The first few weeks of camp have flown by and now the excitement of game week is here. While there have been some players building momentum and others losing it, opportunities in these preseason games will be huge. With the joint practice taking place on Wednesday ahead of the Bengals preseason game coming up, here are the top five things that the Green Bay Packers should be looking for come Friday Night.
Landing at number one on this list is the wide receiver room due to the amount of people in that room, and the way that they have been playing thus far into camp. While it seems like the first five spots will belong to Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure, and Dontayvion Wicks—Bo Melton, Malik Heath, and company have been showing out throughout camp so it’ll be interesting to see how that room plays out. Specifically, some things to watch for include Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks with the first team offense and seeing how they are used.
Another interesting thing to be looking for with this wide receiver room will be Bo Melton and Malik Heath. With these two, you have two guys that both just seem to make the one big play a day that is usually a big part of making a 53-man roster. Ahead of the Bengals game, it’ll be interesting to see how those two are used and when they are put in to get those reps.
This might be one of the most back-and-forth position battles that will be seen on the Packers this year. Even before the addition of Lew Nichols, Tyler Goodson, and Patrick Taylor already had a battle going on the year before in which the Packers ended up keeping both of them on the practice squad. It still isn’t a guarantee that the Packers will end up keeping three running backs on the roster due to having one of, if not the best duo in the game with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, but there is a decent chance one more back will be kept if they can also contribute on special teams. Matt LaFleur has even mentioned that the running back number three spot will be determined by who can perform the best at the position, but also contribute the most for the team on special teams. So far, Taylor was listed ahead of Goodson on the first depth chart of the season, but when you look at the special teams side of things, Goodson was on the depth chart there as well for the kick returner position, backing up Keisean Nixon, and then Jayden Reed.
Position battles in the secondary
There have been many rotations going on with the safety room for Green Bay for far into camp. The one consistent and expected starter will be Darnell Savage, but the question is, who will be alongside him? Will it be newly signed former Texans safety, Jonathan Owens? Perhaps Rudy Ford, or even the rookie seventh-round pick out of Iowa State, Anthony Johnson? With the first depth chart coming out, the starting tandem is listed with Rudy Ford and Darnell Savage. It will be interesting to see how the defense is rotated between the safeties, but also how they use rookies Carrington Valentine, and Johnson. Some things to watch for in this room first with the cornerback room, will be if Valentine starts with the ones if Jaire Alexander doesn’t play the first game of preseason. When it came to the Packers’ defense versus the Bengals’ offense in the red zone portion of the joint practice, the Packers subbed Alexander out, and in came Valentine with the ones. Valentine was ready for that moment and ended up having two pass breakups within the next few plays.
While Valentine seems locked in for a spot on the roster, he will be someone to watch when the Packers take the field Friday Night. Another thing to watch for will be which tandem starts at safeties, but also who rotates in after that and if any of them, especially the younger guys, are used on special teams.
The offensive line
This wasn’t a topic until very recently, but in this past week of practices we saw starting center, Josh Myers, be subbed out after having some fumbled exchanges. Replacing Myers, was second-year lineman, Zach Tom. Tom can play any position on the line and be successful at it as well, so that makes him very valuable to the Packers. When Myers started having those fumbled exchanges, Tom replaced him with the first team at center, and Yosh Nijman slid in at right tackle to form a starting line from left to right of David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Tom, Jon Runyan, and Nijman. While Myers was eventually subbed back in with the ones and Tom went back to right tackle, it will be interesting to see how that whole situation is rotated when it comes to game time.
What rookies are ready to contribute?
I get this one is broader, and some of the guys who turn out to contribute for the team, don’t always take off in the first preseason game, but here are some guys to be watching from the first team level, and also some under the radar guys as well who I will list after the first team guys.
Let’s start with a few names to look for and why they are fully expected to see playing time this upcoming year.
Wide Receiver, Jayden Reed
Reed has been seen throughout camp taking a lot of reps with the first team, and I fully expect that to continue into the season. Reed will be someone to watch Friday Night simply because of the explosiveness that he brings alongside Watson and Doubs. While we may not see a whole lot of the first-team offense, Reed will be one to watch.
Tight End, Luke Musgrave
Luke Musgrave is looked upon as one of the fastest guys on the whole roster, and while having that speed, he is also 6 foot 6, 253 pounds. Musgrave is listed as the starting tight end on the first depth chart of the year, and I expect that to be the case. Musgrave will be another fun option to watch to see the speed he can bring to an already blazing-fast offense.
Tight End, Tucker Kraft
Now for the other half of the rookie tight end duo, Tucker Kraft. Kraft has seen substantial time with both first, and second teams throughout camp with the rotating between himself, Tyler Davis, and Josiah Deguara. While his roster spot is locked in, it will be very fun to see what Kraft can do with the number of reps they decide to give him.
Edge, Lukas Van Ness
None other than our first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Lukas Van Ness will have a lot of eyes on him when he steps out onto that field Friday Night in Cincinnati. While Van Ness has been seeing a lot of reps opposite of Preston Smith with the ones, he can also be rotated both inside and outside as a rusher which will be a very fun thing to see come Friday Night.
Wide Receiver, Dontayvion Wicks
Wicks, a fifth-round pick out of Virginia, seems to have that wide receiver five spot locked down and is someone that I expect to see the field for the Packers in certain roles as well. Wicks, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 206 pounds, is a bigger physical receiver, who will be a fun watch this preseason just seeing what developments he makes. While he seems to be locked into the 53-man roster, Wicks will be another guy who is already expected to contribute this season to keep an eye on come game time.
Under The Radar/Breakout Guys
While all of those guys have clear reasons to be watching them, they will also have a lot of eyes on them as they are expected to be contributing to the Green Bay Packers right away. Now for some under-the-radar rookies who some have spots locked in, and some who are fighting for them. The preseason will make or break it for these guys, and you can be looking for them to make big plays come Friday Night.
Cornerback, Carrington Valentine
There’s a little longer list for this category, so let’s get started with Cornerback, Carrington Valentine. Valentine, who I believe has a roster spot locked in, will be very fun to watch, especially if lined up with the ones if Jaire Alexander is given the first preseason game off. Valentine, while not fighting for a roster spot, will be showcasing what he can bring to the team to help contribute and it has already been seen on multiple occasions that he is a playmaker. Those two things are enough for him to land number one on this list.
Defensive Lineman, Karl Brooks
Brooks, who I expect to also make this 53-man roster, has shown a lot of flashes already by both his bull rushing, as well as his run fits, will be a name to look out for simply because he is already seeing his name called, which will make it interesting and fun to watch how he continues his great start to his rookie year.
Wide Receiver, Malik Heath
If you are looking for a UDFA who has shown so far he has what it takes, look no further than former Ole Miss wide receiver, Malik Heath. I have written a few things about Heath before, but he just continues to make plays. It seems at least once if not more every day regardless of what team he’s put up against, that you see or hear about Malik Heath making a play. His most recent plays include a 51-yard touchdown reception on Family Night from Sean Clifford and a nice go ball delivered from quarterback, Alex McGough in joint practice yesterday. Heath will definitely be someone to watch Friday Night, as I expect him to be getting a solid amount of reps to show he can keep that momentum rolling in a game.
Wide Receiver, Duece Watts
Now here is another interesting name to watch in that wide receiver room in UDFA out of Tulane, Duece Watts. Watts was a shifty, playmaking Wide Receiver at Tulane, and is a player who when it comes down to game time, can just flat-out ball. Expect to see Watts given a lot of opportunities, and it will be very fun to watch and see what he can do with them.
Edge, Brenton Cox Jr.
Besides Heath, Brenton Cox Jr. is another name that you see coming out of camp that has just been consistently making plays with his opportunities as well. Most notably in camp, Cox had back-to-back pressures on day nine of camp. Something to watch will be Cox against the offensive line of Cincinnati and if he can continue his great start to camp, but translate that to a game now.
Running Back, Emmanuel Wilson
I talked about the battle in the Running Back room earlier in this article, but here is a name that is flying under the radar so far as well. Emmanuel Wilson, a UDFA out of Fort Valley State, has been very solid with the reps that he has been given so far in camp. Most notably on day seven of camp, Matt LaFleur let the young guys loose and gave them a full tackle period. On the first play of that period, Wilson ran through four or so defenders for a huge gain. While that is in practice, Wilson showed when it came down to full tackling, he was not an easy player to bring down. Look for more of that Friday Night when Wilson gets his number called.
Linebacker, Jimmy Phillips Jr.
Phillips Jr. has been coming on as of recently. With some nice plays in back-to-back days of camp, Phillips Jr. finds himself building up momentum in the days leading up to the first preseason game. One thing that stood out about Phillips watching him in person was his play recognition instincts and the way he crashed down in his run fits. We will see if he can continue that tomorrow night.
Safety, Anthony Johnson Jr.
Johnson Jr. is a very interesting player out of Iowa State. Listed at 6 foot even, 205 pounds, he is a ballhawk that can also play downhill on the run but also recognizes routes due to him playing Cornerback to start his career. He has been a nice consistent player thus far into camp and usually holds his own in one on one drills as well. With the uncertainty around the safety room as of right now, Johnson will be looking to prove he can contribute in that role, as well as show he can be in the nickel as well.
If you enjoyed this article, consider checking out my takeaways from week one of training camp, which I was able to attend in person.