In my previous post, I explored the likelihood that edge rusher Preston Smith might be a much better player in 2021 than he was last season. In Preston’s case, I believe he had a down season due to a lack of self-motivation, not lack of ability. As to any number of other returning players, but particularly those with superlative athleticism, I feel that an added year of experience, and pro coaching, will lead to still better performances. Late last season, I came up with a list, that eventually reached 20 players, of guys who “stepped up” in the course of the 2020 season (here). That’s a remarkable number; even so, the Packers continue to be a young team, with many players still having room to reach their performance peaks.
As to the best Packers players, I’ll grant you that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t left much room for improvement. Still what he accomplished last season was the first time that Matt LaFleur’s offensive schemes were mostly in place. Had Matt been previously brought on board, we can only guess at what Aaron might have achieved during the final couple of years of Coach McCarthy’s reign.
Though Davante Adams has also left little space for improvement, he did miss two games last season, and was less than 100% for some others. Also, as the season progressed, he was routinely double-teamed. If the other receivers can ramp up their games a bit, double-teaming Davante won’t be as effective.
As for David Bakhtiari, he’s been a peak performer for five years now. Assuming he fully recovers from his ACL injury, he should remain so for several more years.
Jaire Alexander, like Rodgers and Adams, was arguably the best there was at his position in 2020. If the Packers decide to line him up against the opposition’s best receiver, which they seldom did last season, I believe that he’d contribute even more to the team’s defensive posture.
My thoughts on Aaron Jones are fairly well known. In addition to getting a few more carries each game, if he is made a more integral part of the passing game, and not just used as a dump-off option, his total offensive production (runs and receptions) should increase by 300 yards or so.
I think it’s very likely that Elgton Jenkins will be named an All Pro in his third year; he achieved Pro Bowl status for the first time in 2020. He’s only 25.
Except for the departed Corey Linsley, that mostly covers the team’s acknowledged stars of last season. Let’s move on to those who are knocking on the door of NFL stardom.
In his sixth season, and second with the Packers, safety Adrian Amos surely had his best season ever. How did Pro Football Focus grade Amos on the year? Only two safeties were graded higher than 85.3 points by PFF: the Bengals’ Jessie Bates (90.1) and Amos (89.9). Now that Adrian’s talents are widely known, he should be in line for Pro Bowl and/or All Pro honors in 2021.
Next up is the Pack’s other safety, Darnell Savage. Having been drafted at pick 21 in 2019, having started for two full seasons, possessing 4.36 dash speed, and having risen to #17 (out of 94) on PFF’s player grade list, these all lead me to believe his next step will be to finish in the top 10 of PFF’s list, and be in the conversation for Pro Bowl and/or All Pro recognition. Could it be that Darnell will have a true breakout season in his third year, as did Alexander last season?
Tight end Robert Tonyan earned a couple of league-wide distinctions last season. First, he tied with Travis Kelce for the most touchdowns by a tight end, with 11. Second, he had the highest percentage of targets caught among all receivers (WRs and TEs), at just over 88 percent – and to that he added four more out of four throws, and another touchdown, in the playoffs. Moreover, he did this while starting only 8 games and getting only 61.4 of the offensive snaps on the year. Aaron Rodgers will surely be looking Big Bob’s way in 2021 (assuming he’s not picked off by another team by April 23).
Who’s next? I’d venture to say A.J. Dillon, who missed most of his rookie year due to injuries and being on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Like Savage, he’s a high draft pick, he wowed people in his only significant playing opportunity last year against the Titans, and he has an incredible physique. At right around 250 pounds, he’s one of the biggest running backs in league history; unlike most other huge backs, however, he’s all lean meat and muscle. I doubt that he’ll need years of development – he’s ready to excel right now.
Injuries prevented Allen Lazard from having a breakout season in 2020. After a very promising second half of the 2019 season, Allen played in only ten games, and started only three, last regular season. After getting off to a blazing start (13 catches for 254 yards and two TDs in the first three games), he incurred a freakish core muscle injury that caused him to go on injured reserve until late November. Back in good health for the postseason, in two games he had 13 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown. His 22.6 yards per catch was tops among all receivers in the postseason. At almost 6’5” and 227 pounds, it’s hard to believe he went undrafted in 2018.
Lazard wasn’t the only undrafted player whose 2020 season got derailed by injury. Despite there being no preseason games, Krys Barnes, just out of UCLA, was a surprise starter at ILB when the season opened. Krys played well, but not great, until being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list in November. Despite the setback, he came back to finish the season strongly against the Panthers, Titans, and Bears, totaling 27 tackles in those three wins. Despite getting only 41 percent of the team’s defensive snaps on the season, he finished with 80 tackles, second best on the team to Amos. The Packers think Krys has what it takes to anchor the team’s run defense: he’s instinctive, aggressive, tough, and covers a lot of ground.
I could include more players. Kenny Clark was another guy who missed much of last season due to a groin injury in Week 1 – he wound up with only 58 percent of the defensive snaps. Billy Turner probably had his best pro season last year, so he’s still on the ascendancy. Unless Preston Smith bounces back, Rashan Gary is poised to take over that starting job – stay tuned for a feature on his prospects in 2020. Is Marquez Valdes-Scantling about to become the next breakout player? Kingsley Keke? Jon Runyon? Maybe Josiah Deguara – yet another promising player felled by injury in 2020?
In sum, the Packers have no shortage of players – young, medium, and old, who are still getting better. They also have a head coach and an offensive coordinator who are about to begin a third year with the team they still have their peak years ahead of them. The coordinators for the defense and special teams underperformed and have been replaced – which might well bring a surge of improvement among those units and players.
Though the Packers have been unable to add to the roster by acquiring free agents, the good news is that they already have ample returning personnel to again take them far into the postseason. What gaps remain can, and must, be filled at draft time. Unlike last season, maybe they’ll heed my 2-part draft advice: (1) select players who can fill the team’s positions of greatest need; (2) in the top three rounds, select players who are already developed and ready to compete at the pro level.
GRAB A TISSUE…..
Can we all chip in a few bucks and hire someone to motivate Preston to play hard?
Or….proclaim that “the team” needs to motivate him? <—-seriously?
Maybe hire a counselor, he could be sad about something.
Maybe brainwash him to come into camp in shape.
Not be Lazy <–Robs description
Lets try and help this poor soul.
Find out why he doesn't play well on "even" years.
The only thing i want concerning Preston Smith, is charges brought for stealing money.
In all seriousness Rob, let me ask you one question. It's yes or no, simple and clear cut question.
Should Rashan Gary be the starter in week 1 opposite Z' Smith?
Lets just get it out there.
My answer is “yes.” After last year’s draft, I vowed to never again try to guess what our flighty GM will do on draft days – it’s a fool’s errand. I consider Gutey to be on probation for another four weeks, and until then he should receive weekly mental health counseling. April 29 and 30 will be hugely consequential days for the entire Packers organization – the team’s short-term future is in the GM’s hands.
I agree Rob! I scanned over quite a few mock drafts last year, and quickly realized after the draft; that Gutey pulled the old wool over our eyes. Not one player, in any of the mock drafts did Gutey select. With the salary cap woes, and the future of this teams’ success; this is a critical draft. Gutey said earlier that he was unhappy with the play at CB and ILB; well: now’s the time to back up your words and prove it! I’m thinking with a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 2- 4th round picks, he better find players to FILL NEEDS. Even though mock drafts are fun for the fans, GMs’ could care less. However, smart fans can watch their team play and figure out what that team needs in order to improve. Some GMs’? Not so much!
Thank you Rob.
Mick….I’d like to think our professional talent evaluator was unhappy before last season with King.
This is the first indication we get?
At the very least, unhappy with the depth?
Maybe he’s waiting for his 2nd round pick Josh Jackson to make that 4th or 8th year leap.
The bottom line is…we have only 1 cornerback on the roster who is actually worth a F and it came and bit the team in the ass.
Like Rob, and most of the universe, i don’t understand Gute.
Much like the million other people who didn’t understand him after his first 3 picks last year.
What is the most righteous part of this article……?
Besides player assessment, being accurate on some, and not so much others.
The following, speaks volumes to me.
“Unlike last season, maybe they’ll heed my 2-part draft advice: (1) select players who can fill the team’s positions of greatest need; (2) in the top three rounds, select players who are already developed and ready to compete at the pro level.” – Rob
Well said Rob.
I’ll go one further, it is not criminal, or a sin to….use the name Gute, instead of “they’ll”.
Now that that is outa the way….what are we doing at left cornerback?
Anyone have T Willy’s phone number?
I think the Right corner back is going to be King to start the season. The cornerback taken in the 1st or 2nd round pick will hopefully push King aside some time during the season.
I believe Barry when he said, you can not have enough slot/Star type corners because you can use them on the perimeter. Barry wants lateral quickness in his corners. Look at the Rams corners. Other than Ramsey they are not very tall but have good change of direction and ball awareness skills. That is not King. King couldn’t handle the slot. Maybe the Robinson kid out of UCF fits the mold?
I always get that wrong, my brain defaults to offense when thinking L or R.
The question regarding Gary starting is open to anyone….who dare.
Well, Gary is more athletic and is faster. Smith has the experience but, he disappointed last year. It will come down to Barry trusting Gary and now with him being in his 3rd year; it’s time to wrestle that job away from Smith. However, as is the Packer way; Smith isn’t going to sit much with the money GB is paying him. This could be another scenario like Howard mentioned above;;;;;;;;;;; with the King situation. Smith will get the starting job early until (if); Barry prefers Garys’ speed.
When you pick a player 12th, at some point you either give him a chance and start him. Or your admitting he was a mistake.
Now…because of the fact it seemed that Gary was more productive than Preston. Preston’s play last season opened the door for Gary.
No matter how you want to look at it, i think Rashan Gary deserves and earned a chance to start.
What’s the worst that could happen, you put him back on the bench?
I’m not saying Gary is starter quality, i’m saying the Packers owe him a chance.
I say all this not being a great fan of Gary or the pick itself. But….right is right.
No doubt! I was convinced Gary should have started last year around week 6 when P. Smith was underperforming. Pettine was like Capers and McCarthy when playing vets. They were sometimes too loyal to the vets even when younger players were out performing them in practice. Yes, I understand the experience part is the reason why that happens. Also, sitting a player with a big contract doesn’t sit well with the brass. Maybe Barry has a different approach——- let’s hope so!
Mick, I think Gary starts over P. Smith. Gary did surpass P. Smith on the depth chart last year. The main reason I believe Gary was not on the field before P. Smith, and didn’t receive as many snaps is, I believe Pettine was concerned that Gary would get burnt in coverage. I don’t think that P. Smith performed well in coverage either, but with some exceptions P. Smith was close to his coverage responsibly. I think Rob wrote that Gary actually graded well by PFF in coverage. I just don’t see how, unless it was on a very, very, very, small sample size.
Gary, in pass coverage reminds me a little of K. Martin last year in run defense. K. Martin was going to go somewhere and punish someone, but he wasn’t sure on many plays what gaps to hit. Many missed opportunities by Martin. If Gary misses coverage opportunities it can go for TDs. I see Gary not understanding pass coverage and the techniques very well. It makes sense, Gary was a defensive end in at least college. Gary has been receiving coaching in pass coverage, and will no doubt receive an intense crash course this off season.
I think Gary will start the games in the base defense. I also believe P. Smith will be on the field on most 2nd and 3rd down plays with Z. Smith and Gary. I have always thought Gary could play better with his hand in the dirt as a DE. I had totally forgot P. Smith as a rookie under Barry played DE with his hand in the dirt. In fact Barry played a lot of 4-3 concepts in Washington in his first year when P. Smith was a rookie and a DE.
Well…..If any or all that is true. Then we’ll just have to keep the training wheels on Rashan Gary and keep pretending our 12th pick isn’t a bust or an ill advised pick.
Some of us also thought Gary would be better served at his natural position, like in a 4-3.
Some of us also thought the 12th pick was better served on somebody else.
But when a team likes to swoop in and outsmart everyone, they’ll use the 12th pick to convert a guy to OLB.
When you’re the Packers…If you can’t draft a project at #12, you ain’t trying.
I’m all for starting Gary and see what he has, training wheels or not. Sometimes when you are the 12th best player chosen in the draft, he eventually has to put on his big boy pants.
The conversation about this dude is getting old. The more we talk about him and the more time passes the more convinced i am he is a bust.
Hence…why he needs to start….now.
I don’t want to hear how the 12th pick of the draft needs 3-4 years “to develop”. Or that next season were looking for that “4th year leap”
The snaps need to be reversed…
Gary needs 800 + snaps, and give Preston 400+
You and Mick asked about Gary. I respectfully responded. If you don’t like the answer that is your problem not mine. In fact I don’t care if you think it is true or not! No question in my mind short of injury that the Smiths and Gary are all three going to see considerable time on the field together.
It wasn’t an attack
In the past, I often questioned the reasoning behind drafting an athlete at a certain position and then, transforming him into a different role. Sometimes it’s for the better, especially OL; but most times it’s not. Howard has good points here. I also believe Gary and P. Smith would be more of a force at DE in a 4-3. Barry used P. Smith at DE in a 4-3 in Washington. As it is now, playing them in a 3-4 is a challenge for both of them. Neither one of those players are gonna excel in pass coverage, Smith isn’t agile enough and Gary hasn’t been exposed to that kind of training. Smith has hinted in the past that he prefers to play DE/ Edge; because he knows he struggles athletically in pass coverage. Gary isn’t experienced in that role either. Gary is talented, a great athlete; and many believe he was a questionable pick at 12 in the 1st round. Then , they miscast him to play a position he isn’t used to playing and expect him to kickass from the start. This isn’t a Gary problem, it’s a Packer problem; and Barry needs to put the square pegs in the square holes— so to speak. That’s why I agree with Rob and Howard, if they pick up a player or two, a 4-3 defense would better suit the athletes on this team. I don’t think Gary is a bust, but I do agree with PF4L; that pick was ill advised in the scheme they were trying to run. In a 3-4 defense, linebackers need to enforce against the run, and pass protect, and expecting players out of college who are used to playing with their hands in the dirt to drop into coverage against the speed and agility of WRs, TEs and RB’s in todays game; is a fools game.
I have 2 points i’ve been making about Gary..outside of the team drafting someone else to help the team more immediately versus being a player caught in bench duty.
I think we’ve acquired enough high pick bench players under Gute. But then again, it seems like i’m about the only one who understands that sometimes.
I mean….should we draft some more bench players with the first 2 or 3 picks in this years draft?
Point 1 : Where Gary was drafted, in his 3rd season, that alone is deserving to be given a chance starting (period). But also strengthened by the aggressiveness and playmaking he did display, while playing about 370 less snaps than Preston.
Point 2: If the Packers don’t start Gary that tells us something different perhaps. That the Packers don’t feel like he’s starter material.
So that begs the question….In what year should the 12th pick of the draft be expected to start? his 4th? 5th? At all?
Which begs the next question: At what point do people start being honest about the wisdom and intelligence of picking that player 12th?
4 years?…6 years?
Sometimes i feel like i’m the only one who was bothered with that pick at the time, or even now…i mean fuck….put down the kool aid and tell it like it is.
Believe me, you’re not the only one bothered by the pick for Gary. This organization has a bad habit of drafting players in the earlier rounds and for some reason or another, don’t trust them out on the field as starters. Which makes me question the pick in the 1st place, no matter who that player is. Another, more bothersome problem is, they don’t want to recognize that they made mistakes, instead, they hold onto them hoping that somehow that player(s) is going to develop. And to make it even more perplexing, is they sometimes sign these guys to a second contract; often overpaying, and putting undue pressure on the cap. They take the “draft and develop” theory to an extreme for some of these picks. Add to that, the bad choices in those earlier rounds really compounds the problem. An example of that; look at how many times they have struck out in DB/CB position over the last 7 years. (And, it’s still a concern)
Packers Wire just came up with this tidbit: Pro Football Focus rated Allen Lazard the “NFL’s best blocking WR over the last 2 years.” In 2020, PFF rated him as the 8th best (out of 127 qualifying WRs) at both pass and run blocking. Think of where he’d be rated if not for his devastating core injury last season.
Drafting Love in the first round last year was proof again that the Packers’ draft strategy is to rank players at all positions, trust those rankings, and select the highest rated players on their board. Would a team intentionally not draft a player at their pick at any position in any round they felt had the best odds at that particular pick of becoming a pro bowl or hall of fame player? The NFL is too competitive and too uncertain (injury and performance-wise) for teams to have tunnel vision and just focus on positions of need. At each pick, the Packers will draft what they believe to be the premier player available, regardless of position, and Green Bay isn’t ranking players just against themselves, they’re ranking them against present Packers players and with a plan for who they will commit to extending down the road. So seeing a potential pro bowl/hall of fame left tackle at #29, for example, will not keep them from making that selection, even though they already have Baktiari in house on a renewed deal, because you can never have too many elite players regardless of position. That doesn’t mean there aren’t decisions made that push them to move a pick into an advantageous area of the draft to select an area of need, but the player they are moving for is the best cost-effective choice for the talent available, based on the current and future makeup of the team and for the way they want to structure the salary cap for each position. So, with the exception of special teams, the Packers first pick could be… any position at all, really.
Drafting Love in the first round last year was proof again that……..
…Gute isolated on Love in 2019 and went so far as discussing drafting him and strategizing to move away from Rodgers in meetings with Murphy and LeFleur.
Deciding to move away from Rodgers isn’t a quick discussion between draft picks because Love “fell to him”.
For Love to have fallen to him…where did Gute have Love going off the board?
10th pick? 15th pick? 20th pick?
In whose world did another team have Love rated that high?
The Buccaneers are a team with very little weaknesses. That is the kind of team that will be drafting the best players available at whatever position has the most value. They don’t have many needs because they are solid all around. The Packers have weaknesses that is preventing them from reaching the next level .In fact, they have the same weaknesses from the year before! Don’t get me wrong you shouldn’t reach for that said need, but to not address that need, is irresponsible. The draft is a crap shoot no matter which way you go about it. Players can be over-hyped, and of course injuries can devastate a season. This team has been weak against the run and overall soft in the front 7 for years,,,,,,,,,, that is a need. Now you have issues with CB,,,,,,,that is a need. Same with OL and WR. You either solve those needs with players you already have, or FA or the draft. After you take care of the needs on your team then, yes; you take the best available players at whatever position(s) you choose.
“The Packers have weaknesses that is preventing them from reaching the next level .In fact, they have the same weaknesses from the year before!”
Correct Mick, but that isn’t something new with the Packers, it’s a long term pattern. It takes years most of the time, to fill needs, and hiring Gute as GM, hasn’t changed that whatsoever.
The Packers have a weakness in that their players don’t play their best in the BIG BIG Games. See 2011 Giants 2014 Seattle, 2020 Tampa Bay. Any 1 of those should have been Rodgers 2nd title. Tom Brady plays his best in the BIG BIG games.
Down the hall a segment of fans want to look at the shiny side of the penny.
Where they endlessly point out the fact they we’re 26-6 the last two seasons, 13-3 the last 2 years.
That “they are successful”
That’s “not to bad”
Or….”That’s pretty damn good”
Or….”they can’t win the SB every year”
Well great…lets get some balloons and some kool aid, hats and horns and have a “Hang a NFC Banner party.
Those fans…a bit slow and simplistic on the uptake.
But when years go by…and Rodgers is gone, and no one expects the Packers to win anything, and the Packers don’t hold automatic expectations other than trying to make the playoffs.
Those same fans, will then realize some years later. What some of us meant by having a HOF QB, a handful of Pro Bowlers and a small window.
THEN…it will finally dawn on them, what that actually meant and what a “win now” mode meant..
Good point Rob about GB being a young team — I think 5th (?) youngest or somewhere in there. May have to stay young with 10 picks and the salary cap next year.
It will be interesting to see if a new DC (and LaFleur) can help the defense improve with basically the same players from last year. It seems like the offensive side is getting the most out of many more players (pro bowl/all pro) + free agents like Tonyon/Lazard in just 2 years with a new OC/coach.
The answer is “No.”
For so many reasons. Last year Rodgers, Alexander, Linsley, and Adams all had career years. Linsley is gone, and it is highly unlikely all three of the others have career years. There is a reasons why they are called “career years”. They stand out from the rest of the career.
Rob, you site various players as set to do the same, such as Jenkins. The same is not “stepping up higher”. That content should not even have been included. Even worse, you name Bahktiari who may miss half the season and most players do not come back the next year from ACL at as high of a level. So, you name a player that is active good reason to think “worse” as a good reason it will be “higher”. I’m not sure if you just mentally missed the boat on that one or are trying to be deceptive.
Citing injury issues is an old Packers excuse trope and particularly egregious when the Packers had so few injuries last year. The greatest likelihood is that the Packers will have more injuries.
New D coordinator with an incredibly bad reputation is another reason for “worse”.
Going from the NFL’s easiest schedule to one of the Top 5 most difficult is another reason for “worse.”
The disheartening championship game, which has to have reduced player faith in foolhardy Lefleur, has to sap at the spirits of the players as well.
April 03, 2021 at 12:44 pm
Schefter is reporting that Gutenkunst is looking to trade up to the 1st half of round one.
Apparently he has his eye on a long snapper that he thinks will “fall to him” by pick 15.
LOL! I think I heard some of the talking heads saying the value in this years draft are in rounds 2,3 and 4. If Gutey packages a 3, or one, or both 4th rounders to move up; it’ll further cement his status as “not having a clue” Even a former GM stated that only about 20 players were 1st round worthy. (Paoli) In that scenario, that means 12 teams will reach in the 1st round; and by golly, Gute might be there, ready to strike! Get your popcorn ready;;;;;;;;;;
They also said last years draft was full of gifted wide receivers, which was proven true.
Apparently….Gute wasn’t impressed. He found something better, and it only cost him 2 picks.
I’ve heard/read articles where Gute should/will concentrate on drafting players who can start in this draft. Players who can help now.
That’s what i’m talking about!…Thinking outside the box!! ( extremely heavy sarcasm).
Where are they now?: Datone Jones
Take comfort in knowing that Datone Jones is still making a living playing football.
Although hard to believe i’m sure….the Packers converted him from Def. End to OLB.
Strange right? But for whatever reason, released him after that.
After his 4 year roster stagnation with Green Bay after 2016. Datone found a home with 6 other NFL teams over the next 4 years.
In a 39 day period in 2017, he was signed by 3 different teams, although wasn’t traded.
He was hot property people :)
During those 4 years he managed himself 9 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed.
Sounds just exhausting.
January 21, 2021…signed with the Montreal Alouettes. I will keep you posted.
Not unlike a bad car accident, i can’t look away.
These are the Days Of The Packer Drafts