As we head into the 2021 offseason, the Green Bay Packers are looking to keep their team in contention and to find a way to get to the Super Bowl next year after falling one game short in 2019 and 2020.
With the team up against the projected salary cap and several key players potentially leaving as free agents, the Packers will need some of their younger players to step up and assume larger roles in 2021. Here is a look at five players who should have a bigger role on the Packers next season:
- OLB Rashan Gary
Gary assumed a bigger role in 2020 and made a big jump forward in his play. He recorded five sacks and was in on 35 total tackles while playing in 44 percent of the Packers defensive plays.
The former Michigan star recorded 11 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and 19 pressures according to pro-football-reference.com. Many of his pressures helped teammates record sacks or forced errant throws by opposing quarterbacks.
The Packers expect Gary to take another jump forward in his third season. With Preston Smith a possible cap casualty, Gary should get even more playing time next season. Even if Preston Smith remains in Green Bay, Gary will see the field even more in 2021 and should play a bigger role in the Packers defense.
- TE/FB Josiah Deguara
The Packers selected Deguara in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft and expected him to play some tight end, some fullback and some H-back. Head coach Matt LaFleur was raving about Deguara’s versatility and what he may be able to add to the offense.
Unfortunately, the former University of Cincinnati star was injured in Week 4 and played in only two games this season. He caught one pass for 12 yards in the season opener and played 31 total snaps on offense and eight more on special teams.
LaFleur’s enthusiasm for Deguara and the different roles he can play in the offense make his future promising. The Packers are also unsure whether Marcedes Lewis will retire or return to the Packers next season.
Look for Deguara to have a bigger role in the offense in 2021 if he’s healthy and ready to go.
- DL Kingsley Keke
Keke improved in his second NFL season recording four sacks and making 21 total tackles. The former fifth-round pick from Texas A&M played in 15 games and was on the field for 40 percent of the defensive snaps.
The Packers will look for more from Keke next season. His pass rush has been streaky with his four sacks all coming in two games. He had a pair of sacks against the Saints and another two against the Eagles.
Next year, the Packers believe Keke will improve his technique and his consistency. If he can do that, expect him to be on the field more and to improve the number of sacks and pressures he gets.
- ILB Kamal Martin
The coaching staff was extremely high on Martin in training camp and all observers felt he was the best ILB on the team. Unfortunately, Martin was injured just before the start of the season and was out of the lineup until Week 7 against the Texans.
Martin showed he can be a physical hitter and shows a good aptitude for the defensive game plan although he still made his share of rookie mistakes. In 10 games, the former University of Minnesota star made 24 total tackles, recorded one sack and three tackles for loss.
In all, Martin played 19 percent of the Packers defensive snaps this season. He is expected to take on a bigger role next year, especially if Christian Kirksey is a cap casualty this offseason.
The biggest variable for Martin may be what the new defensive coordinator asks of the team’s inside linebackers next season. If the role fits Martin’s skill set, he should be fighting for a starting position in 2021. The importance of the team’s ILBs may increase under the new scheme as well although that remains to be seen.
Look for Martin to have a bigger role on the defense in his second season in Green Bay.
- RB A.J. Dillon
Dillon was the Packers third string running back as a rookie behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams on the depth chart. Both of those two veterans are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents so the former Boston College star has a chance to become the Packers top running back in 2021.
Dillon missed five games in the middle of the season after contracting Covid-19 and that slowed his progress. He did become the feature back in the Packers 40-14 win over the Titans and he responded well, gaining 124 yards on 21 carries and scoring two touchdowns on a snowy field.
The biggest question surrounding Dillon is how well he can pass protect and catch passes. Those are essential responsibilities of running backs in the LaFleur system. Dillon showed improvement in these areas as the season progressed but to be the feature back, he’d have to continue to show progress.
With his size and agility, Dillon has the potential to be an outstanding running back in the NFL. Look for him to be a much bigger part of the offense next season if he’s healthy.
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