Green Bay Packers

The 5 Pillars Of the Green Bay Packers' Future

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch (USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL offseason has officially started, and it’s going to be a fascinating period for the Green Bay Packers. The futures of Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith will be in play, and we still don’t know the approach Brian Gutekunst’s front office will take for the 2022 season and beyond. But, regardless of those decisions, the roster has essential building blocks for the future – be it with Rodgers, Jordan Love, or a stopgap quarterback.

Let’s take a look at five players who will be the pillars of the next decade of Green Bay football.

Rashan Gary

When the Packers selected Gary with the 12th pick in the 2019 draft, it was hard to understand the logic behind it. Gary was a toolsy but unproductive edge defender at Michigan, and the Packers had just signed the Smith Brothers in free agency.

Gary was a long-term project in a league focused on immediate results. And the first two years of his career, or half of his rookie-scale contract, were underwhelming. But the leap Gary took in his third season is undeniable. The 24-year-old edge rusher finished with 81 pressures, 9.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He had seven sacks in his first two seasons combined.

Gary stepped up during Za’Darius Smith’s absence due to injury. Now he might need to do so indefinitely because Smith is a potential cap casualty. Picking up Smith’s fifth-year option is a no-brainer for the Packers. Therefore, he will be under contract for two more seasons, a decisive factor as Green Bay reshapes their roster.

Jaire Alexander

The 2021 season was one to forget for Alexander. Not because of the level of his play, which has never been bad during his young career, but because he missed 13 games and was limited against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs after injuring his shoulder against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4.

However, the injury doesn’t affect the value Alexander brings to the table as one of the best young defenders in football. He was a second-team All-Pro in 2020 and established himself as one the most valuable non-quarterbacks.

Now, he’s entering his fifth-year option season. But it’s reasonable to expect that the Packers will extend him. He’s an integral part of their plan moving forward, and a new contract will ease his cap hit for 2022.

Eric Stokes

With Alexander out most of the season, other defensive backs had to step up for the Packers to compete. And that’s precisely what happened with rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. He was treated as CB1 by defensive coordinator Joe Barry and delivered a promising season by rookie standards. Sometimes it wasn’t perfect, but Stokes was solid.

Stokes had a 49.5% completion rate allowed (48 completions on 97 targets), the lowest between Packers cornerbacks – even Alexander. He also registered 14 passes defended and one interception while allowing a 71.0 passer rating when targeted. Those numbers are especially good for a 22-year-old rookie, considering cornerback is a position that generally demands time for the players to develop.

“I’ll take as much time as you guys will give me to brag on him. He is an unbelievably talented kid. He’s got everything that you want in an NFL corner. He’s got height, he’s got length, he’s got speed,” said defensive coordinator Joe Barry during the season. “Even though he played the college game at the highest level at Georgia in the SEC, there’s still a learning curve. And he’s come in and has been just a sponge.”

Stokes still has three years in his rookie contract, plus a fifth-year option, so he will be a long-term defensive weapon alongside Alexander in the secondary for the next few seasons.

Elgton Jenkins

The ACL injury Jenkins suffered was a possible dagger for the Packers’ season, but he showed how good and versatile he is. After having experiences at left guard (his primary position), center, and right tackle, Jenkins had to step up as the starting left tackle because of David Bakhtiari‘s absence. He had a really good 82.1 PFF grade (in comparison, right tackle Billy Turner had a 66.2 PFF grade) and gives Green Bay flexibility moving forward.

However, there are two crucial components to Jenkins’ future. First, he has to fully recover from his knee injury, suffered in November, to be available for the start of the next season. Second, head coach Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich, and offensive line coach Luke Butkus have to figure out where to use him.

If Bakhtiari is healthy, the left tackle spot is taken. Jenkins, 26, might play at his original position, left guard. Or he may finally move to tackle, allowing Gutekunst to release Turner and free up some cap space.

A.J. Dillon

Wise teams generally don’t overspend on running backs, but Dillon has been unquestionably a pillar for the Packers’ offense. After a discreet performance in 2020, the 23-year-old runner showed in 2021 why the Packers drafted him so high. Dillon rushed for 803 yards, with five touchdowns, plus 313 yards and two touchdowns through the air for a total of 1,116 yards from scrimmage and seven TDs.

Dillon had an elite 87.4 PFF grade and leapfrogged Aaron Jones as the primary back for the team down the stretch (Jones had an 82.8 PFF grade, 1,190 scrimmage yards, and 10 TDs). The two form one of the best — if not the best — running back duos in the NFL. But Jones gets too expensive in 2023, so Dillon is expected to have a larger role in the future.

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