One Breakout Candidate on Offense for Each NFC North Opponent

Here's one name on offense to keep an eye on for each division rival. 

Plenty of talent was added around the NFC North this offseason, both in free agency and the draft. Today, we’re going to look at one possible breakout candidate on offense for each of Green Bay’s division rivals, whether these players were already on the roster or just signed this offseason. Next week, we’ll do the same on the defensive side of the ball. 

Jamaal Williams, RB, Detroit Lions

Maybe this is cheating, but Jamaal Williams is setup to have a much larger role in Detroit than he did with the Packers. Once Aaron Jones re-signed with Green Bay, the writing was on the wall for Williams, who stayed in the midwest and joined the Lions not long after Jones’ deal was done. In his career, Williams has always been a complementary back with elite pass-blocking ability and reliable hands. In his 500 rushing attempts and 122 receptions with the Packers, Williams never fumbled. 

Williams had his most productive season (yardage-wise) his rookie year when he posted his highest rushing total (556 yards) and receiving total (262 yards) with six total touchdowns. The talent is there, there just have never been enough carries to go around, especially sharing a backfield with one of the league’s most explosive players in Jones. 

That shouldn’t be as much of a problem in Detroit. Outside of Williams, the Lions only have D’Andre Swift as proven talent on the roster, and he’s entering just his second season in the NFL. Then there’s Mike Warren and rookies Jermar Jefferson and Dedrick Mills rounding out the room. Williams has a realistic shot at being RB1, or at least splitting starting responsibilities with Swift. Last season, Williams played 40% of offensive snaps for the Packers. Swift struggled with injuries his rookie season and played in 13 games with only four starts, in on 38% of offensive snaps. Swift also had three fumbles his rookie year. 

With a new head coach in Dan Campbell, relying on the veteran in the position group makes a ton of sense, at least to start the season. The last time the Lions had a 1,000-yard rusher came in 2013 with Reggie Bush. While 1,000 yards might be lofty for Williams if he is in fact splitting touches with Swift, he’ll likely be given his best opportunity yet to do just that, and could immediately cement himself as a folk hero in Motor City. 

Cole Kmet, TE, Chicago Bears

Tight end Cole Kmet is poised for a big leap going into his second NFL season. While his rookie numbers are modest, with 28 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns, he’ll have a much bigger role on offense in 2021. Kmet is behind only veteran Jimmy Graham on the depth chart, and both tight ends dealt with inconsistent quarterback play during the 2020 season, making it difficult to get on the same page as an offense. 

The Bears brought in Andy Dalton for a reason, and while Justin Fields may not get the keys to the franchise right away, Kmet is a massive (6-6) target for whoever is throwing him the ball. There’s reports out of practice that receivers are already excited about the arm strength and accuracy Fields has exhibited. With weapons like Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney already in the mix, adding a field-stretching tight end (something Graham has been unable to do the last few seasons) gives the Chicago offense a dangerous wrinkle. 

Last season, Graham had only 456 receiving yards but eight touchdowns, proving his value to Matt Nagy’s offense as a red zone threat. The same will likely be true for Kmet, as his touchdown total should increase in 2021. Tight ends do take the longest to acclimate to the NFL, so we shouldn’t expect Travis Kelce-type numbers from him just yet, but Kmet’s true value will come in the middle of the field and as a second red zone option for whoever is playing quarterback. 

Kene Nwangu, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Nwangu was one of my draft crushes, so this one stings a little bit. He was selected by the Vikings in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft and played all four seasons at Iowa State. Having never made more than 61 rushing attempts in a season, it’s tough to see why Nwangu would be a breakout candidate in a running back room that already has Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, but that’s because in addition to some snaps on offense, Nwangu can carve out a role for himself as the team’s primary return man. 

At Iowa State, Nwangu had 92 returns for 2,470 yards, averaging 26.8 yards per return with one touchdown. He finished first in the Big-12 in 2016 in kickoff returns (34), return yards (896), and touchdowns (1). He also finished first in the Big-12 in 2018 in yards per return with 26.8. 

He flashes impressive 4.29 speed and has already taken some handoffs from Kirk Cousins with the first-team offense in practice. He’s a name to keep an eye on when teams report back for training camp, and especially during the preseason. When the ball is in his hands, exciting things happen. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (4)

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splitpea1's picture

June 15, 2021 at 03:24 pm

This time your usual clever wording betrayed you: "the Chicago offense" and "dangerous" don't belong in the same sentence, at least not yet. Now Kmet does have the downfield potential, but he still has to work on his blocking, particularly finishing them off. I'll bet the Bears are hoping their newly drafted tackle Jenkins is a breakout candidate, too, because they really seem to be counting on him to start right away. The offensive line play needs to improve for them to be able to get into gear.

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Swisch's picture

June 15, 2021 at 02:06 pm

I've been looking for an opportunity to say that I'm really going to miss Jamaal Williams. I'm sad to see him go as a player and a person, and pray him all the best going forward in life (within reason, as in not doing too much damage against the Packers).
As for the Packers, we not only have a star in Aaron Jones and a formidable new guy in A.J. (Armored Jeep) Dillon, but perhaps two other up-and-comers in Kylin Hill from Mississippi State and Patrick Taylor from Memphis.
The things is, with the pounding these guys take as running backs, it seems a team needs three or four of them for a full season. Rather than running any one of them into the ground, it seems better to keep them healthy and fresh for the long haul, including the playoffs.
This kind of approach would also seem to prolong careers, as well. This season for the Packers, I'm not looking so much at total numbers as efficiency. For example, it's not so much whether Aaron Jones gains 1,000 yards, but his yards per carry.
While Jones and Dillon will still get the majority of the snaps, I'm excited about seeing the other two guys get some significant action. A guy with a sprained ankle could get a week off knowing that his sub is going to fill in admirably, and we can adjust snaps for these guys on short weeks due to Monday or Thursday games.
I'm excited to see the Packers run game in year three of LaFleur's offense. I'm still expecting to see at least a slight majority of passes overall; but at the same time, the Packers could be ahead of the curve in the NFL as far as bringing back the running game to pounding effect.

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GregC's picture

June 16, 2021 at 07:05 am

This is not a scary list. If Jamaal Williams is the Lions' #1 RB, they won't have much of a running game. He does not have breakaway speed, and defenses do not have to game plan against him. When he started for the Packers, he was pedestrian. I love his enthusiasm and hard work as much as everyone else does. He's a very good #2, but he's not who you want as your primary ball carrier.

The Vikings' RB is not likely to get a lot of playing time behind Dalvin Cook. I have to wonder if his production as an RB in college was any good, considering that the article only cited his kickoff return stats. The kickoff return is no longer a major factor in NFL games.

The Bears' TE is probably at least another year away from having a chance to make much of an impact. First, he needs to beat out an over-the-hill Jimmy Graham for the starting job.

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mnbadger's picture

June 16, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Thanks Maggie, but I wish you would have stuck your neck a little further out and added a Packer to the list to make it an all NFC North list, not just Packers' opponents. As I don't closely follow the foes, I'll go with Myers as GBP's addition, with AR a close second. Myers wins because he may be on the field for every snap, while AR will get flashes, but likely not more than 35% of the offensive snaps. GPG!

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