Sure, the Packers aren’t technically out of the playoff race, but let’s be real: they’re out of the playoff race.
As such, the last four weeks of the season could have a quasi-preseason feel. If that’s the case, there should be plenty of opportunities for younger players to get a longer look as the season winds down. Perhaps one of them could spark a little hope in what’s been an otherwise disappointing year in Green Bay!
Here are the up-and-comers the APC writing staff would like to see get an extra look over the last four weeks of the season.
Evan “Tex” Western: OLB Kendall Donnerson
4.45 speed, a 40-inch vertical, and a 3-cone time around seven seconds are usually numbers you would associate with a cornerback or a wide receiver. Instead, that was the workout that outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson posted at his Pro Day this spring before the Packers made him a seventh-round draft pick.
I’ve had my eye on Donnerson ever since seeing those workout results come across my Twitter feed, and I was thrilled when the Packers brought him in for a pre-draft visit. When the Packers picked him 248th overall, I could barely contain my excitement.
Donnerson was always going to be a prospect, having come out of Southeast Missouri State, but the season is effectively over and the Packers are down to just three bodies at outside linebacker. Now that he has been promoted from the practice squad, it’s time to give him 20 to 25 snaps per game over the past month. He’ll make mistakes, for sure, but I want to see him drop his shoulder on a few speed rushes and rack up a couple of sacks down the stretch.
Wendi Hansen: Jake “The Great Whitewater Hope” Kumerow
Anyone who knows me also knows that I am a low-key uber Kumerow fan. And who can blame me, really? The wide receiver gained Rodgers respect and trust early on and led the Packers in receiving yards this preseason despite the fact that he only played two games. While being placed on IR for most of this season prohibited him from getting adequate playing time, he did get to flex his muscles last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, making a crucial catch in the third quarter (a catch that wouldn’t really matter in the end, but that’s neither here nor there). Kumerow has the skill, the drive, and the knowledge to become a force with the Packers’ offense. I would love to see him finish out this season strong and solidify himself a spot for next year.
Paul Noonan: Kumerow and Moore
We’ve made plenty of fun of Jake Kumerow’s appeal to Green Bay fans, but Kumerow isn’t Jeff Janis. Kumerow offers a nice blend of speed and size, and his route running is much more polished than any of the rookies on the team. It’s fun to cheer for the local small school underdog, but it can also serve as an unintentional knock on that same guy. Kumerow looks like a real player to me, and if he winds up closer to Donald Driver than Jeff Janis in terms of production, it wouldn’t surprise me.
I want to see J’Mon Moore because I think he is the most talented, most polished rookie receiver on the team, with one fatal flaw. His drops have been absolute killers for his playing time but drops are a fixable flaw, and if he was able to flip the switch down the stretch and overtake Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown in terms of projectability, that wouldn’t surprise me either.
Bob Fitch: Oren Burks
Every year has a trendy new position, and over the past few years on the defensive side of the ball, that trend has been rangy hybrid safety/linebackers who can cover as well as tackle. Oren Burks, similar to Josh Jones, theoretically fits that bill. I even wrote a pretty glowing piece about him after a preseason game this year. The only problem is, it’s theoretical at this point. While his Pro Football Reference page says he’s been playing on defense this year, I have a hard time believing it. The last four games, he has played a combined 10 defensive snaps.
Green Bay’s secondary is thin, meaning Josh Jones should be playing more traditional safety (whether or not that’s his best position is a conversation for another time). With Jake Ryan on the shelf and Blake Martinez clearly solidifying himself as the starting ILB for the foreseeable future, there’s reason to give Burks more time. Martinez deserves a break; the guy has played in 100% of every game’s defensive snaps with the exception of the New England game when he rolled his ankle, and it doesn’t make sense to have him keep soaking up snaps and wearing his body down at this point. Sub Burks in early and often to get him game exposure, and keep Jones back at safety to see how well he plays there. Two Packers, one cheese curd so to speak.
Jon Meerdink - Alex Light
Light was one of four undrafted rookies to make the Packers’ roster this year, but he hasn’t even been active for a game yet this season.
A college tackle, Light is following a well-worn path in Green Bay. Many other former college tackles have made the transition to guard for the Packers. It’s an approach the team was trying with Cole Madison before his (still not fully) explained disappearance.
Physically, Light is almost a carbon copy of Madison. Both are listed at 6-5, and Light is just a pound heavier than Madison at 309. With the injuries and uncertainty the Packers have faced up front, what’s the harm in giving him some reps? He’s not likely to be appreciably worse than Byron Bell or Justin McCray.
If nothing else, the Packers could always do what Richmond did and throw Light a screen pass.
Mike Vieth - None but look at position swaps
I already think the Packers are playing most of the young players that will have an immediate future with the team due to injuries. The Packers only have seven players over the age of 30 (with four getting significant snaps) so it’s not like they are an aging team that is blocking the young players from the field. If anything, I think the Packers might need to re-evaluate the position of some of the players.
The first player I’d look at is on his last chance to prove himself, Jason Spriggs. Spriggs has had significant struggles at the tackle position but the Packers really need to look at him at guard. He got a handful of snaps in the preseason but that’s not a significant sample to make a decision. Spriggs has the athleticism to play guard but the big disadvantage might be in his lack of strength for moving the big defensive tackles. Now, this might be difficult to do considering that injuries have forced Spriggs to play tackle regularly of late but it’s something the Packers need to look into. The right side of the offensive line needs to replaced and why not give him a four-game tryout at one of those spots before addressing it in the draft or free agency.
The next position swap that I’ll throw out there is moving Josh Jackson to safety. This has been a regular topic within the APC Slack channel lately and it’s definitely something to consider. While Jackson has had a good season this year, it hasn’t been great. I think he hit the proverbial rookie wall and he has Jaire Alexander excelling each week next to him. So, it doesn’t look like Jackson is having a great year. Like it or not, Jackson will be compared to Alexander for his whole career in Green Bay and, if he stays at corner, I don’t think he’ll be able to keep up.
On the other hand, if he gets a shot at the safety position he’ll be able to write his own story. I think learning the safety position makes him more valuable to the Packers, as they have decent depth at corner when healthy, and it might fit his overall game better. The nice thing is that Jackson is a ball hawk who is decent at tackling and that’s already better than anyone else the Packers currently have in the safety spot. Similar to Spriggs, give him a four-game tryout and if it looks good, all the better for next year. If not, he stays at corner and continues to develop and build depth.
Shawn Wagner: Kendall Donnerson and Jake Kumerow
Both names are mentioned by others in this piece, but both have an opportunity to earn roster spots and playing time next season.
Donnerson, the Packers’ seventh-round pick, is the small-school athletic freak Green Bay felt was worthwhile to take a flyer on. With Clay Matthews’ contract up after the season and Nick Perry’s status in doubt for 2019, the Packers can afford to see what Donnerson can offer over the final four games. Any hint of being a pass rush specialist is enough to warrant more playing time with players like Kyler Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert. While I have no doubts that Green Bay will bring in more talent on the edge this offseason and overhaul the position group, Donnerson could be a long-term depth option to keep an eye on.
There’s a part of me that wonders what the Packers’ pass offense would have looked like this season with a healthy Kumerow. He was one of only a few offensive weapons that would put a smirk on Aaron Rodgers’s face in training camp and seemed to earn the quarterback’s trust with relative ease. While the other first-year receivers have had plenty of ups-and-downs, Kumerow just seemed to have “it” in limited preseason action. I still remember the long catch-and-run Kumerow had in the exhibition game against Pittsburgh and was intrigued in his lone reception last week, running a crisp route and securing the catch along the sideline.
It’s easy to get on board with a Wisconsin native, but that’s of little real interest to me personally. Kumerow looked like he could play with the first team and I’m excited to see what is in store with increased playing time as the season comes to a close.