Among all the chaos, there are several bright spots on the roster this Packers season.
If you’re even a little bit plugged in to the Packers this year, you’ve surely seen at least a few articles and talking heads spewing pessimism and negativity about the team. Is it deserved? No question. Have I been a participant in the written riots? Absolutely. Watching a team play poorly week after week and having said team play a questionable and dangerously important role in your daily life takes a toll.
Instead of essentially repeating “Green Bay is average at best” in analysis of several facets of the game, let’s take a week off and focus on the bright spots in this exhausting 2022 season and the players that could stick around and be building blocks in the long-term.
Christian Watson, WR
It feels like Watson is starting to become a household name in Green Bay. He has finally looked like the dynamic, speedy deep threat that the Packers saw when they traded up in the draft to get him. Throughout the first nine weeks of the season, Watson had no touchdowns, missed four games due to injury and had only 88 yards receiving. Since then, Watson now leads rookie wide receivers with 6 touchdowns in just three weeks.
Watson is a physical freak. He’s 6’4 and ran a 4.36 second 40-yard dash at the pre-draft combine. Watson has shown the ability to beat defenders deep on straight go routes, catch short passes and turn them into big gains, and use his height to jump and snag passes over defenders. He still has some issues with drops, but the Packers can live with some drops if he continues to make up for it with huge plays.
Kingsley Enagbare, EDGE
A fifth-round pick in last April’s draft, Enagbare has already vastly outplayed his draft position. He looked good in short stints in the preseason and limited regular-season snaps, but after the season-ending injury to star pass-rusher Rashan Gary, Enagbare has stepped into a larger role and performed admirably by the standards of any rookie.
Enagbare only has two starts so far on the year. He’s posted 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 4 QB hits. He has a very solid 70.2 grade from Pro Football Focus. With more experience and full offseasons of NFL training, Enagbare’s trajectory is high.
Enagbare could be a starter across from Gary in upcoming years, but the Packers would have a tough time moving on from current starting edge defender Preston Smith until about 2025. Releasing or trading Smith before the 2023 and 2024 seasons comes with a dead money cap hit that outweighs the savings. If nothing else, Enagbare looks to be a more than capable backup in a position that demands depth for years to come.
Quay Walker, ILB
Green Bay’s first pick in the first round last April has shown struggles typical of a rookie – nothing that can’t be fixed with studying and coaching. Walker has a lot to work on in pass coverage, but his sheer size and speed make him a force to be reckoned with in the run game. Walker makes up for mistakes by constantly going 100 mph. He’s been put in a tough position with starter and All-Pro fellow linebacker De’Vondre Campbell missing a lot of time due to injury. The Packers have relied on him to be the core of their defense, and they’ve lived and died with him.
Walker played a big role in a fantastic Georgia defense that won a championship in 2021. The former Bulldog started the season slowly but has really come on since the game against Washington. Walker has 61 solo tackles, tied for 16th in the NFL, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. Walker could grow into an even greater centerpiece for the Packers’ defense if he can improve his intangibles and pair that with his exceptional physical talent.
Rudy Ford, S
Ford’s story is similar to Rasul Douglas’ from last season. The 28-year-old safety has bounced around the league since being selected in the sixth round of the 2017 draft, now playing for his fourth team in five years. Ford was primarily drafted and used as a special teams player and had only started six games before Green Bay signed him off the street.
Ford flies around the field and has a knack for being around the ball. He showed flashes in run defense earlier in the season, earning him more snaps as former first-round safety Darnell Savage continues to invent ways to miss tackles. Ford had 2 interceptions and 2 passes defensed in the Packers overtime win against the Cowboys, in which he played 76% of defensive snaps, tied for his highest number of the season.
Against the Eagles Sunday night, Ford started the game at safety over Savage. The Packers picked up Savage’s fifth-year option in the offseason, a decision that has aged terribly. Ford has been more productive in far less playing time. The only way the Packers could part with Savage next year is by trading him; good luck finding a team that wants to take on his nearly $8 million cap hit. It’d be painful to have to bench Savage next season, especially after committing to him for another year, but there’s no reason Ford shouldn’t start over Savage if both remain on the team.
Jaire Alexander, CB
You can’t talk about building blocks for the future without mentioning Alexander, the most consistent player on the Packers’ defense. Alexander only played four games in 2021 because of injury. In his last full season in 2020, he was an All-Pro second team selection and was voted to the Pro Bowl. In 11 games this year, he already has a career-high 3 interceptions.
Alexander is a top five player at one of the premier positions in the league. There are games where he completely shuts down a side of the field in coverage, and he’s excellent at diagnosing offenses and blowing up screen passes and run plays in the backfield. The Packers handed out a luxurious contract to Alexander to keep him in Green Bay through 2026. He’s still just 25 years old.
Alexander is a secure piece in the secondary who can be relied on to be great when he’s on the field. The Packers still have a lot of work to do on their defense, but at least it’ll feature Jaire for the foreseeable future.——————