Two off-seasons ago, the Packers made the decision to move up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select a potential franchise quarterback of the future in Jordan Love, rather than adding a supporting player around Rodgers or a defensive player, after falling short in the NFC Championship game the prior year. If the Packers thought Rodgers was on the decline, the move made sense, going into Rodgers’ age 37 season in 2020, but if the Packers thought that, they thought wrong, as Rodgers as bounced back with back-to-back MVP campaigns, having arguably the best two-year stretch of his Hall of Fame campaign, completing 69.8% of his passes for an average of 7.98 YPA, 85 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions combined across the two seasons, while going 26-6 in the regular season and finishing 1st and 4th among quarterbacks on PFF in the two seasons respectively.
Normally, Rodgers’ high level of play would be a good thing, but the Packers have failed to get it done in the playoffs in either season and the decision to select Rodgers’ replacement led to a rocky relationship between him and the front office, leading to Rodgers demanding a trade and threatening retirement last off-season, putting the team in a very tough position. Making matters worse, Jordan Love has failed to develop behind the scenes, leaving the Packers without a viable replacement if they had accommodated Rodgers’ request. Rodgers ultimately returned in 2021, but with the understanding that he would get future concessions this off-season, including potentially the accommodation of his trade request.
It seemed like Rodgers might request a trade to an organization where he felt he had a better chance to win, especially with #1 wide receiver Davante Adams seemingly likely to be elsewhere long-term, unhappy with being franchise tagged by the Packers. However, instead the only concessions Rodgers got out of his holdout was more money, becoming the highest paid quarterback in the league in terms of average annual average on a 3-year, 150.815 million dollar extension that is functionally fully guaranteed, keeping him in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. That’s despite the fact that Adams was traded to the Raiders for a first and a second round pick, with Adams preferring to play with his college teammate Derek Carr long-term over Rodgers, who is now in his age 39 season and has openly contemplated retirement.
Overall, it doesn’t seem like Rodgers got much out of his staring contest with the front office outside of more money and, while Adams may have left either way, Rodgers’ perpetual wishy-washiness about his future probably in some way contributed to Adams feeling that he would be off better elsewhere long-term. Rodgers still should remain one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but at his age, he probably won’t quite match his level of play from the past two seasons, even though he would probably need to elevate his level of play for this offense to be as good as they have been the past two seasons (5th and 4th in efficiency rating), to make up for the loss of his top receiver.
Jordan Love remains as the backup, but he doesn’t seem to have any long-term future in Green Bay and likely would have been traded this off-season if the Packers could have gotten a good offer for him. Love made his first career start in Rodgers’ absence last season and played the second half of their meaningless week 18 game against the Lions, but he didn’t show much, completing just 58.1% of his passes for an average of 6.63 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, leading the Packers to two of their four losses all season.
Love could still have untapped upside and could be a better backup this season, but with Rodgers now under contract significantly longer than Love, it’s likely that if Love ever gets a chance to be a full-time starter it will be elsewhere. Rodgers has also stayed mostly healthy throughout his career, only missing multiple games twice in 14 seasons as a starter. Needless to say, Rodgers continuing to stay healthy is key to the Packers’ ultimate goals this season, though Love could potentially hold down the fort for a few games if needed if he takes a step forward as a quarterback.
It wasn’t just Davante Adams leaving this off-season, after finishing 1st among wide receivers in overall grade on PFF and totaling a 123/1553/11 slash line with 2.82 yards per route run, as the Packers also lost fellow starter Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who only had a 26/430/3 slash line, but that’s largely due to the fact that he missed 6 games with injury and he still averaged a decent 1.43 yards per route run. The Packers also didn’t find any obvious replacements for Adams this off-season, only taking a veteran flyer on Sammy Watkins and adding a trio of wide receivers in the draft, 2nd round pick Christian Watson, 4th round Romeo Doubs, 7th round Samori Toure, who have varying upside, but are not necessarily likely to contribute in a big way right away.
Those four newcomers will compete for roles with a few holdovers, Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, who saw significant roles last season, and Amari Rodgers, a 2021 3rd round pick who couldn’t break into a weak depth chart as a rookie, playing just 103 offensive snaps, but who still has upside long-term. Cobb has by far the most experience playing with Aaron Rodgers in this offense, spending the first 8 years of his career in Green Bay from 2011-2018, before spending a year each in Dallas and Houston and returning to the Packers in the 2021 season.
Cobb averaged 1.68 yards per route run in his first stint in Green Bay and 1.49 yards per route run last season, but he only had a 28/375/5 slash line last season because he only played 371 snaps last season as a slot only option who missed 5 games with injury. Cobb also now heads into his age 32 season, having missed 19 games over the past 4 seasons combined, so he’s not a reliable option and probably won’t be more than a role player in this offense, even with plenty of opportunity opening up with Adams and Valdes-Scantling departing.
Lazard finished second on this team in receiving last season, with both Valdes-Scantling and Cobb missing significant time with injury, and the 2018 undrafted free agent is now heading into his 5th year with the team, after being re-signed this off-season. He has a good chance to take on a much bigger role this season, but he also only re-signed for 1-year, 3.986 million, so he isn’t locked into a role and he hasn’t been all that impressive thus far in his career, with his 40/513/8 slash line last season being a career high in receiving yardage. Lazard also averaged just 1.19 yards per route run to get to those totals in 2021 and, while his career average of 1.47 yards per route run is better, it’s still middling at best. Last season was also the biggest role of his career, with just 716 snaps played and 60 targets both being career highs, and he’s a projection to an even larger role.
Most likely, Lazard will compete for the primary outside receiving roles with Christian Watson, the highest drafted and most talented of their draft picks, and Sammy Watkins, with Cobb as the primary slot receiver and Amari Rodgers and the other young receivers providing depth with upside. Watkins also only signed a 1-year, 1.85 million dollar deal this off-season though, which suggests he’s also not guaranteed a role.
Watkins once looked like was going to be one of the best wide receivers in the league for years to come, getting drafted 4th overall in 2014 and averaging 2.29 yards per route run with a 66/1016/7 slash line per 16 games in his first three seasons in the league. He missed 11 games between his 2nd and 3rd season in the league though, including 8 with a broken foot during his 3rd season in 2016, and he hasn’t been the same since, getting traded before the 2017 season, and averaging just 1.32 yards per route run in 5 seasons since, despite playing on some great offenses with the Rams, Chiefs, and Ravens. Injuries have remained a problem as well, missing at least some time in all five of those seasons, meaning his last full season was his rookie year.
Watkins is also coming off the worst season of his career from a receiving yardage standpoint, averaging 1.45 yards per route run, managing just a 27/394/1 slash line in 13 games, and getting phased out of the offense down the stretch, with his last catch coming in week 13. Watkins is still only going into his age 29 season, but it’s unlikely he has any upside remaining at this point. He could be productive due to volume in a wide open position group, but the Packers also are likely to spread the ball around to a bunch of receivers and Watkins is unlikely to be all that efficient either way.
With an unsettled group at wide receiver, the Packers could lean more on the tight end position in 2022, but their options are underwhelming at tight end as well. Robert Tonyan had a 52/586/11 slash line as Rodgers’ primary receiving tight end in 2020, averaging 1.58 yards per route run, but the 2017 undrafted free agent was a one-year starter and he was not in the middle of the same kind of season (1.06 yards per route run) when he suffered a torn ACL last year, ending his season and reportedly having him questionable for the start of this season. Even if he is ready for week 1, the chances of him bouncing back to his 2020 form are slim, having only shown that level of play for a full season once in his career, coming off of a significant injury.
Josiah Deguara was their primary receiving tight end in Tonyan’s absence last season and would remain in that role if Tonyan missed more time. Deguara was a 3rd round pick in 2020, so he also could see a role even if Tonyan is able to return for the start of the season, but Deguara wasn’t overly impressive in the first significant action of his career last season, averaging just 1.13 yards per route run and finishing as PFF’s 35th ranked tight end out of 44 eligible across 367 snaps. He could be better in year three, but I wouldn’t expect him to suddenly break out as a starting caliber tight end.
Veteran Marcedes Lewis also had an expanded role in the passing game without Tonyan last season and was actually decent, averaging 1.45 yards per route run, but that is his highest single season average since 2010, so it’s unlikely to happen again. Lewis is also heading into his age 38 season, though the big 6-6 270 pounder has yet to show many signs of declining further over the past few seasons, showing little pass catching ability, but remaining one of the better blocking specialists in the league.
A significant drop off for Lewis is always a possibility considering his age, which would be a blow to this offense because they don’t have a good alternative run blocker, but Lewis also could just as easily remain a good blocking specialist. This is a very unsettled receiving corps, but there is some upside here and, even without anything resembling a true #1 receiver, Aaron Rodgers will probably make the most out of this group, spreading the ball around to multiple receivers.
Running backs also figure to be a big part of the Packers’ passing game, possibly even more so than a year ago, when they attempted 106 passes to running backs, converting them into 79 catches. Aaron Jones was the Packers’ feature back in 2019 and 2020 and was their primary pass catching back in 2021, playing the majority of the passing snaps and totaling a 52/391/6 slash line with 1.24 yards per route run, but their other running back AJ Dillon was actually the one who led this team in carries (187 vs. 171 for Jones) and he had a significant passing game role as well, averaging 1.57 yards per route run, significantly more efficient than Jones, while totaling a 34/313/2 slash line.
Jones was re-signed by the Packers as a free agent last off-season on a 4-year, 48 million dollar deal that makes him the 7th highest paid running back in the league, after averaging 5.17 YPC on 651 carries and averaging 1.21 yards per route run across his first four seasons with the team that drafted him in the 5th round in 2018, but Dillon was a 2nd round pick in 2020 and, while he was drafted at a time when Jones’ long-term future with the team was in doubt, he has more than earned at least an equal share of the carries with Jones. Dillon’s 4.30 YPC was below Jones’ 4.67 YPC average in 2021, but Dillon consistently ran in tougher running situations and kept the offense on schedule more often, leading the league with a 63% carry success rate, with Jones ranked 32nd at 50%.
Overall, Dillon finished his second season in the league as PFF’s 3rd ranked running back, while Jones ranked 6th in his own right, his 3rd season in the top-6 among running backs on PFF in five seasons in the league (top-15 all in all 5 seasons). Dillon didn’t have much of a role as a rookie and is still relatively inexperienced, but he was highly efficient as a rookie as well and his lack of touches thus far in his career could help him stay fresher long-term, especially with Jones still around to split the workload with him. This tandem should be very effective together this season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Dillon took over a larger workload, especially on passing downs, where he showed a lot of promise last season.
Depth isn’t a huge need at this position because either Jones or Dillon are capable of being the feature back for a few games if the other is injured, but the 3rd running back job is likely to go to either 2021 7th round pick Kylin Hill, who had 10 carries as a rookie, or 2020 undrafted free agent Patrick Taylor, who had the first 23 carries of his career last season, making them the only other running backs on this roster with any NFL experience. Still, this is one of the best backfields in the league, given the two backs atop the depth chart.
If there is a good reason to expect the Packers to remain as good on offense as they were last season even without Adams, it’s the Packers’ offensive line, which was a weakness last season, primarily due to the fact that they were arguably the most injury plagued offensive line in the league. Already without center Corey Linsley from the year before, replacing the departed free agent and PFF’s #1 ranked center in 2020 with a 2nd round rookie Josh Myers, the Packers also were without left tackle David Bakhtiari for most of the season while he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered before last year’s playoffs, limiting him to only 27 snaps in a meaningless week 18 game in 2021, struggling so much in that game that he was inactive in the post-season, despite being a top-11 offensive tackle on PFF in the previous 4 seasons, including three finishes in the top-2.
On top of that, Josh Myers missed most of the season with an injury of his own, limited to 293 snaps in 6 games, forcing expected starting guard Lucas Patrick to move to center, where he finished 33rd out of 41 eligible at the position, while fellow expected starting guard Elgton Jenkins moved to left tackle in Bakhtiari’s absence and had been excelling, ranking 12th among offensive tackles on PFF in 8 starts, prior to suffering a torn ACL of his own, which puts his status for the start of 2022 in doubt. With right tackle Billy Turner missing four games of his own this season, the Packers routinely started 3-4 players every week that they were expecting to be backups or that they were expecting to start at a different position.
Jenkins, Bakhtiari, and Myers all should see more action this season than the year before, but this is still an unsettled group. Bakhtiari and Myers will likely go back into their starting roles at left tackle and center respectively. Bakhtiari is unlikely to be as good as he has been in the past, coming off of a significant injury, now heading into his age 31 season, but his return should still be a big boost for this offense, while Myers showed some potential as a rookie and could develop into a solid full-time starter in his second season in the league, which would made him an obvious upgrade on Lucas Patrick, who struggled for most of last season and is no longer with the team.
Whenever he returns, Jenkins could kick back inside to guard, where he finished 20th and 25th at the position across 14 starts and 16 starts in the 2019 2nd round’s first two seasons in the league respectively, or he could stay at tackle where he was having the best year of his career pre-injury and move over to the right side, replacing departed free agent Billy Turner, who earned a slightly above average grade from PFF across his 13 starts. Wherever Jenkins ends up, he should be at least an above average starter, but he could miss time and it’s very possible he isn’t 100% when he returns.
If Jenkins moves back inside, Yosuah Nijman, who made 8 starts at left tackle last season when Baktiari and Jenkins were both out, would likely then be the right tackle. Nijman was decent in his starts last season, but he is still just a 2019 undrafted free agent who had never made a start in his career prior to last season, so he would be a projection to a full-time starting role, even if he could still ultimately wind up as a capable starter. If Jenkins stays outside, the starting guards will likely remain Royce Newman and Jon Runyan, who both made 16 starts at guard last season, with Jenkins moving to left tackle and getting hurt and Lucas Patrick moving to center.
Runyan, a 2020 6th round pick, earned a slightly above average grade from PFF in his first full season as a starter and will likely remain a starting guard in 2022 regardless of what happens elsewhere on the line, with Newman being much more likely to move to the bench if Jenkins moves back inside than Runyan is. Runyan is still unproven and wasn’t drafted highly, so he might not have a huge upside and could regress a little in 2022, but he also could remain a solid starter long-term. Newman also has some upside, but the 2021 4th round pick struggled as a rookie, finishing 70th out of 90 eligible guards on PFF, and would probably be best as a backup.
The Packers also added Sean Rhyan and Cameron Tom in the 3rd and 4th round of this year’s draft and, while Rhyan was a collegiate tackle and Tom played both tackle and center in college, both could project best as guards long-term. It’s unlikely either seriously pushes for a starting job as a rookie though, barring injuries or significant struggles ahead of them on the depth chart, but they could still provide valuable, versatile depth, much needed on an offensive line with several key players coming off of injury. This should be a much better group by default than last year, just as a result of their improved health, even if they probably still don’t have the same upside as a unit as they had in 2020.
The Packers were healthier on defense than offense in 2021, having the 7th fewest adjusted games lost to injury on defense, as opposed to the 8th most on offense, mostly concentrated on the offensive line. However, the few injuries the Packers had on defense impacted some of their best players, including edge defender Za’Darius Smith, who was PFF’s 15th ranked edge defender in 2020 and their 2nd ranked edge defender in 2019, but played just 18 snaps last season before going down for the season with a back injury.
The Packers actually got good play in his absence though, with Rashan Gary and Preston Smith finishing 5th and 13rd respectively among edge defenders on PFF across 681 snaps and 688 snaps respectively, playing well enough that the Packers decided to part ways with Smith this off-season, releasing him ahead of a 15.75 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for his age 30 season in 2022. Some of that money went towards extending Smith on a 4-year, 52 million dollar deal, ahead of what would have been the final year of his contract in 2022, while some will likely eventually go to Gary, a 2019 1st round pick in the final cheap year of his rookie deal, owed 10.892 million guaranteed in 2023 and then likely due a significant raise on a long-term extension beyond that.
Both players could struggle to repeat their 2021 season though, given that they were the highest finishes of their careers on PFF. Smith is an experienced player, playing 748 snaps per season in 7 seasons in the league and earning an average or better grade from PFF in 6 of his 7 seasons in the league, but his previous best finish among edge defenders came when he finished 22nd in 2018, he’s now going into his age 30 season, and he actually had the worst season of his career as recently as 2020, when he was PFF’s 108th ranked edge defender among 124 eligible, so I would expect him to regress in 2022, possibly significantly, even if he is still likely to remain at least a solid starter, as he has been for most of his career.
Gary has a higher upside, as a recent high upside first round pick who is only in his age 26 season, but he’s much less proven, earning more middling grades from PFF on snap counts of just 244 and 456 respectively in his first two seasons in the league prior to last season’s breakout year. It’s possible he’s permanently turned a corner and will remain an elite edge defender or possibly even improve further, but he also could regress a little and find last season’s performance tough to repeat. He’s still likely to be an above average player either way though and he and Smith still made a good duo, even if they’re not likely to be as good together as they were a year ago.
Depth becomes the concern with Za’Darius Smith gone. Jonathan Garvin (396 snaps) and Tipa Galeai (152 snaps) were their top reserves a year ago, but they were just a 7th round pick and undrafted free agent respectively in 2020 and did not show much in the first notable action of their careers in 2021, so they are underwhelming options if one of their starters gets hurt. Without better options, however, those two will likely remain the top reserves, along with possibly Kingsley Enagbare, a 5th round rookie who would likely be too raw to see significant action in year one. With the starters likely to not be as good as a year ago and the reserves being a questionable bunch, this isn’t an elite position group, but Smith and Gary are still at least a solid edge defender duo with a high upside.
The Packers lost reserve interior defenders Tyler Lancaster (318 snaps) and Kinglsey Keke (393 snaps) this off-season and Lancaster was a solid base package run stopper, while Keke was a solid sub package rusher, totaling 6.5 sacks, 6 hits, and a 8.6% pressure rate in a part-time role in 27 games over the past two seasons, so those aren’t insignificant losses. However, the Packers have done a good job adding replacements for them this off-season and probably have a more talented position group overall as a result.
The biggest addition they made was first round pick Devante Wyatt, who has a huge upside and should have a significant role immediately as a rookie. The Packers also signed veteran Jarran Reed to a 1-year, 4 million dollar deal in free agency and he figures to have a significant role as well. Reed has been a solid pass rusher through his 6-year career, with 24.5 sacks, 49 hits, and a 7.1% pressure rate in 89 career games, but his run defense has always left something to be desired, he’s never finished higher than 71st among interior defenders on PFF for a season, he’s now going into his age 30 season, and he’s coming off of a down 2021 campaign, in which he continued struggling against the run, but also managed just a 6.2% pressure rate and finished as PFF’s 122nd ranked interior defender overall out of 146 eligible across 711 snaps.
Last season was the worst season of Reed’s career and he’s not necessarily going to be that bad again in 2022, but his best days are almost definitely behind him, and he isn’t much more than a decent rotational player at this point in his career, unlikely to see that same snap count in a deeper position group with the Packers. The Packers could also get more in 2022 out of 2021 5th round pick Tedarrell Slaton, who played 255 nondescript snaps in his rookie season as a reserve and who could be better in year two, even if his snap count remains around the same.
The Packers’ off-season additions most likely come at the expense of Dean Lowry’s playing time, with Lowry probably unlikely to see the 652 snaps per season he’s seen over the past four years. Lowry hasn’t been bad over that 4-year stretch though, holding up against the run and consistently rushing the passer, totaling 11 sacks, 10 hits, and a 7.7% pressure rate in 67 games, while earning at least an average grade from PFF in all four seasons, with his best years coming in 2018 (46th) and last season (36th). Still only in his age 28 season, having only ever missed one game due to injury in his career, Lowry figures to continue being a useful player in a rotational role in 2022, which could be his final season with the team, set to hit free agency next off-season, with the Packers seemingly drafting his long-term replacement in Devante Wyatt.
Kenny Clark was the Packers’ leader in snaps played at the position was 781 last season and he should have a similar snap count in 2022, even in a deeper position group, as he is one of their best overall defensive players and is too valuable to take off the field regularly. A first round pick in 2016, Clark became a starter in his 2nd season in the league and has not looked back, finishing 10th, 9th, 13th, 30th, and 15th among interior defenders across the past five seasons respectively on an average of 730 snaps per season, playing the run at a high level at 6-3 315 and also adding 22.5 sacks, 27 hits, and a 10.7% pressure rate in 73 games over that stretch. Still only in his age 27 season, with minimal injury history (8 games missed in 6 seasons in the league), I see no reason to expect anything different from him in 2022. He leads a position group that overall looks more talented than a year ago and could have a big upside, depending on how much of an impact the rookie Devante Wyatt has in year one.
The most surprising part of this defense last year and the biggest reason they were able to have a similar defensive performance in 2021 as they did in 2020 (16th in defensive efficiency in 2020, 17th in 2021) was the addition of De’Vondre Campbell, who was only signed to a 1-year, 2 million dollar deal in free agency, but who wound up playing at a high level as an every down player at a position that was a big weakness the year prior, finishing 3rd among off ball linebackers on PFF across 987 snaps.
That performance really came out of nowhere as it’s not as if Campbell was some unproven young player. Selected in the 4th round in 2016, Campbell had started 70 of the 75 games he played in his first 5 seasons in the league prior to last season, but he never finished higher than 31st among off ball linebackers on PFF in any of those seasons, doing so way back in 2017, while finishing 73rd out of 99 eligible off ball linebackers across 880 snaps as recently as the 2020 season, before suddenly breaking out as one of the best players in the league at his position in his 6th season in the league.
Given that, it’s reasonable to be skeptical that Campbell can repeat that performance or even come close to it in 2022, now in his age 29 season, but there’s no denying he’s earned the opportunity to continue playing every down and there’s a good chance he remains at least a solid player in that role, even if he is very unlikely to have an elite level season again. The Packers clearly agree he can be an every down player for them for at least the next couple years, giving him a huge raise ahead of free agency this off-season, making him the 11th highest paid off ball linebacker in the league in average annual salary on a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal that effectively guarantees him 21.5 million over the next two seasons.
With Campbell being unlikely to match last season’s performance, the Packers will need more from the rest of this linebacking corps, which remained a weakness last season, with Krys Barnes (526 snaps) and Oren Burks (206 snaps) finishing 62nd and 55th respectively among 101 eligible off ball linebackers as their top off ball linebackers after Campbell. However, the Packers addressed that need in a big way this off-season, using their other first round pick on Quay Walker, who figures to start and play a significant role opposite Campbell.
Walker could have some growing pains as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade on Barnes, a 2020 undrafted free agent who also struggled as a rookie (86th out of 99 eligible on 421 snaps) and now will be a reserve, and Walker has a sky high upside long-term as well. Campbell probably won’t be as good as a year ago and depth is still a concern beyond the starters, but Campbell and Walker are one of the few starting off ball linebacker duos who both could be above average in an every down role.
Along with Za’Darius Smith, another key player who missed significant time with injury on this defense in 2021 was top cornerback Jaire Alexander, who was limited to just 219 snaps in 4 games by a shoulder injury. Like Smith, Alexander was one of the best players in the league at his position prior to the injury, being selected in the first round in 2018, finishing 32nd and 26th among cornerbacks on PFF in his first two seasons in the league, and then breaking out with a #1 finish among cornerbacks in 2020. Alexander also looked on his way to a similar season in 2021 before his injury, ranking 8th among cornerbacks on PFF at the time he got hurt.
Unlike the aging Smith, who the Packers moved on from this off-season, Alexander is still in the prime of his career, going into his age 25 season, so he obviously wasn’t going anywhere this off-season, in fact being kept long-term on a 4-year, 84 million dollar extension ahead of what would have been the final year of his rookie deal in 2022. That contract makes Alexander the highest paid cornerback in the league in average annual value, but he’s proven to be an elite cornerback when healthy and he has only missed 4 games in 3 seasons aside from last season, so he could easily prove to be a good value on that contract, especially as other top cornerbacks get paid and push him down the average annual value list.
The Packers actually got pretty good play in Alexander’s absence last season from another unlikely source, Rasul Douglas, who, like De’Vondre Campbell, had a breakout season out of nowhere. A 3rd round pick in 2017, Douglas had mostly been a part-time player throughout his career, earning mostly middling grades from PFF and finishing as PFF’s 71st ranked cornerback out of 136 eligible across a career high 821 snaps in 2020, before breaking out as PFF’s 19th ranked cornerback across 680 snaps in Alexander’s absence last season.
Douglas is only in his age 27 season and has a better chance to just be a late bloomer than Campbell, but there’s also a good chance he regresses significantly from a year ago. He could still be a useful player though and was not a bad re-signing on a 3-year, 21 million dollar deal. With Alexander returning, Douglas is more of a replacement for Chandon Sullivan, who struggled across 826 snaps last season, finishing 110th out of 134 eligible cornerbacks on PFF, meaning Douglas is likely to be an upgrade.
Second year cornerback Eric Stokes also remains and will start outside opposite Alexander, to give the Packers a top-3 of Alexander, Stokes, and Douglas. Stokes was a little inconsistent as a rookie, but the 2020 1st round pick still earned a slightly above average grade overall from PFF and has the upside to be a high-level cornerback long-term. Development is not always linear, but it shouldn’t be a surprise at all if he takes a significant step forward in year two.
The Packers should have a good top-3 cornerback trio, but depth looks like a big concern, with fellow experienced players Isaac Yiadom and Kevin King following Chandon Sullivan out the door this off-season. None of those players showed much last season, but they were at least experienced, which is more than you can say about the Packers’ reserves this season, with their top reserve candidates being 2021 5th round pick Shemar Jean-Charles, who played just 38 snaps as a rookie, primarily at safety, and Keisean Nixon, a 2019 undrafted free agent who has played just 273 snaps in three seasons in the league and who was only added this off-season after being waived by the Raiders. It’s a concerning situation with Alexander coming off of a significant injury and Douglas having a history of inconsistency.
At safety, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage remain as the starters, both having been starters since joining the team before the 2019 season. Amos was a free agent acquisition and has proven to be a great value on a 4-year, 36 million dollar deal, only being the 10th highest paid safety in the league in average annual value as of this writing and finishing 17th, 2nd, and 19th among safeties on PFF, continuing the high level of play he showed in his final two seasons in Chicago prior to signing with the Packers, when he finished 3rd and 10th respectively among safeties on PFF. Still only in his age 29 season, having shown no signs of slowing down and having only missed 4 games in 7 seasons in the league, Amos seems likely to continue his usual level of play in 2022.
Savage, on the other hand, was a first round pick and has given the Packers mixed results, starting all 46 games he has played in three seasons in the league, but going from a middling grade as a rookie, to a 10th ranked finish among safeties in what seemed like a breakout year two, to a career worst 69th out of 98 eligible safeties in his third season in the league in 2021, when he allowed a career high in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, while recording a career low amount of run stops. Savage is only in his age 25 season and still has time to develop into a consistently above average safety long-term, so I would expect him to be better than a year ago, but it’s possible he’s only better by default and doesn’t approach his 2020 level of play in 2022.
Depth is also a concern at safety, with top reserve Henry Black, also an occasional coverage linebacker in sub packages, signing with the Giants this off-season, leaving Vernon Scott, a 2020 7th round pick who has played just 90 career snaps, and 7th round rookie Tariq Carpenter as their top reserve options, with hybrid cornerback/safety Shemar Jean-Charles also a candidate for a reserve role, all of whom would almost definitely struggle if an injury pushed them into the starting lineup for an extended period of time. The Packers have a good starting five in the secondary, but depth is a concern across the board, which hurts this group’s overall grade.
Special teams was the Packers’ biggest problem a year ago, ranking dead last in special teams DVOA, and, while they could be a little better by default this season, things don’t look noticeably different. In fact, one of the few changes to this group this off-season was the departure of their top core special teamer Henry Black, their only core special teamer to finish in the top-50 at his position on PFF and someone who was not replaced this off-season.
Punter Corey Bojorquez has been replaced with Pat O’Donnell, but that is a lateral move, as O’Donnell has underwhelmed throughout his 8 seasons in the league with the Bears, including a 24th ranked finish out of 35 eligible punters on PFF last season. Mason Crosby returns after being one of the worst kickers in the league in 2021, finishing 31st among 36 eligible kickers on PFF. He’s been better in the past, with last year being his lowest PFF grade of his 15-year NFL career, but he’s also in his age 38 season now and could continue to struggle. The Packers’ return game was also an issue a year ago and, without better supporting play, that is likely to continue to be the case in 2022, unless second year returner Amari Rodgers can take a big step forward this season. Any way you look at it, this is likely to be one of the worst special teams in the league again this season.
The Packers were likely to see their win total regress regardless in 2022, needing to go 6-3 in games decided by 8 points or fewer to go 13-4 last season, finishing with just a +79 point differential (10th in the NFL) and a 11th ranked overall efficiency. A high winning percentage in close games is tough to sustain long-term, with even Aaron Rodgers winning just 56.6% of the games he has played in his career which have been decided by 8 points or fewer. However, on top of that, the Packers will be dealing with the loss of Davante Adams on offense, while Rodgers is now going into his age 39 season and would have been unlikely to repeat two of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career even if Adams didn’t leave.
The Packers will get key players like David Bakhtiari and Jaire Alexander back from injury, while Elgton Jenkins will likely return at some point, even if not week 1, but they also have players like De’Vondre Campbell, Preston Smith, and Rasul Douglas who could struggle to repeat by far the best season of their careers. This is still a strong team on paper, with a quarterback who is likely to be one of the best in the league even if he isn’t quite MVP caliber again, but their Super Bowl chances seem worse than a year ago. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.
Final Prediction: The Packers are still likely to win the NFC North, but their issues in the receiving corps could easily prevent them from obtaining a high seed in the NFC and going on a deep run in the post-season.
Prediction: 10-7, 1st in NFC North