A Half-Dozen Packers Who Could Be Keys to Success on Thursday
Past history suggests Matt LaFleur doesn’t utilize tight ends as volume receivers – and we know Graham isn’t valued for his blocking. Why, then, did the Packers pay $10 million to keep Jimmy on the team – especially when two good-looking prospects, Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger, are on the roster?
Some in the front office obviously believe Graham will bounce back from a rough and injury-marred first year with the Packers. I’m a believer that players almost always decline slowly and steadily as they age, so I’m hopeful that Graham, at only 32 years old, will still be a valuable receiver for Rodgers in 2019.
Talented tight ends often excel well into their mid-thirties: Antonio Gates played for 17 years and Tony Gonzalez played for 16. Greg Olsen is entering his 13th season, and Jason Witten, after retiring in 2018, is back for a 16th year. Graham is only 32 – let’s not write him off so soon.
Going into the preseason, there was a lot of buzz about the 239-pound blocking fullback out of Northwestern. Then he got a calf injury, and became forgotten – other than it being known he’d make the 53-man roster.
Apparently the Packers are impressed with Vitale for two reasons: he can offer great protection for the quarterback and he’ll be a punishing lead blocker for running back Aaron Jones. LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett might surprise us with the amount of playing time Danny is allotted based on the team’s newly-installed offensive scheme.
The less he plays, the more the legend grows, nationally, that Green Bay has two All-Pro cornerbacks in the making. Some players prove over time to be injury prone – King looks injury-prone just by walking out onto the field.
Listed as 6’3” and 200 pounds, that weight measurement might be generous. His torso is slender to the point of looking emaciated. Still, he stayed healthy for the last three of his four years at the University of Washington. After his sophomore season, he switched from being a safety to cornerback. He was chosen 33rd overall by Green Bay in the 2017 draft.
As a pro, he’s had injuries to his groin, shoulder, and hamstring, which have limited him to playing in only 15 of 32 games. But when he’s healthy, he clings to receivers like glue. That’s due to his 4.43 dash speed and fabulous agility: 92nd percentile in the 3-cone drill and 95th in the 20-yard shuttle. And despite that fragile-appearing frame, the guy somehow managed 20 bench press reps. He outperformed Jaire Alexander in almost every combine score.
Keeping Kevin on the field will be a key to the Packers’ prospects in 2019.
When Green Bay announced they had signed up the fifth-year guard out of North Dakota State, the reception was lukewarm, with many fans feeling he’s being overpaid (four years, $28 million). The team’s coaching staff, however, seems genuinely excited about him. He’s filling one of the biggest holes in the team’s 2018 roster.
As with the other two expensive acquisitions, Za’Darius Smity and Preston Smith, the Packers feel each of these players are still approaching their full potential. Though I was taken aback by his wacky hairstyles, Turner is a laid-back guy who seems comfortable and happy in Green Bay. He’s already had stints with the Dolphins, Ravens, and Broncos, so this is his chance to settle into a good job for the rest of his career.
The Pack has had good fortune at right guard in the past. From 2009-2012, Josh Sitton was solid as a rock, as was T.J. Lang from 2013-2016. Turner looks to continue that tradition – though he can play elsewhere on the O-line if needed.
The Packers’ second round pick (44th overall) won’t be a starter on opening day, but he’ll probably be the first reserve in the event of an injury to any O-line starter. That’s how impressed the team has been with the 6’5” 310-pounder out of Mississippi State.
Jenkins burst onto the scene, with 45 snaps against the Texans, and 30 more against the Ravens, in preseason Games 1 and 2. That was enough for the coaches – they put him in bubble wrap and kept him out of Games 3 and 4. If memory serves, at some point I believe Pro Football Focus had Jenkins as the only offensive lineman (with the qualifying number of snaps) to have not allowed so much as one “pressure” on the quarterback.
It’s likely that a starting lineman or two will miss multiple games in the course of the season – in which case Jenkins will likely be the first player summoned off the bench.
The Packer have tried and tried to find a diamond in the rough (i.e., undrafted) defensive back over the past several years. They’ve gone through Josh Hawkins, Makinton Dorleant, Ladarius Gunter, Marwin Evans, Lenzy Pipkins, Donatello Brown, Jermaine Whitehead, Kentrell Brice, and others. The talk is that Raven Greene might be the one to break the jinx.
Green went undrafted after coming out of James Madison in 2018. He’s not especially big (5’11”, 197 pounds) or fast (4.51 second dash). He did excel in his conference (Colonial Athletic Association) and in Division 1 FCS. He was 3rd team All-American in 2016 and 2nd team All-American in that division, and his college was the FCS national champion in 2016.
He made the team’s roster in 2018 and got some playing time as injuries piled up, but otherwise did not stand out. His preseason work this year, however, has drawn notice, and it eventually became apparent that Greene would make the 53-man roster.
Greene might not just pick off a roster spot, however. The Packers have at least a temporary need for an inside linebacker alongside Blake Martinez. First Oren Burks went out with an extensive injury, and then rookie Curtis Bolton followed suit. That leaves James Crawford as the only other true-linebacker in the picture.
There’s much talk, though, about inserting Greene in the position, at least on likely passing downs. When the Packers square off against the Bears in a few days, it could even be that Greene will be a defensive starter for Green Bay.
If so, this would be a remarkable rise from a longshot to make anything beyond the practice squad to playing a starting role in the critical season opener – not bad for a guy whose NFL stats consist of five tackles, and one forced fumble, pass deflection, and sack.