We’ve all heard about the projected breakouts of Davante Adams, Casey Hayward, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but there are other players capable of breaking out in a big way in 2015. Five players specifically are on pace for having a big role and could have a big impact on the season.
- Mike Neal
The defensive end turned linebacker is listed currently as a starter with the move of Clay Matthew to the inside in the base defense, and that opens up Neal for more opportunities to step up. Starting out as a massively strong 300 pound end, he has trimmed up and gotten quicker for the edge and started his ascent last season when he had 4.5 sacks in a part time role. With his new starting role and more snaps, he could break out and become a great bookend to Julius Peppers. At 6’3” 295 pounds, he has the size to cast an intimidating sight opposite the veteran, and he has worked hard to become a true linebacker. With roles in the NASCAR package and in the base, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see 7 or 8 sacks and around 55 tackles.
- Sean Richardson
The new leader of the special teams units after Jarrett Bush was not retained, Richardson should be a better version of Bush. Bigger, stronger, and almost as fast, he was built for kick coverage and can lay the wood when needed. Also developing as a safety, he has shown potential and has developed as a pretty quick pace. Definitely more of an in-the-box safety, Richardson could be the third safety and see the field in sub packages and could really make plays around the goal line with his size (6’2”, 216). But still expect his impact to be on special teams. There’s a reason his restricted tender got matched by Ted Thompson. Look for Richardson to compete for a Pro Bowl berth as the special teams ace.
- Jared Abbrederis
This is the most surprising member of the list. Abbrederis has never played an NFL snap, preseason or otherwise, but he could be extremely important this season. I am expecting him to become the 4th receiver on the team, with Jeff Janis at 5th and Ty Montgomery as a hybrid RB/WR role. That 4th receiver spot will be used most often in the slot where great route runners can thrive and Abbrederis is just that. Seen by numerous scouts as one of the top route runners in the 2014 Draft class, he has the ability to create separation and the hands to make plays in the offense. Throw in the fact that he can also return punts and be an impact player there only adds to his value.
- David Bakhtiari
The starting Left Tackle for the pack has only gotten better over his first two NFL seasons and I expect a big third year jump from the long-maned Colorado product. He always had the feet of a left tackle, and developed his strength last season. Look for more work on his areas of weakness, such as his initial punch and hand placement. The offensive line last season was the best of the McCarthy era, look for a new champion of that role this season.
- Mike Pennel
Finally, we hit Mike Pennel. The surprise undrafted free agent of last season, he shined in camp and the preseason, showing the quickness and potential that made him a high recruit in college. At 6’4” and 332 pounds, he is the prototypical nose tackle and got some time there last season, but didn’t make a huge impact. But with the potential suspension of Letroy Guion and the one game suspension of Datone Jones, Pennel should get plenty of time early in the defense. I look for him to become the #2 nose behind Raji, pushing Guion to end, and becoming a key run stopper on this team.
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.