This past offseason didn’t net the Green Bay Packers the same haul as 2018 and 2019 which may give them some trouble down the road.
With the current cap policies of the NFL it’s nearly impossible for a team to have a complete roster. This forces front offices to prioritize certain positions over others, inevitably leaving the team with some holes. How teams balance those holes within their scheme plays a big role in their success.
Brian Gutekunst replaced Ted Thompson as GM of the Green Bay Packers just prior to the 2018 offseason. Gutekunst immediately filled holes on the Packers roster by signing tight end Jimmy Graham and acquiring cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson with his first two draft picks.
He followed that up by aggressively attacking three holes during the 2019 offseason. Gutekunst signed Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner to huge contracts during free agency and added Darnell Savage and Elgton Jenkins during the first two days of the draft, which culminated in six new starters at edge rusher, safety, and guard.
Given Gutekunst’s first two offseasons, the Packers fanbase expected him to attack wide receiver, inside linebacker, and defensive line with the same vigor but that didn’t happen. Holes remain at those positions leading into the 2020 season, however, three other position groups are being overlooked as potential problem areas for the Green Bay Packers.
The Green Bay Packers will likely roster four tight ends, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara, and Robert Tonyan. Lewis is a glorified tackle these days but still has reliable hands and Aaron Rodgers’ trust. He is an effective blocker and will be used almost exclusively in that role
Jace Sternberger will look to assume the role vacated by Jimmy Graham as an every-down receiving threat who can contribute as a blocker in the run game. Sternberger saw limited time as a rookie in 2019, spending most of the year on injured reserve, managing only six appearances where he recorded three receptions, fifteen yards, and one touchdown.
Sternberger did flash some potential but he’s wildly unproven. The fact that he’s being trusted with a major role should worry Packer fans.
Deguara was the Green Bay Packers third-round pick a few months ago and he looks like a perfect fit for Matt LaFleur’s H-back role. He’ll be moved up and down the formation and provide the versatility that was missing from the offense last year. However, Deguara doesn’t have the traits of the seam-stretching, Pro-Bowl caliber tight ends of today’s NFL. He should be limited to the H-back position.
Robert Tonyan, however, will be limited to a depth role. Tonyan’s career hasn’t taken off as we hoped, instead, he provides the Packers with a receiving threat from the tight end position.
Matt LaFleur’s system relies on multiple tight end sets with personnel that can satisfy a handful of needs. While Deguara may be able to handle H-back duties, the tight end group is banking on Sternberger making some serious progress in the next couple of months. There isn’t much of a backup plan behind him, unlike the next position group.
Right Side of the Offensive Line
David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins pair up to form the best left side of any offensive line in the division and Corey Linsley consistently grades in the upper half of centers in the NFL, via Pro Football Focus. However, the right side of the offensive line has some serious question marks.
Ricky Wagner was one of the Packers’ biggest acquisitions this past offseason and Billy Turner is the incumbent at right guard, while Lane Taylor will be in the mix at both positions.
Wagner is coming off his worst year as a starter and will turn 31 during the upcoming season. He’s pigeon-holed to the right tackle position where he will be competing with both Turner and Taylor for the starting role.
If Wagner loses the starting gig, he’ll provide the team with decent depth but if he wins the role, I expect below-average performance for a starter. That would be a huge step down from the top-tier protection Bulaga has provided the team for almost a decade.
If Wagner can’t get the job done, the competition for the right tackle duties could be very interesting. Taylor has started multiple games at both guard and tackle but he’s been just average at both positions, even at his best.
In 2019 Turner earned the best overall grade of his career over at Pro Football Focus with a 64.8 but ranked only 39th among all qualifying guards. He suffered in pass protection allowing six sacks on the year and whiffing on blocks in both the run-game and the pass-game. Turner’s lapses in protection may be his downfall.
That could give Lane Taylor the opportunity to resurrect his career in Green Bay. Taylor looked like a steal as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He signed a multi-year contract during the 2017 season, his first year as a starter. Things were looking up until the new regime arrived.
Taylor got injured early last year and took a backseat to Turner and Jenkins, but provided the team with decent depth at the guard spot. Taylor took a pay-cut over the offseason so he could stay in town. He’s got experience at both guard and tackle and enough talent to usurp either projected starter, but like Turner and Wagner, Taylor’s best will likely be below-average.
Below-average won’t keep Rodgers upright. As we all know, Rodgers likes to hang onto the ball and this group of wide receivers will need time to get open. If the passing game doesn’t have time, it won’t be able to function properly. This next position group functioned properly last year but is at risk of taking a step back in 2020.
Jaire Alexander is an ascending talent with the potential to be an elite number one corner. He should be a huge piece of the Green Bay Packers’ defense for years to come. Kevin King starts on the opposite side and is coming off his best year with the Packers.
King’s production finally caught up to the potential that made the Packers select him 33rd overall in 2017. He recorded five interceptions last year which put him at 4th (tied with nine others) in the NFL. It’s no coincidence that King’s first productive season came on the heels of his first healthy season.
King suffered from a left shoulder injury in 2017 and was hampered by groin and hamstring injuries and a season-ending right shoulder injury in 2018, limiting him to just 15 games during his first two seasons as a Packer. King also suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury while at Washington that required offseason surgery. It’s safe to say that King’s on-field presence is not a sure thing.
The only other player on the roster with reps at outside corner is Josh Jackson, who hasn’t had much success during his first two years as a Packer. Jackson was the Packers’ second-round pick in 2018 but his career is not trending in the right direction. Even the Packer faithful have lost faith in Josh Jackson.
Ka’Dar Hollman and Chandon Sullivan are the only other viable options for meaningful snaps at outside corner in 2020. Hollman flashed some playmaking ability during the preseason last year and Sullivan played well in the 4th corner/3rd safety role. Both are young, fairly inexperienced players hoping to earn larger roles for the 2020 season.
It doesn’t look like the Green Bay Packers will bring back Tramon Williams so Hollman and Sullivan are destined to compete for reps at slot corner. Darnell Savage may be asked to play some slot as well, but that could leave a huge hole at his safety position.
It’s possible that one or both, of Hollman and Sullivan, work out but it’s equally likely that neither player capitalizes on their opportunity. The Green Bay Packers could be left with no player capable of manning slot corner and no backup for King if he were to fall injured yet again.
While we know the Green Bay Packers will be shorthanded at wide receiver, inside linebacker, and defensive line, the list of holes on the roster could be even longer than expected. Tight end, the right side of the offensive line, and cornerback are all positions groups that could take a step back. That may spell disaster for the 2020 season.