Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Packers organization, Packers fans around the world and those who believe it's your birthright in Wisconsin to have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback:
That's right, Aaron Rodgers has left the building. He is the 16th quarterback in NFL history to win 100-plus games and then leave for another team or retire. The previous 15 teams to lose their 100-win quarterback have averaged 7.8 wins the following season. Only five of those 15 made the playoffs the next season. The 2008 Packers, who went from Brett Favre to Rodgers, did not make the postseason. Hey, you were going to ask. But the Seahawks did make the playoffs last season after going from Russell Wilson to Geno Smith. So, what's in store for the Packers this season? That's a good question. But before we look forward, we need to take a look back.
One high from last season: The Packers won three games in a row after an opening week humiliation at Minnesota to start the season. They swept the Bears to keep them (me) from chirping. But there weren't a lot of high points for a team that was expected to do more.
One low from last season: Missing the playoffs. The Packers actually had a chance to make the postseason despite losing five games in a row (and seven out of eight) around midseason. They went on a four-game winning streak from Weeks 13 to 17, destroying the Vikings on New Year's Day, 41-17. But with a chance to secure a playoff spot in Week 18, the Packers lost to the Lions, who had been eliminated from playoff contention before the game began. That was bad.
Quarterback: Jordan Love. Love was a first-round pick in 2020, going 26th overall in a draft that included Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, who was selected after Love (53rd overall). I loved him as a prospect coming out of Utah State, even though he was just an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection in his final college season. The talent was there. We haven't seen much of Love in the NFL. He has started only one game during his three-year career. But Rodgers didn't start any games for the Packers during his first three seasons and that dude turned out fine.
Projected 2023 MVP: Love. The Packers have a lot of talent on the roster, especially with eight former first-round picks on defense. However, the only way this team makes the playoffs is if Love plays well. I could see this year's Packers team being a lot like the Steelers of last season. Pittsburgh had Ben Roethlisberger retire, replaced him with Kenny Pickett (and Mitch Trubisky) and still managed to win nine games.
New face to know: Lukas Van Ness, linebacker. Look, Aaron Rodgers might be gone but that doesn't mean the Packers will stop drafting defenders in the first round. It's a sound strategy seeing that the Packers finished (checks notes) 17th in total defense last year. But still, the defense is very talented. You have to love the addition of Van Ness, who should beef up a pass rush that finished 27th in sacks last year. Van Ness had 6.5 sacks last year for Iowa, despite not starting a game. That's the truth. I know that might just sound like me being a hater. I guess that's sort of what I'm doing.
2023 breakout star: Christian Watson, wide receiver. This pick seems rather obvious considering he had a pretty good second half of the season as a rookie. He had at least six targets in seven of his last eight games and finished with nine total touchdowns (seven receiving, two rushing). The haters will point out that he didn't score a touchdown in his final four games of 2022, and the good news is I'm a hater. But I love the talent. His knack for the end zone reminds me of my former colleague, James Jones, who spent eight of his nine NFL seasons with the Packers. That guy had like 58 career touchdowns and 52 of them came against the Bears. OK, I'm making those numbers up, but he was a player opposing fans disliked because he always seemed to make a big play when the Packers needed it. Watson seems similar in that way. I will say, James is a great guy. I'd call him a friend. I've met Watson and he was super nice, too. It was annoying.
|Special teams coordinator
- Matt LaFleur was celebrated last offseason for having the highest win total by any coach in his first three years with a team. You might argue that he benefited greatly from the presence of Aaron Rodgers. I don't think anybody would deny that it kind of helped. It's kind of like bragging about winning your golf scramble tournament while having to acknowledge that you had Brooks Koepka on your team, which kind of helped. But now LaFleur gets a chance to prove it without Rodgers. I'm sure he's looking forward to it.
- I don't want to say Brian Gutekunst won a power struggle with Aaron Rodgers. But it sure seemed like he was sick of his stuff. It must have been the same exasperation the producers of How I Met Your Mother felt when Jason Segel clearly didn't want to be there in the final seasons of the series (especially the final year). This is what you wanted, guys. It obviously worked out the last time, when Brett Favre left. Let's see if it can happen again.
Below is a rundown of the Packers' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.
|Draft class (round-pick)
|Lukas Van Ness, LB, Iowa (1-13)
|Matt Orzech, LS
|Aaron Rodgers, QB
|Luke Musgrave, TE Oregon State (2-42)
|Randall Cobb, WR
|Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State (2-50)
|Allen Lazard, WR
|Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota State (3-78)
|Marcedes Lewis, TE
|Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn (4-116)
|Robert Tonyan, TE
|Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State (5-149)
|Dean Lowry, DL
|Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia (5-159)
|Jarran Reed, DL
|Karl Brooks, DL, Bowling Green (6-179)
|Adrian Amos, S
|Anders Carlson, K, Auburn (6-207)
|Mason Crosby, K
|Carrington Valentine, CB, Kentucky (7-232)
|Lew Nichols, RB, Central Michigan (7-235)
|Anthony Johnson Jr., S, Iowa State (7-242)
|Grant DuBose, WR, Charlotte (7-256)
Three key dates:
- Week 1 at Chicago Bears. Bears fans (like me) have been running their mouths all offseason. Talking trash. A win over the Bears win in Week 1 would devastate the fan base. Demoralize them. Like, it would be catastrophic. And you know that you could hold it over them all season because you don't play the Bears again until Week 18.
- Week 4 vs. Detroit Lions (Thursday night). Hey, I love a good revenge game as much as the next guy. Here is the opportunity to make the Lions pay for knocking you out of playoff contention last season.
- Week 13 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday night). This is the kind of matchup that, two years ago, would have looked like a potential Super Bowl preview. The Packers get a barometer test against the league's best here.
Will the Packers be able to ...
... rely on second-year wide receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs to step up for Jordan Love? I'm pretty put out if I'm on the defense because it seemed like Rodgers was the only person on the team who was ever talked about last year. The Packers are good on defense. Statistical ranking aside, there is good talent, and they have Gary returning from injury on defense. One thing that stood out to me was the Packers ranked eighth in third-down defense, which is very important. Get off the field and let your young quarterback get as many opportunities as possible.
... count on Jaire Alexander and Rashan Gary to lead the defense? I'm pretty put out if I'm on the defense because the only person on this entire team who was ever talked about last year was Rodgers. The Packers are good on defense. Statistical ranking aside, there is good talent. Alexander is one of the top cornerbacks in the league and they have Gary returning from injury. One thing that stood out to me was the Packers ranked eighth last season in third-down defense, which is very important. Get off the field and let your young quarterback get as many opportunities as possible.
One storyline ...
... people are overlooking: The offensive line might be pretty decent. Left tackle David Bakhtiari started 11 games last season as he continued to deal with injuries. But he's pretty dope when he's on the field. Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins form a pretty good left side of the line. The Packers will have a decision to make at right tackle. Zach Tom, a fourth-round pick in 2022, look pretty good as a rookie. In fact, I almost picked Tom as my breakout player for the coming season. There is a chance that this line could be in the upper half of the league this year if Tom is as good as a lot of us think he could be.
For 2023 to be a success, the Packers MUST:
- Prove that they have their quarterback of the future. Be realistic here. The Packers went 6-10 in Aaron Rodgers' first season as a starter. He threw for more than 4,000 yards with 28 touchdown passes that year. The record was bad, but you knew the Packers had done it again with their quarterback. I remember watching this unfold and thinking, "Uh oh, the Packers have done it again." I believe most Packers fans would take 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns from Jordan Love in 2023, no matter what the record is, because you would know that you had your franchise guy. And if you found a way to sweep the Bears and shut up their annoying fans (like me), even better.