Everybody knows Rashan Gary is having a big year. It’s easy to see that Aaron Jones is tearing things up. But who’s playing well that we might not be thinking about? We asked our writers who their secret stars of the 2022 season are. Here’s what they had to say.
Tyler Brooke: Eric Stokes
I became a huge fan of Eric Stokes as a rookie last year. Playing cornerback as a rookie in the NFL is one of the hardest jobs in football for a young player, and his recovery speed was exceptional.
Something I wasn’t expecting from Stokes this year was how much more physical he has been. His ability to click and close by attacking downhill has allowed Stokes to come away with some big stops to prevent any yards after the catch. Per PFF, he’s already at seven stops through four games, compared to 14 stops all of last season. Opponents are also averaging only 2.56 YAC per reception when targeting him.
A physical secondary across the board is a rare thing in the NFL, but the Packers have one with Stokes, Alexander, Douglas, Amos, and Savage.
Rcon14: Allen Lazard
Okay, maybe not THAT secret, but Allen Lazard just keeps doing the same thing every damn year. All but one of his catches this year has gone for either a first down or touchdown, and he ranks second in the league in DVOA. His target share is climbing now that Davante Adams has moved on, and yet he has maintained his elite per-target production. This is all while coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him early, and probably has hampered him a little bit since.
Then the gravy comes with what Green Bay can do with him in the run game, utilizing him effectively as a wing tight-end when they insert him into the formation. He’s unlike almost any other player in the league, and he remains incredibly important for what Green Bay wants to do in both the passing and running games.
Tex Western: Jon Runyan, Jr.
Aside from one awkward play in week one when he got a concussion while being sandwiched with Aaron Rodgers, Runyan is demonstrating elite pass-blocking ability at left guard in his second season as a starter. According to Pro Football Focus, he has not allowed a single pressure on Aaron Rodgers this year, posting elite pass-blocking grades of 80+ in three out of four games. His productivity in the run game is somewhat less impressive, but he is absolutely a set-it-and-forget-it pass protector. His consistency was sorely needed early in the season on a line that had questions swirling at nearly every other position, and if he can improve a bit as a run-blocker he could well end up being a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Paul Noonan: Randall Cobb
Most of what can be said about Lazard can also be said about Cobb, who just barely misses qualifying for the DVOA leaderboard, but would be fourth if he did. Cobb has looked amazingly explosive for a veteran slot receiver who has been written off as an old man multiple times. Not only is Cobb converting first downs at a Lazardian rate, he’s been a true big play threat as well, with 3 of his catches going for over 20 yards, including a 40-yarder against the Bucs. Cobb’s existing chemistry with Rodgers paid dividends early in the season, keeping drives moving while Aaron adjusted to the new faces, and Lazard’s ankle healed. Now he’s back to being a useful, and dangerous complementary piece.
Kris Burke: Rich Bisaccia
We knew the offense was going to be a work in progress and while the defense hasn’t always been elite, special teams has been better than expected. They haven’t returned a kick for a touchdown or really done anything truly spectacular but they have been solid and very much not a liability.
In Packers circles, that’s a tremendous effort.
Jon Meerdink: Preston Smith
Smith has always been more sidekick than star in Green Bay. He first played a supporting role to Za’Darius Smith and now does the same for Rashan Gary. But outside of a down year in 2020, he’s been plenty good in his own right. He’s tied for the team lead in quarterback hits, he’s second on the team in sacks, and he’s third on the team in pressures (according to Pro Football Focus). He’s also notched two tackles for loss and seems to make at least one heady, veteran play a week. Losing Rashan Gary would be a crushing blow to the Packers defense, but losing Preston Smith would be nearly as bad just due to the myriad ways he contributes.