As we approach OTA’s and Training Camp, the Packers have a good idea of a large part of their roster figured out. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Clay Matthews, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are stalwarts who won’t be playing on special teams. But for those on the bottom of the roster, that will be vital to their NFL careers continuing in 2018. For five guys in particular, their biggest contribution will be on that side of the ball, and it they can be impact players doing it. Let’s take a look at those five.
For this article, we’ll be taking a look at the coverage and blocking units while avoiding the returners. So no Trevor Davis, Ty Montgomery, or Jaire Alexander on this list.
The former third round pick may not have found niche yet on defense (I personally think he should move to the middle), but his special teams work has been very strong over the past two years. Leading the team in special teams snaps last year with a blocked punt, he has become the heart of that side of the ball. With his height (6’5″) and athleticism (4.72 40, 34.5″ vertical), he can be a Pro Bowl caliber special teamer. He’ll get every opportunity to do so this year and will likely carve out a career in Green Bay on it.
With Jeff Janis departed for Green Bay East (Cleveland, not the high school), the competition for a new top gunner is underway. Hawkins has to be one of the leaders for that spot. Crazy fast (4.39 40) and with the quickness to match, Hawkins is at his best when he can turn on the jets and get down the field. With all the corners now ahead of him on the depth chart, being that top gunner in the Jarrett Bush mold will be his best bet to see the 53-man roster for the third consecutive year.
Another highly athletic defensive back who has made a mark on special teams during his first two seasons after going undrafted, the Milwaukee native has become another of the leaders on special teams over the last season. Evans led the team in special teams tackles last year, playing on all four units, and has the inside track to do it again. He could see more reps on defense with Morgan Burnett gone and Kentrell Brice coming off an injury, but the most likely destination for Evans during 2018 is as the first guy down to make the tackle on kick and punt coverage.
The final pick the team made in the 2018 Draft, Donnerson isn’t near polished enough to see snaps as a pass rusher, but his athleticism will be perfectly suited for special teams early on. Running a 4.44 40 with a broad hump of 10’11” and a vertical of 40″, Donnerson is an athlete that you don’t see outside of video games or Rocky IV. He is perfectly suited in 2018 to be sprinting down the field and hitting returners with his 250 pound frame. It’s his most likely path to the 53 and with him and Fackrell inside on punt block formations, they could cause plenty of problems for opposing teams.
Our only offensive player on this list, the Ripper will still be used as a traditional fullback at times, but after seeing his playing time dwindle offensively last year with the emergence of the rookie running backs, his impact will be mostly felt on special teams. The bearded one is a hammer as a lead blocker for kick returns and isn’t afraid to hit while covering either. At the very least, he can blow up blocks and protect the punter with aplomb and should thrive in that role again.
The five guys above all will have every opportunity to make it as special teams keys in 2018. Who else do you think will be important special teamers? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.——————
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.