The Packers 2020 – 2021 season was very entertaining but ended in a disappointing fashion. For the Packers to get over the hump, they will need a lot of internal improvement from their young players.
The Obvious Ones
The two most obvious choices for players to breakout are Rashan Gary and AJ Dillon.
Rashan Gary already had a mini breakout season, following a very unimpressive rookie season. Gary played less than 45% of the defensive snaps. Despite that, he logged five sacks, 35 tackles, five TFLS, and 11 QB hits to go along with one fumble recovery. What impressed many people about Gary was his play against the Rams in the playoffs. He notched 1.5 sacks and three QB hits while consistently putting Jared Goff under duress.
With rumors of Preston Smith being released or traded to open some cap, this gives Rashan Gary the reigns to start an entire season. In 2020, he only started four total games. All signs point to Rashan Gary being given a starting role next season, despite what happens with Preston Smith. If Preston Smith is no longer on the team next season, Rashan Gary has the potential and talent to post the first double-digit sack season of his career. If Gary can produce like that, it’s going to allow Za’darius Smith to feast.
With a breakout season for Rashan Gary looking like a very real possibility, the Packers are looking at having one of the best pass-rushing duos for the foreseeable future.
AJ Dillon having a breakout season goes without saying. With Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, both free agents, the reins are being handed to Dillon at the beginning of the offseason. After being drafted in the 2nd round, Dillon played less than 100 snaps this past season. Despite the low snap count, Dillon showed great promise. In his one start of the season, AJ Dillon had 21 carries for 124 yards and two TDs. Other than that one game, though, Dillon had 25 carries for 118 yards, which is an impressive 4.72 yards per carry.
He didn’t have many opportunities in the playoffs, but he did what he could with his limited carries, rushing nine times for 44 yards, which is 4.89 yards per carry. What was most impressive about Dillon was how he was able to run well against the Bucs’ top-ranked rush defense, averaging 5.67 yards per carry on his three carries.
Dillon has the talent and the running back friendly offense to rush for 1,000 yards next year. He doesn’t have the receiving talent that Jones and Williams do, but he has showcased some decent route running and catching ability, which should only improve going into his sophomore year. Look for Dillon to have a 2008 Marshawn Lynch type season: 1,000 rushing yards, eight rushing TDs, to go along with 300 receiving yards, and one receiving TD.
The Not so Obvious Ones
Both of these players showcased elite talent in 2020 that they should be able to use as building blocks to breakout in 2021.
MVS may have been the most frustrating player on the team in 2020. He was consistently beating corners deep utilizing his speed, but he couldn’t always make the catch. Thankfully, this never deterred Rodgers from throwing his way as MVS posted career highs in yards (690), TDs (6), and catch percentage (52.4%), as well as leading the league in yards per catch (20.9). MVS has all the intangibles to become a top three deep threat in the league. I believe he’s already a top 10 deep threat, but if he takes the next step, I believe he will easily crack the top three.
MVS was just a few drops away from having a 900 yard, eight TD season. It should also be noted that MVS also had three TDs interrupted by defensive pass interference. MVS has the potential to be a 1,000 yard double-digit TD receiver. I believe we see that side of MVS next season. He may not reach those marks, but after an outstanding game in the conference championship, MVS is poised to have a big 2021.
Krys Barnes was a revelation at the Inside Linebacker position for the Packers last season. He could very well become the best player from the Packers 2020 class, and he went undrafted. Barnes had 80 total tackles (second on the team) and five tackles for loss (tied for third on the team) in only 13 games (10 starts). Barnes wasn’t the greatest in coverage, but watching him zip from sideline to sideline making plays is something Packers fans have not seen at the ILB in a very long time. When Barnes took over at the mic, it allowed for the opposite ILB to thrive. Kirksey saw a considerable increase in his production when he was no longer the Mic.
Kirksey played a big part in improving the defense, but releasing him saves the Packers $5.6 mil in cap space. Unfortunately, Kirksey likely is one of the releases to save cap room (unless he takes a pay cut/ extension). With Kirksey’s release being likely, the ILB group’s reins will be handed over to Krys Barnes. Look for Barnes to improve his coverage skills and have well over 100 tackles next season. Also, look for Kamal Martin to improve a lot, as he should be the ILB2 next to Barnes.
The Bold Prediction
This player didn’t get many opportunities in 2020 as he had 0 starts and only came when another player got injured.
Jon Runyan Jr.
Jon Runyan was activated for all 16 games but only played 160 snaps. He’s on this list because during those 160 snaps, he allowed 0 sacks and committed 0 penalties. With many question marks on the Packers offensive line for 2021 (when will DBak come back, will Turner and Wagner both be on the team, who replaces Linsely), it allows Runyan to become the next great late-round offensive linemen to play for the Packers.
Runyan didn’t have much playing, as evidenced by his 160 snaps, but he played a significant role in all three games. He played 31 snaps against the 49ers, 50 snaps against the Colts, and 50 snaps against the Bears. All three teams have very good defensive lines, and Runyan stood firm against all three lines.
The Packers could try out multiple offensive line configurations in the preseason (if there is one) or early in the season to find the best combination for that playoff push. Jon Runyan is the best option to play next to Jenkins or Lucas Patrick if Jenkins is moved to Center.
The pressure is on the Packers to make it to the Super Bowl after two conference championship losses in a row. If these five players all breakout next season, the Packers will improve, despite losing a bunch of key pieces to free agency, as well as releases.