More Packers rookies need to contribute and possibly even start this year than in any season I remember. In the Aaron Rodgers era, the team put a lot of weight on veteran ability – even last year veterans like Dean Lowry and Sammy Watkins got snaps over probably more deserving rookies. Let’s take a look at the key rookies who need to contribute this season to make it a success for the Packers.
Luke Musgrave or Tucker Kraft
The Packers haven’t had a legitimate game-changing tight end since Jared Cook and even Cook was only game changing for a few games that season. Musgrave and Kraft both have the potential to be the best Packers’ tight end of this century.
Unfortunately, both probably need time to develop. Musgrave missed a lot of time the last couple seasons and Kraft only played a few division 1 teams in his time at South Dakota St. They are in the perfect situation to get that time to develop this year. Josiah Deguara has been semi-disappointing over his time in Green Bay and is more likely to be used in a fullback role and Tyler Davis hasn’t even reached “just-a-guy” status yet.
For the offense to reach its potential in Love’s first year as a starter, one of those two needs to become a significant contributor. I would actually lean toward Kraft if I had to bet on one, because he is more of an in-line strong blocker at this point and LaFleur loves those. Musgrave does have the speed to take advantage of mismatches with linebackers early though.
Colby Wooden or Karl Brooks
Lukas Van Ness is the big name first-round pick on the d-line, but he could be as far down as 5th on the depth chart once Rashan Gary comes back. Wooden and Brooks will be playing inside where impact plays could quickly get them 20 or more snaps per game.
Both showed the ability to make quick strike pressures in college (though Brooks did it from the edge, even at 300 pounds) but didn’t do quite enough to warrant a premium draft pick. In a defense that will focus more and more on an attacking one-gap style, especially on pass downs, having someone like Wooden (275 lbs, 96th percentile 40-yard dash and 95th percentile broad jump) or Brooks (constantly in the backfield in training camp already) to take some of the load of Kenny Clark could have a domino effect.
The less of the load Clark has to shoulder rushing the passer on pass downs, the more he’ll be able to stuff the run on early downs. Last season, the Packers had a top-10 pass defense and the 31st best run defense. Wooden and Brooks won’t likely affect the run defense directly, but they could make it easier on the team’s true run defenders.
Reed had been penciled in as the team’s slot receiver and jet motion guy but don’t be surprised if he ends up starting on the outside by year-end. Reed only started on the outside at Michigan State and has the speed and route running ability to make an impact on the outside. His main athletic comps, John Metchie, Jaylen Waddle, and Kenny Stills all make an impact on the outside and his main style comp, Tyler Lockett, also makes a living outside.
Of course, Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson are the obvious starters outside right now. Here’s the thing: they’re both second-year players who were incredibly inconsistent (and also injured) in their rookie seasons. Watson didn’t even play half his team’s snaps in college and Doubs can’t get off press coverage. If one or both of them is struggling or hurt, don’t be surprised when the team decides to give Reed a shot.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.