Reviewing Packers Breakouts From 2021

I was going to review the players I picked to breakout in the 2021 season in this article, but it turns out that article may have been one of the worst of all time. None of the players I picked, Kinglsey Keke, Josh Jackson, and Kamal Martin, are on the team any longer. Two are likely out of the league and all three may be by the end of this year. Yeesh. So, instead, I’ll review a few actual Packers Breakouts from the 2021 season and discuss what their next step may be.

Rashan Gary

Gary was the rare almost universally panned first-round pick for the Packers. He had endless athleticism but was used as a two-gapping 4-tech a lot of the time in college. A lot like Danielle Hunter at LSU and Travon Walker at Georgia. That meant he had close to no splash plays in college.

Close to no splash plays is also how you could describe his first year. Playing behind Za’Darius and Preston Smith (who were having career years), Gary rarely got significant snaps and when he did couldn’t turn them into much. Too often he tried to use his speed instead of his power and was simply run around the back of the QB and out of the play.

Toward the end of his second season, he started turning that speed into power and flashing and by his third season, last year, he was becoming a dominant player. By the time Green bay played the 49ers in the playoffs he was looking like a legit long-term star at the edge position. Don’t be surprised if he’s the next Packers superstar to sign a $25mm a year deal.

The next step for Gary is to keep contain. He has a lot of strength and explosion, and he tries to use it on every play. Last year, that led to too many plays where he would’ve been in the QB’s lap, if the QB hadn’t run right past him into the flat for an 8-yard gain.

AJ Dillon

Like Gary, Dillon was universally panned as a draft pick. PFF famously didn’t even rank him because they were so down on his pass catching abilities. Turns out, his college coach being stuck in the stone age didn’t mean he couldn’t catch.

Dillon was lights out last season. He dragged blockers, made tiktoks, and ended up with more rushing yards than his superstar teammate Aaron Jones. Coming into a season where the Packers will have less wide receiver talent than ever, it’s incredibly important that Dillon keeps growing in his role and taking on others.

Like Gary, Dillon is an athletic marvel. He weighs 230+ and ran a 4.5. Don’t be surprised if he leads the league in one of those highest speed reached with the ball stats one of these days. It’s a lot easier to run fast when you weigh 230 than when you weigh 180.

The next step for Dillon is to keep growing in the pass game. Last year he did a good job running routes, catching the ball, getting YAC, and protecting the passer in the pocket. The next step is to become dynamic. Become a player who can be shifted out into the slot and win an option route on a linebacker or safety. Become a consistent threat in the screen game. Kick some ass.

De’Vondre Campbell/Rasul Douglas

These two were certainly the most surprising breakout players. Both signed late for pennies, and both spent time on numerous other teams playing at an average level before joining the Packers and playing gangbusters.

Campbell was given his first opportunity to be the guy in the middle and took advantage. He was patient on choice routes, chased down players sideline to sideline, and knifed in to stop the run consistently.

Douglas was coached up by Jerry Gray to watch film differently and have more confidence to take chances when he read route concepts. It evolved him from JAG to an elite interceptor and zone coverage player.

The next step for both of these players, who were rewarded with big new deals by the Packers,  is to keep up the good work.

Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.

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