Not everybody on the Green Bay Packers’ roster looks like a bonafide blue-chip prospect right out of the gate. Some players take circuitous paths to the NFL, have tough starts to their careers, or just fly under the radar for whatever reason.
But those same players can often make a real difference on the final 53, and we’re betting that’s going to end up being the case in 2020, where the Packers have plenty of opportunities up and down the roster and a weird and abbreviated offseason might open doors wider than usual.
Here are our best guesses for sleepers who could make an impact in Green Bay this year.
Rcon14: Chandon Sullivan
The reason Green Bay is comfortable with not bringing Tramon Williams back has everything to do with Chandon Sullivan. Sullivan’s passer rating when targeted was 34.3. That number is incredibly low, but also not that predictive. Passer rating is a garbage stat, coverage is volatile year-over-year, and his snap count wasn’t that high. His PFF grade of 73.2 is solid, which is what his play felt like last year. On a roster, you need to take risks on young players somewhere, and with Sullivan’s league minimum salary and solid play, it made sense to hand him the reins to the nickel spot in 2020.
Mike Vieth: Equanimeous St. Brown
I think it’s pretty easy to overlook Equanimeous St. Brown just for the fact that he was injured all of last year. St. Brown had a solid rookie season back in 2018, you can even say that he showed the most potential of the three receivers taken in the draft that year. Getting him back in the fold this year will solidify the Packers receivers corp. While he isn’t on the level of Davante Adams or Devin Funchess, he runs excellent routes and can make the tough catch when needed. He will continue to grow and be a solid contributor along with Allen Lazard and Marquez Vades-Scantling to form a good receiving group. At the end of the day, having those five receivers will show why Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur skipped on drafting a receiver this year.
Tex Western: Kabion Ento
At this stage of the offseason, I’m looking at “sleepers” as players who are not widely expected to make the team but who have a good shot. With that, I’m looking at cornerback Kabion Ento as a deep sleeper. Ento absolutely has a shot at a roster spot, especially given some major questions about the depth of the cornerback position. The Packers often keep six players at that spot and Ento’s experience, spending the entire 2019 season on the practice squad, gave him a tremendous opportunity to learn the position after converting from wide receiver in college.
While not an elite athlete, Ento is a good one with some intriguing strengths. He has good height and truly exceptional explosiveness, as shown by his 10-yard split and his jumping numbers. He also made some excellent plays early on in training camp last year when playing with the second-team defense.
With the ball skills of a receiver to go along with some intriguing physical tools, Ento should have a great opportunity to make some noise in camp with the second-team defense once again as well as find opportunities on special teams. It will not surprise me in the slightest if he makes the 53 as the fifth or sixth cornerback on the roster and earns himself some regular-season playing time.
Jon Meerdink: Cody Conway
I think Cody Conway has a real chance to make the Packers’ roster for similar reasons that Tex outlined for Ento above.
The Packers are generous with their offensive line spots and behind David Bakhtiari and Rick Wagner, they have very little in the way of established depth. Conway, who played nearly 3,000 snaps at left tackle in the ACC, has the size and athleticism to be a difference-maker there. His run blocking may be suspect, but that’s hardly unusual for a young offensive lineman. And besides, if you had the opportunity to choose, you’d probably rather your top backup tackle backup be deficient in the run game as opposed to pass protection.
If Conway can stay healthy (and considering he was waived in Tennessee last year after an injury, that’s a fair question), he should be able to make some noise.
Peter Bukowski: Devin Funchess
I’m fudging the spirit of the question if not outright flouting the explicit rules. Maybe I’m alone, but I liked Funchess in Carolina even if I understood he was an inconsistent player. When he signed on a one-year prove-it deal with the Colts, I loved that signing and if he’d been healthy (or played with Andrew Luck), he would have cost considerably more than the Packers paid to sign him this offseason.
If he’s healthy, he’s a legitimate WR2/3 in this offense assuming he picks up the playbook relatively quickly. Is he more talented than EQ or the downfield threat that MVS provides? No, of course not. But he’s the kind of big-bodied receiver who can win in the middle of the field and the red zone in ways Jimmy Graham never could. This time of year we get excited about big-name free agents, rookies, and high-upside fringe roster guys. Funchess is a real NFL player even if he’s not a great one, and he’s going to impress fans in a way that is not at all commensurate with the hype he’s currently getting.
Paul Noonan - Allen Lazard
I agree with Rcon on Chandon Sullivan, but I’m even more interested in whether Lazard can improve on a nice little breakout season last year. We have a firm understanding of Lazard’s floor as a nice 3rd receiver, but it’s all too easy to assume that’s it with him. We should not. If you’re looking for a breakout candidate, just keep in mind that Lazard finished 18th in DVOA (by far the best Packer) and just barely came in behind Adams for DYAR despite the fact that DYAR is a counting stat. You can never be sure if efficiency will scale up with more opportunities, but with projects like Lazard, the question is usually about polish, and soft skills. We know he’s a good athlete with an interesting set of comps.
Having answered most of the questions about his ability to get open at the next level, there’s no reason he can’t be the guy to step into the number two role. Don’t be surprised if he’s putting up Davante-esque numbers (or better) by the time 2020 comes to a merciful close.