Green Bay Packers

How Injuries Have Affected Two Key Positional Battles

Photo credit: Mark Hoffman (USA TODAY Sports)

NFL training camp is now in full swing for all 32 teams. This is a time of opportunity for young players to show that they deserve to make a 52-man NFL roster, and also a chance for fringe roster players to prove their worth.

One of the most unfortunate deterrents in training camp is injuries. Unless you are an established star or role player in the league, an ill-timed injury in training camp can derail your chances to make a roster or even have a substantial NFL career. This is the unfortunate reality of the NFL; it is a threshing machine of a business that will always pivot to the next man available. With so much at stake for many young players, they cannot afford to miss any time in camp.

As always seems to be the case with the Green Bay Packers, they are already dealing with a handful of injuries just a couple weeks into training camp. Some of these camp holdouts are likely precautionary, like the Aaron Jones’ hamstring injury. He is the unquestionable No. 1 running back for the offense, so any nick he picks up will be treated with extreme caution. David Bakhtiari’s absence is also obviously tied to his recovery from a torn ACL.

However, there are a few players dealing with injuries who will have adverse effects on their role on the team. Some of these players may be forced into a reduced role, and others may not even make the final roster. It is unfortunate, but that is the harsh reality of business in the NFL.

Kevin King (hamstring)

You had to know Kevin King would be one of the first names on any injury-related list.

Unfortunately, the guy cannot stay on the field for long. His hip injury last year was the latest in an extensive series of ailments that have caused him to play in only 41 regular-season games in his career. King’s recovery was on full display last season in the NFC Championship game when he was not healthy enough to keep up with Mike Evans.

Now that his hamstring is acting up again, the time missed will ensure that rookie cornerback Eric Stokes will get the No. 2 CB reps opposite Jaire Alexander. It was projected that King would open as the No. 2 while Stokes gets acclimated to the NFL speed of play and schemes, but this injury will likely push King down into the No. 3 role if he is out for an extended period of time.

A reduced snap count for King could be good for him long-term. I wrote about King back in May and touched on how he may be most effectively utilized as a No. 3 cornerback at this point in his career, given his propensity for missing games. A reduced snap-count will ideally ease the burden on King’s body, and if he can stay healthy and play a consistent amount he will thrive in the No. 3 role.

It is easy to forget in light of last year’s playoff exit (recency bias seems to dominate online discourse), but Kevin King is a solid player when healthy. The Packers were smart to not give up on him too early, and signing him to his current prove-it contract is team-friendly and helps out both parties. If King can nurse his hamstring back to health before the Packers play any meaningful games, he will play a significant role on the defense this year as the team looks to inevitably transition to Stokes.

Equanimeous St. Brown (hamstring) & Juwann Winfree (shoulder)

Popping up on the injury report are two receivers who are likely battling for the last WR roster spot: Equanimeous St. Brown, who has been with the team for the last three seasons, and Juwann Winfree, who was on Green Bay’s practice squad for much of last season.

With the recent re-acquisition of Randall Cobb, a crowded WR room gets even more packed. I had initially predicted that St. Brown would be the last receiver to make the team simply due to longevity and draft pedigree, but with the recent injury news that position is completely in flux. EQ has only played in 24 games in the last three seasons, and he missed the entire 2019 season. Hamstring injuries tend to linger, which does not bode well for him. His inability to stay on the field has curbed his development, and if he cannot make it through another training camp, he will be seen as expendable.

Seeming to surpass EQ in the pecking order, Winfree has garnered rave reviews for his standout performances in training camp. He has certainly made more noise than EQ, though Winfree’s recent shoulder injury will slow down the hype train a bit. Word of Winfree’s performance in OTAs and minicamp even made their way to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, who noted Winfree as a player to look out for.

While St. Brown is more of a physically imposing player than Winfree, that means nothing when he cannot stay on the field. WR depth will be important in a year where the soon-to-be 31-year-old Randall Cobb will be relied upon as a primary cog in the offense. The last WR spot is up for grabs between St. Brown and Winfree, and it would seem that the first one to prove their health in training camp will win that position.

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