9. Sam Barrington, LB
It seems like a while since Barrington last suited up for the Green and Gold, but his contributions during the 2014 season should give him first dibs on one of the starting jobs at inside linebacker.
The USF product replaced a fading A.J. Hawk two seasons ago and helped turn things around for a struggling defense that was the league’s worst at stopping the run during the first half of the year.
Barrington brought much-needed strength and toughness that allowed him to engage running backs in the hole and push them backwards. In addition, he showed the ability to hold his own in pass coverage particularly in one of Green Bay’s signature wins over the Patriots.
If the 25-year-old can return to his previous form, there’s no reason to think he can’t perform as a three-down linebacker, although he’ll need to fight off rookie Blake Martinez who has been projected by some to be in the running for a starting role.
8. Richard Rodgers, TE
There’s nothing flashy about the other Rodgers on the team in that he doesn’t possess the type of speed to tack on lots of yardage after the catch. His 8.8 yards-per-catch average ranked second-to-last among tight ends with 35 receptions or more.
The third-year tight end’s value lies in his mitts. The sure-handed Rodgers produced a 68-percent catch rate on his 58 receptions placing him ahead of Rob Gronkowski, Gary Barnidge, Greg Olsen, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham among tight ends with 80 or more targets.
In addition, the unheralded veteran continues to make strides as both a route runner and blocker.
Rodgers should continue to be a key figure in Green Bay’s passing attack, despite the Jared Cook acquisition, as McCarthy and his coaching staff plan on using both in a platoon as well as lining them up together in two-tight-end sets.
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