Packers fans gathered at home, and for the first time since 2019, at Lambeau Field to watch the highly anticipated first preseason game of the 2021 season. Being one of the more entertaining and talent-infused training camps in recent memory – and with first cuts looming on Tuesday — players needed to stand out with their first opportunity in-game action. Let’s take a look at the Packers Stock Watch for week 1 of the preseason.
The Kylin Hill hype train has continued to gain steam in training camp.
The Mississippi State product has placed himself in a situation that isn’t too common for seventh-round picks.
Hill is not only the clubhouse leader for the third, and presumably, last running back spot on the 53-man roster, but he’s also being vetted for the Packers’ kick returner.
The 22-year-old’s offensive production in week 1 was limited by the offensive line’s unexpected struggles in the run game, but when Hill got his opportunity in space, he made no mistake.
The Packers’ lone touchdown on the day came on a slip screen to Hill where he showed his ability to follow blockers, see the field, and weave his way into the endzone.
The rookie’s first trip to paydirt was more than just a jolt to the +70,000 cheese heads in attendance, it was a sense of affirmation that the Packers may have stolen a special player with their last pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hill played 23 offensive snaps to go with his seven reps on special teams on Saturday evening, totalling six touches – tied for second-most on the Packers — for 20 yards and a score.
There’s a growing sense that a role with the team might be his to lose.
Again, something that isn’t common for seventh-round picks in mid-August.
In any case, he’s cemented himself as a must-watch player this preseason and another running back that fans can be excited about.
After watching the likes of Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones play well in their NFL debuts, the excitement could not be greater for Jordan Love’s first game as a Packer.
The 22-year-old not only redshirted his rookie season, but he didn’t get to play in any preseason games last year, making Saturday’s game against the Texans his first taste of competitive action in two seasons.
The weight of being a former first-round pick and possible replacement for a Hall of Famer could be too much for some to handle, but Jordan Love’s performance should leave fans optimistic about the future when Aaron Rodgers leaves.
The box score looks clean. Love played 28 snaps and finished the day 12/17 for 122 yards and one touchdown.
But it was the plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet that really stood out.
Love showed poise, good decision-making, and even some grit throughout his more than two-quarters of play.
He made two good reads and throws on RPOs and seemed to take what the defense was giving him.
After starting the game with consecutive three and outs, Love rebounded in spectacular fashion.
His highlight pass came late in the first quarter on a third-and-nine on his own 13-yard line. Love took the snap from shotgun, dropped back, took one hitch, and delivered a rhythmic strike into the heart of the Texans’ split-safety coverage to Jace Sternberger on a seam route.
It was a great read and an even more impressive throw with the way the ball jumped out of his hand.
It was a salty ending to his day, though. Love was strip-sacked near the end of the first half, leaving the Texans in plus territory and him with a sore shoulder.
The former Aggie’s day ended prematurely, but his negative MRI suggests he should only need a few days to rest before throwing again.
My takeaway from Love’s performance was that he may not be ready to be a starter just yet, and that’s ok. But also that he wouldn’t sink should he have to play a few quarters.
He’s a backup calibre quarterback at this point in his development and his progression would suggest he can be a solid starter in the NFL one day.
Devin Funchess was the forgotten man amid the Packers’ search for a stable wide receiver.
A second-round pick by the Panthers in 2015, Funchess was asked to be “the guy” coming out of college.
His numbers weren’t eye-popping, but he showed flashes of being a long-term player in the NFL.
Now with the Packers, Funchess has left many fans’ minds after sustaining a season-ending injury in early 2019 and opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
The Michigan product was looked at as a bubble player entering training camp, battling for a fifth or sixth spot on the receivers’ depth chart.
In his first game in two years, Funchess exceeded expectations.
He was head and shoulders above the other, younger receivers who were playing, showcasing his abilities as a playmaker and a big-bodied pass catcher.
Funchess appeared in 34 snaps and led the Packers with eight targets on the day, grabbing six balls for 70 yards.
He also had the play of the day which came on the team’s lone scoring drive. After a less than ideal throw from Jordan Love on a dig route, Funchess snagged a low ball placement with one hand and tumbled for a 15 yard gain.
He looked like a veteran, and he looked like he belonged on the roster.
Funchess may have earned himself a spot on the final 53 on Saturday, and he could command a role in the offense come the regular season if his play continues.
Through his first three seasons, Oren Burks hasn’t looked like the solution to Packers’ ever-eluding search for a linebacker.
He’s shown flashes, but it just hasn’t seemed to click for the 26-year-old.
As a result, Burks inherited an important role on special teams and continued to work on his linebacker play.
Now in 2021, he looks to have taken a step.
The Vanderbilt product was a menace against the Texans, racking up four solo tackles, two assisted tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack.
Burks played 41 defensive snaps and eight on special teams.
He was flying downhill on each snap he was asked to rush or defend the run, plugging holes and knifing through linemen into the backfield.
Burks was around the ball early and often and garnered himself some hype leading into the second week of preseason.
Burks isn’t a player battling for a roster spot, but he is fighting for a bigger role. Already a staple on special teams, Burks could find himself as the third linebacker on the depth chart if his impressive preseason continues.
I should give a shoutout to Andy Herman in this section, seeing how Kabion Ento is a “my guy” for him.
Ento surely made Andy proud in his first showing since 2020 training camp.
After spending 2019 on the Packers practice squad, Ento impressed in 2020 training camp before being placed on IR for the season.
The undrafted free agent from Colorado is a wide receiver-turned-cornerback playing in his third year with the team.
Ento’s intrigue stems from his great ball skills.
Being a former receiver, he was able to use those skills to his advantage against the Texans, coming up with a big interception at the end of the first half and a pass-defense later in the game.
The 26-year-old played 56 defensive snaps – good for third-most on the Packers – and 14 special teams snaps, which tied for second-most on the team on Saturday.
Ento is a bubble player whose history with the team could give him an advantage over other fringe players.
He’s currently in a heated battle for the fifth spot on the cornerback depth chart and his abilities as a gunner on special teams make him even more appealing.
Ento has picked up right where he left off in 2020 and has turned into a player we could expect to make the practice squad at the very least, if not make a bid for the final 53.
Here’s a name many don’t know much about and aren’t giving enough love after week one.
Jack Heflin went undrafted this year and signed with the Packers in May.
A product of Iowa, Heflin is a 6’3” 304lbs defensive lineman and hasn’t made a ton of noise in camp thus far.
That was until he got an opportunity in game action.
Heflin played 40 defensive snaps against the Texans, totalling 3 solo tackles.
He was seen in the backfield on a couple of plays, narrowly missing a TFL to add to the box score.
It’s never easy making an NFL roster as a UDFA, but Heflin is playing a position that wears a question mark behind Kenny Clark.
If he continues to make the most of his opportunity, he could have a job locked down come late August.
The 23-year-old surely raised some eyebrows in his first NFL game and has helped his bid for a final spot entering the final two weeks of preseason.——————
Joshua Frey-Sam is a journalism student and aspiring sportscaster hailing from Winnipeg, Canada. A Packers fan since 2005, Josh has worked to master the financial and scouting aspect of the NFL over the past few years. Josh remains a firm believer that Dez did not, in fact, catch the ball. You can follow him on twitter at @jfreysam.
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