With draft season in the books following rookie minicamps, the Green Bay Packers appear to have answered a number of question marks with their 2017 draft class. While time will tell how this class develops, the Packers will lean heavily on the continued development of its 2016 draftees. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have repeatedly said that the biggest leaps from their younger players take place between years one and two. Kenny Clark and Kyler Fackrell top the list of those players Green Bay needs to take the next step in 2017, but here are three under-the-radar second year players to watch this offseason.
Drafted in the late fourth round a year ago, Lowry flashed surprising athleticism at the Combine for a 6’6, 296-pound lineman. Green Bay knew it was getting a high-effort player built for the 3-4 defense in Lowry, but his role in the rotation wasn’t clearly defined early on. Although he played in 15 games, it wasn’t until around midseason that his athleticism and versatility were on display. Despite only recording eight tackles, Lowry stood out for beating blockers and creating gaps for linebackers to make plays more routinely as the season wore on.
It’s not expected for a 3-4 lineman to put up gaudy numbers, but Lowry played meaningful snaps and showed enough pass rushing potential with his two sacks to believe he can be an important contributor this season. On a line that added talent and depth with the additions of Ricky Jean-Francois and Montravius Adams, Lowry is poised to break out in the absence of Letroy Guion during the first four games.
In recent drafts, including this past one, Green Bay has taken chances on wide receivers with high upside and enticing measurables in the later rounds. Davis was one such workout warrior, posting a 4.42 time in the forty-yard dash and testing among the Combine’s elite at the receiver position in the shuttle, three cone drill, and vertical jump. His straight-line speed, coupled with his potential in the return game, was intriguing enough for Green Bay to select the little-known California wideout in the fifth round a year ago.
Davis quickly found the field fielding punts, but was removed from duty after fumbling in Green Bay’s loss to Tennessee in Week 10. He only appeared in three games after that and finished with three catches for 24 yards, all of which came in Week 8 against Atlanta.
Not only would Green Bay benefit from Davis developing as a returner now that trusty Micah Hyde has signed with the Buffalo Bills, it could utilize him as a legitimate downfield threat to help the short-to-intermediate passing game. At this point, it’s unclear if Davis can improve his route running enough to become a viable receiving threat. If it doesn’t happen this offseason, it’s hard to find a scenario in which he makes the team as he competes with similarly limited Jeff Janis and this year’s two draftees DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre.
Along with Marwin Evans, Brice was one of two undrafted safeties the Packers retained after training camp a year ago. Appearing in all 16 games, Brice played significant snaps during Green Bay’s push for the postseason as injuries mounted, covering tight ends as a safety in the dime and even filling in at slot corner. Brice surely had his ups and downs, but became a versatile player in the mold of Hyde and Morgan Burnett that appears to have the NFL speed and physicality to continue progressing. Although 2017 second-round pick Josh Jones has garnered a wealth of attention for the role he is expected to play as a safety and linebacker next season, it’s easy to forget about Brice who already has a year’s worth of experience in Dom Capers’ system.
It’s not often that Green Bay allows a young player with versatility and leadership to walk in free agency following his rookie contact, but the team elected to do so with Hyde. The fact that the organization made this decision prior to selecting Jones and Kevin King means the Packers must have been comfortable with what they already had on the roster to replace Hyde. Brice would be the logical candidate and he should see an increased role in 2017.