With the 2021 NFL Draft rapidly approaching, the Green Bay Packers will try to hammer home some picks that make an immediate impact this year to stay in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy. But oftentimes it takes a bit of time for players to adjust their game to the NFL level, and the real jumps can sometimes be made from Year 1 to Year 2.
If the Packers are to take that next step past the NFC Championship, they will undoubtedly need some of last year’s rookies to make that leap. Here are two players who need to excel in their sophomore seasons.
There’s a new sheriff in town in Green Bay and this will be a MASSIVE test for Jordan Love in 2021!
AJ Dillon is entering his second season in the league, and his role will expand for a couple of reasons.
One, he absolutely showed out in the opportunities he received at the latter end of last season, especially in prime time against the Tennessee Titans. Dillon’s mold and physique fit the type of back that thrives in those cold-weather games at Lambeau.
Secondly, Jamaal Williams has signed with the Detroit Lions. As great as Aaron Jones is, ever since he and Williams came into the league together, the Packers have always implemented a two-back system. Jones is capable of being the bell cow, but Matt LaFleur likes to stay diversified at the position. In his four seasons in Green Bay, Williams never saw fewer than 107 carries or 34 targets in the passing game in any season. Dillon’s workload should be similar, meaning he will see plenty of action throughout the season.
It is critical for the rhythm of this offense that Dillon steps up. Given the flashes he showed in 2020, albeit in a limited sample size, the former Boston College back looks up to the task.
This one may come as a bit of a surprise, but zoom out and take a look across the entire offensive line. Corey Linsley signed with the Los Angeles Chargers and David Bakhtiari may not be good to go for the opening kickoff. Enter Jon Runyan.
Last year’s sixth-round out of Michigan was widely expected to spend most of 2020 learning and developing. When injuries early on sidelined Lane Taylor and Lucas Patrick, Runyan was thrown into the ring. With him in the lineup, the Packers offense didn’t skip a beat.
As a sixth-round rookie, it’s probably best if your name isn’t being highlighted on a broadcast, and for Runyan that was the case. Most notably, he played 50 snaps apiece in games against the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts last year and was able to hold his own. He was a tackle in college but the Packers project him to be a guard. There’s a possibility, maybe even a good one, that Runyan is competing for a starting spot somewhere across that offensive line in training camp. Hell, he might even be the favorite at one of the guard spots.
When you have an MVP quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, the priority is always to protect him at all costs. The Packers, like many teams, are able to work around some injuries that pop up throughout a season. But if you lose Rodgers, good luck. Jon Runyan could play a big role in keeping No. 12 upright in 2021.
There’s a case to be made for Krys Barnes to be on this list, especially with how he emerged after being undrafted last year. However, he already a fairly full workload in 2020. Meanwhile, Kamal Martin was in and out of the lineup and missed a large chunk of the season due to injuries. It’s probably that Martin will have a much larger role next year if he stays healthy.
The Packers have needs throughout the roster that will need to be addressed in the draft. Inside linebacker certainly makes the list but doesn’t top it. Because of that, Green Bay might roll the dice and go with Barnes and Martin at inside linebacker to start 2021. When he was on the field, the former Golden Gopher showed glimmers of being a promising prospect. The question wasn’t his play on the field last year, it was whether or not he’d actually be on it.
If Martin is able to stay healthy next year, his role and workload will definitely be on the uptick.
The Packers are set up to make another deep run in 2021. Who they hit or miss on in the draft could help determine their fate. The development of last year’s rookies now entering their second season also could play a vital role for Matt LaFleur and the Packers.