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Green Bay Packers free-agent predictions: defense

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WELCOME BACK

Jamari Lattimore, LB: Restricted free-agent Lattimore showed flashes of great promise mixed with plenty of rookie moments en route to 34 total tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in his NFL debut season. He was also more durable than most of the linebacking crew outside of A.J. Hawk, notching 15 games played. There’s room to grow here, and I believe the Packers will bring him back.

Robert Francois, LB: The Packers are thin at linebacker, and it’s not a great draft class for linebackers. Francois has started only a few games in his career as mostly a special-teamer and backup, but he represents workman-like depth at a position of need for the Packers. I say he sticks around in that same role on a team-friendly two-year deal after losing most of 2013 to an Achilles injury.

Johnny Jolly

Johnny Jolly

Johnny Jolly, DL: Titletown’s pick for Comeback Player of the Year had a great start to the 2013 campaign, but seemed to slow down as the season progressed before going on IR due to a neck injury. Through the first seven games, Jolly notched 14 combined tackles and a sack. Take away a monster game against Atlanta in which he had a combined 5 tackles, and Jolly had only two total tackles in the rest of the season. Did he fade? Perhaps. The problem is, none of the Packers’ front seven could get a push or get off blocks during the second half of the season. I believe Jolly has another strong camp and will be back for one more season at the veteran minimum.

M.D. Jennings, S: The only reason he’s on my “Welcome Back” list is because I don’t believe another team will tender the restricted free-agent an offer. Given that, I believe the Packers will give him the lowest tender and keep him around for depth. But someone else will be starting at safety in 2014, be it Sean Richardson, Micah Hyde, a draft pick or (gasp!) another free agent. This guy even makes Jarrett Bush look serviceable in the secondary.

Mike Neal, DL: This is just a hunch. Neal will get looks on the free-agent market, but I believe his injury history will trump his versatility on the open market. Also, the guy just isn’t fast enough to chase down the new NFL prototype athletic quarterback. Still, I’d like to see what he could do after a full season of playing linebacker, as he has shown promise as a pass-rusher.

And there you have it. I actually hope I’m wrong about Sam Shields. And I’m a little wistful over Raji as well. We’ll likely know sometime in March.

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Tags: B.J. Raji Green Bay Packers Johnny Jolly M.D. Jennings Ryan Pickett Sam Shields