The Green Bay Packers held the 29th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft which means they were picking near the bottom of every round. That is to be expected by a team coming off its second consecutive 13-3 campaign and back-to-back trips to the NFC Championship Game.
But the Packers draft class of 2021 seems to be ready to make significant contributions to the team in their first season in the league despite the return of 20 of last year’s 22 starters on offense and defense (Corey Linsley and Christian Kirksey/Kamal Martin being the exceptions).
Here is a look at how the Packers draft choices are expected to contribute during their first NFL seasons as we head towards the final preseason game in Buffalo:
1. CB Eric Stokes
Like most rookie corners, Stokes is having his ups and downs in practice. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have been “picking on” Stokes to get him to improve his level of play and Stokes has a positive attitude despite getting beaten by two of the best in the business regularly during training camp.
Stokes is in a battle with veteran incumbent Kevin King for the second starting cornerback spot. As of now, King is still listed as the starter on the Packers unofficial depth chart.
Stokes is expected to take over the starter opposite Jaire Alexander at some point this season. Even if he doesn’t, expect the rookie out of Georgia to have a role on defense especially in nickel and dime packages from Week 1.
2. C Josh Myers
Myers is likely to be the biggest contributor in this year’s rookie as he is projected to be the team’s starting center. The former Ohio State star was penciled in as the starter from day one of OTAs and he hasn’t disappointed.
Myers is also calling the signals for the offensive line, something that departed center Corey Linsley did last year.
In the preseason, Myers had a slightly disappointing performance against Houston but rebounded and played better against the Jets.
He has a solid attitude and work ethic and should be the Packers starting center for the next several years.
3. WR Amari Rodgers
Rodgers should have a role on the offense and on special teams as a rookie. He is presently the favorite to be the punt returner although he struggled in that role against Houston, muffing a punt inside his own 10 yard line. Rodgers bounced back with a better performance against the Jets.
Rodgers will likely have a similar role to Tyler Ervin’s last year, running end arounds, jet sweeps, screen passes and playing some as the slot receiver and sometimes lining up in the backfield. Rodgers would have likely had a bigger role in the offense if the Packers hadn’t reacquired Randall Cobb.
In the preseason, he has shown some flashes but clearly, he still needs time to integrate himself into the offensive scheme.
4. G Royce Newman
Newman is now considered the frontrunner to be the Packers starting right guard as multiple players battle for those two starting spots. Newman is strong and has good football smarts. He is showing improvement in practice as time goes on.
We will see if Newman continues to be in the starting lineup after David Bakhtiari returns to the lineup and Elgton Jenkins moves back to left guard.
Even if he doesn’t start, expect Newman to contribute on special teams and to be one of the team’s top backups at the guard position.
5. DL T.J. Slaton
Slaton has been a pleasant surprise in camp this season. The former University of Florida star has been effective in both training camp and preseason games.
Slaton weighs 330 pounds and is a difficult man to move. He has shown the ability to penetrate on running plays and to occupy blockers which allows teammates to make tackles. He even recorded a sack on a nice swim move against the Jets.
Expect Slaton to be part of the defensive line rotation as a rookie with the possibility of picking up increased playing time and responsibility if he continues to make progress.
6. CB Shemar Jean-Charles
Jean-Charles is likely to make the roster and contribute on special teams. He may see some action on defense depending on his play and the injury status of those ahead of him on the depth chart.
The coaching staff is pleased with the way the Appalachian State alum plays the ball and they believe he has the potential to compete for a larger role on defense in the future.
7. OL Cole Van Lanen
Van Lanen isn’t fighting for a starting spot, but he is expected to make the 53-man roster. The University of Wisconsin product can play both guard and tackle and is expected to be a developmental backup lineman and to play on special teams units as a rookie.
8. ILB Isaiah McDuffie
McDuffie’s start to training camp was slowed by an injury but he has returned to practice. The sixth-round pick out of Boston College is in a fight for a roster spot at inside linebacker with several other players.
If he doesn’t make the cut, McDuffie is a strong candidate to start the season on the practice squad (unless another team claims him on waivers). If he does earn a roster spot, his rookie year contributions will most likely come on special teams.
9. RB Kylin Hill
Hill is in a three-way battle for the third running back spot behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Hill is considered the front runner entering the third preseason game based on what he’s shown in training camp and in the first two preseason games.
He has scored a touchdown in each of the team’s two preseason games including one on a screen pass and one rushing score.
The former Mississippi State star has a nice burst through the hole and has done a good job at catching passes out of the backfield and even in pass protection. Protecting the quarterback and running reliable routes are critical to getting playing time in Matt LaFleur’s offense.
In addition to his expected duties as the third running back, Hill is the frontrunner to be the Packers kick return specialist and may contribute elsewhere on special teams as well.
You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers