GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ 11-man draft class arrived with high hopes for some sudden impact. So far, so pretty good.
Linebacker Quay Walker has been a Day 1 starter, the receivers have combined to catch nine touchdown passes and offensive lineman Zach Tom’s versatility has been as-advertised.
Here’s a progress report through 11 weeks.
First Round (22nd overall): LB Quay Walker
In 2017, the Packers could have selected outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Instead, they got cornerback Kevin King. With their choice of the top centers in 2021, the Packers could have picked Creed Humphrey. Instead, they went with Josh Myers.
This year, the Packers had their choice of the top off-the-ball linebacker prospects. They could have selected Utah’s Devin Lloyd. Instead, they took Georgia’s Quay Walker.
Lloyd was a consensus All-American following a spectacular senior season of eight sacks, 22 tackles for losses, 110 total tackles, four interceptions and 10 passes defensed. During his final three years, in which he played all 33 games, he piled up 249 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 43 TFLs, five interceptions and 13 PBUs.
Walker was a first-time starter as a senior, when he had 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackle for losses among his 67 tackles. In 52 career games, he broke up three passes (all as a senior) and had zero forced fumbles or interceptions. What Walker had was elite athleticism with a 4.52 in the 40 at 6-foot-3 3/4 vs. a respectable 4.66 in the 40 at 6-foot-2 3/4 for Lloyd.
While Ted Thompson botched Watt vs. King and Gutekunst perhaps botched Humphrey vs. Myers, it’s hard to quibble with the early returns on Walker vs. Lloyd.
Walker leads the entire rookie class with 82 tackles. He has added three passes defensed and two forced fumbles and, according to Pro Football Focus, missed seven tackles. Lloyd is second among linebackers and third overall with 72 tackles. He has made more plays on the ball than Walker with two interceptions and seven passes defensed but has missed 13 tackles.
Walker’s game has grown the past few weeks with veteran starter De’Vondre Campbell out with a knee injury. Having taken over the communication and every-down roles, he is coming off back-to-back strong performances.
“With my accent and how country it is, sometimes they don’t understand me,” Walker said before the Detroit game. “That’s about it. The calls, I try to say as best as I can and try to slow it down a little bit and get it out. But my accent sometimes makes it hard for people to understand me. That’s the only negative I have about me having the green dot is my accent. It’s hard for people to understand what I say sometimes because my words slur a lot from being Down South.”
The NFL has kept tackle data dating to 1987. The Packers’ rookie record for tackles was set by A.J. Hawk with 121 in 2006. Walker’s on pace to get 127.
First Round (28th overall): DT Devonte Wyatt
Devonte Wyatt hasn’t made much of an impact, though some of that is due to circumstances. He joined a defensive line led by established veterans Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed and including promising second-year player T.J. Slaton. With a ho-hum training camp and preseason, Wyatt failed to push his way into a bigger role.
The second of 19 defensive tackles off the board, he’s 13th in snaps. He’s contributed eight tackles, zero sacks and a couple pressures
“He has been a kid I think has gotten better every single week,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said recently. “His play is going to increase. And, obviously, the more you play, hopefully the more plays you make. He’s a young kid that’s just learning, learning how to be a pro, working, and that’s all we can ask for. Hopefully, with more opportunities there’s a chance for more splash plays.”
Second Round (34th overall): WR Christian Watson
It’s not often you see division rivals agree to trades. But that’s what the Packers did, sending Nos. 53 and 59 of the second round to the Vikings so they could move up to No. 34 and grab Christian Watson, the small-school star with the big-league skill-set.
Through almost no fault of his own, his rookie year had been a disappointment following offseason knee surgery, early-season hamstring issues and a midseason concussion. When he did play, the contributions were meager. Through nine games, he had 10 catches – half of those went for less than 10 yards – and had been involved in only two noteworthy plays: a 75-yard touchdown pass that slipped through his hands on the season-opening play at Minnesota and a touchdown run against New England.
The last two weeks, however, have hinted at stardom. After catching four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns vs. Dallas, Watson provided an encore of four catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns vs. Tennessee. His five touchdown catches in two games is second-most in NFL history by a rookie. He leads the rookie class with five touchdowns; he also leads with four drops, according to Pro Football Focus.
He needs more opportunities, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
“The answer is yes,” he said. “I think we’ve got to get the ball to our playmakers and he’s stepped up the last two games, the last five days. The over-the-shoulder catch opened up a whole new world of confidence for him. We caught them with too many on the field and I gave him a trust ball. Threw it up in the back of the end zone and he came down with it.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence. If you look at the week of practice prior to last Sunday, he had many drops really throughout practices for the season. The last few days, no drops. He caught everything today. Yes, we’ve got to give him the ball more.”
Third Round (92nd overall): G Sean Rhyan
A three-year starting left tackle at UCLA, Sean Ryan spent training camp at guard. It wasn’t a smooth transition, so this has been the professional equivalent of a redshirt season. He has played in only one game and logged just one snap – on special teams at Detroit.
“Sean, he's got a helmet on gameday, so anyone who does, you better be ready and be prepared to be a starter,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. “He’s a guy that’s progressing every week. He’s learning how to become a professional, learning what it takes to be successful in this league. He has a ways to go, yes, but I like how he’s coming along.”
Fourth Round (132nd overall): WR Romeo Doubs
A high-ankle sprain suffered on the first snap at Detroit in Week 9 has sidetracked what had been a promising rookie year for Romeo Doubs.
Through the first six games, Doubs was third in the rookie class with 22 receptions and first with a 75.9 percent catch rate. Then came the bumps in the road. Against the Jets in Week 6, he caught 4-of-9 passes for only 21 yards. At the Commanders in Week 7, he caught 0-of-4 passes with a couple drops. After catching four passes for 62 yards and one touchdown in Week 8 at Buffalo, he was hurt at Detroit.
The 19th receiver off the board, Doubs is fourth with 31 receptions, sixth with 314 yards, fourth with three touchdowns and second with 153 yards after the catch. With size, speed and mentality, he’s got a chance to be really good.
“You guys who’ve got to know him, he’s calm, cool and collected,” receivers coach and passing-game coordinator Jason Vrable said. “That’s how he plays out there. He loves ball. Since I met the kid when he came on his (predraft) visit, that’s the one thing I knew from him. I’m like, ‘This kid truly loves football, above everything else.’ He prepared, he had a great offseason. I know you guys always talk about how he’s making some plays in practice, and it was the truth. You could see it, you could feel it from him. I told him it was only a matter of time before you start climbing.”
Fourth Round (140th overall): OL Zach Tom
Zach Tom arrived for rookie camp with a lofty goal.
“I want to be able to play all five positions,” Tom said. That versatility sounded familiar. “I know about Elgton (Jenkins),” Tom said. “I know he can play all five positions.”
Tom hasn’t played all five positions in a game but there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t do it at an acceptable level. Through the first 11 games, Tom played 96 snaps at left guard, 86 at left tackle and 13 at right guard. He played center in college, so that would be a no-brainer.
Stenavich thought the interior spots would be Tom’s ultimate home. Regardless of whether he ever wins a starting job, a jack of all trades who isn’t a master of none is incredibly valuable, as he showed by starting at a moment’s notice at left tackle vs. Washington and left guard vs. Buffalo.
“He doesn’t have your typical tackle body with the length and all that stuff,” Stenavich said. “He’s very athletic, he’s stout, he’s more physical than you think in the run game. Very intelligent. I think inside would probably be his best position as his career progresses. But he’s shown to be all right on the edge, too. He has that versatility to do everything.”
Fifth Round (179th overall): OLB Kingsley Enagbare
Where would the Packers be without Kingsley Enagbare? The Packers could have taken Purdue’s George Karlaftis with the second of their first-round picks. They needed an outside linebacker considering how last year’s backups contributed next to nothing. Instead, general manager Brian Gutekunst waited until the fifth round to get Kingsley Enagbare, a productive player at South Carolina who tested horribly at the Combine and pro day.
When Rashan Gary suffered a torn ACL at Detroit, Enagbare was thrust into the starting lineup. He’s a player on the rise.
Through five games, Enagbare had three tackles, zero sacks, zero pressures and zero tackles for losses. The last six games, he recorded nine tackles, two sacks, 11 pressures and four tackles for losses.
According to PFF, the Big Ten duo of Aidan Hutchinson (first round, Lions, 31 pressures) and Karlaftis (first round, Chiefs, 28 pressures) lead the rookie class in pressures. Enagbare is eighth with 11 but has as many as Drake Jackson (second round, 49ers).
“It’s definitely a confidence thing,” Enagbare said recently. “Like I tell some of the guys who might not be confident now, I tell them for me, it started off with preseason, I really didn’t go against any starters. For me, it was whether or not I can play versus the starters. ‘Can I hold my own?’ As the season went on, it started with holding my own to ‘Can I make plays against those guys?’ It went from that to, ‘How consistently can I do it?’ Now, it’s, ‘Can I start dominating guys.’”
Seventh Round (228th overall): S Tariq Carpenter
At 6-foot-2 7/8, 230 pounds and 4.47 speed in the 40, Carpenter is a “big ball of Play-Doh.” So far, his rookie season has been relegated to special teams, where he’s played 59 snaps in eight appearances. He has a tackle on kickoff coverage each of the last two weeks. The one vs. Dallas stopped explosive KaVontae Turpin at the 12 in the fourth quarter.
Seventh Round (234th overall): DT Jonathan Ford
It’s been hard for first-rounder Devonte Wyatt to get on the field; it’s been impossible for Jonathan Ford. He has not played in 11 games.
Seventh Round (249th overall): OT Rasheed Walker
Having drafted Sean Rhyan in the third round and Zach Tom in the fourth, the Packers weren’t in the market for another lineman as the draft came to a close. But, as general manager Brian Gutekunst said at the time, “We didn’t really see Rasheed falling where he did and, at some point, we kind of thought it was worth it.”
A three-year starting left tackle at Penn State, injuries stunted his growth during training camp. When he did practice, offensive line coach Luke Butkus was incredibly hard on Walker. Either he didn’t like him or he saw a lot of potential that needed some tough love. If not for a really good performance vs. Kansas City in the final preseason game, Walker might not have made the team. He has not played.
Seventh Round (258th overall): WR Samori Toure
With short- and long-term needs at receiver, the Packers used their final choice on Samori Toure, a star at Montana who transferred to Nebraska for his senior year.
Toure was given the nickname “Capt. Casual” for being too nonchalant during training camp. That earned him a spot on the inactives list for the first six games. Taking heed of the message sent by coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Toure showed heightened urgency. Thrown into the fire, Toure caught a 37-yard touchdown at Buffalo and made an acrobatic 32-yard grab at Detroit that gave the Packers a chance to win. He played only four snaps compared to 22 for Sammy Watkins vs. Tennessee.
“We’ve got to definitely rotate into the mix a little bit more,” LaFleur said on Friday.