Green Bay Packers 2021 Team Previewby Christopher Gallagher August 23, 2021 0 comments
The Green Bay Packers were once again one of the premier teams in the NFL during the 2020 season. Winning 13 games for the second season in a row, the team captured the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Backed by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 37-year-old signal-caller captured his third league-wide MVP honor. Completing over 70 percent of his passes, he tossed for 4,299 yards while leading the NFL with 48 touchdown passes. Earning a bye in the Wild Card round of the postseason, the Packers would ultimately match up with the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field in the divisional round. However, the Packers would lose to Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game.
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The team was active in re-upping with their own pending unrestricted free agents early on in the offseason. They inked Aaron Jones to a four-year $48 million contract extension. Along with this, the franchise came to terms with cornerback Kevin King on a one-year $5 million contract. Expected to part ways with the former second-round pick following a shaky finish down the stretch last season, general manager Brian Gutekunst decided to reevaluate and lock him up for one more season to add depth to the defensive backs room. Forced to part with two longtime veterans due to salary cap constraints, the Packers parted ways with center Corey Linsley after he agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Chargers. Lastly, running back Jamaal Williams landed with the Detroit Lions.
Spending their first-round pick on the defensive side of the ball, for the ninth time in 10 seasons, the Packers added cornerback Eric Stokes. Allowing just a 43.6 passer rating against in 2020, he finished eighth-lowest among cornerbacks in the FBS. In addition to this, the group also looked to find their long-term answer at the center spot. Furthermore, Green Bay also provided a boost to their wide receiver room with the selection of Clemson University senior Amari Rodgers.
Making multiple changes to their coaching staff before heading into next season, the franchise parted ways with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Naming former Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach Joe Barry as his replacement. Along with this, head coach Matt Lafleur also promoted Maurice Drayton to special teams coordinator. Spending the previous three seasons as the assistant special teams coach for the Packers.
Finishing eighth in rushing yards per game in 2020, expect the run game to pick up right where it left off next season. Moving up the depth chart after Williams departed for their fellow NFC North rival, AJ Dillon should become more of a featured option in his second year in the league. Offering up a different rushing style compared to Jones, he can allow Lafleur and Nathaniel Hackett to move their Pro Bowl rusher all over the formation to create mismatches. Poised to be one of the best offensive line units across the league again next season, all eyes will be on a shuffled position group early in the year as they deal with injuries.
In the passing game, the group will continue to funnel through their star wideout in Davante Adams. Leading the league in receiving touchdowns since 2016 with 58, expect him to continue to put up monster numbers with the reigning MVP under center. After bringing Randall Cobb back to Green Bay to pair with their rookie wideout in Rodgers, the Packers will also receive an uptake in their production from the slot position after clamoring for an upgrade for multiple seasons.
The unit will be lead by a new mind for the first time since the 2018 season. Choosing to hire Barry after Pettine faltered in big moments down the stretch. Hailing from legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s staff, he first learned under the Buccaneers Tampa two scheme. Strong at dialing up pressure during his previous stops around the league, Barry saw the Washington defense finish third in forced fumbles, while also tying for 10th in sacks and 11th in takeaways.
Green Bay’s defense will continue to run a 3-4 in base. Running more zone coverage than any other group in pro football a year ago, the Rams used shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey to shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 option. With a similar type of skillset and coverage ability, Jaire Alexander should play a similar role this year for Barry. Aiming to aid a group highlighted by young, unproven talent, the franchise will hope that his years of experience coaching the position will help provide stability.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
Back for his 17th season in Green Bay, Rodgers will be under the helm in what is shaping up to be his last season with the franchise. Love will likely handle the backup duties after remaining inactive for the majority of last season. Kurt Benkert could make the roster depending on the health of Love; however, if the 2019 first-round pick is good to go for Week 1, look for the former undrafted free agent to end up a potential trade candidate or on the practice squad.
Jones is a lock to make the roster. Dillon should be in for an expanded role during the 2021 season while handling a large chunk of the early-down carries. After a strong preseason showing against the Houston Texans, Hill is a capable three-down back with substantial open field receiving abilities.
Adams returns after breaking the franchise record with 115 receptions last season. Valdes-Scantling and Lazard round out the trio. Rodgers should primarily handle the slot duties in Lafleur’s system with added playing time on special teams. Cobb provides a veteran presence for the receiving group while also being able to spell the rookie on snaps. After a strong showing during training camp and the team’s first preseason game against the Houston Texans, Funchess beats out Juwann Winfree and Malik Taylor.
Tonyan will again headline the tight end group after breaking out with 11 touchdown grabs a year ago. One of the best blockers at the position across the league, Lewis will primarily play on run downs in his age 37 season. Deguara should mainly operate as a full back in the backfield, similar to San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk. Showing flashes late in the year, Dafney earned his way onto the roster to begin the 2021 season. With Jace Sternberger returning in Week 3 after a two-game suspension, a difficult decision looms.
Patrick, Myers, and Newman will likely handle the interior spots along the offensive line to open the season. Jenkins will slide out from his regular left guard spot in the absence of Bakhtiari if the all-pro tackle opens the year on the PUP list. Turner should start at right tackle with the recently signed Kelly being able to spell him if he struggles. Runyan, Braden, and Van Landed provide depth options with the ability to line up in multiple spots. If Bakhtiari starts the season on PUP, Cole Van Lanen would earn a spot on the roster till he is healthy.
Looking to make a jump heading into his third year in the league, Keke is on an inside track to join Clark and Lowry as the starter’s in Barry’s 3-4 scheme. Lancaster is at risk of becoming a cap casualty, with the team able to save $1 million against the cap if they part ways. A massive player among the interior at 330 pounds, Slaton should help eat up space and rushing lanes on early downs.
Za’Darius continues to be one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL. He racked up 12.5 sacks in 2020. Preston is back for a make-or-break year after taking a pay cut during the offseason. Gary came on down the stretch a year ago and could challenge both Smith brothers for playing time. Garvin has the opportunity to carve out a regular role after getting significant playing time early on in camp.
Campbell and Barnes will be the starters to open up the season. Martin needs a strong showing throughout the duration of the pre-season to cement his place on the roster. Burks and Summers have operated as the starters on the second-team defense, with the latter being a core special teams player.
Alexander is already one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks heading into his fourth season. He allowed just a measly 4.5 yards per pass a year ago. Stokes has exceptional closing speed and coverage skills and should surpass King at the second cornerback spot sooner than later. Yiadom will look for a chance to prove himself during a fresh start on his third team in four seasons. Sullivan and Jean-Charles have both spent time in the star position in Barry’s scheme during camp.
Amos and Savage have combined to form one of the premier safety tandems in the league over the past few years. A proven special teams player, Redmond’s spot appears safe on the roster. Black has been operating as the third safety and sixth defensive back in camp. Scott offers the group a physical presence with the versatility to help out in the slot.
Bradley edges out Joe Fortunato to win the long snapper battle. One of the longest-tenured members on the team, Crosby returns to kick for the team after a perfect season in 2020. Converting all 16 of his field-goal attempts, the 36-year-old is in the second year of a three-year $12.9 million contract extension. With writing on the wall after a poor 2020 campaign, Scott sticks around to punt for another season.
One Player to Add
Green Bay needs to load up on the defensive side of the ball. With one of the worst linebacking cores across pro football, signing longtime Seattle Seahawks member K.J. Wright to a one-year deal would be smart business for Gutekunst and the team’s front office. Productive for Seattle last season, the 31-year-old started in all 16 games for the team. He posted 86 tackles, 10 pass breakups, one interception, and two sacks as one of the leaders for Ken Norton‘s group. Offering positional versatility, Wright made the switch from weakside linebacker to strong-side linebacker after a season-ending injury to Bruce Irvin. He will likely not hamper the cap-strapped Packers. The one-time pro-bowler should come in at just over a $5 million cap hit.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The Packers have one of the most talented rosters across the NFL heading into next season. This is headlined by the return of Rodgers for at least the 2021 campaign. The team will look to remain one of the elite offensive groups across the league behind Adams and Jones. Along with this, with core pieces intact on defense, the group will try and take another step forward under Barry. They will once again be a threat in the NFC as they look to get back to the Super Bowl.
Most sportsbooks are posting their current over-under total at 10.5 games. Green Bay will have an inside track to repeat as division champs amongst a weak NFC North. However, the team will be faced with a challenging schedule in the middle part of the season and down the stretch. As a result of this, earning the top seed in the conference for a second straight season remains unlikely.
Season Prediction: 12-5 and Win the NFC North
Follow Chris Gallagher on Twitter @ChrisGally06
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