The Green Bay Packers had some life injected into their special teams against the Detroit Lions in Week 2.
Seventh-round pick Kylin Hill made some impressive kick returns. For a team that averaged less than 20 yards per return last season, Hill had two over 30. He had a 33-yard return to open the second half and then a slick 41-yard return that gave the Packers excellent field position. He even jumped over the kicker.
The Mississippi State alum and pick 256 in last year’s draft might have been taken in the last round, but he’s having an immediate impact. He’s third on the depth chart at running back and is emerging as a solid kick returner on special teams. It’s an aspect of the team that needed a spark badly. Amari Rodgers is currently handling punt return duties, but that could change if Hill keeps improving.
It’s early, but Hill has already seen some action besides special teams. He has seven rushing attempts for 22 yards and an average of about three yards per rush. He had five in the lopsided loss to the New Orleans Saints and two against the Lions.
And even though it’s early, could Hill be the best seventh-round pick for the Green Bay Packers during general manager Brian Gutekunst’s tenure?
2020: Jonathan Garvin, DE
The Packers used pick No. 242 of last year’s draft on Garvin, a linebacker out of Miami. In his rookie season, Garvin played in half of the games and recorded five tackles. He didn’t record any stats from Week 1, but right now might be his time to shine.
The second-youngest player on the team roster will see more action after Za’Darius Smith was put on IR. Garvin only had one solo tackle against the Lions, but that wasn’t his true impact in Green Bay’s victory. His pressure on Jared Goff led him to throw an interception to De’Vondre Campbell to help seal the win.
Garvin could make his mark this year with a year under his belt and the current lack of linebacker depth. While Hill is getting the rookie headlines so far, Garvin had a solid game when he needed to step in and play. This year might be a huge stepping stone for the young linebacker, who could be a solid contributor to the defense. There is a chance that two seventh-round picks could make a significant impact this season.
2019: Ty Summers, LB
Before Hill, Gutekunst picked two straight linebackers in the seventh round. It appears he might have known that linebacker depth is an important thing to have. Summers was picked 226th-overall out of TCU.
Since arriving in Green Bay, he has played in every single regular and postseason game. Coming into this season, he had 27 tackles on defense and another 16 on special teams. Summers has been impressive on special teams, and it shows how high his ceiling can go knowing that he has played in every game since being drafted. He’s had one tackle per game so far this year.
Could Galvin eat up some of his playing time this year? With Smith out for a while, the door is wide open for a younger player to step up. And while Summers isn’t a household name, he has had solid production for the team. A sack or forced fumble here and there could be just the thing Summers needs to get to the next level.
2018: James Looney, DE; Hunter Bradley, LS; Kendall Donnerson, OLB
The Packers had three seventh-round picks in 2018, Gute’s first year as GM.
Looney spent most of his time in college as a defensive end. The 232nd pick out of Cal was switched to tight end. He started on the practice squad and played in three games in 2018, then spent the following year on the practice squad. Looney signed a reserve/future contract early last year but was later released. He is currently a free agent.
Green Bay took Bradley 239th-overall, making him only the ninth long snapper they have ever drafted, and he has been the team’s snapper since then. Bradley also has averaged a tackle per season on special teams. If anything, you can’t say Gutekunst struck out in the final round that year because the Packers got their current long snapper. After Brett Goode filled that role for over a decade, Bradley still has some room to improve. Thankfully, he hasn’t made any big mistakes since taking over.
Donnerson was the team’s third and final pick of the seventh round that year. The 248th selection was, you guessed it, another linebacker. He also started on the practice squad and eventually made the active roster in December.
In August of 2019, he was placed on injured reserve and was released a few weeks later. He would later join the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad. Kendall has bounced around quite a bit already. After being waived by the Raiders in May 2020, he went to the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad before being released again in early November.
He has already played for three teams this year. Donnerson started with the Carolina Panthers for a few weeks, then went to the New Orleans Saints until August. He was released and then returned to Carolina, only to be released again three weeks later. Donnerson is currently a free agent and will probably land on another practice squad this year.
I honestly thought this would be easy and conclude that Hill is already the best last-round pick, but that isn’t the case. In 2018, the Packers got their current long snapper. Then 2019 and 2020 brought two linebackers who are still on the team and making plays. This year, Summers or Garvin could break out and become staples on Green Bay’s defense.
Hill is the story right now because he is the one with the ball in his hands. But when you look at the selections as a whole, Gutekunst hasn’t wasted a seventh-round pick since he’s had the general manager job. That’s rather impressive. Now, sure, some of the earlier rounds have not been great for him, but at least the seventh round is adding to Green Bay’s roster.
It will be fun seeing the development of Hill, Summers, and Garvin this year. Who knows which player will end up impressing the most during the 2021 season.