The Green Bay Packers are set to open the 2021 NFL season on Sunday in Jacksonville when they face the New Orleans Saints. The Packers are coming off back-to-back 13-3 seasons under Matt LaFleur and consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Game. Most experts have projected the Packers to be contenders again in the coming season.
While even casual football fans are familiar with star players like Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, here is a look at five non-star players who could make a big difference in the Packers upcoming campaign. These are players who will contribute consistently and see the field often but aren’t headline grabbers and Pro Bowl performers.
5. DL Kingsley Keke
The Packers defensive line is looking for improvement and former Pro Bowler Kenny Clark needs help. Keke is entering his third year and is healthy again after dealing with injuries that curtailed his season down the stretch in 2020.
If Keke can take a step forward this season, the former Texas A&M star can help the Packers defensive line become more effective. Clark and Keke could rush the passer from the interior while Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary come off the edge to get the quarterback.
If T.J. Slaton can help fortify the run defense, the Packers defensive line can take a significant step forward this season.
4. OL Royce Newman
The Packers have done well with rookie offensive linemen in recent years with players like Bryan Bulaga, Corey Linsley and David Bakhtiari all stepping in and starting in their first season with the team. Now, the Packers are looking for a similar performance from Royce Newman.
Newman won the starting right guard position in training camp, beating out Lucas Patrick, Jon Runyan, Jr. and Ben Braden for the stating nod.
The fourth-round pick out of Mississippi is considered a better run blocker than pass blocker at this stage of his development, but if he can be a steady and consistent pass protector, the Packers would be pleased and let him build from there.
Newman has the potential to be a long-term starter for the Packers, but if he has a strong rookie year, the Packers offensive line will be a lot less of a concern, especially until Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari returns in midseason.
3. TE Josiah Deguara
LaFleur was very excited about Deguara when the Packers drafted him in the third round of the 2020 draft. Unfortunately, a season-ending knee injury ended his rookie year after he appeared in only two games.
The Green Bay offense loves to use multiple tight ends and to have them play different roles. Expect Deguara to line up in different places in the offense this season whether it’s as a fullback, H-back or a traditional tight end.
Deguara can help the Pack disguise its formations and intentions and that is a big part of what the coaching staff is trying to do when the team has the ball.
While Deguara may not be ready for extensive duty early in the season, if the second-year University of Cincinnati product can find his groove by the end of October, he can add another dimension to the offense and give opposing defenses something more to think about.
2. LB De’Vondre Campbell
The Packers have gone through a long list of inside linebackers who never quite provided them with the type of play they needed on a consistent basis. Last year it was Christian Kirksey and Kamal Martin. The year before Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson had a shot at it while Antonio Morrison was acquired just before the 2018 season started.
Now, the Pack has signed Campbell who they hope can solidify the position along with returning second-year man Krys Barnes.
Campbell has been a starter in each of his five NFL seasons. He has more speed and the ability to cover receivers, something the Packers have lacked at the position for quite some time.
The Packers are hoping Campbell can deliver some consistency at the position which will help the defense take a step forward in 2021.
1. C Josh Myers
Josh Myers has a tall order in his rookie season. The former Ohio State star will replace Pro Bowler Corey Linsley in the middle of the Packers offensive line.
Like Linsley, Myers will also be responsible for calling the signals for the offensive linemen, which gives the rookie another thing to worry about as he adjusts to life in the NFL.
If Myers can provide the Packers with steady and consistent play at center, the offensive line should be good enough to keep the offense playing at a high level. If he stumbles, Aaron Rodgers will not have the time he needs to make plays and runs the risk of injury while the running game may falter.
Myers play will be a pivotal part of the Packers success this season.
You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers