The Green Bay Packers 100th anniversary season was a major disappointment. The team was expected to contend for a playoff spot but finished 6-9-1 and missed the postseason for the second consecutive year. Despite the losing campaign, there were some superlatives for the Pack, both good and bad. Here is a look at my very unofficial awards for the 2018 Green Bay Packers along with why each player deserved to win. Feel free to comment and nominate your own winners.
Team MVP and Offensive MVP: WR Davante Adams
Adams was Green Bay’s most outstanding and consistent performer. He finished the year with 111 catches for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns despite missing the season finale with a knee injury.
Adams’ performance is even more impressive when you consider how little help he had. Injuries limited Randall Cobb to nine games and third receiver Geronimo Allison to just five. That meant a lot of playing time for rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown neither of whom were very consistent.
Adams was clearly Aaron Rodgers’ favorite and most reliable target. Defenses knew he was getting the ball and they still couldn’t stop him.
Although Adams caught twice as many passes as any other Green Bay receiver, Rodgers still felt he needed to get him the ball more often. “I need to keep feeding Davante in those clutch situations,” Rodgers said after the team’s loss in New England. “He’s a tough cover and I’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the football.”
Adams was the Packers MVP this season by far.
Defensive MVP: DT Kenny Clark
Nobody was more dominant and consistent on defense as defensive lineman Kenny Clark. Despite missing three games due to injury, Clark finished third on the team with 55 tackles, high numbers for an interior lineman. He also registered six sacks and knocked down three passes.
Clark was a key component of both the Green Bay run defense and at pressuring the passer. The third-year man out of UCLA often got penetration against the run and even if he didn’t make the tackle, he was able to disrupt the play or occupy enough blockers to allow his teammates to have unimpeded access to the ball carrier.
Former head coach Mike McCarthy called Clark a “Pro Bowl player” at midseason. “I don’t know how else to define what else he’s done,” McCarthy explained. “You saw it last year. He’s now stacking it every week. He’s obviously a focal point of the offense, you can see that as the game plans unfold. Kenny is playing at a very high level.”
Special Teams MVP: LB James Crawford
I know, it’s tempting to say nobody really deserves this award. Kicker Mason Crosby was steady for most of the season but his disastrous performance in Week 5 was a major reason the Packers lost to the Lions. Punter JK Scott was inconsistent and had difficulty adjusting to the cold weather in Green Bay in November and December. No return man stood out or even kept the job long enough to qualify for this award.
Crawford was the best player on Green Bay’s coverage teams. He made eight tackles to lead the team and all of them came in kick or punt coverage. In fact, the undrafted rookie played only one snap on defense all season despite dressing for all 16 regular season games.
Crawford’s value to the club was tied to his performance on special teams and he wins this award almost by default.
Most Improved Player: LB Kyler Fackrell
Nobody expected Fackrell to lead the Packers in sacks let alone reach double digits with 10.5. The sacks came in bunches for the third-year man out of Utah State. He picked up three sacks against the Bills in Week 4 and then another three in Week 11 in Seattle.
Fackrell did get more consistent as the season wore on and earned at least a half a sack in each of the Packers final three games of the season.
McCarthy liked the differences he saw in Fackrell’s game this season after he was nearly written off as a bust in 2017. “He’s getting more opportunities this year he’s being asked to do more. That’s a credit to his work ethic and just staying the course,” McCarthy said. “But at the end of the day it’s more about his growth as a player. He’s improved every year.”
The Packers will need more from Fackrell next season, but this year he started off the season as a forgotten man and became the team’s best pass rusher.
Rookie of the Year: CB Jaire Alexander
First-round pick Jaire Alexander showed a lot of potential as a rookie. At times, he was the team’s best cover corner. He showed the confidence and short-term memory that a successful corner needs in the NFL. At other times, Alexander did make rookie mistakes, but he recovered quickly and showed why the Packers made him their top selection in this year’s draft.
In addition to his coverage skills, Alexander is not afraid to make tough tackles despite his lack of size. That trait sets him apart from many of the other cover corners in the league who often shy away from contact. Alexander missed three games but still finished second on the team with 64 tackles including 59 solos.
The biggest thing lacking in Alexander’s game was interceptions. The Louisville alum was credited with just one pick all season, although he had another called back on a controversial roughing the passer penalty against Clay Matthews against Minnesota in Week 2.
Alexander was even able to impress Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “He’s a great kid. He’s got great energy,” Belichick said before the Packers and Patriots met in Week 9. “He loves football and has great football skills — fast, athletic, good hands, good ball skills, can tackle, can play inside in the slot, can play outside on the perimeter, good zone vision, breaks on the ball, good man to man coverage, has good quickness, can match up with fast receivers, can match up with quick receivers. The guy’s a really good football player and I think he’s got a great future in this league. I think he’ll be one of the top corners in the game for a quite a while here.”
Unsung Hero Award and Most Valuable Free Agent Award: DB Tramon Williams
When the GM Brian Gutekunst signed Williams as a free agent he was expecting a veteran who could mentor the team’s young DBs and who could pitch in when the defense was in nickel and dime packages. Instead, Williams started all 16 games and played more snaps on defense than any player on the team according to ProFootballReference.com.
Williams started the season at cornerback but when the Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and injuries weakened the team at safety, Williams moved inside and played a steady and competent game that helped prevent the big plays that plagued the Green Bay defense so often. Overall, Williams finished fourth on the team in tackles with 54.
He also helped on special teams when necessary, returning punts when the team was shorthanded at that position.
Williams demonstrated leadership and toughness. In the Week 16 game against the Jets, he was hit hard while returning a punt and went into concussion protocol. The Packers had already been eliminated from playoff contention, but Williams returned to action after being cleared by the doctors and played well the rest of the game.
Williams leads by example. He gives all-out effort, takes excellent care of his body and prepares thoroughly for every opponent. Although most defensive backs are over the hill at 35, the Louisiana Tech alum is still a valuable contributor for the Packers on the field and in the locker room.
Most Overpaid Free Agent Award: TE Jimmy Graham
The Packers thought they were getting an impact player when they signed Graham to a three-year deal worth $30 million. Instead, they got a very average performance out of the former Pro Bowl tight end.
Yes, Graham was second on the team with 55 catches and he played with a broken thumb late in the season which demonstrated his toughness and dedication. But Graham scored only two touchdowns this season and had trouble getting separation from defenders downfield.
Graham himself admitted in December that “my numbers suck,” and that he was disappointed with the way the season went for him personally and for the team. Graham added, “You know, I’ve always dominated everywhere I’ve went. Obviously, I haven’t done that yet here. So, it would be nice to get an opportunity to do it. Come back and maybe just be kind of more comfortable here. But I’m going to give it my all no matter what’s asked of me anywhere I go, or if I stay here.”
Gutekunst has a tough decision ahead as to whether or not to bring Graham back in 2019.
Best Game of the Year: Week 1: Packers 24, Bears 23
At the time, it seemed like the beginning of another glorious season. Aaron Rodgers was injured and carted off the field in the second quarter and the Pack trailed 20-0 at halftime. Rodgers returned and led a heroic comeback before a thrilled home crowd and a national television audience and the Pack beat the rival Bears 24-23.
Unfortunately, this win was costly. Rodgers wasn’t right physically for most of the season. The practice time he missed hurt his timing with his young receivers and that hurt his accuracy.
Although there were a few exciting games, it was all downhill after Week 1 for the Packers in 2018.
Worst Game of the Year: Week 13: Cardinals 20, Packers 17
Sure, the loss to the Lions in the season finale may have been uglier, but it didn’t mean anything. The loss to the Cardinals was a game against the team with the worst record in the league who was starting a rookie quarterback. The Packers were also at home in December against a warm-weather team and they were in a must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Instead of taking care of business, the Packers were completely flat in all facets of the game and lost in embarrassing fashion.
This loss was so ugly, team president Mark Murphy fired McCarthy immediately after the game.
Feud of the Year: Aaron Rodgers vs Mike McCarthy
It really wasn’t a feud as much as an ongoing tension between coach and quarterback. Rodgers seemed to have lost confidence in McCarthy’s game planning and play calling. The team struggled all season to get into an offensive rhythm.
Ironically, the best evidence of the tension came after the Packers 22-0 win over the Bills when Rodgers practically called out his coach after the game, calling the offense’s performance “terrible” and criticizing the game plan.