Green Bay Packers

Thursday Morning Ramblings: Packers’ 2019 Draft Class Coming Up Big in 2020

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Packers Twitter is never a place for the faint of heart, but this especially rings true on draft night.

The more recent memories of Draft Day 2020 and the over-the-top insanity unleashed in the Green Bay Packers’ online fanbase that followed have probably since obscured the fact that many people were spitting with rage over the Packers 2019 draft in its immediate aftermath as well.

Of particular cause for fury among the easily enraged was the drafting of EDGE rusher Rashan Gary with the #12 overall pick, just a couple months after signing Za’Darius and Preston Smith to big-time deals.

Gary had a predictably quiet year in 2019 as he spent much of the year getting limited reps in relief of the Smiths while adjusting to the NFL game. Surprise surprise, the man projected as a project pick with immense upside did, in fact, need to develop.

But three quarters of the way through the 2020 season, Gary is beginning to make all the know-nothings on Twitter who salivated over the opportunity to label him a “bust” look like absolute fools.

Gary has gotten the start on defense over Preston Smith for the last two weeks, and has seen a significant increase in playing time. He’s making the most of it, routinely leading the team in pressures and beginning to notch sacks as well. What’s more, he’s showcasing an unbridled tenacity and relentlessness that reminds one of an early-days Clay Matthews, whose motor never, ever stopped. 

It’s not just Gary who’s coming on, either. Darnell Savage has overcome a rough first month of the season to the point where he’s been playing excellent football of late, and has three interceptions in the last two weeks to show for it. If the other first-rounder of the Packers’ 2019 draft continues to improve at his current trajectory, it won’t be long until he’s a star.

Speaking of stars, you already know about just how valuable Elgton Jenkins has been to this team. But it bears worth repeating that this is a man who’s now started a game at every single position on the line in his first two years on the team, and excelled in all of them. That’s an incredibly rare gift for a lineman to have. He’s going to be a part of this team for a long time to come.

And of course, defensive lineman Kingsley Keke has been steadily improving throughout the year as well, making his mark in the pass rush and earning more playing time as the year has gone on. 

That’s not even talking about players like Jace Sternberger, who has had the luxury of being able to slowly develop (as tight ends are wont to do) and Ka’Dar Hollman who, for a late-round pick, has been more than adequate as a depth player. 

It’s still early, but the 2019 draft class is starting to look like it may have been a home run for Brian Gutekunst.

So maybe let’s cool it with the 2020 hot takes as well and see how things play out.

Packers cost Carson Wentz his starting job

News broke on Tuesday that Eagles coach Doug Pederson was benching former #2 overall draft pick Carson Wentz (he of a $34 million cap hit next year) in favor of rookie second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts.

Hurts did come in and give the Eagles a bit of a jolt in the second half on Sunday. At the very least, he was capable of throwing the football with a spiral and with a velocity greater than that of a high school quarterback, which is more than Wentz could say. 

Hurts has earned the right to get a start, not just because Wentz fumbled the job away, but because he actually provided a bit of dynamic ability to the Eagles’ offense.

It’s been a while since you can say a Packers defense cost someone their job. I remember in the 2010 season, there were a couple weeks where the Packers blew out a team that then promptly fired their coach (Brad Childress of the Vikings, Wade Phillips of the Cowboys). 

I don’t see any other opportunities coming up for the Packers to send a quarterback to the bench, but I’ll certainly welcome more of the pressure we saw that defense putting on Wentz during the first half of Sunday’s game. 

One guy to watch this week

We already spent some time talking about the Packers’ 2019 draft picks, so you know I’m going to be continuing to watch them carefully. 

But how about a player from the 2020 draft? Kamal Martin has had some impressive flashes here and there when he’s been on the field in 2020. He had a couple flashy plays again on Sunday, and has shown he’s not afraid to crash down on the backfield or create contact. 

I’m hoping the Packers continue to find ways to get him on the field, because he’s got the kind of electrifying, intimidating presence this defense needs at every level. There aren’t enough guys with the swagger of Jaire Alexander on this defense, but Martin could be one of them as he gets more comfortable in his position. 

Two Minutes’ Hate: Detroit Lions

Oh hey, look, it’s the Lions again.

So much has happened since the last time these two teams met and the Green Bay Packers ran the cats off the turf. 

-Matt Patricia was finally fired, only about two and a half years after he should have never been hired in the first place. After he was finally ousted, current and former players came out of the woodwork to roast the guy, ensuring he won’t get another job in the NFL until, like, next year because the NFL is a boys’ club and not a meritocracy.

-Matthew Stafford’s wife, Kelly, proclaimed on social media that she was “over living in a dictatorship” due to COVID protocols. Presumably she is tired of spending so much time in her massive mansion, which you can currently purchase for a cool $6.5 million if you, too want to live the lifestyle of a gazillionaire football wife suffering under the tyranny of not being able to go to Target without a mask.

-They did manage a comeback on the Bears on Sunday, which was great because it continued the Bears’ losing streak while also worsening their own draft position. 

It’s hard to identify very many things the Lions do well. Stafford hasn’t been playing particularly good football. The defense no longer has the fangs it once did in years past (and the secondary is terrible). The team hasn’t had a running game since Barry Sanders and is relying on the shambling corpse of Adrian Peterson to control the clock. 

But hey, on the bright side, at least the team got to continue the annual tradition of embarrassing itself in front of a massive Thanksgiving Day audience. Sure, there aren’t any political arguments with distant relations or early Black Friday doorbusters this year, but at least we got to have a sense of normalcy during this pandemic by watching the Lions get eviscerated while preparing a turkey dinner.

Also, I’m convinced that if you eliminated the Lions from the NFL and didn’t replace them, it would take about three seasons before anyone outside the NFC North actually noticed. 

Even then, no one would care. This is a team that’s been around since the 1930s and has accomplished nothing of note since the 1950s other than driving generational talents to their breaking point and forcing them to retire while still in their prime. 

Even the Arizona Cardinals, who have almost no history to speak of despite being around since the 1920s, have made a Super Bowl and at least been exciting occasionally over the last decade and a half. 

The Lions are only still around because they can’t really go out of business and because they’re sort of grandfathered into the NFL. They’re like a 75-year-old dude on the board of a corporation who hasn’t contributed anything in 50 years, who falls asleep at all the meetings, but nobody really questions it because his great-great-grandpappy founded the company and he’s named after him and honestly he’s harmless anyway so you might as well just leave him alone.

Packers by 14 only because they get bored and Mike Pettine decides to rush 3 men for the entire second half while they’re up by 30.

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