Five Players the Packers Are Counting On to Bounce Back in 2021

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

Every NFL team has players that struggle with a bad season or suffer significant injuries and the Green Bay Packers are no exception. To have success, teams need these players to bounce back from poor seasons or return successfully from injury.

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Here is a look at five Packers who are hoping to have a bounce back season in 2021 whether it be from injury, poor play or both:

  1. TE Jace Sternberger

Sternberger has struggled through his first two NFL seasons primarily due to injuries and illness. He’s played a total of 18 games with the Packers since being drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft.

The former Texas A&M star started his rookie season on the IR after being injured in training camp. He returned late in the season to play in six games without catching a pass although he did make two postseason catches including one for a touchdown.

In 2020, he started training camp on the Covid-19 list and his progress was slowed as a result. He played in 12 games catching 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.

There is a crowd at tight end on the Packers roster with Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney all returning and fighting for spots at tight end and/or H-Back. This may be Sternberger’s last chance to prove he can be an impact player for the Packers.

  1. WR Devin Funchess

It’s been a long time since Funchess played in an NFL game. In 2019, he was injured in Week 1 when he separated his collarbone and was lost for the season. In 2020, Funchess opted out of the season due to concerns about his family during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The former Michigan star is hoping to return to the form he showed in 2017 when he caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns. All those numbers were career highs.

With the addition of Amari Rodgers in the draft, there will be plenty of competition for playing time at wide receiver. Funchess is hoping to bounce back and earn a role in the offense in 2021.

  1. TE/H-Back Josiah Deguara

Head coach Matt LaFleur was extremely excited about Deguara after the 2020 draft but unfortunately, he played in only two early-season games before being lost for the season with a torn ACL. He caught one pass for 12 yards before his season came to a premature end.

Deguara figures to be a combination H-back and tight end who will line up in several positions in the Packers offense. It will be interesting to see the various blocking and receiving roles that Deguara assumes in his first full season on the field. If he meets initial expectations, he could see the field a lot in 2021.

  1. OT David Bakhtiari

With Bakhtiari, this is a straight injury issue. The All Pro left tackle was lost for the season with a knee injury that required surgery last December. Before the injury, Bakhtiari continued to be one of the best if not the best pass blocking tackles in the NFL.

The Packers clearly missed Bakhtiari in the playoffs. The Buccaneers were able to get consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game and would not have likely been able to disrupt the Green Bay offense nearly as much if Bakhtiari had been healthy and available.

We still don’t know when Bakhtiari will be back. Many experts feel he will miss a few games early in the season as he finishes rehabbing his knee although GM Brian Gutekunst indicated that Bakhtiari was ahead of schedule in his recovery.

The Packers will need Bakhtiari to bounce back and resume being the anchor on the offensive line protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Not having him hurts the offense in both the running game and passing attack.

  1. OLB Preston Smith

Preston Smith fell off badly in 2020 after a career year in 2019. He statistics fell across the board and by the end of the season, he was losing playing time to Rashan Gary. This offseason, he agreed to a pay cut to stay on the Packers.

Preston Smith’s sack total fell from 12 to four, his quarterback hits went down from 23 to 11 and tackles for loss went down from 11 to seven.

Throughout his career, Preston Smith has always had stronger seasons in odd numbered years. In his three odd-numbered years, his sack total has never gone below 8.0. In the three even-numbered campaigns, it’s never been above 4.5 sacks.

If Preston Smith bounces back, the Packers should have a formidable pass rush with Za’Darius Smith, Gary, Kenny Clark and possibly Kingsley Keke providing most of the pressure.

The Packers are hoping Preston Smith returns to something closer to his 2019 form. If not, he will likely not be back in Green Bay after this season.

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