In the decade since the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, their offense has rarely been the limiting factor that prevented their return to the big dance. However, after keeping the San Francisco 49ers out of the end zone for all 60 minutes last January, Joe Barry and his stacked defense put the league on notice. And a trio of breakout stars – De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, and Rashan Gary – led the way.
The Packers scooped up Campbell off the street on a 1-year, $2 million contract, and he emerged as one of the unit’s leaders en route to an All-Pro season. Green Bay poached Douglas midseason from the Arizona Cardinals. He performed at such a high level that Green Bay couldn’t let him walk, despite having two talented young corners for the long haul. And Gary rose to the occasion as Za’Darius Smith battled a lingering back injury. He put the freakish measurables and motor that made him the 12th-overall pick in 2019 on full display and primed himself for a massive contract extension next offseason. As minicamp ramps up and the depth chart begins to cement itself, it’s time to look at who might be poised to burst onto the scene in 2022.
5. Jarran Reed
After the departures of Tyler Lancaster and Kingsley Keke left a gargantuan hole at the front of Green Bay’s defense, Gutekunst brought in former Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Jarran Reed on a 1-year, $4.5 million deal. Despite the arrival of Devonte Wyatt, Reed is reportedly taking first-team reps alongside Clark.
Wyatt and Reed have the potential to complement one another in rotation. Wyatt thrives as a pass-rusher, while Reed has been known primarily as a run-stuffer. Reed’s 10.5 sack, 12 tackle-for-loss season in 2018 gives him the upside to be the next veteran to find another gear in Green Bay, and he’ll have plenty of talent around him to facilitate that.
4. Jon Runyan
Matt LaFleur got everybody’s attention when he used the word “hopefully” when projecting star left tackle David Bakhtiari‘s availability for training camp. The Packers will break camp 19 months after Bakhtiari tore his ACL in Tampa Bay in 2020. Unfortunately, Bakhtiari isn’t the only star lineman working his way back from an ACL tear. Versatile Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins is still getting up to speed as well.
It’s safe to say that no matter who is ready to go on opening day, Jon Runyan will be among the five protecting Aaron Rodgers. A sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Runyan was part of the group of mid-to-late-rounders who held down the fort admirably in the final stretch of the season. However, in true Packers fashion, he faltered in the playoff loss.
Runyan is coming off a season where he played more than 1,000 snaps yet allowed only two sacks and did not commit a penalty. The only game in which he allowed two pressures came against Aaron Donald, who has wreaked considerably worse havoc throughout the NFL. Expect another step forward from Runyan, who continues to outperform Green Bay’s handful of mid-to-late-round guard options.
3. A.J. Dillon
After carrying the ball 17 more times than the $48 million man and fantasy darling Aaron Jones, one could argue that A.J. Dillon has already broken out. However, Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling‘s departures and the resulting dearth of proven talent in the receiver room will inevitably result in more touches for one of the league’s premier backfield duos.
With nearly 2000 yards and a lot of speed leaving the roster, the Packers will likely need Jones to do more work in the slot and the jet-sweep game. That means Quadzilla could get a lot of work as the first- and second-down back, wearing out defenses with his bruising play style and forcing opposing coordinators to stack the box.
Dillon is an excellent cold-weather back who will come in handy down the stretch, mainly if Green Bay can secure home-field advantage again. In the playoff loss to San Francisco, Dillon’s physicality was noticeably absent in the sputtering offense after he was injured on a kickoff early in the second half.
I said it once, and I’ll say it again: Nearly 2,000 yards of offensive production left town this spring, and, despite lengthy speculation, Gutekunst found nothing remotely comparable to replace it. It turns out that it’s hard to replace the best receiver on earth. But unless the NFL’s back-to-back MVP is just not going to complete passes, somebody will step up.
Why not Amari Rodgers?
The Packers took Rodgers in the third round of last year’s draft, but he had an underwhelming rookie campaign. He only caught four passes for 45 yards and failed to impress as a punt returner. He owned his performance last season, attributing it to the extra weight he put on after his time at Clemson.
“This offseason, I locked in on getting my body right,” Rodgers said, describing his preparation for his sophomore season. “I lost like six pounds. I lost 4% body fat. Lost all of my torso, so I feel like I’m getting in that area where I was in college as far as where I want to be to move how I want to and play receiver the way I should.”
Rodgers will compete with Lazard, rookie Christian Watson, and veterans Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins for snaps at receiver. It seems fair to say he’ll have plenty of chances to put together an impressive season.
1. Eric Stokes
Green Bay took Eric Stokes 29th in the 2021 draft out of Georgia, and he is set to emerge as a star cornerback alongside Jaire Alexander. Stokes may be at or near the top of breakout lists for the league as a whole. The Packers threw him straight into the fire after Alexander went down early last year with a shoulder injury, and Stokes did not disappoint. He ranked among the league’s top-25 most valuable corners and led the NFL in separation rate on his targets (24.0%).
Things will only get easier for Stokes, as the return of Alexander and Douglas all but guarantees that he will have the freedom to use his 4.25 40 time to be aggressive and dominate his assignments. If his development is anything like Alexander’s from a couple of years ago, Green Bay will have the best secondary in football. It would make things easier for Aaron Rodgers than ever in his 17-year career.