FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. Check every weekday through mid-April for his latest report.
Evan Dietrich-Smith, starting center
Season stats: 17 games (all starts at center), five sacks allowed, 10 QB hurries allowed, three penalties
ProFootballFocus.com season rating: 14.2 (ranked No. 5 out of Packers’ 23 qualified offensive players; ranked No. 6 out of all NFL centers)
Best game: Week 9 loss vs. Chicago (played all 55 offensive snaps; zero QB hurries allowed, zero sacks allowed, zero penalties, 1.4 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 2 win over Washington (two QB hurries allowed, one sack allowed, one penalty, minus-0.2 PFF rating)
Expectations at the start of the season: Medium
Expectations were … Met
Looking live: Evan Dietrich-Smith should be very thankful for the four games that he started at the end of the 2012 season. Stepping in at the time for struggling veteran Jeff Saturday, Dietrich-Smith played 275 snaps in those four games, two of which gave him playoff experience in the process. Dietrich-Smith entered training camp in 2013 as pretty much the unquestioned starting center. The Packers drafted interior offensive lineman JC Tretter in the fourth round earlier in the year, but the rookie out of Cornell broke his ankle on the team’s first OTA practice in May. While it would have taken a very good training camp for Tretter to unseat Dietrich-Smith for the starting role, there was at least a possibility of that happening. With Tretter out of the picture, Green Bay attempted to get Don Barclay ready at center, an experiment that didn’t go well. Barclay ended up winning the starting right tackle job, but even if he hadn’t, it was clear that playing center would have really challenged him. All of that contributed to Dietrich-Smith, at age 27, getting his first season as a full-time starter.
Upon further review: Like he was at the end of the 2012 season, Dietrich-Smith was definitely an upgrade at center over Saturday. However, Dietrich-Smith wasn’t as good as what Scott Wells had been for the Packers through 2011. It’s worth noting, though, that injuries have really slowed Wells the past two years since he left Green Bay. So it was a smart move by Packers general manager Ted Thompson to let him walk for the four-year, $24 million deal that Wells got in 2012 from the St. Louis Rams. Looking at Dietrich-Smith’s 2013 season, he came a long way from the player who went undrafted in 2009 and was cut by Green Bay in 2010. He got to this point by working hard to overcome the variety of negatives that teams (including the Packers) had seen in him just a few years earlier. Dietrich-Smith knew he was playing for a new contract and put a lot of good things on film for teams to evaluate this offseason. Aaron Rodgers enjoyed working with him, which was helped by the fact that Dietrich-Smith was a better pass blocker than run blocker. Playing next to arguably the best guard duo in the NFL (Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang) certainly helped Dietrich-Smith, too. He also showed good command of the Packers’ offense at one of the most cerebral positions.
Overall 2013 grade: B-minus
Status for 2014: Forty percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster to begin the 2014 season. It’s likely that Green Bay lets Dietrich-Smith walk in free agency this offseason. Dietrich-Smith seemed somewhat resigned to this fact when cleaning out his locker at the end of the season. While many of the Packers’ free agents talked about their desire to return, Dietrich-Smith said it was all about business. Green Bay might prefer a younger center for next season, one who would make less money and have a higher upside than Dietrich-Smith. Maybe that young center is Tretter, maybe it’s a player from the upcoming draft. But if the Packers do have a different starting center in 2014, it will be the fourth one in four seasons working with Rodgers. That’s not an ideal situation for a franchise quarterback.