Extra attention has been given to the Green Bay Packers’ secondary the past few months. Leading the hype have been the Packers’ top two picks of the last couple drafts in Kevin King and Jaire Alexander. But in the Packers’ first preseason action of the 2018 season, neither cornerback came out of the tunnel in pads.
Still, Green Bay saw a number of its freshman and sophomore draft picks show out against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday evening. Running back Jamaal Williams (2017, 4th round) was one such standout. The second-year running back’s rushing numbers do not jump off the page with 16 yards on five carries, but his vision and patience led television announcer James Lofton to draw comparisons to Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. It might be too early for that kind of lofty praise, but Williams did seem to have a little extra burst and wiggle in his step than he did last season.
Williams’ athleticism and quickness was on display on two Bell-like receptions in the flat. The first was an eight-yard touchdown pass in which Williams juked a defender before ultimately diving for the score at the goal line. On another play in the second quarter called back by penalty, Williams again showed a shoulder-shimmy wiggle to elude a tackler. It was a good sign for Williams, who will fill in while Aaron Jones serves an early regular season suspension.
Along with Williams, here are several other young draft picks that made a positive impression in the first exhibition contest.
- DeAngelo Yancey (2017, 5th round) was listed as a starter at wide receiver with Randall Cobb sitting out and caught two passes for 10 yards. The line isn’t flashy and he did fail to catch a Brett Hundley slant in the end zone early in the game, but Yancey had two nice third-down grabs on passes thrown a bit high near the sideline later in the game. For the second-year player, who was one receiver not criticized by Aaron Rodgers earlier in the week, it was a good start in what is shaping up to be a hotly-contested wide receiver battle.
- J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown (2018, rounds 4, 5, 6 respectively) all showed signs of breakout potential and are forming a really exciting trio of receivers going forward. MVS finished with 101 receiving yards, including an eye-catching 51-yard play in which he high-pointed a ball downfield. A contested fourth quarter touchdown reception capped off a solid first outing for the South Florida product, who showed off his straight-line speed not only as a receiver, but as a kick returner. St. Brown also finished with 61 yards on the night, with his most impressive play coming on a 28-yard pass play over the middle. After making the catch about 15 yards downfield, St. Brown immediately reversed direction and cut back across the field to tack on extra yardage with the help of a stiff arm. While Moore’s drop issues cast a dark shadow over his first game at Lambeau Field, the rookie found a way to gain separation and put himself in position to make impactful plays consistently. If he was able to finish catches, as he will need to do going forward, his night would have been remembered much differently.
- Josh Jackson (2018, 2nd round) made the start and turned in a promising performance with several cornerbacks scratched on Thursday night. Jackson was tested near the goal line twice in the first half and held up both times, running yard-for-yard with his matchup. Jackson showed effort in run support and, while he was called for what appeared to be a ticky-tacky holding penalty on third down, Jackson put himself in position to contest plays consistently.
- There is going to be increased pressure on Oren Burks (2018, 3rd round) to develop quickly after Jake Ryan’s season-ending injury. So far, Burks is off to a good start. The rookie from Vanderbilt stood out for his speed against the Titans, getting to the sideline quickly on a number of plays to track down a pass-catching running back. Burks made an exceptional play to sniff out a screen in the first quarter before closing fast on a third down play in the red zone later on. While Burks is a bit lean and still had some trouble in run support when taking on offensive linemen, he did fight through blocks to get to the ballcarrier at times. He showed comforting potential to play regular season snaps immediately.
- Kendall Donnerson (2018, 7th round) appeared to gain traction as a pass rusher on a couple second half snaps, but his play of the night came on a running play in which he stripped the ball from the running back for teammate Vince Biegel (2017, 4th round) to recover. Donnerson came to Green Bay as a raw, moldable stand-up linebacker and he showed some intriguing skills in his first game action.
- Montravius Adams (2017, 3rd round) had an impressive Family Night practice and carried some of that improvement over to preseason action. The rip-and-shed move that stood out last weekend came back in the red zone of the first series of the game, as Adams shed a blocker to stop Derrick Henry in the backfield. Lining up on the end of a three-lineman front, Adams showed quickness in penetration and on the final play of the first quarter, he was able to split the center and guard off the snap to disrupt a running play. Though Adams was not able to make the tackle and was called for an offsides penalty on the snap before, it was a positive outing for a former third rounder looking to fill a rotational role this season.
- It’s always a good sign when your name isn’t heard as a long snapper, so the first impression was a good one for rookie Hunter Bradley (2018, 7th round). After an up-and-down performance in camps, Bradley had five clean snaps, including on a converted 41-yard field goal by Mason Crosby in the second half.
- JK Scott (2018, 5th round) was a surprise pick this year, but was seen as an upgrade to punter Justin Vogel. After a stellar start to training camp, Scott had a 52-yard boot in the second half that pinned the Titans back in their own territory. While Scott’s tackling could use some work and he had just a 31-yard punt while trying to down a punt inside the 20 (fair caught at the 21-yard line), the rookie did not provide any early concerns reminiscent of B.J. Sander.