and Packers got 4th rounders for Vanden Bosch and Kampman, who each signed for 4 years, $26 million. I believe that if Flynn hits the open market, he will sign a contract much closer to what Kampman and Vanden Bosch signed for (but it will include bonus and escalator clauses I’m sure) than Pepper’s monster deal.

      • FireMMNow

        it may be optimistic but it is not out of the realm of possibilities. Cassel got a 6 year, 67.2 million dollar deal when he signed with the chiefs. granted he was able to start some games and show a little more, but it has been a couple years and QB salaries will only go up with Brady and peyton signing new deals. also, matt schaub who only played in 6 games throughout his falcons career and got a 6 year 48 million dollar deal back in 2007 when he was traded to the texans. i would think flynns deal would be in the 45-60 million dollar range. that MAY be enough for a third round pick.

  • classicpack

    Barnett, should he not be traded, should be included on your list. Definitely has talent, but where is there room for him now?

    • FireMMNow

      the only thing barnett has to prove in my opinion is whether or not he is willing to accept a backup role and less money. we have seen what he can do on the field. he does not have enough short area quickness anymore.

    • CWood21

      Barnett is all but gone. The writing is on the wall. Our entire defense got better when he got hurt. Both Bishop and Hawk, individually, got considerably better without Barnett. Combine that with the fact that he will not want to accept a back up role, will not accept less money, and will probably not want to play special teams, it becomes pretty clear that there is not much of a role for Barnett on this team. Good Riddance!

  • Lucas

    Given G.B.s reputation for QBs, Flynn should not have to show much more. Harrell, however, if he shows something, makes Flynn very tradable. Flynn doesn’t have much to show. G.B. trusts him as #2 and other teams, in desperation, will be willing to have him for a #1.

    • With the lockout affecting Harrell’s further development as McCarthy said the other day, a Flynn trade is highly unlikely.

      • Lucas

        Exactly. Please excuse my wording (2 posts above). “Flynn doesn’t have much to show” should be “can’t do much to change G.B.s plans and doesn’t need to show other teams much more to be considered a #1”.
        I agree completely, Al. My “if Harrell” really is a big if. And if G.B. traded Flynn, I would have the same uneasy fealing as when they cut Brohm and kept Flynn.

  • paul

    what about harrell?

    • Zach Kruse

      Which Harrell? Graham or Justin?

      • CWood21

        I sure hope he is not talking about Justin. Let’s just accept the fact that he was a bust and let him be the only real blemish on TT’s draft record. Don’t worry TT, we will let that one slide.

  • Curley2808

    I think Slocum (ST coach) needs to prove that the reason his squad often plays poorly is because of all the injuries they’ve had. If we have a relatively injury-free season, and they still don’t play well…hmmmm. Mason Crosby also will need to prove that he can be relied on to kick it through the end-zone when neccessary, especially with the new rule placing the ball 5-yards closer to it.

    • +2

      • FireMMNow

        i have probably been slocum’s biggest critic on here. we have been over slocum’s shortcomings and i do not buy the injury issue as i have stated before. good coaches find ways to overcome that. if the packers do not have a ranking of 16 or above he should be gone. he now has a return man which should help. MM has stated that he will devote more practice time to special teams. due to the fact that we did have a ton of injuries means that pretty much every guy on the team has experience of STs now. Slocum, Campen and Moss appear to be the weakest links on the entire team right now. in my opinion of course.

        • Curley2808

          Just saying “injuries” are trotted out by MM as the main reason ST has been sub par. I want to see if that’s true. It’s going to be tough to duplicate the injuries we had, ergo, ST should be better. If not….hmmmm.

          • Lucas

            Don’t these “street free agents” know their best way to a roster spot is special teams? So…all these guys TT got suddenly didn’t know how to play special teams? Yeah…come on coach Slow.

  • BubbaOne

    They all have something to prove…how they handle success…do they still have the fire in the belly…

    “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
    Vince Lombardi

  • PackersRS

    I think this year Bishop solidifies himself as a top 10 or possibly top 5 ILB in the game. He already played like it in the playoffs, making that shoestring tackle in DeSean Jackson, sacking Vick, scooping that fumble from Mendenhall…