At the culmination of each season we reflect on the plays and players that excited us, surprised us and disappointed us. As we march on toward the regular season, the cycle begins again and hope springs eternal. Who will prove their worth and who will lose momentum and possibly their job with the Green Bay Packers? I’m going to highlight three Packers players that enter the 2021 season in a make-or-break year.
Entering his fourth season, Allen Lazard finds himself with an incomplete work history as a Packers pass catcher. Lazard started out scorching hot in the 2020 season with a career performance week three against the New Orleans Saints going 6-146-1 in relief of an injured Davante Adams. Of course, he also sustained a season threatening core muscle injury of his own that game. Although he returned in week 11, Lazard was minimally effective the remainder of the regular season failing to top five receptions or 60 yards in any contest.
However, he did have a strong game (minus a critical third quarter drop) in the divisional round playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Rams reeling in four passes for 96 yards and a game clinching 58 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Much like my previous article about Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Lazard is at a critical point in his young career where he must prove he can stay healthy and effective for a full slate of games. If he can continue to build rapport with the starting quarterback and put up career high numbers he’ll likely be rewarded with a new contract. If another hard luck injury strikes or his on field play slips, it may spell the end of the once undrafted free agent’s tenure in Green Bay.
Akin to Lazard, Robert Tonyan is another testament to the Packers front office ability to find pearls in the sea of former undrafted free agents and practice squad players. Tonyan has certainly repaid the Packers brass with a strong work ethic and a hype-worthy 2020 season performance. Will he build on the success of his 2020 season or will he regress to the middle of the pack for the tight end position in the NFL?
The safe money bet is that Tonyan will not match his 11 touchdown total and insane 88.1% catch rate, but he may show considerable growth in other areas. If he can improve his skills as a blocker and expand his route tree, there is an easy argument to make that he has the most complete skill set in the Packers tight end room, if he doesn’t already.
Tonyan is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2022. His retention hinges on the draft capital invested in the rest of the tight end group, and how they perform in the 2021 season. Jace Sternburger has certainly not helped his stock by being slapped with a two game suspension to start the season and Josiah Deguara is making his way back from an ACL injury and is a bit of a question mark with regard to his role in the offense. Marcedes Lewis is a fan favorite and stalwart in-line blocker but would appear to be on his last ride in search of a Super Bowl ring.
Tonyan is still young (27 on April 30th of this year) and it’s possible that he has yet to reach his ceiling, but his future in Green Bay will likely be dictated by how the organization values the position going forward.
If you were to ask the average Packers fan, there wouldn’t need to be a lengthy discussion about Kevin King. He stinks — he can’t cover, he can’t tackle, oh, and he can’t stay healthy either. The memory of King flailing and Tom Brady dropping a dime to Scotty Miller in the endzone before halftime in the NFC championship game will burn brightly in our minds for a long time, and rightfully so. But does one game make or break a career?
I’m probably in the minority here, but I think it was the right move to re-sign King to a one year deal. Sure, he has had more than one bad game for the Packers, but he’s also been reliable and downright sticky in coverage for other stretches in his career. The name Casey Hayward springs to mind immediately when I think about King, a player the Packers cast aside who then provided Pro Bowl-level play for another team.
Perhaps the comparison between Hayward and King isn’t to your liking, but it’s still a cautionary tale to make certain that you know what you have (or don’t have) in a player before you put them on the chopping block. It’s very possible that King, at 26 years old, puts it all together this season and ends up with a nice payday from the Packers or another organization. It’s equally likely that King’s prior body of work is his NFL ceiling, and that he provides needed rotational depth this season while rookie first round cornerback Eric Stokes readies himself for primetime.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.