Cleat Geeks

THE PACK: Dive Into Key Positional Battles in Green Bay (Preseason Week 1)

After an NFL off-season that gave us more crazy stories than I can name, the first week of preseason is upon us and we can smell the 2018 season right around the corner. The Packers started out on the right foot with a 31-17 victory over the Titans in Green Bay on Thursday. Diving deeper beyond just the score, I’d like to have a look at three positions that have been newsworthy for the Pack.

RUNNING BACK

The three backs expected to be in the mix this year are of course converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones. Both Williams and Jones will be entering their second year. Montgomery began the 2017 season as the starter and looked to be off to a solid start before injuries limited his snap count. Another limiting factor for Monty was the combined play of Jones and Williams. Jones had a pair of 100+ yard games in weeks 5 and 7 before Williams took over the bulk of the work in the second half of the season, contributing on the ground and in the air with six total touchdowns in the final eight games.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now entering 2018, it seems to be anyone’s guess who will earn the starting role and if there’s any hope that this won’t be a committee. For the Packers, having multiple versatile backs is never a bad thing, but fantasy owners would surely like McCarthy to just roll with someone primarily. My money is on Aaron Jones, but with him being suspended the first two games of the season, he’ll have ground to make up. As expected, the first preseason game didn’t give us much of a look at these guys, but fans will be hoping for more in the coming weeks. Williams and Montgomery turned their 8 combined carries into a measly 25 yards. Jamaal Williams helped himself with an 8-yard touchdown reception on a strong second effort. One of the other keys for these backs will be who steps up in pass protection.

WIDE RECEIVER 

With the surprising release of veteran Jordy Nelson (now with the Raiders), Aaron Rodgers needs a new top receiver, and it will almost surely be Davante Adams. Although he has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards, Adams has been heavily targeted over the past two seasons by both Rodgers and his backups. What’s even more promising is that Adams also had 10+ touchdowns in both of those seasons. If both Adams and Rodgers stay healthy, I think it’s reasonable to expect 130 targets for Adams, which he should turn into 1,000+ yards in the Packers dynamic offense. In his limited time in the first preseason game, Adams had two catches for 57 yards, the majority coming on a 48-yard bomb with Malcolm Butler in coverage.

The real question mark at the position for the Packers is which receiver(s) will win the second starting receiver spot, and who will step in as the third when the Packers go three-wide? Randall Cobb is currently listed opposite Adams, but he has not been anywhere close to what he produced in his breakout 2014 season, and he is certainly not locked in as the #2. He is also currently dealing with an ankle injury and his status for the regular season opener is unclear.

Behind these two, the Packers are very young, but also show promise. Many are hopeful for Geronimo Allison, but not me. Others in the mix include DeAngelo Yancey, Jake Kumerow, and Trevor Davis. I still don’t see it. I think the answer will be found in one of the Packers 2018 draft picks. The Packers went with a wide receiver in three straight rounds, selecting J’Mon Moore (Missouri) in the 4th, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (S. Florida) in the 5th, and Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame) in the 6th.

Final Two College Seasons Stats (2016 and 2017)
Ht Wt G Rec Yards TD Y/R Y/G
J’Mon Moore Missouri 6’3″ 205 25 127 2,094 18 16.5 83.8
Marquez Valdes-Scantling South Florida 6’4″ 206 23 75 1,295 11 17.2 56.3
Equanimeous St. Brown Notre Dame 6’5″ 214 24 91 1,476 13 16.2 61.5

 

We got to see each of these guys in action against the Titans, and it was Valdes-Scantling that won the day with five receptions for 101 yards, with each of the first four gaining more yards than the last, and culminating in a difficult grab for a touchdown in the 4th quarter. As his 17.2 average shows, he can be a deep threat, and if a 6’4″ receiver with a 4.37 40-yard dash can stretch the defense for Rodgers, he will be productive himself and open things up for his teammates, most importantly Adams.

St. Brown had a 4-61 line, while Moore disappointed with only 27 yards on 3 catches. He dropped a beautiful deep pass after he’d gotten behind the defense that could have helped him in the box score. The Packers are excited about what each of them can bring to the table, and having this much size at the position could be a nightmare for defenses, especially in the red zone. If you add in newly acquired tight end Jimmy Graham at 6’7″, I’m not sure the Packers will be able to be stopped if they put the pieces together. The most important thing these rookies can do is earn the trust of Aaron Rodgers. If they can do that, they won’t just make the roster, they’ll earn significant playing time.

LINEBACKER

MLB Blake Martinez is coming off a stellar sophomore season in which he had 94 solo tackles, 48 assists, 1 sack, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups, and a forced fumble. He played close to 93% of the Packers defensive snaps as well as many on special teams, and he may have an even bigger role this year with the Packers losing LB Jake Ryan for the season. There has been talk about how to fill the void at inside linebacker, and there has been some speculation about Clay Mathews or Nick Perry sliding in, but ideally the Packers would like to keep them on the outside with their ability to rush the passer.

Enter the Packers 3rd round pick out of Vanderbilt, Oren Burks. Burks can be a special tool for the Packers, as he has experience at both safety and linebacker. If Martinez can hold down the middle, Burks can be the sideline-to-sideline guy that lines up according the what the offense presents. Going further, with the Packers “nitro” defensive package and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the Packers should be able to give a variety of looks if Burks is included in the rotation with Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, and Josh Jones. Burks saw action with both the starters and the second team Thursday, and led the Packers with 6 tackles.

 

Follow me all season as I cover the Packers and offer my personal takes from a real-life and fantasy football perspective, and follow me on Twitter!

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