Green Bay Packers Season Preview
NFC North - Green Bay Packers
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Round 1a – Edge rusher, Rashan Gary, Michigan
Round 1b – Safety, Darnell Savage, Maryland
Round 2 – Center, Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State
Round 3 – Tight end, Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Despite an impressive list of athletic abilities, edge rusher Rashan Gary did not come close to producing at the level his physical traits might have otherwise suggested while at Michigan. Relying more on strength and power than technique, Gary still has a lot to learn if he is to unleash his full potential at the professional level, but his propensity to take plays off is a concern. Selecting him with the 12th overall pick of the draft was an obvious gamble, but one that could prove to be a wise move in years to come. Gary will struggle early in the season if asked to be a day one starter and is more likely to brought on slowly throughout the year as part of the rotation up front.
Darnell Savage may yet prove to be the best pick of the 2019 NFL draft for the Packers, with the safety arguably one of the best prospects available at his position this year. A four-year starter at college, Savage appears to be equally comfortable in coverage as he is in run support. Seven interceptions during his last two years at Maryland also suggests he is something of a playmaker and someone who should find his way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Center Elgton Jenkins was another great value pick for Green Bay in round two, with the former Mississippi State product rated as a first-round talent by some scouts. But while Jenkins should not necessarily be expected to open the season as the starter, he will provide valuable depth at guard and center and is likely to be the first man up should any the starting interior offensive lineman suffer injuries.
As a natural receiver with decent speed and athleticism, tight end Jace Sternberger seems to have many of the skills needed to succeed at the professional level. But with only one season of any notable college production to speak of after transferring to Texas A&M from Kansas, he is far from the finished product. Sternberger will need to work on his talents as a blocker before he can think of assuming a starting role and given the veteran names ahead of him on the depth chart, it is doubtful he will see that much playing time as a rookie.
The decision to part ways with veteran linebacker Clay Mathews and to allow wide receiver Randall Cobb to leave during free agency might be the most significant moves of the offseason in terms of name recognition, but in terms of their production from 2018, their departures should not be too acutely felt.
The addition of pass rushers Za’Darius Smith from the Baltimore Ravens and Preston Smith from the Washington Redskins will more than make up for the loss of Matthews, while the signing of former Chicago Bears safety Adrian Amos is a notable upgrade in the secondary.
Away from the playing field, the dismissal of long-time head coach Mike McCarthy after 13 seasons in charge is the headline of the offseason in Green Bay. In his place, the Packers will turn to former Tennessee Titians offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. In a similar vain to many of the recent coaching hires around the league, LaFleur is another highly touted young coach whose has risen quickly through the ranks, but also someone with no previous history as a head coach at any level.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers reigns supreme in Green Bay on a roster full of relative youngsters by comparison. But while Davante Adams may have risen to the ranks of the elite at wide receiver by the end of the year, he is not quite at that level yet. Running back Aaron Jones is a promising young talent who could also make that leap this year if the new head coach intends running the ball as much as he did in Tennessee.
Jaire Alexander could be a star of the future at cornerback if he can improve on an impressive rookie season, while nose tackle Kenny Clark is the standout player along the defensive line.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari might be the Packers’ best player not named Aaron Rodgers and should be part of the conversation whenever the best pass protectors in the league are being discussed. As part of an offense line that contains right tackle Bryan Bulaga and center Corey Linsley, Green Bay has one of the more underrated units in the league.
Packers fans will be hoping for an improvement on back-to-back losing season in 2019 with a new head coach in charge, but in an increasingly competitive NFC North, Green Bay might not find it as easy to regain their crown as they might hope.
An improved front seven should help on defense, but it is reasonable to question where the extra help will be coming from on offense. The Packers will be relying on inexperienced options like Geronimo Allison and Marquez Vales-Scantling to take the next step at wide receiver if Rodgers is to excel again this year. The ability of free agent additions on defense to adapt to a new playbook will also be critical.
The entire offensive will be tasked with learning a new offense with LaFleur now in charge and it should not be presumed that it will be a smooth transition for all concerned either. Should it take the team too long to adapt, Green Bay could struggle to keep pace with the rest of the division. And if LaFleur is not quite the next young genius many have predicted, Rodgers could be looking to run another head coach out of town before the year is over.
The Packers should improve on their 6-9-1 record from 2018, but a win total of 9.5 games is too close to call. Green Bay has the feel of an 8-8 or 9-7 team this year, with the potential to be better if the defense plays up to their potential.
Oddschecker spokesperson Pete Watt: “It’s a new era in Green Bay, with Matt LaFleur taking the reins following the overdue dismissal of Mike McCarthy, having strengthened their defense in the draft.
“Rashan Gary shows a huge amount of raw potential but is certainly not the finished article yet; that said, his skills will improve a lacklustre pass rush and Packers fan should be confident of building on their total of six wins last year.”
Based on the 2018 record of their opponents, Green Bay will theoretically have the 14th ranked schedule in terms of difficulty in 2019. They will face teams that accumulated a combined record of 128-126-2 last season for a winning percentage of .504.
A season opener on the road against the Chicago Bears is not the easiest way to start the season, neither is a home opener against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. But with five of their eight home games coming before Week 8, it will be important for the Packers to start quickly if they have any hopes of being in contention for the division title come Week 17.