Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers' success in the 2013 season. Check back each day to see the latest player on the list.
Note: This is not a list of the team's 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means 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. 9 -- MASON CROSBY, KICKER
28 (will turn 29 in September) Seventh NFL season
WHY HE'S NO. 9
How can a kicker with the worst percentage of made field goals in 2012 be No. 9 on this list? Because Mason Crosby is pivotal to whether the Green Bay Packers have a successful 2013 season.
The most important aspect to all of this is that the Packers still believe in Crosby. Green Bay's front office and coaching staff want Crosby to be its kicker. If that wasn't the case, the Packers would have used one of their 11 draft picks on a kicker. Drafting a kicker can pay off big time for NFL teams, even though it may seem a bit strange at first glance. Examine the significance that rookie kickers Greg Zuerlein (St. Louis Rams) and Blair Walsh (Minnesota Vikings) had last season. Walsh led the NFL with 10 field goals made beyond 50 yards. That was out of 10 tries. Yes, Walsh didn't miss a single attempt from that distance. The second-most made field goals from 50-plus yards was a two-way tie that included Zuerlein, who made 7 of 13. To compare Crosby to those two rookies, the Packers kicker connected on just 2 of 9 from that range.
As the 2012 playoffs approached, Crosby seemed like a potential liability for Green Bay. Would coach Mike McCarthy trust Crosby enough to send him out for a 45-yard field goal with the game on the line? McCarthy hesitated to put Crosby on the field in tight situations late in the regular season, so it's difficult to imagine that would have changed in a win-or-go-home moment. It never ended up coming down to that, but it was a realistic scenario that could have played out.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013
The Packers need the 2012 season to be the one in Crosby's career that's looked back on as the exception to an otherwise productive decade in Green Bay. It was just two years ago that the Packers felt good enough with Crosby being a part of their long-term future that they signed him to a five-year, 14.75 million extension. There are still three years and 7.85 million remaining on that contract, with Crosby scheduled to earn 2.4 million in 2013. That explains why Green Bay's front office is somewhat forced to be patient with Crosby and hope that he turns things around.
A year ago, Crosby was coming off the best season of his career after making 85.7 percent of his field goals in 2011. That was good enough to rank him 10th in the NFL in overall accuracy. Before that, however, Crosby had never made more than 80 percent of his field goals and had never finished in the top 20 among kickers in the league. So, while the Packers need Crosby's poor 2012 season to be the worst of his career, it's only realistic to believe that Crosby's positive 2011 season will be the best of his career.
The expectation on Crosby is that he enters the regular season as the only kicker on the roster. There is too much money on the line with Crosby's contract for it to go any other way. He can begin to overcome what happened last season in training camp, but the true test won't be until the regular season. Not only does Crosby have to make sure he's not negatively affecting McCarthy's decision-making, he also has to be a weapon like many kickers around the NFL are.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
With the money Green Bay has invested in Crosby, the team chose not to draft a kicker. However, the Packers had to give Crosby some type of competition after the year he had. The answer to this was the signing of 22-year-old Giorgio Tavecchio.
Tavecchio has a strong leg and matched Crosby kick for kick during minicamp. It was a small sample size, but Crosby and Tavecchio went back and forth, making field goals from distances of 37 yards, 43 yards and 50 yards in one practice that was open to the media. According to both kickers, that was the first time that they had a chance to go head-to-head in full-team drill mode.
It's very unlikely that Green Bay keeps both Crosby and Tavecchio on the regular-season roster. Crosby is expected to beat out Tavecchio as Stage 1 of his career rejuvenation. But there is competition there for Crosby, and that's something that the Packers haven't put him against in six years.
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