It usually takes three years for players to fully develop in the NFL and start to achieve their potential. That’s why leaps from third-year players are so important. It’s also why the Green Bay Packers need better production from their 2020 picks, one of their most controversial draft classes in recent history. Green Bay’s 2020 draft received a D from PFF and NFL Network and was the worst team in Mel Kiper’s evaluation.
Jordan Love is a backup and will only play if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt. They released fifth-rounder Kamal Martin last year, who is now with the Carolina Panthers, and sixth-rounder Simon Stepaniak has retired. However, the rest of the class will have plenty of chances to improve, command more significant roles, and elevate what is already a good roster.
Any discussion about the 2020 class has to start with second-round pick AJ Dillon. After having a quasi-redshirt year as a rookie, he grew last season and ended up being the rushing leader, ahead of fellow running back Aaron Jones. This year, Jones may be used more frequently as a receiving option, so Dillon’s role as a pure runner will increase.
Dillon needs to be more explosive down the field to be a complete back. Among the 49 running backs with at least 100 carries last season, Dillon ranked third in the percentage of first- and second-down runs that went for at least five yards (42.3%). But he was second to last in the same scenario in runs that went for at least 10 yards (4.8%). It’s clear that Dillon is a pounder, but even heavy backs like Eddie Lacy need to explode sometimes to generate yards over expected.
The Packers drafted tight end/h-back Josiah Deguara in the third round. It was a clear sign that general manager Brian Gutekunst was trying to find players who fit Matt LaFleur’s scheme. Deguara tore an ACL in his rookie season and missed almost the entire year. But he didn’t have an inspiring performance last season. His limited role as an h-back made him lose snaps even when Robert Tonyan was out, and Tyler Davis gained reps. If Deguara wants to establish himself as a truly well-rounded tight end, he needs to develop his ability to receive in the middle and down the field. So far in his NFL career, Deguara’s best moments have come from short passes, with his capacity to generate yards after reception.
Green Bay didn’t have a fourth-round pick because they traded to move up in the first round and take Love. They’ve already released Martin. Therefore, the next potential impact player from the 2020 class comes from the sixth round, where the Packers got three offensive linemen.
The best of them is Jon Runyan. He had a significant role as the starting left guard for most of last season and was very reliable. If he keeps on this development track, Runyan can be another late-round OL contributor for the Packers.
Center Jake Hanson hasn’t shown much promise, though. He will fight to make the roster – or at least the practice squad. Stepaniak never made the 53-man roster and decided to move on from football.
It’s rare to find real contributors in the seventh round, but the Packers did it at least once (and maybe twice) in 2020. Edge rusher Jonathan Garvin won’t be a star, but he was clearly the third-best Packers edge defender last season, behind Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. This year, he will have more competition, with Randy Ramsey returning from injury and Kingsley Enagbare, who was drafted in the fifth round this year. But Garvin can potentially be a rotational edge rusher and a special teamer.
Talking about special teams, that’s where safety Vernon Scott has the best chance to make an impact. He was active for only three games last season and now needs to show improvement to make the roster. If he does, there’s space for him in an open competition to be the third safety, behind Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.
Taking Love will always be the central topic of conversation regarding the Packers’ 2020 class because of its timing, how well Aaron Rodgers has played since, and the high-profile nature of the quarterback position. But even if Love doesn’t end up being a good player (or a good player for the Packers), Green Bay still has a chance to extract value from multiple important players drafted two years ago.