As the Green Bay Packers look towards the 2021 season, they aim to continue to be one of the NFL’s top Super Bowl contenders. For that to happen, the Packers will need bounce back seasons from certain players.
Many of these players missed significant time due to injuries. Others simply had off years in 2020 and need to improve their play and for some it’s a combination of both.
Here is a look at five players who the Packers are looking for bounce back seasons from in 2021:
- OT David Bakhtiari
In Bakhtiari’s case, the issue is returning from injury. The Packers starting left tackle played very well in 2020, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
Unfortunately, Bakhtiari suffered a torn ACL late in the season and missed the season finale and both Packers playoff games. The Pack clearly missed Bakhtiari in the NFC Championship when the Buccaneers pressured Aaron Rodgers regularly.
If center Corey Linsley also departs in free agency, the return to form of Bakhtiari will be even more important for the Packers.
The offensive line is the key to keeping Rodgers protected and for the running game to flourish and Bakhtiari is the anchor of the Green Bay offensive line.
- WR Devin Funchess
Funchess was signed as a free agent last year by the Packers but didn’t play at all in 2020 after opting out of the season due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2019, Funchess only played one game for the Colts before suffering a season-ending collarbone injury so he has only played one game in the last two seasons.
The Packers would love to see the former University of Michigan star return to his 2017 form when he had a career-best 63 catches for 840 yards and eight touchdowns with the Panthers.
If he can do that, Funchess can give the Pack another weapon at receiver, something the team has been looking for in recent seasons.
- TE Jace Sternberger
The Packers were high on Sternberger when they selected him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They were hoping the former Texas A&M star could be the receiving tight end capable of stretching the field a bit, a talent they haven’t had consistently since Jermichael Finley was forced to retire due to injury.
Unfortunately, Sternberger has struggled with injuries as well. He missed 10 games during his rookie season and started the year on the injured reserve. In 2020, he started training camp on the Covid-19 reserve list and later was forced to deal with some nagging injuries that slowed his progress and limited him to 12 games.
Sternberger caught 12 passes for 114 yards and caught his first regular season NFL touchdown. Still, the Packers expect a lot more from Sternberger if he can stay healthy and stay on the field.
Because 2021 will be Sternberger’s third season, it’s time for him to start showing the promise he had coming out of college and to become a steady contributor to the Green Bay offense in 2021.
- TE/FB Josiah Deguara
Deguara was the ideal fit for Matt LaFleur’s offensive system and the Packers coach was thrilled when the Packers took him in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Packers expected Deguara to play some at tight end, H-back and fullback. He could block, catch and catch passes and his versatility would help the offense create confusion for opposing defenses because it would allow the team to run different plays out of identical formations.
Instead, Deguara played in only two early season games before he suffered a season-ending injury. He finished the season with one catch for 12 yards which took place in the season opener against the Vikings.
The return of Deguara will give the Packers more depth at the tight end position and more options at fullback and H-back. It will allow LaFleur to add more to his offense and to run it closer to an optimum level.
- OLB Preston Smith
The Packers may decide to release Preston Smith or simply restructure his contract, that remains up in the air. But if Preston returns to the Pack in 2021, he needs to play more like he did in his first season with the club than the way he played last season.
In 2019, Preston Smith enjoyed a career year, recording 12 sacks, 23 quarterback hits and 34 pressures. In 2020, those numbers fell to four sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 16 pressures.
Late in the season, Preston did pick up his play a bit after Rashan Gary threated to take away his starting role. He returned a fumble for a touchdown in Week 12 against the Bears and had 2.5 sacks in the Packers final six games.
While 2019 may have been a career year for Preston, the Packers would be happy to get him back at a level close to that in 2021 if he remains with the team.
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