GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you want an overreaction from Green Bay Packers rookie camp, it’s this: It’s easy to see the 2021 draft class making a sudden impact.
And that’s not even comparing it to last year’s draft class. There might not have been a less-impactful group of draft picks than the one Green Bay assembled last year, with first-round quarterback Jordan Love and second-round running back AJ Dillon sitting third on their depth charts all season and third-round tight end Josiah Deguara missing most of his first year with a torn ACL. The nine draft picks from 2020 combined to start seven games, with fifth-round linebacker Kamal Martin leading the way with six. Only three were active for the NFC Championship Game.
For a team that’s fallen a step short of the Super Bowl the past two seasons, a sudden impact from more than a few members of this latest nine-man group could be just the ticket – so long as Love is watching and learning again behind Aaron Rodgers.
First-round cornerback Eric Stokes, he of the 4.29-second speed in the 40-yard dash, was glued to receiver Chris Blair and batted away a pass the first time he was tested on Friday.
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“He certainly looks impressive,” coach Matt LaFleur said after Friday’s rookie minicamp practice. “He’s got great size and length and the speed, you can really see that and you can tell he’s not too threatened by guys running by him, which is a huge advantage for defensive backs. It allows you to play really sticky coverage.”
Second-round center Josh Myers will get ample opportunities to replace fellow Ohio State standout Corey Linsley in the middle of Green Bay’s offensive line. Not that he would deliver any such bold proclamations following the first practice of his professional career.
“My mind-set right now is to just learn this playbook as fast as I can and to have the ability to be flexible and do the best job that I can and go wherever the coaches end up putting me,” Myers said. “If that’s at center, if that’s at guard, we’ll see. I’m just going to do everything that I can to be the best player that I can, and we’ll see where the cards fall at the end of it.”
Third-round receiver Amari Rodgers made a series of splash plays, whether it was on underneath routes or long balls. On his biggest play of Day 1, he beat rookie cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles deep for a touchdown.
Even though Green Bay led the NFL in scoring last year, Rodgers could potentially be the missing piece of the offensive puzzle. Rodgers was the 13th receiver off the board. At 5-foot-9 1/2, he was one of the shortest. At 212 pounds, he was the heaviest. With a muscular build, he should be a natural for the jet-sweep role that Tyler Ervin handled at the start of last season before he was injured. One of the best run-after-catch players in the nation at Clemson, his potential should have LaFleur’s creativity in overdrive.
“He’s a well-built kid,” LaFleur said. “He looks like a grown man. He’s got that big, running back-thick frame. Then you watch him run routes and he doesn’t move like most traditional running backs. So, we’re really excited about just the versatility he could potentially bring to our offense and also his contribution on special teams.”
If there’s strength in numbers, Green Bay’s offensive line depth should be a powerhouse with fourth-rounder Royce Newman and sixth-rounder Cole Van Lanen joining last year’s sixth-round triumvirate of Jon Runyan, Simon Stepaniak and Jake Hansen.
Fifth-round defensive tackle T.J. Slaton was an underachiever at Florida but has the size and athleticism to toughen Green Bay’s chronically soft run defense. Fifth-round cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles, with the quickness that showed up in him breaking up so many passes at Appalachian State, could compete for playing time in the slot. Sixth-round linebacker Isaiah McDuffie should help on special teams, if nothing else. Even with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon atop the depth chart, seventh-round running back Kylin Hill should get some opportunities at a punishing position.
“These guys are going to have to earn it,” LaFleur said. And he’s right. Stokes, as advertised, is grabby. None of the linemen have blocked anyone. Rodgers said the speed of the NFL game will be his biggest adjustment. Nonetheless, while it was obvious last year’s draft was more forward-thinking in nature, this year’s draft should provide an immediate lift to a strong roster.