May 22, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) talks with general manager Ted Thompson during organized team activities at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
Change is life in the NFL. Players and teams are constantly getting better and worse and so each year looks different from the previous one. Those who study the NFL will tell you that most players improve in the offseason between their first and second year. Reasons abound for why this is the case, such as having a full offseason for the first time, better conditioning throughout the offseason, or finally understanding the playbook. No matter what the reason is though we see it year in and year out that a guy who ran hot and cold his rookie year steps up year two or three and just breaks out on the scene.
So bear with me as we leap from player to player, each of these guys striving to right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that their improvement will help bring the Lombardi trophy home. What can I say...I hear quantum leap and I think Scott Bakula, I just can't help it.
The first, and probably most obvious candidate for the quantum leap, is Randall Cobb. I'm not going to lie, this is a bit difficult to type because Cobb had the most impressive single play last year by doing a barrel roll. His play was pretty good, so how much better can he actually be? But the fact is that Cobb's touches should go up and his grasp of the offense is going to be much better. All this points to Cobb having a big year as a WR instead of just a returner, and should give Aaron Rodgers another special option to throw to and continue to make the offense dynamic.
The next guy ready for a break out year may need a break out camp just to make the team. Davon House is a bit of a forgotten man as of late. Suffering an injury early in the year last year, House didn't make much of an impact through his rookie campaign. On top of this the Packers added a notable rookie at his position in Casey Hayward which should make the competition for field time that much harder for House. If House can stay healthy and put together a good season he will help improve a woeful pass defense last year, keep Jarret Bush on the sidelines, and help transition Charles Woodson to safety.
Despite the promise of Cobb and the need for House, I think the guy most poised for a breakout year out of this group is D.J. Williams. Now my reason for this is a mixture of need, disappointment last year, and the position he plays. The NFL is a copycat league, and so when one team innovates in an unexpected way, suddenly teams go out and try to copy that to catch up. Sometimes this works, for example the West Coast Offense or the 3-4 defense, or the push for mobile QB's in the last couple years. Sometimes it doesn't work and the fad goes out of fashion (see the Wildcat offense). Right now multiple TE sets are going all the rage. Teams are looking for TE's that can create mismatches. They can run fast enough to blow past LB's, but big and strong enough to be too much for your average safety to handle. Get two of those guys on the field and you can have the option to run or pass, stretch the field or play smash mouth football. The Packers have one guy who can do that in Jermichael Finley, but who would be the second option? Andrew Quarless has the potential, but it sounds like he is behind on his recovery process. Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor are great high effort guys, but not exactly the physical threat. Enter D.J. Williams.
Williams was a high performing TE in college who slipped in the draft due to height concerns. This means that he may not have all the mismatches you want, but he does have the ability to get open in space as well as block. Last year he was a bit of the invisible man with only two catches. He can be a solid number two option and has the opportunity if Quarless starts the year on the PUP. If Williams can learn the playbook and flash some talent in training camp he will be uniquely poised in the Packer arsenal this year.
For all the draft picks and guys you expect to step up there is always one guy who comes out of no where and takes his chance at the big time by the throat. Once upon a time that was Tramon Williams. Sam Shields looked like he would do that too back in 2010. One guy who may be able to do that this year is M.D. Jennings. Jennings is a guy with good range and speed at a position looking for someone to step up. Between all the competition with Charlie Peprah, Anthony Levine, and Jennings himself, there is ample chance for Jennings to make a name for himself. Especially if he can keep making plays like he did the first day of OTA's.