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The Packers’ 5 biggest winners of the preseason

The steal of the 2023 draft very well might be cornerback Carrington Valentine.

Green Bay Packers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

If you haven’t been keeping up with the Green Bay Packers’ practices this summer or missed the team’s preseason action, it’s time to catch you up on some of the new, young names on the team. As I see it, five Packers took significantly more advantage of their opportunity this summer than what was expected, which should lead to them getting some regular season playing time.

Get familiar with this group of five, so you aren’t asking, “Wait, who is that guy?” on Sundays.

Running back Emanuel Wilson

I’m not sure that Emmanuel Wilson is even going to make the Packers’ 53-man roster, considering the fact that head coach Matt LaFleur has been fine with rolling with just two running backs in regular season games. With that being said, Wilson is going to be the first back up from the practice squad if there’s an injury to either Aaron Jones or AJ Dillon.

On paper, Patrick Taylor is the team’s third running back, but that’s mostly due to Taylor’s premium pass-blocking and special teams skills. If the Packers need a third back to run the rock, that opportunity is going to go to Wilson — who turned 38 carries into 233 yards and two scores this preseason.

Wilson went from an unheralded undrafted free-agent rookie, who was waived by the Denver Broncos after just a month, to someone who might actually see some regular season action this year.

Receiver Malik Heath

Like Wilson, Malik Heath joined the Packers as an undrafted rookie this offseason. All Heath did this preseason was catch the ball, as he recorded 12 receptions for 146 yards. That’s twice the receiving yards that Romeo Doubs, who finished second on the team this preseason, registered.

When Doubs was held out of the preseason finale with a hamstring injury, it wasn’t second-round rookie Jayden Reed or second-year receiver Samori Toure who filled Doubs’ role. It was Heath, cementing his spot on the 53-man roster.

While Heath’s long speed is lacking, the 6’3”, 213-pound receiver has openly embraced the “goon” role on the team that was left vacant when Allen Lazard hit the open market. Heath has been building momentum throughout the summer, and now he appears to have carved out a role as an injury-replacement outside receiver and as a potential contributor on the kick return team as a blocker.

Tackle Rasheed Walker

When the Packers decided to hit Yosh Nijman with a $4.3 million tender this offseason, I’m sure they didn’t do so thinking that Nijman was going to be the team’s fourth tackle option. Over the last two weeks, though, second-year tackle Rasheed Walker has seen significantly more opportunities with the first-team offense than Nijman, who might go from a 2022 starter to a 2023 reserve.

According to Pro Football Focus, Walker played 78 pass-blocking reps in the preseason and only gave up two pressures over three games. He was also PFF’s second-highest-rated offensive lineman on the Packers this summer, splitting time between left and right tackle. There’s a good chance that if left tackle David Bahktiari’s knee begins to act up again, Walker — not Nijman or Zach Tom — will get the opportunity to start on Jordan Love’s blindside.

Mind you, Walker was hardly seen during his rookie regular season. He wasn’t even out there on field goal protection, as he only saw action in a single game in 2022, leading to four total special teams snaps on the year.

Defensive lineman Karl Brooks

While he’s been working almost exclusively with the second-team defense, Karl Brooks has had an impressive preseason. Against the New England Patriots, it felt like Brooks single-handedly took over the game when backup quarterback Bailey Zappe attempted to drop back.

If he continues to outplay fellow 2023 draft pick Colby Wooden, Brooks might end up being the team’s fourth defensive lineman later in his rookie campaign. He’ll need to capitalize on opportunities in the regular season against starters, but he’s passed every test that the Packers have given him so far.

Cornerback Carrington Valentine

According to Zach Kruse of Packers Wire, cornerback Carrington Valentine was targeted 15 times this preseason. The result? Just 40 yards on six catches. He also recorded four pass breakups and a pick. It’s hard to be better than that.

Valentine was behind special teamer Corey Ballentine in the pecking order on Family Night but started all three of the Packers’ preseason games this summer. It’s worth noting that starting outside cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes were out, but Valentine looked the part of a starting cornerback as a seventh-round rookie.

It will be interesting to see how Green Bay will get Valentine on the field this year, as there seems to be a logjam at the cornerback position. 2023 might be a season where Valentine is just a special teams stud, an idea that might have special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia drooling as you read this.