It’s Wednesday, and that means another edition of APC’s Walkthroughs. This week, we’re looking at Green Bay Packers players primed for a breakout.
Specifically, our prompt this week is to name the Packers player who will take the biggest leap forward from the 2018 season to 2019. Several contributors looked at this question differently — some focused on statistics, some on the player’s role on the team, and some on the potential impact on the team overall. And everyone considered all of those in some capacity.
Here are some of our picks for the Packers player due for the biggest leap in 2019 — and be sure to give us your picks in the comments.
Kris Burke: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
“MVS” showed flashes of being a solid receiver as a rookie but he also took his lumps as most players do in their first year adjusting to the speed of professional football defenses.
Now with a year in the league under his belt as well as experience playing with one the all-time most demanding quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Valdes-Scantling is primed to explode on the scene in 2019. New head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense can properly utilize his talents unlike Mike McCarthy’s archaic system and when Rodgers singles you out in offseason interviews, one of your eyebrows should be immediately raised and in a good way.
With Randall Cobb off to the Dallas Cowboys, the battle for WR2 should be interesting to watch over the course of the season. Geronimo Allison more than likely starts in that spot thanks to his experience as well as Rodgers’ trust in him, but don’t be surprised if Valdes-Scantling finishes the season close to or even above Allison in targets. Rodgers apparently likes what he’s seen from him and if the chemistry continues to develop between the two, Valdes-Scantling is a prime candidate to have a breakout year.
There’s once again a hype train about a player wearing number 83 in Green Bay and this time it’s legitimate. All aboard!
Shawn Wagner: Za’Darius Smith
Green Bay saw enough in Smith to give him a four-year, $66 million deal this offseason despite never starting more than eight games in his four seasons in Baltimore. It’s been rumored that the Packers almost selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and that they attempted to trade for him more than once. Now they have him.
For the Packers, Smith should be lined up in multiple spots in multiple formations. He is expected to primarily be located on the edge, but could also line up with his hand on the ground on pass-rushing downs and drop back into coverage if needed. He should get every opportunity to start all 16 games and eclipse the career-high 8.5 sacks he posted a year ago in half the number of starts. With Preston Smith lined up on the other edge, opponents should not be solely keyed in on Za’Darius, providing him with the chance to really break out in 2019 at just 26 years of age.
Paul Noonan: Kevin King
Some players are truly injury prone, and it’s entirely possible that King is one of them. That said, football is difficult, and sometimes guys just get hurt because football is difficult, and then, after a few years, they stop. When running back Fred Taylor entered the league he quickly gained the nickname “fragile Freddy” and indeed, he missed quite a few games through his age 25 season. That said, starting in his age 26 season, Taylor was one of the most durable players in the game for 7 consecutive seasons, and really only saw declines in his playing time due to age.
When King has played, he’s been outstanding. The only thing keeping him from being an elite corner is being on the field, and there’s at least a decent chance that King is not truly injury prone, and will in fact be on the field. If that happens, and if Jaire Alexander is similarly available, the Packers will find themselves with the best CB tandem they’ve had since their last Super Bowl victory.
Evan “Tex” Western: Oren Burks
Last year, Burks entered training camp as a likely backup to Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan before Ryan’s torn ACL thrust the third-round rookie into the starting lineup. However, a preseason injury after two encouraging performances sapped his ability to contribute on defense for almost an entire season, as his rookie year was effectively a redshirt season.
Now in 2019, Burks sounds like he’s playing faster and understanding his role in Mike Pettine’s defense better, which should portend good things for him. With his athleticism, the Packers could use two true linebackers more often rather than plugging in a safety at the cover linebacker spot. The Packers have their downhill, blitzing/run-stuffing Mike in Martinez, and I believe Burks is going to solidify himself as a solid Will linebacker who’s able to flow freely to the football and cover backs and tight ends in space.