Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Here are the five players who can help make the Green Bay Packers playoff contenders this season:
Aaron Rodgers, QB: Just turn on the film of Brett Hundley last season, and you’ll know why Rodgers is the most important player in the NFL. The Packers are built around the quarterback; coach Mike McCarthy has never shied away from that idea. If the quarterback can’t operate the offense the way it needs to be run, then the Packers have no chance. It’s nearly impossible to build a team with both a franchise quarterback and a dominant defense in the salary-cap era. The Packers have never had both during McCarthy’s tenure, and though efforts have been made to upgrade the other side of the ball, this is a quarterback-driven team.
Davante Adams, WR: Midway through last season, opposing defenses began to view Adams as the Packers’ No. 1 receiver. Now that Jordy Nelson is gone, there’s no doubt about that. Plus, the Packers are no longer deep at the position. Behind Adams and Randall Cobb are a slew of unproven receivers. Adams’ concussion history — he had two last season and another in 2016 — could be worrisome. But the Packers paid Adams like a top-tier receiver ($14.5 million per season), and their offense would take a huge hit without him.
David Bakhtiari, LT: Protecting Rodgers is of the utmost importance, and Bakhtiari is one of the league’s premier left tackles. A two-time, second-team All Pro, Bakhtiari’s absence was felt when he missed four straight games early last season because of a hamstring injury. With right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) unlikely to be ready for the season opener, Bakhtiari’s presence this year could be even more important.
Clay Matthews, OLB: There’s even more pressure on Matthews — and fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry — this season, given that new GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t sign an outside pass-rusher in free agency and waited until the seventh round of the draft to pick one. Although Matthews’ sack totals have dropped — he hasn’t posted a double-digit sack season since 2014 — he’s still the player most opposing offenses have to game plan around given his versatility.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S: With the departure of Morgan Burnett, who signed with the Steelers in free agency, Clinton-Dix should become the captain of the secondary. Although his big plays dropped off last season — whose didn’t on the Packers’ scuffling defense? — he has the most big-play potential. He’s only a year removed from his five-interception, one-forced-fumble season of 2016. The former first-round pick also is in a contract year.