These seven players, in particular, have a lot to prove with the Green Bay Packers this season.
As many Green Bay Packers’ fans will quickly point out, this was a fairly underwhelming offseason. Especially considering that the Packers are coming off a 13-3 season that ended just one game shy of the Super Bowl. Fans wanted to see them make a big acquisition in free agency or attack positions of need in the draft.
However, as we all know, that isn’t how things played out.
Instead, with limited cap space the Packers wouldn’t make a flashy signing like they did a year ago. Meanwhile, in the draft they would throw just about everyone for a loop with their first three selections.
Without any major additions, that puts more pressure on the development and overall improvement of several players already on the roster. And if Green Bay is going to make another Super Bowl push, they’ll need many of these players to step up in 2020 and prove that they can be more productive players than what they have been in the past.
So as we look ahead to the upcoming season, these seven players, in particular, have a lot to prove this year.
Naturally with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith ahead of him on the depth chart, Rashan Gary’s role in 2019 was limited. In fact, he would play in only 23 percent of the Green Bay Packers’ total defensive snaps, so of course, his numbers weren’t going to leap off the stat sheet.
However, as the season progressed we saw Gary making more plays. From Weeks 14 to 16, with just 27 pass-rush attempts, he would record five total pressures, one of which was a sack and his pressure rate during that stretch was just under 20 percent according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Certainly not too shabby.
With Kyler Fackrell now in New York and this also being his second season, Gary is going to get more opportunities in 2020. Sure he will still be behind the Smiths on the depth chart, but as the 12th overall pick, it’s time to put up some numbers.
Back in the 2018 draft the Green Bay Packers traded up in Round 3 to select Oren Burks. As a former safety he was supposed to give them that coverage ability at the linebacker position, however, it’s been a bumpy first two years to his career.
At the beginning of each season, Burks has battled injuries which then got him off to slow starts that he hasn’t been able to recover from. When he is on the field he’s struggled to defend the run, while reading and reacting to his coverage responsibilities have caused issues as well.
Although the Packers added Christian Kirksey this offseason, there is still quite a few question marks surrounding this linebacker unit. If Burks can step up in 2020, it will go a long way towards helping this defense.
While their performance in the NFC Championship Game is what we are going to remember the most, the Green Bay Packers’ run defense was a liability just about all season long. And a reason for that is because former third-round selection Montravius Adams just hasn’t panned out.
During the last two seasons, Adams has played less than 20 percent of the Packers’ total defensive snaps each season and when he’s been on the field, he just simply hasn’t produced. In order for Green Bay to make another Super Bowl run, their run defense has to improve, and that means someone providing Kenny Clark some help inside.
This really is a make or break season for Adams and if he doesn’t stand out this summer, I believe there is the very real possibility that he is cut before the season begins.
Billy Turner was one of the four major additions that the Green Bay Packers made in free agency last offseason, and while he was an upgrade over Byron Bell who occupied right guard in 2018, he was still below-average overall for much of the season.
While he did just sign a four-year deal not too long ago, next offseason if the Packers were to let him go, they would save roughly $3.5 million in cap space by doing so. With several young guards now on the roster, Turner has to step up and return to his 2018 form in Denver if he wants to be in Titletown beyond this season.
Rick Wagner is the only new acquisition that I have on this list and the big reason why is the importance of the position that he plays and its current state with the Green Bay Packers. With Bryan Bulaga now in Los Angeles, the right tackle position is Wagner’s for the taking, however, we need to see him staying healthy and more consistent this season.
Since becoming a starter back in 2014, Wagner has played in all 16 games just one time, and this includes only 12 games last season. On top of that when he was on the field in 2019, he struggled. With an aging quarterback who likes to hang on to the football and very little experienced tackle depth behind him, Wagner’s success this season is crucial.
We saw Marquez Valdes-Scantling flash during his rookie season in 2018 and what’s been forgotten about is that he had some solid performances at the beginning of last season as well. Through the first seven games, he totaled 416 yards at nearly 20 yards per catch with two touchdowns. This includes a 133-yard performance against Oakland.
Unfortunately, as the season progressed from that point, drops and misplayed deep balls became more of the norm and Valdes-Scantling saw his snap count plummet. In fact, over the final five games of the regular season, he would see just 66 total snaps and he totaled only three receptions for 25-yards during that span.
With Green Bay going with more two-receiver sets this season, Valdes-Scantling’s opportunities may already be more limited simply because there will be fewer receivers on the field. So as the team’s home run hitter, he has to provide that big-play ability or this could be his last season in Green Bay.
Josh Jackson finds himself in similar shoes to that of Montravius Adams and Oren Burks because he’s struggled to see consistent time on the field, let alone produce. As a rookie in 2018, Jackson would take his lumps with penalties being a major issue, but as a young player moving from a zone heavy defensive scheme at Iowa to Mike Pettine’s press-man coverage, some of that should have been expected.
However last season was a major disappointment. An injury early in training camp would send him tumbling down the depth chart and he was never able to recover. In the end, Jackson was on the field for less than 10 percent of Green Bay’s defensive snaps last season and when he was given a few snaps it wasn’t good.
With a cornerback room that is lacking depth, Jackson should get some more opportunities to prove himself this season. Especially in the slot where the Packers have a void without Tramon Williams and Pettine has mentioned that he thinks that is where Jackson is at his best.
Ultimately it will be up to Jackson to produce or just like several others on this list, he might be in his final season with the Packers.