In every NFL training camp, there are a few surprise performers that find their way on to 53-man rosters and into contributing roles. The Green Bay Packers have been fortunate to find plenty of undrafted gems over the past decade, but the most immediate value tends to come from within, where young returning players make critical jumps over their first-to-second or second-to-third years in the league.
Today’s piece examines five of those latter Packers players who carry value heading into into this year’s training camp with their combination of upside and opportunity.
To say Sternberger’s past year has been tumultuous is an understatement. Off the field, the third-year tight end is suspended for the first two games of this season for an unfortunate incident involving alcohol and anti-depressants. One has to believe that the situation weighed on the former third-round pick throughout the 2020 season on the field as well. After much anticipation heading into the season for his receiving skills, Sternberger earned just 15 targets and was inactive from Week 13 to the end of the season. That was even after the Packers lost fellow tight end Josiah Deguara to an early season-ending injury.
Robert Tonyan’s emergence surely led to lost snaps for Sternberger during his second campaign, but snaps were given to Marcedes Lewis and undrafted Dominique Dafney ahead of Sternberger as well. With Deguara healthy, it is unclear where Sternberger stands on the Packers’ list of top five tight ends and H-backs. Still, Sternberger carries value if his receiving skills eventually play at the professional level, and there is some flexibility to line him up in the slot, in-line, or in the backfield. Training camp should provide a glimpse of the strides, if any, Sternberger has made since roughly halfway through last season. But there is no reason to believe he cannot begin to win some of the lost snaps back with personal issues in the rear-view mirror.
The Packers picked the athletic-but-raw Garvin in the seventh-round as a 20-year-old edge rusher with high upside. However, the former Miami Hurricane struggled to stand out in limited media opportunities last training camp and then again once the regular season began. In eight games and 85 defensive snaps, Garvin produced just five tackles.
Expecting a breakthrough season from Garvin as a rookie would have been unwise. But the Packers do need more from Garvin in camp to secure a second opportunity in 2021. Explosive measurables and encouraging hand usage as a collegian made Garvin an intriguing talent and the Packers surely could use depth in the short-term and a contributor behind Rashan Gary and Preston and Za’Darius Smith on the edge in the long-term. He will have competition for his spot with Randy Ramsey and others, but Garvin is a player who could truly help the Packers this year and beyond if he can start to translate the athleticism into results during this upcoming training camp.
When Green Bay picked Keke in the fifth round two years ago, it was widely believed that the Packers got a steal with the lineman’s size and athleticism. Although he has appeared in 29 regular season games in his first two years, Keke’s potential is something the Packers are still waiting to be realized.
Although Keke did register his first NFL sacks last season (4), they came in just two games and, coincidentally, in two games he did not start. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery believes Keke can take a “drastic step” forward in his third season after progressing during his sophomore campaign, and the Texas A&M product will have every opportunity to win playing time and a starting role on what has been a suspect Packers line. Extra strength helped Keke last year and there’s plenty of ceiling for him to reach as both a pass rusher and run supporter. The Packers did not add much depth to the line in the offseason and if Keke can show development during his third camp, there is somewhat of a forgotten value that he can still bring to the defense as a whole.
Undrafted out of SMU, Scott secured one of the Packers’ higher free agent signing bonuses at the conclusion of the 2020 draft. After being used primarily as a defensive end for the Mustangs with his hand in the dirt, Scott was assigned to the defensive line room as a rookie and spent the season on Green Bay’s practice squad. Transitioning to a more favorable outside linebacker role in 2021 that should better fit his 6’5, 246-pound frame, Scott could be a dark horse candidate for the final roster.
Scott’s length, particularly in his arms with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, stands out as a rusher. But his prior experience lining up as a lineman both inside and out in college makes for a unique skillset. The Packers have been successful in the past with rushing Gary and Za’Darius Smith from multiple positions and the versatility to line up Scott on the line on pass-rushing downs is appealing and valuable when trying to earn a final roster spot. In quotes from his position coach Mike Smith, it is evident that Scott impresses in terms of his football intelligence and it would not be outlandish to think that Scott and Garvin could directly push each other throughout training camp.
Speaking of versatility, one of the most intriguing offensive players to watch in training camp is Braden, who quietly has played in parts of the past three NFL seasons without a start. Braden made the weekly musings back in early June after lining up at left tackle in place of David Bakhtiari during OTAs, and has an opportunity to win serious reps, if not a starting role, during training camp.
The value to Braden, of course, is his ability to step in at interior line positions and, now, apparently at left tackle. Braden has more than enough size to compete for the Packers in 2021 and should only continue to earn meaningful reps with Bakhtiari nursing his knee this summer. Green Bay has had a number of offensive linemen earn extended stays in the past for the same reasons as Braden, such as Lane Taylor and Lucas Patrick, and the ability to play left tackle effectively during training camp could be of the utmost importance for a Packers team needing additional backup options (and perhaps a starter) as the season gets underway.