Big Names and Breakout Stars

Datone Jones is one of several Packers who need to step up this year.
Datone Jones is one of several Packers who need to step up this year.

The story of every season has its own unique characters, but there are always a couple things in common: to be successful, a team needs to get its money's worth out of its stars and pick up some new contributions from players who weren't necessarily the biggest of factors in the past.

Everyone knows thst when the rubber meets the road, Aaron Rodgers has to be Aaron Rodgers for the Packers to succeed, but there are at least three other big names who the Packers have to get big contributions from to have a successful year.

The first is Clay Matthews. Although he's undeniably one of the great pass rushers in the league when he's healthy, that "when healthy" qualification is starting to pop up more and more frequently when Matthews' name is mentioned. He missed significant time last year with a broken thumb that's shown threats of becoming a recurring injury. For the Packers' patchwork defense to become something more than it's been in the past few seasons, Matthews has to stay healthy and he has to be the Pro Bowl player we know he can be.

Secondly, Julius Peppers has to be something resembling the player that terrorized the Packers as a member of the Bears. It's worth wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 34. If he can be something even remotely close to that player, the Packers will be all the richer for it. If not, he'll just be the latest in what's becoming an increasingly long string of failed sidekicks for Clay Matthews.

Finally, Randall Cobb needs to overcome last season's injury woes and complete his ascension to becoming one of the best slot receivers in the league. Cobb should have made that jump last year, but his leg problems (thanks Matt Elam!) ended his season just as it seemed he was getting started. A fully functional Cobb could be an enormous difference maker on the Packers' offense.

The Packers will also need to secure solid contributions from a few up and coming stars to make the leap from good team to great, and that process will start in the defensive backfield. The Packers' struggles in the secondary are nauseatingly well documented, but they've devoted significant resources to overcoming the problem. Between Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde, someone has to grab the starting safety job by the horns and make it theirs. Don't count out Sean Richardson either.

The offensive backfield could benefit from a boost on the back end, too. Eddie Lacy is the unquestioned lead dog, but depth could be an issue unless someone other than James Starks steps up. DuJuan Harris is a logical choice in that role. If he can be something resembling the player he was at the end of 2012, depth will not remotely be a concern at running back.

Finally, a pair of underachieving first round picks could be a huge boon to the defense if they tap some of their enormous potential. I'm speaking, of course, about Nick Perry and Datone Jones. Each has immense physical gifts and has shown flashes of the potential that got them drafted in the first place, but neither has had the kind of sustained success that would have warranted a high draft pick. For the Packers to close the gap in the NFC, their first round picks have to play like they belong.