At a time where rookies are looking to make an impression, sophomores are trying to make that jump, and veterans are honing their skills, it’s easy to overlook the third-year players. These guys are knee-deep into that transition between being a “young guy” and being a “veteran.” And for many of them, it’s this transition that will make or break their careers. When a football player goes looking to sign his second contract after three or four years, he’s going to know exactly what he’s worth – both to his own team and other teams.
The third-year players for the Green Bay Packers are an interesting group, to say the least. After winning the Super Bowl in 2010, the Packers picked at the 32nd spot in the 2011 NFL Draft. It’s a double-edged sword, because it represents a great achievement, but also provides a great challenge on draft day.
General Manager Ted Thompson ended up taking ten players that day, and four of them are no longer on the roster: G Caleb Schlauderaff (Round 6, No. 179), LB D.J. Smith (Round 6, No. 186), LB Ricky Elmore (Round 6, No. 197), and their final pick DE Lawrence Guy (Round 7, No. 233). Schlauderaff was traded to the New York Jets at the beginning of the regular season, Elmore was a disappointment who left with the cuts, Guy spent a year on injured reserve before being signed from the practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts, and D.J. Smith was a semi-surprising cut by the Packers last April.
The remaining six picks and two undrafted rookie free agents have made it this far, so let’s take a quick look at where they might be headed:
T Derek Sherrod (Round 1, No. 32)
- Fate hasn’t been kind to Sherrod. No matter what people gleaned about his abilities from his short time in training and practices, there’s no avoiding the fact that his injury killed the value of Thompson’s first round pick. Sherrod’s been off the field since December 2011, and there’s no telling when he’ll get back on, not to mention how he will perform if he does. The Packers will be as patient as possible, but the outlook just isn’t promising.
WR Randall Cobb (Round 2, No. 64)
- Cobb could very well be one of the top steals of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has that second round tag on his name, but as the last player to be chosen in that round, he’s just one pick away from being a third rounder. Last season, Cobb played double duty as the kick/punt returner and wide receiver. He was number one among the receivers, gaining 954 yards and eight touchdowns on 80 receptions. It’s safe to say Cobb will continue to have a primary role on the Packers offense going forward.
RB Alex Green (Round 3, No. 96)
- If you look at 2012, Green was the top rusher for the Packers. He got almost twice the number of carries as the next closest running back for almost twice the yards. Unfortunately, the snake seems to have nipped at Green, who lost time at the end of the year due to injury, making way for DuJuan Harris’ emergence. Now Green is sitting below Harris, Lacy, Starks, and even Franklin on the depth chart. Depending on how many backs McCarthy decides to keep, Green is dangerously close to losing a spot on this team.
CB Davon House (Round 4, No. 131)
- For a guy that was only active for four games in his rookie season, House sure made a splash during the 2012 training camp. The splash was so big that when he dislocated his shoulder in the preseason opener, fans were struck with grief. After spending a season in a harness and undergoing surgery in the offseason, House is now back to form. Sadly, that form took a beating against the Arizona Cardinals last week. It’s doubtful he’s going anywhere this season, but right now rookie draft pick Micah Hyde is breathing heavily down his neck.
TE D.J. Williams (Round 5, No. 141)
- Call him the “Training Camp King” or “Star in Shorts.” Fact is, D.J. Williams can’t seem to crack a consistent role on the offense come regular season. In 2012, he played 262 snaps across 14 games, two of which he started in. His special teams contributions are even poorer. It must be a frustrating situation for McCarthy to deal with, and I’m sure Williams’ door of opportunity is slowly closing. I’m expecting him to last another year, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he doesn’t make the final cuts.
TE Ryan Taylor (Round 7, No. 218)
- Taylor got some praise as a rookie from Aaron Rodgers, but we haven’t heard much since. He’s had fewer opportunities on offense than fellow draft class buddy D.J. Williams, yet he’s also been a much bigger presence on special teams. That said, you can’t be a special teamer forever. As with Williams, I won’t be shocked if Taylor gets cut, and the truth of the matter is that he’s become replaceable.
LB Jamari Lattimore (UDFA)
- This is Lattimore’s last year under his current contract with the Packers. Right now, he’s the back-up to Brad Jones at ILB, with Sam Barrington the third man up. He actually followed a similar path as Jones, starting out first as an OLB. Lattimore also received some notoriety for his special teams efforts last season, which definitely helps his stock. He’ll never be more than a back-up, but for this season he’s probably safe in that role. Nevertheless, it might take some convincing to get the Packers to sign him to another contract in 2014.
S M.D. Jennings (UDFA, 2014 free agent)
- Jennings didn’t do much his rookie season, but Nick Collins’ injury quickly bumped him up the safety totem pole. Right now, he’s currently battling second-year player Jerron McMillian for the starting role at strong safety. They’ve actually been battling since last season, when both received nearly identical snap counts at the position. Whether he gets the nod ahead of McMillian or not, it’s safe to say Jennings will be a contributor this season. In fact, the Packers might just extend his contract this year if he performs well.