If the Green Bay Packers are going to get over the hump and get back to the Super Bowl they’ll need a handful of young players to take the next step. There are four players from the 2018 draft class that could be in store for breakout seasons.
On Jan. 7, 2018, the Green Bay Packers promoted director of player personnel to general manager to replace, Ted Thompson. Since taking over, Gutekunst has worked tirelessly to revamp the roster. Only 13 players remain from the roster that he inherited back in 2018.
In his short reign, Gutekunst has managed to retool the secondary on the fly. He has drafted Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage Jr, while also signing Adrian Amos in free agency.
In free agency Gutekunst also signed edge rushers, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Smith tandem quickly became one of the best pass-rushing duos in all of football last year. They combined for 25.5 sacks last season.
Gutekunst has done fine work in free agency. It’s the NFL Draft where he has come up short.
Now, to be fair Gutekunst has only sat in the captain’s chair for three drafts. It’s too early to judge the 2019 class, and it’s absolutely asinine to even think about judging the 2020 class.
A lot of smart people will tell you that it’s fair to start putting a draft class under the microscope after three years. That’s where we are at with Gutekunst’s first draft class (2018). They are about to enter their third year in the league and it’s a critical one for this draft class.
Outside of Alexander and special teams duo JK Scott and Hunter Bradley, Gutekunst’s inaugural class has been disappointing. However, there are a handful of players that could help turn the perspective of this class around.
Valdes Scantling was selected in the fifth round and. The former fifth-round pick had a promising rookie season, in which he recorded 38 receptions for 581 yards and two touchdowns. His performance as a rookie led many to believe that he was in store for a breakout season in 2019 playing opposite of Davante Adams.
That breakout never happened. Valdes-Scantling caught 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns last season. Following week seven, Valdes-Scantling caught just five passes for 36 yards and no touchdowns.
No other wide receiver on the roster can match his 4.37 speed. Valdes-Scantling is the big-play threat that the Green Bay Packers currently lack. He has nine receptions of 40-plus yards during his first two years in the league.
“Valdes-Scantling’s plans are to be more than just the big-play threat who posted nine receptions of 40-plus yards through his first 1½ NFL seasons. His speed remains a huge asset, but during training camp, he made a lot of plays on shorter, possession routes such as outs and crossers.”
Valdes-Scantling reportedly turned heads during Green Bay Packers camp. If Valdes-Scantling can continue to build off a strong camp he could be in store for a breakout campaign. It will just be a year later than folks had expected.
Equanimeous St. Brown
St. Brown was selected in the sixth round. The former Notre Dame wide receiver flashed his potential as a rookie, recording 21 receptions for 328 yards.
The third-year wide receiver never got to build off his promising rookie season, as he injured his ankle during the team’s third preseason game in 2019. St. Brown ended up going on season-ending injured reserve.
St. Brown is a big target (6’5) and ran a 4.48 40-yard dash. He’s a smooth route runner and has reliable hands. His ability as a run-blocker out on the perimeter will also be sure to bring a smile to Matt LaFleur’s face.
The opportunity for playing time is there for St. Brown. There is no denying that he has talent. Now, can he stay healthy? If he can, it would not be shocking to see St. Brown finish the 2020 season as the team’s third or even second wide receiver on the depth chart.
The former third-round pick will start the season as the team’s “listed” second linebacker playing next to Christian Kirksey. How much playing time he actually sees is up in the air.
Much like St. Brown, Burks’ career in Green Bay has been derailed by injuries. The former Vanderbilt linebacker suffered a shoulder injury his rookie season that forced him to miss time. In 2019 he suffered a torn pectoral during the preseason.
Burks is athletic and has the sideline-to-sideline quickness to be an impactful player for Mike Pettine. Is year three finally the season that Burks takes the leap and gives Green Bay a formidable inside linebacker duo (forcing Pettine to play two traditional inside backers)?
It’s also conceivable that Burks could be keeping the seat warm for rookie linebacker, Kamal Martin until he returns from injured reserve. In what will likely be limited snaps, Burks needs to make an impact when he’s on the field.
The Green Bay Packers are set atop the depth chart at cornerback. Alexander and Kevin King will be starting outside with Chandon Sullivan set to be the team’s nickel cornerback.
Outside of the top three is where things get a little murky. Enter former second-round pick, Josh Jackson.
As a rookie, Jackson put together a solid rookie season. He started 10 games and recorded 49 tackles and broke up 10 passes.
During his second year in the league, Jackson failed to build off that success. He played less than 10 percent of the snaps on defense last season.
Jackson reportedly had a strong start to camp, where he was playing primarily on the boundary.
“He’s had some good days here in camp and I think he’s done a good job of understanding what we’re trying to get done,” Gray said. “I thought he did a really good job the last couple of days.”
With a slight opening for playing time, it’s do-or-die time for the former ball-hawking cornerback out of Iowa. Jackson has the size, length, and ball skills to be a difference-maker for Green Bay. Can Jerry Gray squeeze that talent out of him?