McGinn Wrap, Part 2: The Green Bay Packers' A-minus players
Bob McGinn's series wrapping up his 31 years (1991-2021) of grading the Packers posts each Tuesday. Today? The A-minus players. What made Donald Driver special at his peak? Josh Sitton? Mark Chmura?
Our multi-part series wrapping up my 31 years of grading the Green Bay Packers today focuses on the 50 individual seasons of A-minus for their players.
The leader in A-minus seasons was guard Josh Sitton, who had four. Yet, he never received an A in any of his eight years as a Packer. There were 49 individual seasons with A grades.
Of the 99 A and A-minus seasons from 1991-’21, quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre led the way with six and five, respectively. Rodgers had four A’s and two A-minuses whereas Favre had three A’s and two A-minuses.
It was a pair of defensive linemen, however, that posted the highest percentage of A and A-minus seasons. Reggie White, with three A’s and one A-minus, played six seasons for the Packers. Kenny Clark, with two of each, also has played six years and is embarking on his seventh.
Four other players with four A/A-minus seasons included safety LeRoy Butler (four A’s), wide receiver Donald Driver (3, 1), wide receiver Greg Jennings (2, 2) and linebacker Clay Matthews (2, 2).
The percentage of four A/A-minus seasons in six seasons for White and Clark easily put them in the top spot at 66.7%. Among the seven others with at least four A/A-minus seasons, the order was Jennings (57.1%, four of seven seasons), Sitton (50%, four of eight), Matthews (40%, four of 10), Butler (36.4%, four of 11 … his rookie season of 1990 was one year before my grading began), Rodgers (35.3%, six of 17), Favre (31.3%, five of 16) and Driver (28.6%, four of 14).
The record for most consecutive seasons with either an A or A-minus grade was four. White did it from 1993-’96 as did Matthews from 2009-’12.
The following are the Packers’ 50 A-minus players from 1991-’21 by year and excerpts from my grading comments.
Johnny Holland, ILB: “Blossomed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player in sixth season. Registered 122 tackles in 14 games before departing with season-ending spinal surgery. Looked up to by younger defensive players. Equally valuable in base and nickel defenses, against run and pass. Faces major surgery later this month.”
Ken Ruettgers, T: “Consummate professional. Sat out entire preseason to win $2 million contract, then shut up the critics by containing every premier pass rusher he faced. Pro Bowl worthy. Not a great run blocker but better than scouts usually see from a left tackle.”
Reggie White, DE: “Deserving of strong consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors until three uninspiring performances in last five games. Long season, constant double-teaming, a few pounds too many slowed him down. Had complete games and unforgettable moments when he destroyed tackles with that big right-handed club. As a rule, opponents ran away from him.”
Chris Jacke, K: “The all-pro kicker. Made 22 of first 23 field goals before the weather worsened. He finished 32 of 39 and made all 41 extra points. Kickoffs were adequate.”
Antonio Freeman, WR: “Averaged 5.9 catches, 100.4 yards in last 10 games to join ranks of the NFL’s finest receivers … Runs great routes, almost a forgotten art in a speed-crazed league … Still has a tendency to cradle the ball, causing too many drops (12) … Final-minute drop in Super Bowl will be hard to forget … Unlimited future.”
Mark Chmura, TE: “A true professional with new five-year, $15 million extension … Earned it by having probably his finest season until a calf injury hit in Week 15 … Rugged, tenacious blocker who can seal down and handle some defensive ends by himself … Finds sit-down cavities in zones. Adequate after the catch and working deep up the seam.”
Sean Landeta, P: “Turned 37 last week but Packers must re-sign him. Broke club record for net average with 37.1 (tied for eighth in the NFL) and averaged 42.9 despite having almost 50% of his punts in pooch situations … If not for Landeta, the loss of Craig Hentrich would have been a weekly topic of conversation.”
Frank Winters, C: “Played as well as any center in the NFC … Five holding penalties were too many but that’s a small price to pay for the will to win, nastiness and savvy that he brings … Strong, smart and decisive offering help to beaten guards in protection … Seemed almost hurt by club’s first contract offer. He’s gone if they don’t increase it.”
(Note: Winters joined Go Long subscribers for a Happy Hour last year. You can watch that replay right here if you’d like.)
Darren Sharper, S: “Completely turned his sagging career around and deserved to make the Pro Bowl, which he did … Played the ball as he did at William & Mary (nine interceptions, 23 passes knocked down) and missed only nine tackles compared to a team-leading total of 18 a year ago … Worked hard to improve his weaknesses and it paid off handsomely … Covered well in the flat and downfield, and delivered some punishing hits.”
Ryan Longwell, K: “Came through under fire for the first time with not one but three game-winning kicks … Puts up gaudy numbers for a cold-weather team … Kickoffs were average.”
Mark Tauscher, T: “Looks like the “Pillsbury Doughboy,” as GM Ron Wolf put it on draft day, but possesses tremendous toughness, remarkable balance and almost never gets moved completely out of a play … Many scouts who might see him six to eight times a year in person or on tape still don’t appreciate his level of play.”
Brett Favre, QB: “Still the pick of many football people as the one player they’d rather have over all the others … Ability to make something out of nothing and impose his will on a football game remains second to none … All-time tough guy and leader … Earns $10 million a year but would play the game for nickels and dimes … Always has and probably always will put the ball up for grabs more than he should. Six-interception finale (five were primarily his fault) in biggest game of season (at St. Louis in NFC divisional playoff game) was inexcusable.”
Ahman Green, RB: “Exciting blend of raw power and raw speed. Tough guy who is as comfortable on turf as tundra … Gutsy, aware pass blocker … Will never be a natural receiver but sliced his total of dropped passes from 10 to five … Fumbled six times, same as last year, and lost five … Not as creative or as elusive as some premier ball carriers.”
(Note: Go Long caught up with Ahman Green for an extensive Q&A at Go Long late last season. He relived the virus that could’ve killed him as a boy and all of those glory days on the field.)
Mike McKenzie, CB: “Really came into his own after an off year … Late in the season, the consensus of scouts was he ranked as the fifth-best corner in the NFC behind Troy Vincent, Champ Bailey, Ahmed Plummer and Aeneas Williams … Opponents went deep against him 15 times because some question his deep speed, but he didn’t allow a single long completion … Extremely physical with receivers … Loves to play and compete.”
Darren Sharper, S: “Didn’t play quite as well overall as last year but he had set the bar incredibly high … Missed (LeRoy) Butler’s steadying hand and wasn’t as free to make attacking plays … Makes his share of mistakes … Has the tools to cover some wide receivers from the slot, hang in the air with Randy Moss and deliver punishing tackles just when the running back appears to be in the clear.”
Donald Driver, WR: “Went to training camp as the No. 4 (wideout) and by late September was No. 1 … Regarded by the coaches as the team’s best player on special teams last year and might well have been the team’s best player on offense this year … Will go anywhere for a ball regardless of collision factor … Displayed unforgettable valor and went way, way beyond the call of duty to play with a damaged shoulder in the playoffs … Must work even harder to improve hands (nine drops).”
Marco Rivera, G: “Suffered torn MCL ligaments in his left and right knees on different weeks but never missed a start … Had sensational season as pass protector, allowing total of 5 ½ pressures (no sacks, 2 ½ knockdowns, three hurries) after allowing as many as 25 in 1999 … Used to whiff against quickness but doesn’t anymore … Has grown into an outstanding team leader.”
Grady Jackson, NT: “How in the world could 29 other teams fail to join Green Bay and Carolina Nov. 3 and submit waiver claims for him? The Packers’ immense gain was everyone else’s immense loss … Looks fat and roly-poly coming off the bus but has suddenness off the ball, great short-area burst and enormous power … A one-gap player who closed the season by dominating six straight backup right guards who had to play due to injury.”
Marco Rivera, G: “Played at a phenomenally high level for 11 games and then was merely good after that … Pretty much owned Corey Simon, Bryant Young and Warren Sapp near midseason, and had Simeon Rice ready to cry “uncle” on counter plays in the Buccaneers game … Thick, strong and more athletic than you would think … Improves his pass protection every year … Had 11 penalties (six for holding) in all; no Packers O-lineman had more in a season in at least a decade.”
Chad Clifton, T: “A premier pass-blocking left tackle who missed fewer blocks in the run game … Not as good as Walter Jones but more consistent than Orlando Pace and Tra Thomas, the NFC’s other Pro Bowl tackles … Massive, graceful and quick … Makes pass pro look easy … Not a destructive type but did have his best season as a run blocker, slashing “bad” run total from 17 to six.”
Ryan Longwell, K: “In his first seven seasons he kicked just five game-winning field goals. Then, in a span of seven weeks in November and December, he won three games as time expired and a fourth with 2 seconds left … Tied for seventh with 85.7% in the regular season but missed from 28 in the playoffs (against Minnesota) … Asked to kick off directionally all season, Longwell averaged 60.85 yards, his poorest distance in the last five seasons.”
Greg Jennings, WR: “Third in the NFL in average per catch at 17.4, second best (behind Javon Walker, 17.5, 2003) by a Green Bay starter in 21 years … Dynamic after the catch … Smart, resourceful and resilient … Plays even faster than his 40 time and consistently runs away from defenders … The forgotten man all summer, he forced himself on Brett Favre’s radar screen … Dropped eight of 99 passes; also needs to block better.”
Brett Favre, QB: “Turned back the clock to post an 18-game passer rating of 96.0, third best of his career … Named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated for leading a youthful bunch to unexpected heights … When Mike McCarthy gave him more check-with-me freedom at the line, he showed his appreciation by taking fewer chances … As always, he made some blockers and receivers look better than they are with his ability to escape and his big, accurate arm … Played three lousy games in the last seven, including the injury-shortened night in Dallas and the icehouse defeats in Chicago and against the Giants.”
(Note: Miss Bob McGinn’s series on “The Rise of Brett Favre” at Go Long? Catch up on both parts here.)
Nick Barnett, OLB: “Emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber player for the first time … Doesn’t even weigh 230 pounds but was the most physical player on defense week after week … Earlier in his career, he was a lateral, semi-finesse player. Today, he is a downhill, attacking player.”
Charles Woodson, CB: “Plays corner by feel rather than technique, and guesses a lot more right than he does wrong … Has played hurt for two years, sells out his body week after week making jarring tackles … Should have at least one more good year.”