Internal Development of 2018 & 2019 Draft Classes Will Be Key to 2020 Success

Although it's not as fun to talk about as a flashy free agent signing, in order for the Green Bay Packers to take a step forward in 2020, they are banking on the internal development of their 2018 and 2019 draft classes. 

After a number of years of the Green Bay Packers remaining fairly quiet during free agency with Ted Thompson at the helm, the 2019 offseason was really, really fun. As we all know, current GM Brian Gutekunst went out and spent $182 million in contracts to bring in Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner.

These additions, of course, ended up playing a big role in the success that Green Bay had last season. After missing the playoffs two straight seasons - something we never thought we'd have to endure during the Aaron Rodgers' era - the Packers bounced back in a big way going 13-3, sweeping the NFC North, finishing as the NFC's No. 2 seed, and making it to the NFC Championship Game. 

However, despite the success, to many, the Packers never really had that same vibe that most 13 win teams have. And if anything, Green Bay's loss in the Championship Game to San Francisco highlighted how far they have to go to bring home the Lombardi Trophy rather than how far they came in just one year under Matt LaFleur. 

So entering the 2020 offseason, there were several holes on the roster that had to be filled. Most notably included linebacker, receiver, right tackle, and interior defensive lineman. But with limited cap space this time around, the Packers had to go bargain hunting in free agency and in the draft, well, that didn't go how any of us expected it would.

With what many have considered an underwhelming offseason, NFL media members are now questioning whether or not the Packers have actually improved from 2019, with most assuming they didn't. And to some extent, I can see why. But in today's NFL where it is easy to become enamored with new, high-profile players joining your team, what's often forgotten about is internal development. This is what the successful teams have, and it's what the Green Bay Packers are banking on in 2020. 

From the Packers' 2018 and 2019 draft classes, there are going to be several players tasked with much larger roles this season, and their development is going to be crucial to Green Bay getting over that Super Bowl hump.

In taking a look at the 2018 class, Jaire Alexander has All-Pro potential but still has plenty of room for growth. Meanwhile, it's really now or never for Josh Jackson and Oren Burks. Both have struggled to see consistent playing time during their first two seasons, and both play positions where there is a lack of experienced depth on the roster. A step forward from each player - or at least one of them - would be huge for this defense.

Then there are receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who can hopefully add some life and production to this wide receiver unit. St. Brown missed all of 2019 with an injury but impressed as a rookie and has QB1 in his corner. Valdes-Scantling, on the other hand, had a disappointing end to the 2019 season but has flashed that big-play potential over his first two seasons; now it's time to do that on a more regular basis. The development of these two can add some serious juice to the receiver corps. 

Moving on to the 2019 class, both Elgton Jenkins and Darnell Savage had excellent rookie campaigns, but making that Year 2 leap can put them among the best in each of their respective position groups. 

Rashan Gary, Kingsley Keke, and Jace Sternberger are all expected to assume larger roles this season, while Ka'dar Hollman and Ty Summers will be competing for meaningful playing time this year as well. 

That's a lot of players that, if things go well, are going to see plenty of playing time this season and will have a major on impact each of Green Bay's games.

Now, realistically not all are going to find success in 2020, but if a majority can, this Packers team, who already has Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark, Amos, and The Smiths, is going to be just fine. 

While flashy offseason additions are certainly more fun to talk about than internal development, this is how the good NFL teams stay good, and the lack of development is why the bad teams stay bad. If the Green Bay Packers are going to be successful once again this season, it's going to come down to the play of their 2018 and 2019 draft classes. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (11)

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ricky's picture

July 03, 2020 at 02:29 pm

It is time for potential to become production on the field for a lot of players. It won't happen for all of them, and the offensive line remains an area of concern on the right side. But, it's the off season, so optimism is better than pessimism. There will be plenty of time for hand wringing if the Packers get off to a slow start, or if there is a serious injury to a key player.

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CheesyTex's picture

July 03, 2020 at 02:46 pm

I'm dreaming of a break-out season by Yosh Nijman.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 03, 2020 at 02:34 pm

While the 2019 class has, in my mind, the potential to be special, especially if Jace turns out to be a legitimate NFL tight end, the 2018 class, on the other hand, could end up producing ONE position starter in Alexander. If Jackson and Burks flame out, which is starting to look like a real possibility, that means GB got nothing from their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks. There's still hope that ESB becomes a solid contributor. Personally, I think MVS is pretty much what he has shown. Hopefully I'm wrong about that.

Thankfully, Gute didn't put all his eggs in one basket (the draft), and went out and signed some really good young, ascending FA's, to take the sting out of that 2018 draft.

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Turophile's picture

July 03, 2020 at 02:38 pm

While players are a big part of how a team plays there are two other things that can help the Packers.

One is how well the players gel together. "Every year is a new year in terms of team chemistry" (as McCarthy was fond of saying). The team seemed to work together rather well in 2019, and it will need to do just as well in 2020.

The other key thing is how well the players execute La Fleur's scheme in year two of his HC career. The players understanding of his scheme should be better this year and he also has the players from this years draft to help him get closer to operating the scheme he wants in place.

There are problems this year (besides the coronavirus effects). The RT quality is probably a downgrade this year from last. There is no Martinez at ILB and it seems unlikely the Packers have an equal plug-in replacement to take on all of his 2019 snaps. Also, none of the more urgent team needs, as seen by the media (WR, OT, ILB, DL), were addressed early in the draft.

It will be interesting to see how the team does this year. I'm hoping for an 11-5 season, and would be happy enough if it were 10-6. This assumes a full season - I hope they manage to do that, but they might not.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

July 04, 2020 at 11:57 am

I think you are over looking Martinez's snap count and his impact.

To this day i have not found anyone explain how he got every snap....blowing out the Riaders? Give Sommers a few snaps? How a pass rusher or pass defender could not have been subbed in for him and improved the chances of a stop. Blake's snap count is not a bragging point for him and a big question to Mike P

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Guam's picture

July 03, 2020 at 03:10 pm

This article has a problematic concept. Yes, the Packers will improve as their draft choices mature, but so will every other team as their draft choices mature. Is there any reason to believe the Packers draft choices will mature better or more quickly than any other team's draft choices? Probably not.

Additionally the Packers spent their first and fourth draft choices on a guy who likely will not see the field this year and other teams drafted guys who will see the field this year. The Packers likely regressed versus other teams at least in 2020. Love may be a huge asset in future years, but not this year and drafting him will hurt the Packers in 2020 relative to other teams whose first and fourth round choices are playing. This article is smoke and mirrors to make Packer fans feel better about what the pundits are saying.

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Coldworld's picture

July 04, 2020 at 07:26 am

All teams depend on enough draft picks developing well enough. In the cap era, the depth of actual contributors and whether or not one or more turns out to be a plus player is often determinative if success.

This is particularly true with the Packers given the threadbare state of our roster when Gute was appointed. Despite welcome non draft activity, the only way to make up lost ground was to rely on development from draft picks. We are getting to the point where we should start to see whether enough of these do make the grade. This article is on point to that extent.

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Guam's picture

July 05, 2020 at 07:56 am

Unfortunately the author's lede was "for the Green Bay Packers to take a step forward in 2020....." and I suspect the Packers will likely take a small step backward in 2020 due to comparative regression because of the lack of impact from their first and fourth round draft choices in 2020. I normally like Bretl's articles, but I thought his underlying premise was a bit weak here.

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splitpea1's picture

July 03, 2020 at 03:43 pm

We can start evaluating Gutekunst's acumen as a GM as this season progresses. It's great that we finally signed some impactful free agents, but some of the aforementioned draft picks need to come through (especially Gary and Sternberger) and make meaningful contributions to the team. We don't have to wait years for Love's development to see if Gute has what it takes to get us over the hump.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 03, 2020 at 07:12 pm

Yep. If GB is going to be more than 10-6 this year, they're going to have to be better than they were last year. And that's going to come from the 2nd and 3rd year players. If it happens.

Entirely possible. And with the cap constraints this year and upcoming deals due, I understand why Gute did what he did. But maaaan we'd better hope young'uns step up. Cause it's gonna get ugly if they don't.

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flackcatcher's picture

July 04, 2020 at 05:19 pm

Yup, all so true. Gute has done a good job at both signing FA within the Cap constraints and managing the Cap for in season signings. He delayed it as long as possible, credit to him and his front office team. But the Cap Man is here, and we all know what that means. So the kids play, period. A lot will depend on if there is a season, and how the NFL decides on Cap relief and how it's managed. IF there is a season... (Ugh, I hate writing that)

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