Yes, the Green Bay Packers’ chances of clinching postseason play are extremely slim. But all is not lost as the 2018 season inches closer to the finish line.
While the Packers certainly have not met expectations so far, the areas for improvement have become much clearer. General Manager Brian Gutekunst will have plenty of options to re-shape the roster once again in his second offseason in charge, but his first duty is to evaluate his current 53-man squad and the many young players that are still developing. Valuable regular season game reps with starters can be afforded to these players if the playoffs become too far from the Packers’ grasp.
With that said, here are three areas in which Gutekunst and the front office can be especially critical in their assessments down the stretch.
The development of the rookie receivers, plus Jake Kumerow
Although the Packers very well could be in a different offensive system come this time next year, the development of their four young receivers over the next handful of games will determine the team’s future at the position. Growth from any or all of the group could impact the Packers’ draft and free agent pursuits at wide receiver, especially with Randall Cobb a near lock to leave after the season.
While Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the quickest riser in the first half, it appears Equanimeous St. Brown’s chemistry with Aaron Rodgers has risen significantly since the bye week. St. Brown has tallied 16 targets over the past four games with three catches for 53 yards last week against Minnesota. His continued progression will be monitored closely as his hands and ability to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically have shown up in extended action. Although MVS has seen a decrease in targets over the past two weeks, he has been among Green Bay’s most explosive players this season with two games of 100-plus receiving yards. Prior to Seattle, MVS had averaged almost seven targets over the previous five games. Both St. Brown and MVS have the skillsets to be mainstays on the roster after being taken late in the draft.
Even J’mon Moore has been active the past four games for Green Bay, albeit playing mostly on special teams. Moore and Jake Kumerow, who could be activated from injured reserve as soon as this week, have chances to make a lasting impression. It is no secret that Rodgers’ face glowed in preseason with Kumerow on the field and the UW-Whitewater alum could wind up having a role next season.
Signs of growth from two secondary players named Josh
Fans are always given a reminder to temper expectations during the preseason from year to year. Still, the intrigue that surrounded both Josh Jackson and Josh Jones in the past two exhibition slates has been disappointingly unmatched in regular season play.
Jackson was a turnover machine at Iowa last season and burst on to the scene as a playmaker in the preseason, but has yet to intercept a pass this regular season. If anything, Jackson has been targeted at a high rate since the healthy return of Jaire Alexander. He certainly has the size to play on the boundary, but his speed, which was questioned coming out of college, remains a concern. Covering quick receivers over the middle and out of the slot has been a difficulty for Jackson, who has not been able to maintain tight coverage in these situations. Still, Jackson’s instincts are good and his skills should improve with more reps in NFL action as the season nears the end. Jackson is getting every shot to grow with Kevin King injured.
Likewise, Jones needs these final five games of the season to state his case for another chance to become a starting-caliber safety. It has been a roller-coaster two seasons for Jones who began his time in Green Bay as the “nitro” linebacker before transitioning more fully to safety this season. Whether it was a lack of trust or something else, Jones was not given the same opportunities as Kentrell Brice in the first half of the season despite Brice’s own struggles. But when the Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a few weeks ago, it opened the door for Jones. So far, Jones has not made the strides necessary to earn a permanent role. His tackling angles have been spotty and his coverage skills inconsistent, apparent on the field in Minnesota. This is a pivotal time for Jones, as the Packers should be on the prowl for safety help this offseason.
The depth test on the offensive line
David Bakhtiari and Lane Taylor both exited early from last week’s game and could be out this week against Arizona with neither practicing Wednesday. If they are without their left tackle, the Packers figure to start Jason Spriggs in what may be the third-year player’s final opportunity to impress Gutekunst. Last week’s performance was another rough one for Spriggs, who was put to shame by Danielle Hunter on a third down sack. It might be too late for Spriggs and Kyle Murphy to make any sort of impression at tackle before next offseason, but a chance exists. The same can be said for Alex Light and practice squad players like Adam Pankey and newly-added Gerhard de Beer.
At right guard, Green Bay will probably upgrade over Byron Bell and Justin McCray in the offseason. But each, along with Lucas Patrick, will get opportunities if Taylor misses more time on the left side. Depth has been an issue all over the line outside of center this season and should be a point of emphasis in the draft this year. It did not help that the Packers were unable to work fifth-round pick Cole Madison into the rotation this season due to him not reporting for duty, as he is another player who would have been given every opportunity to win a starting role. As it is, Green Bay will get a good look at which depth options are worth keeping following this season.