The Green Bay Packers are set to embark on a long, uninterrupted stretch of football. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have a Packers game to watch every week between now and February — not including a bye week in the playoffs and a week between the conference championship and the Super Bowl, of course.
And after the appetite-whetting first month of the season, we’ve gotten a tantalizing glimpse of what the Packers could accomplish this season. But to reach their highest heights, they’ll need a few players to take on bigger roles. Here’s who we’re hoping to see more of in the coming weeks of 2020.
Tex Western: Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J St. Brown
As one of the leading EQ stans here at Acme Packing Company, I was thrilled to see him back at practice on Monday and seemingly on track to return from injured reserve. Everything the Packers and Matt LaFleur have done with Allen Lazard, they can do with EQ, who has one notable advantage over the Alien Lizard: pure speed. EQ should be able to do even more on deep posts and crossers than Lazard while still providing a big target for Aaron Rodgers on third downs. I’m eager to see if LaFleur indeed deploys him how I believe he should and makes him the big slot that Lazard was in the season’s first three games.
Jon Meerdink: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
We know a few things about MVS at this point of the season: he’s still inconsistent, he can still produce in a very specific role, and he’s still going to struggle if you ask him to do more than that.
With Davante Adams and Allen Lazard on the shelf, Valdes-Scantling has had a rough go of it over the past couple of weeks. Facing increased attention from opposing defenses, he’s managed just five catches for 50 yards over the past two games.
But while Lazard is out for the foreseeable future, Adams is on the mend and should be back on the field in relatively short order. I’m very curious as to how Valdes-Scantling can perform if he’s able to get back to a more complementary role. Even if that’s all he ultimately becomes in the NFL, he can still do a lot for the Packers that way.
Rcon14: Darnell Savage
I would say Savage has been a mild disappointment in Green Bay so far. Brain Gutekunst traded up to get him so expectations were naturally raised. His elite physical gifts would suggest he had the skills to be a true free safety like Green Bay has not had since Nick Collins neck injury in early 2011. While Savage has occasionally flashed, the thing he is most known for currently is missed tackles. Tolerating some missed tackles from your coverage-first free safety is part of the game, but Savage has not created the turnovers to make up for the missed tackles. It will be interesting to see if he can have a strong final 75% of the season and lock himself in as part of Green Bay’s core going forward.
Shawn Wagner: Malik Taylor
I agree with Tex that the hopeful return of St. Brown will be a more interesting aspect to watch as soon as this weekend and over the remainder of the season. But another receiver that I am curious to see how he is included within the game plan is Taylor.
Taylor earned a boost in snaps (45) against Atlanta with injuries to Adams and Lazard, and came through with a 20-yard reception on a fourth-down conversion. To this point, Taylor has likely received plenty more practice reps than St. Brown and the interest for me post-bye is just how much of a factor he will be moving forward with a returning Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and St. Brown. The Packers need someone to step up opposite Adams with Lazard out indefinitely and the production will have to come from a variety of players. Taylor could still be one of those “develop-from-within” options less talked about.
Paul Noonan: Krys Barnes
We may have something here. For a very long time the Packer inside linebackers have been an afterthought at best. Some of that is by design, reflecting analytics orthodoxy that the position simply isn’t that important. Some of it is just a failure to properly evaluate talent. Whatever it is, the lack of good inside linebacker play has cost this team in the past, especially against the league’s elite runners.
Barnes was signed as a UDFA in the offseason, and all such players have big, glaring weaknesses. For Barnes, it’s his size as he’s tiny by NFL standards, but the Packers love them some tiny linebackers, and in limited action so far, it hasn’t been an issue for Barnes. If anything, he’s been one of their surest tacklers, and his well-earned reputation for always being near the ball at UCLA has carried over. The question with smaller players will always be durability, and Barnes did suffer a shoulder injury against the Falcons, but if he can stay on the field, he brings a nice blend of coverage skills and sure tackling that’s been missing for a long time.