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Green Bay Packers: The Top Five Unsung Heroes

Packers wide receiver James Jones breaks the tackle of Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson on an 11-yard reception in the second quarter at the Metrodome. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

When there’s talk about the Green Bay Packers, we often hear mentioned the names of their star players, such as Aaron Rodgers or Clay Matthews. Without a doubt, both of these guys are great players, but I would like to take a little time to shine the light on some of the guys that hold this team together but may not always get the praise they deserve.

These are the guys you’ll hear little about – unless it’s fans complaining about their lack of playmaking ability or some nonsense like that – but they bring it each and every week. They may not be doing the discount double-check or putting on their Old Spice any time soon, but they are vital parts to the Packers’ success. Here are my top five unsung heroes on the Green Bay Packers’ roster.

Let me know what you think.

 

5) Josh Sitton

Josh Sitton Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Sitton has been the Packers’ best offensive lineman and one of the top guards in the NFL the past few years.

The only reason Sitton isn’t higher on this list is because he has gotten some notoriety as of late (Pro Bowl nod last year) and isn’t necessarily a player that I would consider flies under the radar.

The league knows how good Sitton is at his position, but sometimes I wonder if fans truly appreciate the level of play this guy demonstrates each and every week. Through all the complaints about the offensive line the past few years, it seems Sitton’s talent has been overlooked by the average fan.

Sitton is a rock solid player for the Packers and his switch to the left side of the line just shows how confident Mike McCarthy is in Sitton’s abilities.

 

 

4) Tim Masthay

Packers punter Tim Masthay . Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

 

Yes, I put a punter on the list.

It’s a thankless job, but having a solid punter is vital in tilting field position to a team’s advantage. Masthay has been consistently good – at times great – for the Green Bay special teams. Masthay set a new franchise record with a 45.6-yard gross average in 2011, and put 25 punts inside the 20-yard line during his first season in 2010, the most by any Packer punter since Josh Bidwell in 2002.

Masthay had another stellar year in 2012 with 30 punts inside the 20-yard line and a 43.5 gross average.

OK, so maybe all these punting statistics don’t excite you, but all you need to understand is that Masthay has been putting up some of the top numbers at his position and doing it largely unnoticed. Masthay has been Green Bay’s answer to electric returners like Devin Hester and Percy Harvin.

 

3) A.J. Hawk

Here is a pick that will cause a reaction. Hawk has been one of the most overly-scrutinized players on the Green Bay roster since he was drafted in 2006. What do people expect of him? To apologize for being drafted fifth overall?

Yes, Hawk isn’t the Urlacher-type playmaker we thought he’d be when Green Bay drafted him, but get over it by now. Hawk is still a really solid player, and has been for the Packers for the past seven seasons. He has either led the team or finished second in tackles six of his seven seasons in Green Bay, and he has only missed two games in that time.

Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Hawk is dependable and consistent. Hawk provides leadership on the field for a young defense and is responsible for calling plays and making audibles on the field.

He was a defensive captain during the Packers’ Super Bowl run in 2010. The coaches have nothing but good things to say about Hawk, and sometimes I wonder why so many fans criticize him.

He’s coming off his best year as a pro (120 tackles, 3 sacks), and took a major paycut this offseason to stay with the Packers.

He played well against the run last season and looked lighter on his feet than in years past. Hawk isn’t the most athletic linebacker and struggles in coverage at times, but he deserves credit for the many things he does right on the field.

What this guy does each game for Green Bay goes largely unappreciated, and it’s time to give him a little love.

 

 

2) James Jones

Packers wide receiver James Jones. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Why isn’t anyone talking about this guy? He led the league last year in touchdown receptions with 14, and he still goes unnoticed. Jones has been great for the Packers for a while now, but he has always been the guy sandwiched between “Jennings” and “Driver” or “Nelson” and “Cobb” when people talk about the Green Bay wide receivers.

Jones hasn’t complained much. He just goes out on the field and does his thing. He gives each performance his all, and the last few seasons you can tell.

Just watch some of the incredible catches he made last season. Numerous times Rodgers just hung the ball in the air and Jones jumped over the defender and hauled in the catch.

Jones is aggressive and fights for the ball in the air (something Finley could take note of), and since he fixed his issue with drops from a couple of seasons ago, Jones has been one of the most consistent and reliable pass catchers the last couple of seasons.

Jones has the strength and attitude to out-muscle smaller defenders in the passing game and is an effective run-blocker against defensive backs (an underrated skill for a wide receiver).

I like Nelson and am excited about Cobb’s potential, but Jones was Green Bay’s all-around best receiver last year. He showed up each and every week and gave it everything he had, and now it’s time to give the man some credit.

 

 

1) Morgan Burnett

Burnett quietly had a very good season last year. He led the team in tackles with 123, recorded 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, and forced 2 fumbles. And more impressively, he was one of only two NFL defensive players last season to play every defensive snap on his team.

Considering the number of injuries Green Bay dealt with last season, this was a miracle. Burnett also showed a lot of improvement in coverage, helping his defense go from the 32nd-ranked pass defense in 2011 to the 11th-ranked pass defense in 2012. I would say that is significant.

Packers safety Morgan Burnett (42) intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Granted, Burnett’s improved play isn’t the only reason the Packers improved in pass defense, but as the free safety and man responsible for calling coverage audibles, I would say Burnett’s impact should be appreciated.

In fact, the number of big plays Green Bay’s defense gave up in the passing game dropped significantly in 2012. In 2011, the Packers surrendered 71 passing plays of twenty or more yards, and 11 passing plays of 40 or more yards.

Compare that to 2012 where they gave up only 50 passing plays of 20 or more yards and seven of 40 or more. That is a pretty significant difference and it can be attributed to the improved play at the safety position.

Burnett also showed his versatility last season. At times, he moved up in the box to play the run and did well. Burnett is a smart player who has the athletic ability to cover in man and drop back in zone. He is also a solid tackler, and at only age 24, Burnett is still young and should continue to improve in 2013.

Burnett’s contributions to the team may go unnoticed most of the time, but if a safety is doing their job right that is the way it should be.

Honorable Mentions: Ryan Pickett, Brad Jones, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Jarrett Bush

Topics: A J Hawk, Green Bay Packers, James Jones, Josh Sitton, Morgan Burnett, Tim Masthay

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  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.rochon.7 Scott Rochon

    AJ Hawk an unsung hero? For what? Not getting injured? He NEVER makes plays. He cannot cover ANYONE! He doesn’t make tackles behind the line of scrimmage, he can’t rush the passer. You say he’s dependable? Yes he is, if you want a LB that plays like a statue! Everybody knows why he took a huge paycut. Because if he didn’t, he would still be looking for another team to play with. TT didn’t want to embarrass him by cutting him. This WILL be his last year as a Packer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1649511981 Dan Dahlke

      Hey, there is something to say about durability. But in all seriousness, I’ll have to disagree with you about Hawk not making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. This was actually a part of his game that greatly improved last season. With so many injuries at ILB last year, Hawk held things together fairly well. I also highly doubt Thompson would keep a guy on the roster just to prevent from embarrassing him. Thompson’s track record clearly shows he is willing to make the tough roster decisions (Favre, Woodson, Collins, etc.).

  • Iconoclast17

    You just couldn’t help yourself w/Hawk, could you? AJ was so unsung, he was forced to take a $2 million pay cut each year for the next three. Really, there’s no longer any rational reason to continue the puffery and “consistent”, assignment sure nonsense. Even Packer management knows they blew it on this one when they threw $33 million at a mediocre pile jumper who rarely makes a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and always comes out on passing downs. Masthay, also, had a down year.

    Otherwise, good stuff re: Sitton, Jones and Burnett.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1649511981 Dan Dahlke

      Hawk offers more than just being assignment sure. He is a real asset in stopping the run. Last year he made some big stops against the run and didn’t do too bad in zone coverage. I’m not saying Hawk is a game changer, but he has a clearly defined role on the defense and he does it well. You don’t finish in the top two on your team in tackles every season for nothing.

  • DmN33

    I completely agree with Masthay being on the list. I tell my friends about his importance all the time during games while they roll their eyes. I also agree that Jones has really stepped-up. But you didn’t have to scratch to deeply a couple of seasons ago to find a disgruntled player. He DID complain; often in a disingenuous passive-aggressive sort of way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lou.buell Lou Buell

    If you list Hawk for his assignment sureness and signal calling even though he is just a 2 down linebacker you may as well list Bush because of his gunner contributions even though he is the biggest liability on the field as a DB – same logic applies. Pickett has to be the most under rated player, with Raji playing almost every down and the rest of the D-line being non descript players he is by far the winner of this designation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1649511981 Dan Dahlke

      I almost put Pickett on the list, and now regret leaving him off. If I would have done this a year ago he would be at #1.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1649511981 Dan Dahlke

    I knew the Hawk selection would get a reaction from fans. You have all made your case as to why Hawk shouldn’t be on this list, so who do you believe should be there instead? Someone already said Pickett. Let me know who else you would put on there. I like hearing the fans’ opinions.