The Green Bay Packers will enter the 2016 season with high expectations and a roster full of talent that is capable of winning another championship.
Players like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson have previously demonstrated that they are among the best in the league at their respective positions. Others, such as Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, and Sam Shields, have “broken out” in the past and shown the substantial impact that they can have for Green Bay.
But there are many players on the Packers’ roster that have yet to really break out on the NFL scene. Admittedly, deeming whether or not a player has “broken out” is very subjective. The five Packers discussed are players who may not have lived up to expectations and are poised to really show what they are capable of doing at the professional level by having objectively successful seasons.
Adams is an obvious candidate to really improve on a disappointing 2015 season. Drafted to be a complementary outside receiver to Jordy Nelson, Adams put together a strong rookie campaign with 38 receptions for 446 yards and three scores. He had some growing pains from adapting to the professional level, but expectations were high for the Green Bay receiver as he entered his second season.
To put it bluntly, those expectations were not met. Hampered by an early-season ankle injury that forced him to miss three full games, Adams was never able to build on a promising start to his career. He dropped 10 passes, had the NFL’s 10th-worst drop rate, and eclipsed 50 yards just four times all season. Overreactions ran rampant calling for Adams to be cut after just two years in the NFL.
Heading into 2016, everything seems to be in place for the Green Bay receiver to really break out. He has had an entire offseason to recover from his injuries, and seems to possess the mental resolve and desire to truly improve on his poor performance last year. The return of Jordy Nelson will also allow Adams to match up on lower-level cornerbacks, which should make it easier for him to get separation. The talent is there; now it’s time for him to really show what he can bring to the Packers’ passing attack.
Jones is more a victim of his own draft spot than anything else. He has not been terrible; he just has not proven that he was worth a first round selection. The 26th pick in the 2013 draft has recorded 52 tackles and eight sacks in his career. While far from stellar, those numbers could be considered respectable for a defensive lineman…if he wasn’t a first round draft pick.
But this offseason, the Packers switched Jones’ position to try and get more production out of him in 2016. He will move to a more hybrid outside linebacker position next season, which should give him more time on the field to show if he can thrive in his new spot. Jones played in just 35 percent of Green Bay’s defensive snaps in 2015, and a move to OLB should increase that number. Playing opposite Clay Matthews, who will require more attention from offensive lines, should also free up rushing lanes for Jones. More playing time and a move to a position that Jones seems more fitted to should help him have his best season to date in 2016.
The Packers only got a taste of Rollins’ potential in 2015. He and Damarious Randall were drafted to be key pieces in the Green Bay secondary for years to come. While Randall assumed a major role and became a starter during his rookie year, Rollins was on the field for just under 31 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Yet Rollins made the most of his time on the field. He made two interceptions, including a pick-six, and allowed the lowest opposing quarterback rating among qualified rookie defensive backs.
With the departure of Casey Hayward in free agency, Rollins figures to log even more snaps. An increased workload could really allow Rollins to flourish in the Packers’ incredibly talented secondary. The expectations are high for the second-year cornerback, but he could easily exceed that potential and continue his development into one of the league’s top young defensive backs. His ability to play both inside and outside when on the field will also help him carve out an impactful role on the Packers.
The Packers’ first round pick in this year’s draft has no professional experience to compare his 2016 season to, but he is nonetheless a top candidate to break out right from the start of his career. Obviously not all first round picks pan out or emerge during their first year in the league, but the stage will be set for Clark to succeed right out of the gate.
The loss of B.J. Raji to retirement and Mike Pennel to suspension mean that Clark will likely be the team’s starting nose tackle in Week 1. While he is young and may take time to adjust to the professional level, the heavy workload from being an immediate starter should help him adapt quickly—a sort of teaching him how to swim by throwing him right into the deep end. He is a big body who is versatile, and excelled against the run in college. His pass rush will need developing, but if anyone from the Packers’ rookie class is going to “break out” in 2016, Clark would be the most likely to do so.
Perry, like Jones, has been under more pressure throughout his career because of where he was taken in the draft. Again, he has not played horribly; he just hasn’t lived up to being a first round pick. Perry has been plagued by injuries (he has missed 18 games in his four-year career) and has been underwhelming when he has been on the field. But the Packers gave Perry one more chance by signing him to a one-year deal for 2016.
Perry had spurts in 2015 where he was very good, but was seemingly absent at times as well. All 3.5 regular season sacks came in Weeks 3, 4 and 5 last season. But he picked it up again in the playoffs, recording a team-high 3.5 sacks in the team’s two postseason contests. Perry was trending in the right direction when Green Bay was ousted against the Cardinals, and hopefully playing on a one-year “prove it” deal can light a fire under Perry. It is probably too late in his career for him to really live up to being a first-round selection, but he could possibly take a huge step to getting his career on track with a healthy, productive 2016 season.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .