Who are the most likely 2021 Packers breakout candidates? Each season several Green Bay Packers players rise from mostly unheralded to key cogs in the machine. Last season, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Darnell Savage, and Rashan Gary elevated their play to levels previously unseen.
The success of the 2021 Packers will depend on those three players continuing to trend upwards. It will also depend on even more younger players breaking out and forcing their names into the conversation. Here are three Packers breakout candidates for 2021.
The Josh Jackson pick, in the second round of 2018, may have been the most widely celebrated pick from GM Brian Gutekunst. At the time of the draft that is. Jackson was thought of as possibly the best zone corner in the draft, and he fell to second round where Green Bay scooped him up.
After a promising start defending tight ends, Jackson has put up only average play in his time in Green Bay. After several games where he was a healthy inactive last season, many Packers fans speculated that he was in the doghouse with the coaching staff.
Enter Joe Barry. Even before his time with ex-Rams defensive coordinator Brian Staley, Barry mostly used zone coverage to defend the pass. Every coach uses zone coverage, of course. But the split safety scheme you can expect this year lends itself more to Jackson’s skills than the mostly cover 3 match schemes that Mike Pettine used.
Jackson needs a new start and Joe Barry can provide that.
Unlike Jackson, Kingsley Keke has outplayed his draft spot in his first two seasons. As a rookie fifth round pick in 2019, he supplied plenty of splash plays to get you excited for the future. In 2020, he increased his pressure rate from just over 1% to over 10%, according to Pro Football Focus.
Keke is a tweener. He played on the edge in college at 285 pounds but his 4.95 second 40 and 7.55 second three cone at the combine precludes him from that job in the NFL. He makes up for those slow times inside with his long arms and explosive jumps.
Keke will also benefit from a new scheme. Last season the Rams were near the top of the league in sacks despite a league average blitz percentage. They did this by engineering one-on-one matchups and making the QB hold the ball with strong coverage. Expect Keke to get a lot of those one-on-one matchups while the other team’s offensive line struggles to block players like Kenny Clark, Za’darius Smith, and Rashan Gary.
Our third breakout candidate is, unsurprisingly, on the defense as well. A new scheme can unlock the talents of previously overlooked players. For Martin, it will be more about getting chances and being consistent.
Like Keke, Martin is a fifth-round pick who showed some flashes in college but not quite enough to be taken in an early round. In his rookie season, Martin missed a ton of time injured and then on the COVID list after he was expected to be the starter in training camp.
When Martin did play, he had about an equal number of great plays and big misses. Coach LaFleur talked often about how Martin needed to slow down. It’s rare that a coach wants a player to play with less aggression. If Martin can pair his aggression with strong instincts and play more consistently, the Packers could see a vast improvement at the inside linebacker spot.