The Packers have the substantial benefit of playing in the NFC North, and it’s very possible that when this season is all wrapped up, their record, currently projected at 11-6 by DraftKings, won’t look that out of the ordinary.
That said, the Packers’ offseason was a hallucinogenic trip of bizarre occurrences, and a repeat of their elite performance from 2021 is anything but guaranteed. While most analysts are bullish on their prospects, Green Bay is going to need an immediate impact from several rookies, some injury luck, and a complete turnaround on special teams.
No unit has experienced more turnover than the offense. Even the ever-reliable Aaron Rodgers spent much of the offseason in either contract drama, or what can only be described as “Aaron Rodgers drama.” On the contract front, Aaron teased retirement before agreeing to a three-year, $150.8 million extension, with an odd structure that costs the Packers more the longer he plays.
Rodgers also has a new girlfriend — who, to be clear, does not identify as a witch — named Blu of Earth, and admitted to experimenting with ayahuasca, a strong, hallucinogenic tea, on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast. Rodgers has been flirting with alternative, unscientific medicine since the revelation that he was not vaccinated last year, and is apparently now fully committed. While Rodgers should be free to do whatever he wants in his spare time, his distrust of conventional medicine did cost Green Bay a win last year when he missed the Kansas City game with Covid, and while Dock Ellis once famously threw a perfect game on LSD, that experience is probably not the best model for a modern quarterback.
More importantly, the Packers enter 2022 without Davante Adams, who chose to join his college quarterback Derek Carr with the Raiders. Adams is one of the league’s best receivers, and received a league-high share of his team’s overall targets last year. The Packers not only lacked an heir apparent at the receiver position, but they also lost deep threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling to Kansas City, making their only real holdovers Allen Lazard and an aging Randall Cobb. Replacing Adams’ production is essentially impossible, and while they did bring in the perpetually disappointing Sammy Watkins as a free agent from Kansas City, they will mostly be hoping for quick development from second-rounder Christian Watson, and fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs, who was the talk of Packers training camp and the preseason. Green Bay decided not to add a tight end this offseason, relying on the return of Robert Tonyan from a torn ACL to boost the position.
The offensive line suffered nearly as much turnover as the receivers group. Green Bay is fortunate that budding star Elgton Jenkins is already off the PUP list after suffering a torn ACL last year. Jenkins can play any position on the line, and his presence helps mitigate injuries along the line. That said, the Packers are still suffering greatly from one injury, that being David Bakhtiari, who suffered a torn ACL of his own two seasons ago, and has suffered from complications during his rehab making his return anything but certain. Bakhtiari did come off the PUP list and returned to practice on Sunday, Aug. 21, but whether he’ll be ready come Week 1 is still up in the air.
The lingering injuries and the departure of center/guard Lucas Patrick to the Bears may open up a spot for rookie fourth-rounder Zach Tom, who was impressive in camp this year. If nothing else, Tom and fellow rookie Sean Rhyan should bring much-needed depth, as injuries to the offensive line undercut the offense against the 49ers in the playoffs last year.
Between the receivers and the line, the passing game received a complete makeover in the offseason, and while Rodgers brings a certain stable floor, the ceiling on this team is anyone’s guess.
The defense suffered one major loss, as Za’Darius Smith crossed the border to join the Vikings (along with slot corner Chandon Sullivan), but the development of Rashan Gary into one of the league’s premiere pass rushers filled this void last season, and should do so again in 2022. While the team did add fifth-round rookie JJ Enagbare to back up Gary and Preston Smith on the edge, the Packers also spent premium draft capital on the interior, selecting the Georgia duo of Quay Walker (linebacker) and Devonte Wyatt (defensive tackle). Green Bay has struggled against the run through most of the Rodgers era, and Walker and Wyatt, plus free agent defensive tackle Jarran Reed, should turn this weakness into a strength.
The only other major addition on defense comes in the form of cornerback Jaire Alexander, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. The Packers replaced their star corner last year with Rasul Douglas, but the two of them have only played together once, in the playoff loss to San Francisco. With both now healthy, few teams can boast of such a significant upgrade in the secondary.
The 2021 Packers defense was only mediocre by advanced stats like DVOA and EPA, and they still lack depth at some key positions, but their starters are among the league’s elite, and there’s a good chance they finish in the top 10, if not better.
The other big factor in the Packers’ playoff loss last season was a complete breakdown of special teams, resulting in a critical blocked punt touchdown and a blocked field goal. Special teams gaffes plagued the Packers all year, manifesting in missed kicks, poor blocking, incompetent decisions on whether to field punts or kicks, and inexplicable fumbles.
As a result, special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton was let go, replaced by Rich Bisaccia, formerly of the Raiders, and coordinator of many a great special teams unit. Gone also is punter Corey Bojorquez, who started with a bang, but tailed off noticeably as the weather cooled. Bojorquez also seemed to struggle with holding, and the team decided to move on to the reliable if unexciting Pat O’Donnell, formerly of the Bears. Long snapper Steven Wirtel was also found to be part of the problem and was also released in favor of rookie Jack Coco.
The Packers ranked dead last in special teams last year per DVOA, and seemed to create at least one game-changing blunder per week. They’ve turned over nearly every major contributor responsible for their struggles and should be better for it.
While Matt LaFleur returns for his fourth season as head coach and primary offensive play caller, the rest of the staff was raided by competitors, and so there are a few new faces and important promotions that could have a major impact. Denver replaced former head coach Vic Fangio with Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, while the Bears snagged former quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy for their offensive coordinator position.
LaFleur chose to fill the OC role internally by promoting another highly sought-after assistant: Adam Stenavich. Stenavich has served as the teams’ offensive line coach since 2019, and over that time the Packers have consistently fielded one of the league’s elite units. Even when stalwarts like David Bakhtiari have missed time, the line has rarely missed a beat, and the Packers’ development process has been second-to-none.
Retaining Stenavich was an important part of the offseason, but given the turnover on the line, they risk taking a step back under new coordinator Luke Butkus. Stenavich will undoubtedly stay involved as it really is LaFleur’s offense to call, but some regression is likely.
Replacing Getsy is the familiar Tom Clements, who served in various roles, including quarterbacks coach, for the Packers from 2006 through 2016 and was instrumental in the development of Aaron Rodgers from raw prospect into all-time great. With Jordan Love entering his third season, Clements will be tasked with accelerating his development.
Finally, I touched on Rich Bisaccia earlier, but it’s hard to overstate just how large of an upgrade he is. The 2021 Packers were bad on special teams in the splashy ways that show up in highlight packages, but they also failed in executing the subtle fundamentals. They frequently failed to line up properly in blocking, returners would allow themselves to be strung out horizontally, and sloppy penalties were the norm. On the game-winning Robbie Gould field goal that sent Green Bay home in the playoffs last year, the Packers only had 10 men on the field. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting end to that season.
The overall impact
The Packers are still run by one of the league’s best offensive minds and one of the game’s best quarterbacks. They’ve built a talented defense, and managed to retain the most important contributors (aside from Davante Adams) from a year ago.
But there’s also reason for some skepticism given the massive turnover in the receiving corps and injuries to the offensive line. Rodgers will be working with a lot of new skill position players, and he is famously finicky about his pass catchers.
That said, some regression of offense is likely to be offset by an improvement on special teams and a fully loaded defense. The Packers did a nice job reloading for one of their last runs with Rodgers, but they’ll need some luck, and some quick development from the rookies, to bring home another championship.