With the Green Bay Packers coming off their bye week, now is as good of a time as any to take a look at the second year players and grade their overall seasons thus far. The second year in the NFL is an important one, as coaches expect these players to make a sophomore jump. The best prospects often show major improvement in their second year, having put the disorienting first year of NFL play behind them. I counted as “second year players” any player whose first experience in the NFL (be it on a practice squad or an active roster) was last year, i.e. those players who went drafted or undrafted in 2014.
Joe Thomas (LB) – Thomas spent last season on the practice squad. Not only has he made the roster this year (being signed off the Dallas Cowboy’s pratice squad after initially being cut by the Packers), but he’s carved out a niche on the defense as the dime linebacker. That’s a significant jump, one that makes the Packers’ defense as a unit better, allowing Clay Matthews to rush from the outside on passing downs. Still, Thomas has been only average and raw in this role thus far. He missed a crucial sack on Philip Rivers that would have gone a long way to putting the Chargers away last week. Grade: B
Josh Walker (G) – Like Joe Thomas, Walker should be commended for making the jump from practice squad in 2014 to final roster in 2015. Walker also filled in admirably for an injured TJ Lang against a tough St. Louis Rams defensive front. There isn’t much else that you can ask from a back-up guard. Grade: B+
Jared Abbrederis (WR) – After missing the vast majority of his second training camp in the NFL, Abbrederis has done what seemed unlikely during the preseason, namely, making the roster. However, with the promotion coming in early October due to injuries at the wide receiver position, Abbrederis has been unable to carve out any real playing time. Getting and staying healthy has been good for Abbrederis, but to remain relevant in the NFL one needs to be ready for opportunities and seize them, which Abbrederis has not done yet. Grade: D
Davante Adams (WR) – Perhaps the most exciting second year player on the roster, most of Adam’s season has been derailed by an ankle injury. He will need to be a major contributor when returning from injury but he simply hasn’t been on the field enough to warrant a grade yet. Grade: Incomplete
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S) – Clinton-Dix continues to develop into one of the best young safeties in the league. His tackling seems to be improving while he’s continuing to hone his playmaking abilities. Clinton-Dix has one forced fumble and one interception so far. There is room for improvement, but Ha Ha has already exceeded the expectations of a first round pick. Grade: A-
Jayrone Elliott (LB) – Elliott has already significantly increased his playing time, and has accumulated 13 tackles (finishing the entire 2014 season with 14). Add to that a forced fumble and an interception. Elliott has made a good Packers’ pass rush great, allowing the team to not miss a beat when Nick Perry went down injured. The sky is the limit for the young linebacker. It’s not hard to imagine based on his play thus far that he could be a starter down the road. Grade: A-
Demetri Goodson (CB) – The defensive back corps is deep and Goodson has struggled to distinguish himself, especially with rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins stealing the show. Goodson appears to be more of a project and depth player for the Packers. Still, his one tackle on the season probably isn’t what he would have hoped for, planning, at the very least, to be a bigger contributor on special teams. It’s hard to grade Goodson as he’s been so overshadowed, but, aside from Abbrederis, there’s probably no other second year player on the roster who has impacted the team less. Grade: D+
Jeff Janis (WR) – When Jordy Nelson went down for the season, a lot of folks looked at Janis’ skill set and expected him to have a big year. If one could have foreseen injuries to Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery as well, the Janis hype train may have just hit maximum velocity and exploded. The truth is, however, that Janis hasn’t contributed to a stifled offense very much. He didn’t even register his first reception until last week, where he hauled in two catches for 79 yards. He still looks more raw than you would expect for a second year player, but he’s at least been able to get on the field, something that can’t be said for Abbrederis, the higher draft pick. That being said, Janis has been a special teams monster, often times accumulating multiple tackles per game. If Janis’ head can catch up with his skill set, the hype may become justified, but right now, it’s not warranted. Grade: C+
Corey Linsley (C) – To be honest, Linsley didn’t have much room to make a real jump, but that’s due only to how high his play was as a rookie. Linsley is perhaps the best young center in the league, one who plays with strength and consistency that you’d expect from a seasoned veteran. Grade: A
Mike Pennel (DT) – Starting most games in the base defense, Pennel has been a key component in a much improved defensive line. That’s a fairly impressive feat for an undrafted, second year player. He’s not a particularly flashy player, but he’s been a very good one. Grade: B+
Justin Perillo (TE) – With Andrew Quarless out and other injuries mounting, the Packers brought Perillo up from the practice in mid-October. He’s been mostly quiet, even with some opportunities being available with many of Aaron Rodgers’ receiving targets being injured. He’s also been quieter on special teams, where he was quite good last season. He did have one nice catch against the Chargers for 21 yards. Grade: C-
Richard Rodgers (TE) – Rodgers became a reliable target in the passing game toward the end of last season. He’s continued to be a consistent contributor on offense, but hasn’t made the major jump in the passing game that some expected him to make. His best game on the season was at San Francisco in Week 4, where he grabbed 5 receptions for 45 yards and a TD. With an offense slowed down by injuries to pass catchers, it is perhaps a little disappointing that Rodgers has not stepped up a bit more, but he hasn’t taken any steps backward either. Grade: B——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.