There’s no question that the Green Bay Packers expect the 2021 rookie class to come in and contribute immediately. “Certainly, I do,” Gutekunst told Packers.com’s Larry McCarren when asked just that.
But just how much will the class contribute as a whole, and how much will each player be asked to do in his first professional season? That’s a tougher question to answer. To that end, it’s worth breaking down the class pick-by-pick to identify the roles that each player could play this season and what the most likely scenario is for each in terms of his contributions in 2021.
Eric Stokes, CB
There’s no reason to believe Kevin King will play more this season than last year when he stayed healthy for the longest stretches of his career. He comes into this season as the easy favorite to start on the boundary, but Matt LaFleur’s insistence on competition will give Stokes a chance to compete to be the backup.
Last season, Josh Jackson played 32.3% of snaps, thanks in large part to King’s injuries costing him five games. We assume King will get hurt again, which opens up a spot for that third boundary corner. Given Jackson’s fit in this zone-heavy defense, don’t expect Stokes to win this job outright, but he could take all of Kadar Hollman’s 10.5% of snaps last year at a minimum.
If he can’t? That’s a problem.
Josh Myers, iOL
Myers boasts the best chance to come in Day 1 and start. Aside from David Bakhtiari (whenever he’s healthy), Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner, we don’t know what the rest of the offensive line looks like. It should be Myers, Lucas Patrick and Jon Runyan Jr. competing for two spots along the interior with Simon Stepaniak.
Patricks brings the most experience. Myers bring the strongest pedigree, though Runyan Jr. acquitted himself well last year when injuries thrust him into a starting role. If the team wants to keep Jenkins at guard, it’s easy to envision Myers playing like the best center on this roster and winning that job outright.
Amari Rodgers, WR/RB
Tyler Ervin played a clearly defined role in this offense last season when healthy. In Weeks 2-4, he played 38%, 37%, and 37% of snaps. Once he got back healthy, Ervin played 27% and 33% of snaps in the middle of the year. With no one else on the roster who can fill that spot, Rodgers slides into that role basically uncontested.
Jet and orbit motion, end arounds, and some simple routes were all LaFleur entrusted Ervin to, but Rodgers provides so much more as a true receiver who can win as a route runner and play more as a true receiver.
The Ervin role looks to be the floor for Rodgers who could easily carve out an even larger larger niche in this offense.
Royce Newman, OL
Last year, Rick Wagner played almost 60% of snaps because of injuries. Green Bay lacks options at tackle beyond Bakhtiari and Turner even with the versatility of Jenkins. The Packers wouldn’t commit to where Newman would play, but that swing tackle spot makes the most sense for where the team needs him.
They’ll likely let him sink or swim on the outside first before moving him inside. LaFleur let JRJ and Jenkins go out and play heavy snaps after injuries to starters the last two years, but the guards have fewer ways to kill an offense. At tackle, there’s an easy case to make to slide Jenkins out rather than play the rookie, but long-term his spot profiles as a swing tackle.
Shemar Jean-Charles, CB
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein suggested Jean-Charles’ selection came at the behest of new defensive coordinator Joe Berry because of the seamless fit in the slot. Chandon Sullivan also projects to be a better fit for Berry than he was for Pettine because this zone-heavy scheme plays to Sullivan’s strengths (playmaking, read-and-react ability) while mitigating his biggest weakness (speed).
That sentence also reads like SJC’s scouting report as well. He’s a feisty, tape-grinding playmaker who is always around the ball to make plays on it. Sullivan will be heavily favored to play right away, but could Jean-Charles steal Will Redmond’s defensive snaps much like Sullivan did early in his Packers career as a dime safety? That would be a terrific way to ease him into this defense.
Cole Van Lanen, iOL
Green Bay gets more out of Day 3 offensive linemen than just about anyone and Van Lanen fits the Packers’ athletic profile and played left tackle at Wisconsin. His experience and scheme fit gives him a chance to compete for one of those interior spots, but it’s difficult to envision him beating out Myers, Runyan Jr. and Patrick.
If the Packers kick Jenkins out of left tackle while Bakhtiari recovers from his ACL injury, Van Lanen could be in the mix then when Green Bay needs three starters along the interior. Even that feels like a stretch. More likely, he’s competing to be the swing interior blocker for when Patrick’s contract expires after this season.
Isaiah McDuffie, LB/S
Don’t sleep on McDuffie’s role for Berry in this defense. Gutekunst said the team expects him to be a special teams player Day 1 and that’s par for the course with late Day 3 players. That said, there’s no Raven Greene replacement ready to go on this roster.
In fact, McDuffie’s athletic testing numbers would give him a better Relative Athletic Score than Greene even at safety and at 6-foot-1, 225 vs. 5-foot-11, 197, McDuffie better fits the profile of a box defender who can roam underneath.
Vernon Scott likely gets the first crack at the Greene role, but Berry emphasized speed in his introductory press conference with reporters. McDuffie offers the best in-box option of this group and could be an early-down hybrid to be replaced by Scott in passing situations.
Kylin Hill, RB
We expect Aaron Jones’ role not to change much and for A.J. Dillon to absorb the Jamaal Williams spot behind him. That doesn’t leave many opportunities for Hill, although expect to see the Packers rolling more more 21 personnel with two backs on the field.
That was a package Green Bay leaned on late in the season put Dillon on one side of the quarterback in shotgun and Jones on the other with Jones flying out in motion to the two receiver side of a 2x1 set to run that inside zone/screen RPO.
When the top two guys were healthy, Dillon didn’t play much last year, leaving very few opportunities. Expect a similar dispersal this year, with Hill snagging somewhere in that 10% of snaps range, similar to Dillon’s run last year.