As a draft and develop team, the Green Bay Packers are incredibly reliant on the ability of their coaching staff to get players to make large strides from year one to two and from year two to three. The Packers have several candidates to be breakout players this offseason.
TE Kennard Backman
Backman is the epitome of the modern day spread Tight End. He has really good movement skills and catching ability. However, we’ve heard this story before with Brandon Bostick. Backman’s ability to get on the field is dependent on showing an improvement in blocking, which would at least give the illusion the Packers may run when he’s on the field. He will also need to prove he can run the type of routes Aaron Rodgers will demand of him. His development could allow the Packers to make a seamless transition after Jared Cook’s time is done in Green Bay.
RB John Crockett
The undrafted Crockett came on the casual fans radar after his performance at Detroit last season. With Eddie Lacy in his contract year and James Starks on the wrong side of 30, Crockett has a real chance to make an impact this year and solidify his position going forward. He runs with good patience and vision, and has a nice burst when deciding on a running lane. A good preseason will lead to opportunities in September and October.
OLB Jayrone Elliott
I go back-and-forth on Elliott being a breakout candidate because he has been the preseason breakout performer the past two seasons. Elliott had a terrific game against the Seahawks and showed flashes throughout the season, but was inconsistent overall. Year three is typically when players either become contributors or start to fizzle out. There will be a long rotation at OLB with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, Nick Perry, and newcomer Kyler Fackrell. However, Elliott could allow those other players to play in different positions on the field, and provide impact plays against both the run and the pass.
CB LaDarius Gunter
Gunter’s length and ball skills allowed him to make the roster as an undrafted player last season, and if he can clean up some technique issues he can be a contributor on Special Teams and as the fourth Cornerback this year. Shields, Randall, Rollins, and Gunter have the potential to develop into one of the best quartets of young Cornerbacks in the NFL. Without Gunter’s development, depth becomes a major issue and any injury at CB would be devastating for Green Bay.
FB Aaron Ripkowski
“The Ripper” is likely going to be the starting Fullback this season (my apologies to anyone who likes yelling Kuhn). Ripkowski is a hard-nosed throwback player, who also has some ability as a receiver. The Packers have had struggles on 3rd and 4th and short in recent years, and the lack of a battering ram leading the way has been a contributing factor. Ripkowski could provide that added toughness in the running game.
ILB Joe Thomas
Thomas performed well after returning to the Packers from the Cowboys practice squad, and was thrown into a major role as the Dime Linebacker. He is the only Inside Linebacker on this roster with high level movement skills. With a year in the system Thomas could develop into a really good coverage Linebacker, and allow the Packers more flexibility on third downs.Andrew Mertig is a a lifelong Packers fan and draft enthusiast. He has covered the NFL draft for radio and television stations in Green Bay. He is currently a host of the Pack-A-Day podcast and a writer for PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewmertig