The Green Bay Packers training camp is now less than a month away and there are a lot of interesting story lines developing as the team heads into training camp. One of them is several former early round draft picks who will now find themselves on the bubble as we head into the 2021 NFL season. For purposes of this discussion, we will define early round picks as those selected on the first two days of the draft, or rounds one, two and three.
Here is a look at these former early round picks who now find themselves fighting to keep their jobs:
- CB Josh Jackson
Jackson has been a disappointment since the Packers selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the 45th overall pick.
The former Iowa star was considered a first-round talent by many scouts and he certainly had a nose for the football in college, making eight interceptions in his final year with the Hawkeyes and returning two for touchdowns.
But as a pro, Jackson’s lack of speed has hurt him and he has yet to establish himself as a starting corner in the NFL.
His best season was his rookie campaign when he started 10 games, recovered a fumble and broke up 10 passes.
Since then, however, Jackson has started only five more games over the last two seasons. In 2020, he was inactive for four of the team’s final six regular season games and both of their playoff contests. He was not on the field for a defensive snap last year after Week 10.
On paper, new defensive coordinator’s zone-heavy system should be a good fit for Jackson’s talents. But the Packers have at least three players clearly ahead of Jackson on the depth chart in Jaire Alexander, Kevin King and 2021 first round pick Eric Stokes.
That means Jackson will be fighting for depth spots with Chandon Sullivan, Ka’dar Hollman, Kabion Ento, rookie Shemar Jean-Charles and Stanford Samuels.
How well Jackson fits in Barry’s defense and how well he can play on special teams will be keys to whether he earns a roster spot this season.
- ILB Oren Burks
Like Jackson, Burks was an early-round pick with promise who has yet to secure a starting job on defense. The Packers drafted the former Vanderbilt star in the third round of the 2018 draft.
Burks had a strong start to training camp in his rookie year but was injured late and never seemed to recover. He started four games as a rookie but has yet to start one since.
In 2019, Burks was again injured during the preseason and it set his development back again.
In 2020, Burks was a standout on special teams but played only nine percent of the team’s defensive snaps, up from six percent the previous season.
The frustrating thing is that the Packers have struggled at inside linebacker the entire time Burks has been with the team but he has been able to crack the starting lineup. In fact, last season, the coaching staff moved Burks to outside linebacker for part of the year even though the team always lacked depth inside.
The signing of De’Vondre Campbell likely makes it tougher for Burks to get playing time at ILB. Both Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin are also ahead of him on the depth chart. The Packers also have Carlo Kemp and Isaiah McDuffie competing for backup spots.
Burks’ special teams prowess may keep him on the roster, but his inability to crack the lineup on defense may also work against him.
- TE Jace Sternberger
Sternberger was selected in the third round in 2019 but injuries, illnesses and now a suspension have hampered his progress and the Packers have a lot of depth at tight end.
The former Texas A&M star started his rookie season on IR and didn’t catch a pass until the playoffs in 2019. Last year, he contracted Covid-19 and played in 12 games while catching 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
While Sternberger was recovering from Covid-19, Robert Tonyan established himself as the team’s top receiving tight end.
The NFL announced that Sternberger would start the 2021 season with a two-game suspension after he fell asleep at the wheel after drinking alcohol and taking anti-depressants.
Sternberger can still participate in training camp and preseason games and he needs to make a good showing to secure a roster spot. In addition to Tonyan, the Packers have veteran Marcedes Lewis and 2020 third-round pick Josiah Deguara at tight end and Dominique Dafney returning as well.
This year, Sternberger needs to stay healthy and show the coaching staff what he can do or his tenure in Green Bay may be cut short.
- CB Kevin King
The Packers surprised a lot of people when they re-signed King to a one-year deal with voidable years instead of letting him sign elsewhere as a free agent. It is likely that King makes the roster this season but his odds of returning next year are not good.
The Packers drafted Stokes in the first round to eventually take over for King. If King struggles this year, Stokes will simply take his job sooner than anticipated and King will be relegated to nickel or dime duties. If King plays well, he will likely get a better deal to play elsewhere in 2022.
If Stokes shines in training camp and the preseason and King struggles, there is a slight chance the former second-round pick from the University of Washington will be let go before this season starts to save some valuable cap space.
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