The Green Bay Packers are the youngest team in the NFL, with an average age of 25 years old. They currently have 16 rookies on the 53-man roster or the equivalent of 30% of the Packers are rookies. With the team being this young, they need some more experienced players to step up this season if they want to make the playoffs.
The consensus around this Packers team is they are young and unproven. There are a lot of new players starting in addition to Jordan Love taking over for Aaron Rodgers. There are three specific players I’m looking to see if they can have breakout seasons.
Zach Tom is a 6’4, 304-pound offensive lineman who was selected in the fourth round in the 2022 NFL draft. Tom played center and tackle during his time at Wake Forest and was seen as a player who could play all five positions on the offensive line. The Packers love their offensive lineman to have guard-tackle versatility and Tom provides that versatility.
Zach Tom played both tackle and guard last year, getting his first action filling in for Jon Runyan Jr at right guard during the Minnesota Vikings game in Week 1. He also filled in for David Bakhtiari when he couldn’t play because of his knee injury. During training camp, Tom was in a position battle with Yosh Nijman for the starting right tackle position. Since the start of preseason, he has been the starting right tackle during practice and games.
For Jordan Love to be successful and the Packers to have a good season, the offense has to play well. If Tom can provide that stability at right tackle, the Packers already have the best left side of an offensive line in David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, which will go a long way in developing Love and the Packers’ offense. He has looked really good in practice and hasn’t allowed a pressure all of the preseason, being only one of two offensive tackles per PFF.
TJ Slaton is a 6’4, 330-pound defensive tackle who was selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft. Slaton is entering his third year in the NFL, having played a reserve role the last few years behind Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, and Jarran Reed. Slaton played collegiately at the University of Florida and was seen as a nose tackle that could take up space in the run game and was projected as a Day 3 pick.
He’s gotten better as each year has gone by. He was primarily a backup in his first couple of seasons and was battling with Devonte Wyatt for the other defensive lineman position next to Kenny Clark during training camp. Slaton has been consistently starting with the first-team defense whenever they have two defensive linemen and four linebackers. Slaton has been really good this preseason against both the pass and the rush, and he has an overall 79 grade from PFF.
The Packers have been one of the worst teams against the run in recent years, ranking 31st in Run Defense DVOA per Football Outsiders. The defense is going to have to carry this team with such a young offense, and the run defense has to be better. Slaton has vastly improved his run defense this preseason and all signs are pointing to him making a leap this year. He has had a 23.1% pass rush win rate per PFF. If Slaton does indeed make the leap this year, the Packers’ defense could end up being a top-10 unit.
Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare is a 6’4, 258-pound edge rusher who was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft out of the University of South Carolina/. He was seen as a day two or early day three pick but fell in the draft due to poor testing at the NFL combine. Enagbare is entering his second year in the league after a reserve role for the first half of last season before starting the final seven games due to Rashan Gary’s injury. He finished the year with three sacks and three passes defended.
Enagbare has been really good this training camp and preseason, making flash plays in the run game and pressuring the quarterback. In three preseason games, he has two sacks and two forced fumbles, most notably his strip-sack and fumble recovery against the Patriots in the second preseason game. He finished with an elite 88.1 PFF grade this preseason compared to a 49.4 PFF grade last preseason.
One of the strengths of the Packers’ defense this year seems to be their edge rushers, which was an unknown entering this season due to Rashan Gary’s injury and not knowing how good the rest of the group is. For the Packers to have a good defense, they will need to pressure the quarterback and based on how Enagbare has looked this preseason, it appears they have multiple players who can. He looks to be taking the second-year leap, and what a steal for Packers GM Brian Gutekunst in the fifth round.