The Packers changed their stripes this off-season by being extremely aggressive in free agency, operating in the hopes of maximizing the years that they have left with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
However, we have seen over the years that teams who draft the best are the most likely to rebound from a failed season; the 2017 Saints, 2017 Jaguars, and 2012 Seahawks are great examples of this trend. This is why this draft was extremely important for the Packers. Did they do enough to bounce back in 2019? I took an extensive look at their three-day haul to find out.
Struck Gold With: Jace Sternberger, Tight End, 3rd Round, Pick 75
It’s no secret that the Packers have been on an ongoing search for a tight end to replace Jermichael Finley that has lasted for years. Free agent signings like Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett, and Jimmy Graham didn’t pan out like they hoped, so they decided address the position the through the draft and selected Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Sternberger seems to be a perfect fit for the Packers’ offense. He is a prototypical U tight end, meaning he specializes in receiving. I expect Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur to use him in some of the same ways that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan uses George Kittle (as a receiver).
If this isn't on every @AggieFootball hype video until the end of time, something is seriously wrong. Jace Sternberger (@_Jstern) takes an Arkansas player's helmet and soul on this first down catch. Gets up ready to scrap on top of that. #12thman pic.twitter.com/nhfDg6Spbd
— Matt Trent (@MCTrent23) September 29, 2018
LaFleur comes from Shanahan’s coaching tree, meaning he runs a lot of stretch to play action bootleg passes. This is why Sternberger plugs in perfectly as that seam stretching tight end who can run those deep crossing routes. He also can split out wide and be used as a mismatch against linebackers.
Miller’s stab is vicious. Jace Sternberger found out hard way pic.twitter.com/74cYQXjGOQ
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) December 12, 2018
Sternberger doesn’t offer much as blocker, but the Packers didn’t need another blocking tight end. They needed another weapon for Aaron Rodgers and that’s exactly what they got.
Struck Out With: Rashan Gary, Edge Defender, 1st Round, Pick 12
The group think opinion on Rashan Gary was extremely divided. His supporters pointed to his phenomenal athletic testing numbers and potential, but his doubters religiously referred to his lack of production and lackluster tape.
I was somewhere in the middle of the Rashan Gary spectrum. I obviously was enticed by his physical traits, but I had some conditions that the team that drafted him would have to follow for me to fully embrace him.
One big issue for Rashan Gary is his struggles to disengage blockers. The first half of his pass rush looks great, but once he gets hands on the OL he looks lost. This will happen when you struggle to bend and don’t have a lot of counters. pic.twitter.com/VeOWj8vF19
— Brooks (@EBrooksUncut) April 22, 2019
As I mentioned before, Gary’s inconsistencies on tape was troubling, but my biggest concern with him was his lack of bend. He never showed that rare ability to turn through tight corners. His most impressive flashes occurred when he was rushing from the interior and the angles were linear.
Because of this, I thought Gary would have to be moved around the front according to the situation. Ideally, he should play on the edge on early downs and move inside on obvious passing downs. This way, his pass rush ability could be maximized (similarly to how the Patriots used Trey Flowers).
From everything that I have heard, the Packers intend to play Gary on the edge full-time as a stand up outside linebacker. This is the worst type of role for him. Like I said earlier, Gary’s flexibility limitations minimize his effectiveness as a pass rusher on the edge. And if they aren’t getting the most out of him as a pass rusher, then that is a bad value pick at 12.
I also don’t love the idea of him standing up. In a perfect world, I want him playing downhill with his hand in the dirt at all times to utilize his explosiveness (his best trait). So all in all, he is really just square peg in a round hole at 3-4 outside linebacker.
Additionally, my mind boggled once that the Packers took Gary over a guy like Brian Burns. Burns is just flat out better in my view, as he compliments what they already have and is a natural 3-4 outside linebacker.
Gary on the other hand, was going to need some time to develop wherever he played, but trying to make him something he’s not just doesn’t make much sense to me.
Rookie Playing Time Predictions
- Rashan Gary (Edge): Rotational player
- Darnell Savage (S): Day 1 impact starter
- Elgton Jenkins (OL): Backup/Eventual starter
- Jace Sternberger (TE): Rotational player
- Keke Kingsley (IDL): Rotational player
- Ka’dar Hollman (CB): Backup/Special Teams
- Dexter Williams (RB): Backup/Special Teams
- Ty Summers (LB): Backup/Special Teams
I actually liked the Packers’ draft, with the exception of Gary. However, I don’t believe it would be the driving factor of a Packers rebound season. They definitely added some solid players, but there isn’t a draft pick over whom I am losing sleep.
Number 12 remains the only Packer who keeps me up at night, and if Green Bay is going to bounce back, it’s going to be because of him. Would some of these rookies help in the process? Sure, but Aaron Rodgers is still undoubtedly the biggest threat to the Bears.
That said, the offseason addition that has the potential to help Rodgers the most is new head coach Matt LaFleur. I say this because Rodgers’s willingness to buy in seemed to be the problem with Mike McCarthy, so his relationship with LeFleur will be what makes or breaks the Packers moving forward.