In a week filled with stories of uncertainty, sadness, disappointment, and despair centering around the Green Bay Packers, today’s Friday Musings hope to reinvigorate some hope into the fan base.
A Covid climate dampened the lead-up to the regular season and thrust plenty of unknowns about finishing a normal 17-week season. But not only did the Packers come out of that gloomy phase with an exceptional full campaign, they did so with a number of very positive individual storylines.
While the list could go on for several pages, here are a few of those bright spots from a year no one will forget anytime soon.
MVS played a heavy hand in the team’s explosive play output and finished on a good note
By no means will this writer back down from the notion that the Packers should add a wide receiver early in the 2021 NFL Draft. But to answer a post-game question from earlier in the year, yes, Green Bay can live with Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more publicly criticized Packer since Brandon Bostick than MVS at various points of the year. But he had one of his better games as a pro against Tampa Bay, catching the contested, highlight-reel 50-yard touchdown and adding another three catches for a combined 115 yards in the game. In his most important game to this point in his career, MVS had zero drops and three significant plays. A 24-yard reception in the third quarter was the product of settling into a zone along the sideline between defenders, while his 29-yard catch down the seam in traffic on the Packers’ final drive of the game was a critical reception. Had Rodgers not thrown just a little too far on another deep pass in the fourth quarter, MVS very well could have created another enormous play downfield. In his post-game press conference, Rodgers relayed his appreciation for MVS’s game.
“I told him before the game, ‘I’m gonna need some plays.’ I was gonna need at least two big ones. And he made many, many plays for us.”
MVS was surely the goat (the not-so-good version) earlier in the season against Indianapolis after an overtime fumble, and had plenty of drops on deep balls throughout the year. But Aaron Rodgers’s trust never wavered that MVS would get open and that chemistry resulted in the third-year pro becoming one of the team’s most explosive, big-play weapons that took the offense to a new level.
Green Bay should continue to build around Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and MVS this offseason as good practice in building up the receiving corps long-term. But after a sophomore slump, MVS roared back in 2020, becoming a valuable piece to the team moving forward, even if it comes with inconsistency.
The role of Marcedes Lewis cannot be understated
At the height of LeBron James’s title chase a few years back, there were always a few underappreciated players that seemed to follow him from place to place - the James Jones and Mike Millers of the league. After mentioning his relationship with Marcedes Lewis many times in 2020 press conferences, Rodgers might just have that same type of teammate in Lewis. Not that Rodgers is going anywhere, but Lewis, a free agent this offseason, could certainly be back as a glue piece on offense.
The numbers are never going to wow anyone at this point of Lewis’s career - a total of 10 catches for 107 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. Lewis is a reliable run blocker and gets most of his receiving production from surprising opponents in the red zone or on well-timed screens with the defense never really accounting for him. But the man commonly referred to as “Big Dog” by Rodgers holds an exceptional presence in the locker room for his sheer years of experience, leadership, and approachability. In The Players’ Tribune piece a few weeks ago, Robert Tonyan also chipped in on the importance of Lewis to a younger player like himself.
That’s my guy right there. He’s like my big brother, and he truly embodies everything I hope to be. Year 15, healthy, still doing it at a high level, still loving the game, so wise, and just the best, nicest dude you’ll ever meet. When we’re on the field together, it’s almost like we feel this extra, I don’t know what to call it … almost invincibility. When you have a best friend on the team — someone you look up to and respect — and you’re lined up right next to him ready to make something special happen, there’s no better feeling in the world.
Even more, Lewis was a key cog in the racial justice conversation in the locker room prior to the season that helped bring the team together in a time of turmoil. It is not hard to believe that Big Dog also played a hand in helping Rodgers find the sense of peace he had this season - that person of similar veteran status for Rodgers to bounce his emotions and ideas off of.
If the Packers want to keep Rodgers happy this offseason after an odd closing press conference, they will likely do so, first and foremost, with retaining Lewis.
Not too many teams had a trio of offensive linemen as good as Green Bay
One would be hard-pressed to find a better three-man group of offensive linemen across the NFC North, or the entire conference for that matter, than the Packers’ David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, and Corey Linsley. While the price will be sticky to bring Linsley back next year after an All-Pro season, the team’s ability to produce three players internally of that caliber should be celebrated.
Pro Football Focus graded Linsley as the top center and Bakhtiari as the second-best tackle in 2020, with the Packers never initially spending more than fourth- and fifth-round picks on acquiring the pair of players. Although the grade was not in that same realm for Jenkins at guard, he is a star in the making with his versatility and that same ability to play across the line helped even a fourth player, Billy Turner, become an integral piece. Teams like the Minnesota Vikings have tried, tried, and tried again to fix their line, only to finish in the bottom six of the league in all but one year under Mike Zimmer. The Chicago Bears lost Mike Daniels to injury early in the season and also struggled at each tackle position. After years of issues, Detroit has probably come the closest to Green Bay in terms of a 1-2 punch in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, but the rest of the line still has plenty to prove.
The Packers have routinely found success in developing third-day picks and undrafted free agents into starting players. Lane Taylor, Lucas Patrick, T.J. Lang, and Josh Sitton are some of the other more notable names of the past decade. But it is rare to find the type of draft success that Green Bay has found with Bakhtiari, Jenkins, and Linsley as members of the same unit.