The Green Bay Packers won 13 games during the 2020 season and returned to the NFC Championship Game for the second straight year. There were numerous reasons for the team’s success including Aaron Rodgers’ return to MVP form and the team’s improvement in the second year of running Matt LaFleur’s system.
But another reason for the team’s outstanding year was that several players enjoyed breakout seasons in 2020, playing at a level significantly better than they had previously in their careers.
Here is a look at five Packers players who enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2020 including an analysis of why they were successful and how this impacted the team. Rookies are obviously not eligible for this list since they had not previously played in the NFL.
- C Corey Linsley
Linsley has always been a good center since the Packers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but this year, Linsley took his game to an entirely different level.
Throughout the season, Linsley graded out as one of the top centers in the NFL and finished the year as Pro Football Focus’ best center in the league.
Linsley is a talented run blocker and an even better pass blocker. He has the speed get to the second level and block well in space on screens and sweeps. He also called the signals for the Packers offensive linemen.
Linsley missed three games late in the season due to injury and that cost him a Pro Bowl berth, but he was named the league’s All Pro center for his outstanding season.
Unfortunately, the former Ohio State star will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and may not be back in Green Bay.
- OLB Rashan Gary
Gary took a big step forward in 2020, his second season in the NFL. The 2019 first round pick out of Michigan recorded five sacks and made 35 tackles, both numbers up significantly over his rookie year.
In addition, Gary made five tackles for loss, was credited with 11 quarterback hits (up from three in 2019), eight hurries and 19 pressures according to pro-football-reference.com.
Gary was on the field for 44 percent of the Packers defensive plays in 2020, up from 24 percent the previous year.
On many plays, Gary’s ability to rush the passer didn’t necessarily result in a sack, but helped teammates sack the quarterback or forced an errant throw that caused a turnover or an incompletion.
Gary hasn’t reached his full potential yet, but he took a big step forward in year two and should assume an even bigger role on the defense in 2021.
- WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
MVS had a breakout season and led the NFL with a 20.9-yard average per catch. Valdes-Scantling set new personal bests in receiving yards and touchdowns in addition to yards per reception.
Valdes-Scantling gained 149 yards receiving against the Jaguars in Week 10 and went over 100 yards again in the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay when he caught four passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
When Rodgers wanted to throw deep, MVS was his favorite target. He caught seven passes of 40 yards or longer this season (including playoffs) and is starting to earn more trust from his quarterback.
Valdes-Scantling still needs to improve his consistency. He dropped seven passes according to pro-football-reference.com and had a catch percentage of only 52.4. If he can improve in these two areas, MVS could give the Packers another elite receiver in 2021.
- S Darnell Savage
Savage also enjoyed a strong second season in the NFL, playing his best football in the final six weeks of the season.
The former Maryland star played in 15 games and recorded 75 tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack. He broke up 12 passes and led the Packers with four interceptions.
Opposing quarterbacks had a quarterback rating of only 67.3 when throwing to receivers covered by Savage according to pro-football-reference.com.
The changes in the defense late in the season allowed Savage to play his best football. He was able to play closer to the line of scrimmage at times and become more of a playmaker.
Like Gary, Savage has yet to reach his full potential, but he took a big step forward in his second season after earning All-Rookie Team honors in 2019.
- TE Robert Tonyan
No Packers player made a bigger jump in 2020 than tight end Robert Tonyan. In his first two NFL seasons, the former Indiana State star had 14 total receptions for 177 yards. In 2020, he caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Tonyan deserved a berth in the Pro Bowl but was overlooked by voters in favor of Evan Engram of the Giants.
Rodgers quickly grew to trust Tonyan who runs reliable routes and to catch the ball whenever possible. Tonyan’s 52 catches came on 59 targets, giving him an outstanding catch percentage of 88.1 according to pro-football-reference.com.
Tonyan’s breakout game came in Week four against the Falcons when he caught six passes for 98 yards and three touchdowns in the Packers 30-16 victory. He caught at least one pass in each of the Packers final 15 games and in both playoff contests and became a willing if not great blocker when called upon.
Tonyan went from a little known tight end with potential to a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end in 2020 and that makes him the biggest breakout player on the Packers this season.
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