Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players, but rather it’s a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
NO. 23 – MATT FLYNN, QUARTERBACK
AGE / EXPERIENCE
28 (turns 29 in late June) / Seventh NFL season
WHY HE’S NO. 23
The Green Bay Packers found out the hard way last season that sometimes a team is only as good as its backup quarterback. The No. 2 player on the Packers QB depth chart behind Aaron Rodgers can be the least important player on the roster. If Rodgers is healthy, all is well in Green Bay, and the Packers are winning around 75 percent of their games. But when Rodgers broke his left collarbone in 2013 and missed eight games, Green Bay went 2-5-1 in his absence. The Seneca Wallace experiment quickly failed, and though Scott Tolzien had his moments, the former Badgers quarterback hadn’t gone through training camp with the Packers and wasn’t quite ready for the big stage.
Matt Flynn’s NFL career was nearly over less than two years after it had hit its peak. Flynn’s tremendous, record-breaking Week 17 performance in 2011 earned a big-money contract from the Seattle Seahawks. That didn’t work out, and after one year, he was traded to the Oakland Raiders. After one start in Oakland, that didn’t work out either, and he was released. The Buffalo Bills brought in Flynn for three weeks, but without even playing him in a game, that relationship ended. One week later, on November 12, 2013, Flynn had improbably signed back with the Packers. It was perhaps the only team in the NFL still willing to give him a chance, and that only came about because of the injuries to Rodgers and Wallace.
Though there were rough patches (see: Thanksgiving game in Detroit), Flynn proved himself and kept Green Bay alive while the team anxiously awaited Rodgers’ return. With passer ratings of 95.6 in Week 14 against Atlanta and 113.1 in Week 15 at Dallas, Flynn certainly did his part to ensure two Packers victories.
Flynn is No. 23 on this list because he proved once again last season that he’s capable of producing for Green Bay when called upon. A reliable backup quarterback cannot be undervalued, and the Packers certainly realize that now.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
If Flynn doesn’t see any action all season, even he would likely be thrilled. That means Rodgers is healthy and Green Bay has its best chances of winning games.
Last year, Wallace was a "we don’t think Rodgers will get hurt so it doesn’t matter who’s behind him" type of approach by the Packers. Flynn, however, is a very nice insurance policy, just in case one is needed.
Flynn is comfortable in head coach Mike McCarthy’s offensive system and is able to execute what is called. For whatever reasons, Flynn struggled in his other stops and didn’t impress anybody, but it just clicks for him in Green Bay.
In the event Rodgers does miss a snap, a half, a game or several months of action, Flynn was re-signed this offseason by the Packers to be dependable. Flynn is expected to be an easy plug-in without the worries of bringing someone new along slowly through the offensive system. If Flynn has to play in 2014, he just needs to play like he did throughout the majority of his five appearances last season: steady, consistent and mostly mistake-free.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Without Rodgers and without Flynn, there’s still Tolzien, and that’s a pretty good third option. Last season, when pressed into duty, Tolzien had only been with the Packers for two months. He had no time to get comfortable in training camp, he had just been called up from the practice squad and he was getting his first-ever regular-season game experience. That’s a lot to ask for from any quarterback.
Tolzien’s undoing was interceptions, of which he threw five. Turnovers will kill any offense’s momentum, so those mistakes can’t be overlooked. But other than that, Tolzien displayed a strong arm, good mobility and playmaking skills. With a year of experience in McCarthy’s system, Tolzien should have those same positives while having overcome some of the negatives.
It’s also possible that Tolzien challenges Flynn for the No. 2 job. If Flynn comes into training camp flat and Tolzien is on fire, it could happen. But either way, the Packers are much more prepared behind Rodgers this season. And while that could make no difference at all if Rodgers stays healthy, it could make a huge difference if the former NFL MVP suffers another injury.