With five days left until the start of the 2016 NFL season, it’s time to set aside our angst about Josh Sitton and re-evaluate where the Green Bay Packers have come from. Before Training Camp started this year, I took a swing at which players would breakout this offseason. The following is my analysis on my own predictions:
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.
I’m not off to a great start with this prediction. Backman showed some flashes in the preseason, but just was not able to stay healthy. After a knee injury ended his season, the Packers reached an injury settlement with Backman and he is currently rehabbing as a free agent. If healthy, he may have had an outside shot at making the roster, but no one will be ranting on Twitter about Kennard Backman not being on the team.
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.
Crockett really looked to be a lock a couple weeks ago. He was showing signs he could contribute in the mix with Eddie Lacy and James Starks, but an injury derailed his season. Now Jhurell Pressley will get a chance to fill that role.
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.
I’ve made some very bold predictions regarding Jayrone Elliott:
I think he’s ready to make his mark as a really good NFL player. However, he’ll have less opportunities to do that because the Packers are so deep at OLB.
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.
Gunter is going to play a very important role as the 3rd CB. He was an absolute steal as an undrafted rookie last season, and I believe will play a big part in this defense as the dime CB, and the most physical of all the corners. His role could increase in a hurry if there are any injuries to Shields, Randall, or Rollins.
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.
Other than missing one preseason game, Ripkowski showed he’s ready to carry the load at the FB position for the Packers. I think his power game will pay dividends in opening up holes in short yardage that John Kuhn could no longer accomplish.
ILB Joe Thomas
Thomas performed well for a street free agent 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 to be more of a specialized unit.
Thomas impressed me in the preseason. He showed some ability to hit, and come up big in the run game. With only 3 ILBs on the roster, Thomas is going to have to stay healthy and play well for the Packers defense to make the next step.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