Although the end result was a 26-7 loss, the Packers’ first exhibition performance against the Houston Texans was filled with highlights for some of the team’s youngest players and featured Jordan Love’s first snaps with the Green & Gold. While Love, along with Aaron Rodgers, will be locks to make the team’s final roster, could Green Bay choose to keep a third quarterback on the final roster? This Saturday’s game against the Jets could go a long way in determining Kurt Benkert’s cause to do just that.
Today’s musings touch on Benkert’s opportunity, but lead off with a look at one of the early undrafted surprises on the Packers’ roster.
Jack Heflin provides a solid first impression
Earlier this week in APC’s Wednesday Walkthroughs, there were notions that experienced veteran defensive linemen should be sought out by Green Bay before the regular season begins. While that opinion remains true for this writer, there was still a sense of optimism after the first preseason game for rookie fifth-round pick TJ Slaton and undrafted rookie Jack Heflin.
As the 2021 NFL Draft wore on, Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon was one of the fallers among the defensive line prospects and the type of prospect that made sense for the Packers on Day Three. Green Bay went on to add Slaton in the same round, but Heflin, Nixon’s Iowa Hawkeye teammate, also had a great first outing in a green and gold uniform. Heflin played 40 of the team’s 75 defensive snaps and totaled four stops. One of those tackles to save a long gain via the screen is featured in the video below, while another clip shows Heflin in position to make another stop in the running game that was ultimately credited to Slaton.
Nice play by #Packers rookie UDFA DT Jack Heflin on the screen...— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 16, 2021
Heflin played at Iowa in 2020, but was a standout player for Northern Illinois before that (team defensive MVP). Stout iDL piece. pic.twitter.com/R7uWn7uzd1
Packer Preseason Game 1- TJ Slaton— Broadcast Scouting GB (@BroadcastScout) August 18, 2021
Really solid performance overall. In this play he shows off his ability to anchor and fight to get a nice stuff. pic.twitter.com/eWrp8j628n
Effort and awareness stood out for the 6-foot-3, 304-pound Heflin throughout the evening as he stepped into action in place of Kenny Clark, Kingsley Keke, and Dean Lowry. Heflin also lined up in multiple positions, showing early signs of the versatility to play inside or out. With the Packers on the lookout for depth in each area, Heflin is a name to keep an eye on as he battles Willington Previlon and perhaps even Tyler Lancaster for a final roster spot on the line.
Saturday will be a showcase for Kurt Benkert
It is easy to overreact to Benkert’s performance against mostly reserve players, but the Packers might have something in the second-year pro.
The Fortnite star showed some energy and moxie immediately after entering the game against Houston, looking decisive in taking shots downfield. In fact, Benkert’s first three passes were complete for a total of 51 yards. Benkert finished the night 8-for-12 for 88 yards, to go along with an ill-advised interception late in the game on a pass that should have been thrown away. However, the arm strength was visible with a heave toward the end zone that should have been caught by DeAndre Thompkins and Benkert’s accuracy has been seen in spurts during team periods and net drills at practice. While it was incomplete, a fourth-down back-shoulder toss from Benkert also was a professional placement pass that could have been a possible completion if thrown to a starting wideout.
On a night where Jordan Love was the quarterback of note for obvious reasons, Benkert looked like a gritty gamer at times. Against the Jets this weekend, he will have an opportunity to translate a week of reps with the first team to actual game action and have the type of meaningful snaps that can make organizations take notice. The Packers carried three quarterbacks on last year’s roster and, with Aaron Rodgers’ future in jeopardy, they could do so again with an eye to the future with Benkert backing up Love. If Benkert has a performance like last Saturday, it is very possible another team would take a chance on him if released by Green Bay at the end of the preseason.
At wide receiver, keep an eye on Malik Taylor
Last summer, Taylor was this writer’s last man predicted to make the 53-man roster after subtle comments made by Brian Gutekunst and others in the offseason, and that prediction came to fruition at the end of training camp. A year later after being used sparingly in 2020, Taylor has a second chance to remain on the active roster.
Last weekend was the first step for Taylor in that quest and, with Davante Adams and others sitting out, he quietly had a five-catch, 50-yard night. With Devin Funchess acting as Love’s go-to receiver and making a name for himself in his own regard, Taylor’s night took off as Benkert took the field and he ended up with 36 offensive snaps, the most among the team’s wide receivers. Although Equanimeous St. Brown returned to practice this week, it is realistic that Taylor has surpassed him on the depth chart. The Packers have been patient in Taylor’s development at receiver and he was on the field for 42% of the team’s special teams snaps in 2020, giving him an extra leg up in the race.
The final spots at wide receiver will be entertaining as the exhibition slate comes to an end. How many will the Packers keep? Here is one prediction at the way it will pan out.
- Davante Adams
- Allen Lazard
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling
- Randall Cobb
- Amari Rodgers
- Devin Funchess
- Malik Taylor