Clock is Ticking on Players Struggling to Make Their Mark

Noted cartoonist George Evans once said, “Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.” This old adage also applies to college athletes transitioning to the NFL, as some immediately figure things out, while others wind up submerged in mountainous waves of confusion. 

Green Bay’s allotment of 2018 draft picks comprise a significant portion of the latter group, with notable flameouts J’Mon Moore and Kendall Donnerson long gone from the team and four others from that class who could be at the end of their rope heading into the preseason. 

While some homegrown talent is afforded the luxury of three years to show major improvement before they’re cast aside, others could lose their spots in the flicker of an eyelid depending on their position, team depth and where they were drafted. 

And though hope springs eternal for young ballers who reemerge on another NFL roster, oftentimes those former prospects who were once worthy of being drafted see their dreams come to an unceremonious end after they tire of bouncing around from team to team. 

Quinten Rollins, Josh Boyd, Khyri Thornton and DeAngelo Yancey are a few examples of recent draft picks who find themselves figuratively pounding the pavement for a job as a result of never quite turning the corner at the next level. 

The following list of current players may soon join the aforementioned quartet unless the proverbial light goes on for them in the coming months. 

Montravius Adams 

Once heralded as an explosive penetrator with the ability to shoot the gaps and shed blocks, Adams has yet to flash his trademark get-off from his days in the SEC, nor has he shown the brute strength the Packers thought they were getting at the point of attack. 

After recording meager numbers as a rookie (20 combo tackles, 1.5 sacks), the 6’3”, 304-pound lineman’s production fell off further in 2019 (11 combo tackles, zero sacks), as he struggled to see the field. Adams, in fact, saw his snaps dwindle from 212 to 187, which is a clear sign that the coaching staff is losing faith in him ever blossoming into an integral part of the defensive line.

Making matters worse, PFF ranked him 116th among qualified interior defenders.

At this rate, the Packers would be essentially wasting valuable roster space in holding on to the former third-round pick, with far more promising defenders competing for spots in the form of Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster and newcomer Treyvon Harris.      

Chances of making the team: 20 percent

Oren Burks

At 6’3”, 233 pounds, with 4.59 speed and 33 ⅜” arms, the Vanderbilt product had a lot of the qualities the Packers were looking for in a versatile linebacker capable of diagnosing plays and dropping back into coverage. 

His first two seasons, however, have been derailed by injuries, as Burks succumbed to a shoulder ailment in training camp during his rookie campaign followed by a torn pectoral muscle he sustained early on in his second year.

During the offseason, GM Brian Gutekunst offered the third-year pro a vote of confidence by stating that Burks has “all the talent in the world to be a productive player for us.” He also acknowledged that the Virginia native has to stay healthy. 

Burks will have his hands full in competing with Ty Summers, Curtis Bolton and (possibly) UDFA addition Krys Barnes for meaningful preseason reps and ultimately a job. 

Chances of making the team: 50 percent 

Marquez Valdes-Scantling 

After treating Cheeseheads to a few glimmers of his exciting upside as a rookie — including 100-yard efforts versus San Francisco and New England — MVS fell on hard times in 2019 by failing to distinguish himself at a thin position.

Despite suiting up for 16 games — 10 of which saw him featured in the starting lineup — the 6’4” speedster amassed an uninspiring stat line (26/452/2) resulting from his struggles with catching the football. Valdez-Scantling’s inability to reel in catchable balls reached new depths, as he registered the lowest catch rate (46.43 percent) among qualifying wideouts and tight ends, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

As the season wore on, Aaron Rodgers increasingly lost confidence in No. 83, whose target share in his first eight games (39) drastically tumbled in the second half to 17. 

Allen Lazard’s emergence relegated MVS to an ancillary role in the passing game and the situation could soon get worse for the one-time USF Bull, with Equanimeous St. Brown, Devin Funchess and CFL import Reggie Begelton primed to make a lasting impression in Titletown. 

Chances of making the team: 60 percent  

Josh Jackson 

The collective enthusiasm shared by legions of Packers fans when the ball-hawking defensive back was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft has long since been replaced by a dull orchestra of crickets chirping in the night. 

As a redshirt junior, the 6’1” corner boasted 27 passes defensed and 8 interceptions in his final season at Iowa. His highlight-laden college tape suggested that he’d be a shoo-in to contribute immediately as either a boundary or slot corner and maybe even see time at safety. 

As expected, JJ saw considerable action in his rookie season by playing 67.48-percent of Green Bay’s snaps on defense, albeit with mixed results. 

The good was he defensed 10 passes. The bad included a penchant for missed tackles due to poor technique along with sloppy footwork, which was exacerbated by Jackson’s subpar long speed. 

It seems as if the coaching staff came to the realization that the one-time Big Ten standout is a poor fit for a defense that prides itself on asking its defensive backs — particularly its cornerbacks —  to play lots of man coverage. Therefore, it wasn’t a total shock to see the young defender’s snaps diminish in 2019.

What was astonishing, however, was the fact that Jackson was reduced to being a total non-factor by chipping on only 9.90 percent of defensive snaps. 

It’s hard to imagine that was the plan all along heading into the start of his second season, but more a product of the lack of progress shown by the third-year player who excelled primarily as a zone corner as a collegian. 

By putting Jackson on the field, the defense risked incurring a high volume of penalties, as backend players who struggle transitioning to a new scheme tend to employ overaggressive tactics when they’re caught out of position. 

To coin a phrase from New York Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra: “It’s getting late early” for Jackson, who looks to be buried on the depth chart. A change of scenery (i.e. trade) may be in order for the Texas native. 

Chances of making the team: 40 percent

Jake Kumerow

Kumerow has become a favorite among fans and his teammates alike, particularly Aaron Rodgers who has talked up the 6’4” pass catcher on more than one occasion. 

And though the local underdog who came into the pros by way of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has become a Jeff Janis-like “people’s champ” of sorts, his preseason exploits have yet to translate to regular-season production.

What Kumerow does have working for him is that he’s arguably the best blocker among Packer receivers, but his inability to consistently separate against NFL defenders and his injury history could factor into the 28-year-old being a late summer cut. 

Considering that the Packers re-signed Kumerow last March by only offering him the minimum-salary tender as an exclusive-rights free agent makes the decision to part ways with No. 16 a relatively easy one if it comes down to a numbers game. 

Chances of making the team: 35 percent 

James Looney 

The former seventh-round pick was recently forced to trade in his No. 99 jersey for one emblazoned with an unfamiliar No. 49 and drop 30 pounds in the process, as Looney, drafted as a defensive lineman, is transitioning to tight end. 

Looney, while athletic enough to sidestep blockers with his lateral agility, never proved to be strong enough to hold his ground in the trenches while spending the lion’s share of his first two NFL seasons on Green Bay’s practice squad. 

Shifting from defensive end to tight end isn’t as common — or simple — as moving from center to guard. The switch may indicate that the Packers are enamored with Looney’s hands and/or 4.89 speed — or it may signal that the team is desperate to get something — anything — out of an athlete they invested a late-round pick in. 

Bank on the latter. 

Chances of making the team: 5 percent 

Robert Tonyan 

The 26-year-old veteran is a converted wide receiver and still plays like one in that he has yet to master the art of blocking, especially when it comes to run blocking. 

The last time we saw Tonyan in the NFC Championship, he didn’t produce any noteworthy plays in his 18 offensive snaps, with the exception of missing a block on an Aaron Jones run that netted negative yardage. 

That sequence was only one example of the backup tight end’s ongoing struggles in blocking defenders at the point of attack, as he finished 2019 as PFF’s 78th ranked player in the category of run blocking at his position. 

Tonyan’s value lies in his receiving skills as a downfield route runner who can get open on crossers and vertical patterns. 

As 2019 progressed, it was Jace Sternberger who was asked to line up in the H-back role and immediately proved to be a better blocker than Tonyan. In fact, Tonyan seems to be the least effective in opening holes in the running game compared to Green Bay’s other two tight ends Marcedes Lewis and rookie Josiah Deguara. 

As the offense evolves into being more of a run-first attack, there may be no room at the inn for No. 85. 

Chances of making the team: 50 percent 

Dexter Williams 

Unlike the other players on this list, Williams is only in his second year. But that won’t spare him from being a roster cut given that he plays running back, a position where rookies are expected to assimilate instantly to the pro game. 

The 2019 sixth-round pick did nothing to ensure Matt LaFleur and company that he can be relied on to effectively run, catch and block in the event of one or more injuries in the backfield.  

Williams seemed to fit LaFleur’s outside zone running scheme to a tee, with his dynamic cutting ability and the tantalizing burst he exhibited during his breakout senior year at Notre Dame. Williams, though, never seemed comfortable operating in his new offense.

Along with displaying hesitancy in hitting the hole, the ex-Golden Domer tested LaFluer’s patience in the preseason by dropping catchable balls and floundering as a pass blocker. 

The young ball carrier never earned the trust of his head coach and was in for all of 10 snaps on the year. 

The addition of second-round pick A.J. Dillon looks to only push Williams further down the depth chart, while UDFA Patrick Taylor Jr. may end up replacing Williams altogether if the Packers brain trust opts to go into the regular season with five running backs on the 55-man roster. 

Odds of making the team: 25 percent


When ~Reverend~ Ralph Mancini is not tackling hard news in New York City, he enjoys analyzing his favorite sports team, the Green Bay Packers. You can follow him on twitter at ReverendRalph.