The Lass Word: Last Chance Packers, Will Any Break Out?

Now or never for these guys when camp begins.

When the Green Bay Packers assemble for training camp at the end of this month, the strata of players will be clear.  The top layer will be the stars and the veteran starters, those who have proven their worth and who can and will skate through camp with minimal energy, saving their best for the real thing. 

 

At the bottom are the camp fodder players.  These are the free agent flyers who pretty much knew coming in they had no chance, but who were eager to at least put some things on film that might impress some other coach on some other team at some later time.   

 

In the middle of those two groups are the bubble players, guys who have a legitimate chance to make the team, but who have to compete with several others for a handful of spots.  Somewhere on this level lie the Last Chance Packers.  These are the athletes that were either drafted, signed, or traded for because the staff saw potential talent that got them excited.  But there’s a reason many feel NFL stands for “Not For Long.”  For a number of different reasons, they have not shown they can be consistently good enough to help the team.  The coaches are likely giving them this camp as their final evaluation before cutting them loose.   Here are some of the names that fit that description: 

 

Linebacker Oren Burks was a third round draft pick in 2018.  The hope was he would become Green Bay’s version of Devin White, a fast, physical tackling machine who patrolled the middle of the defense.  But after starting four games as a rookie, Burks struggled to tackle and cover.  He has not started a single game the past two seasons and sees only occasional plays from scrimmage.  The Packers moved him to the outside this past season in an attempt to find a home for the former Vanderbilt star, but he didn’t show enough there either.  Burks might have been cut last year except he has excelled on special teams, and that’s not nothing, especially considering Green Bay’s lack of performance on those units.  He is in the final year of his rookie contract.  If he doesn’t shine, it’s probable the coaches will use the roster spot to find someone who can play from scrimmage as well. 

 

Josh Jackson was a second round pick in that same 2018 draft.  Known for his ballhawking and interception ability in college at Iowa, Jackson has started 15 games in three seasons for the Pack without a pick.  He relies too much on his hands, for which he is often penalized, and lacks the speed to turn and run with NFL receivers.  He lost his starting job immediately when Jaire Alexander arrived, and has played second string ever since.  Pressed into duty for five games after an injury to Kevin King, Jackson did the best he could, but with first round pick Eric Stokes on the scene, with Ka’dar Hollman, Kabion Ento and rookie Shemar Jean-Charles also in the mix, Jackson will need to step up his performance in camp.  There’s been a drum beat to try him at safety but the coaches have never been serious about it. 

 

Equanimeous St. Brown certainly looks the part of the tall, speedy pass catcher the Packers so often covet.  Many fans, and apparently the coaches as well, thought the Notre Dame alum was a steal in the 6th round in 2018.  Indeed, he flashed promise as a rookie with 21 catches, averaging over 15 yards per reception.  Health issues have put him on the brink.  He missed four games in his first year, the entire season in 2019, and four more this past campaign.  When he has played he has had some bad drops and hasn’t run routes well enough to gain the confidence of the quarterback.  Amari Rodgers and Devin Funchess are new players who will take up two roster spots this season and may well unseat St. Brown unless he really opens some eyes in training camp and preseason. 

 

Tight end Jace Sternberger didn’t do himself any favors by getting suspended for the first two games of the season for violating the league substance rule.  Some saw the third round pick of 2019 as the next incarnation of Jermichael Finley, but so far the only resemblance is his injury history.  He’s already missed 14 of a possible 32 regular season games.  The tight end spot was wide open heading into last season, but Sternberger watched undrafted free agent Robert Tonyan blow past him to break out, and then saw the Packers draft Josiah Deguara, who immediately showed blocking and receiving skills before getting hurt early.  Marcedes Lewis and Dominique Dafney likely make the team as well.  The fact that Green Bay uses a lot of tight ends in the Matt LaFleur system may buy Sternberger another year, but he figures to be in the doghouse as a result of his suspension, and he had better come on hard to stick around. 

 

I’m not sure defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster fits into this category, but he probably should.  He’s a try hard, former undrafted free agent who has played a lot of football for the Green and Gold.  But the writing may be on the wall.  In 2020 his starts dropped from ten to three.  He played in fifteen games last year without a sack, a quarterback hit, or a tackle for loss.  Second year man Kingsley Keke passed him up with nine starts, four sacks, and eight hits on the quarterback.  Rookie TJ Slaton will find a place on the roster this year, and the new defensive system may use Za’darius Smith and Rashan Gary with their hand on the ground more often.  The former Northwestern standout will need to impress in camp.  If the Packers troll the cut list around the league and find some DL prospects they like, Lancaster may find himself on the way out. 

 

Sometimes the light eventually comes on.  It would be an immense help to these 2021 Packers if one or more of these players were to bloom late.  Which one is the most likely to do so?  It’s anyone’s guess.  But the time for them is now.  Green Bay has positioned itself to move on from most of them if they don’t turn heads this summer. 

 

 

 

-----------------------------------

Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

NFL Categories: 
7 points

Comments (20)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Bure9620's picture

July 08, 2021 at 03:56 pm

I hope to be wrong and pleasantly surprised but I do not see any of these 4th year players breaking out in any way, not to become a key player or someone worthy of an extension...I am still hopeful for Sternberger and that he puts it all together in year 3.
I think he can and has the talent to do so but needs to have a good camp, BIG year for him.

1 points
2
1
splitpea1's picture

July 08, 2021 at 04:06 pm

It's probably time to cut bait with a large portion of the 2018 draft.

I mean, if the coaches don't even want to put Jackson in for special teams, and you can save money by cutting him....unless he has a magnificent preseason.

ESB: Probably no room.

JK Scott: Should definitely be on the bubble, and should get strong competition from Winslow.

Sternberger: Give him one more chance; at least he provides insurance in case of injury.

5 points
6
1
Bure9620's picture

July 08, 2021 at 04:09 pm

Jackson was a healthy scratch in games last year......passed over for Hollman whom is also on the bubble....It is now fair to say Josh Jackson is a bust....atleast Burks is a good ST player.....

3 points
3
0
Coldworld's picture

July 08, 2021 at 05:45 pm

Burks is an adequate ST player in my opinion, not a stand out. We don’t have a true ST demon. Adequacy without upside in another phase is not a reason for retention.

Lancaster is good at one thing, being stout but as immobile and he is unmovable at NT. He’s useful for that and probably stays just for that. The mistake with him has been to prevent he could be more. He’s relatively cheap. We need his depth I suspect. I’d hoped Rush could provide more, but apparently not.

Of the rest you mention, I think there are too many first contract prospects at all their positions. I think ESB has an outside chance if it clicks, but he’s going to have to make a consistent splash to beat out Winfree, Taylor, Gaither and co let alone Funchess. Rodgers takes up the 4th guaranteed spot absent injuries, that may only leave one.

I think Jackson has probably run out of places to be tried, even with a new coordinator and I think Sternberger is under pressure from Nuata but mainly Daffney and numbers on O. He’s not a great blocker and Tonyan is the move, but Funchess could also if needed.

Lancaster isn’t changing, but the others are going to have to leap out at camp early, stay healthy and be consistent. None of these play ST except Burks and he’s got to beat out Summers, who may be improving and who is equally capable on STs, let alone some of this year’s crop. He’s not getting another go at OLB, and starts out as 5th ILB at best. I could see him not making it through camp if a DL upgrade becomes available, or some other Gute upgrade.

4 points
4
0
jannes bjornson's picture

July 08, 2021 at 07:21 pm

Sternberger has never gotten a cadence going with the head shots he sustained. He's the open field/seam TE along with Tonyan. Burks and Jackson should have been pink slipped in2019. ESB just has to go mana-a-mano with Funchess for a spot if he wants to be in the big leagues.

5 points
5
0
mbpacker's picture

July 08, 2021 at 04:37 pm

I'm sure if we are talking about this group of players, they all know the narrative as well- writing on the wall!
I know the Packer Way is to draft and develop, but they seem to keep players longer than some teams with hope that the " light does eventually turn on". With this group the train is arriving to the station, they better flash in training camp and pre-season, or they can watch Lambeau Field fad into the distance from the window, possibly destination unknown.

4 points
4
0
stockholder's picture

July 08, 2021 at 06:25 pm

I could add a lot more players. You took Burks. But I'll take Summers. Burks is a bust. You took Jackson. But I'll take Sullivan. Jackson is a Bust. You took St. Brown but I'll take Funchess. St Brown isn't a Bust. But he won't break out here. The TEs. Who ever blocks the best. Because Tonyan has Rodgers confidence. The DL. I'd keep Lan Caster and dump Lowrey. But where they rate isn't a priority. Nobody fears them in this division.

0 points
6
6
packer132's picture

July 08, 2021 at 07:44 pm

Not much to write about in July before training camp starts, but I would rather have this than nothing. I don't see St. Brown making the team, with so much competition. The team will keep 5 or 6 WR's, and he needs to beat out Funchess, Taylor, Begelton, Blair, Winfree, Thompkins, Gaither. One or two of this group should make the practice squad, and Taylor could make it due to special teams. Burks is likely gone after Campbell was picked up, and Packers still could grab a LB or DT once teams make cuts in August. Sternberger will be on the team though suspended for first two games, and I think gets let go during the season. Jackson will not make the final roster, and could have been released last year. I expect improvement from Barnes, Martin, Keke, and a few rookies could surprise everyone. Can't wait for the season to start.

3 points
4
1
nostradanus's picture

July 08, 2021 at 08:52 pm

If the Packers can save enough money most of these guys are going to be gone.
Burks Gone
Jackson Gone
EQ Gone
Sternberger Stays
Lancaster Stays

2 points
4
2
WestWi_Packfan's picture

July 08, 2021 at 10:42 pm

-Burks will not stay on Special teams play alone and hasn't improved at LB.
-Jackson is just too slow to match the speed of most WR.
-Sternberger will stay for now and if we have a spot open because of injury, by the time he comes back, they may keep him or cut him if no opening and our other TE's playing well.
- Lancaster has to show more then just being a plug in the middle and has maybe a 50 / 50 chance of being on the roster.
-Everyone has ESB getting cut but it could just as well be Funchess who hasnt played much in the last couple years and really doesnt act like he wants to after missing OTA's and part of mini-camp. St Brown is also more talented then Taylor who hasnt shown much either. If one of the other younger guys emerges then we could see him gone but I'm betting at this point he's at least our 5th best WR. So he's definitely on the bubble but has a chance depending on how many WR they decide to keep.

3 points
4
1
Coldworld's picture

July 09, 2021 at 09:19 am

Funchess hasn’t forgotten how to play and isn’t a rookie or old. I’d expect a little rust but not much more as he looks ripped. That said, assuming no injuries, there are 4 WRs with Rodgers now who will be on the roster and one space open. It is not just Funchess that ESB has to worry about, but players like Winfree who know the system and even the likes of Gaither who come in as accomplished route runners who can fit in anywhere and play on STs. They probably only keep 5 and if there is a 6th it’s probably a returner if they want Rodgers focused on O.

ESB is in a real fight, Funchess isn’t guaranteed, but I suspect he brings more now and isn’t going to make the PS. Both are one year contracts, so if Winfree, Gaither or another shows capability and upside it’s quite possible that factors as well as STs. Funchess can also play move TE (maybe his best role) so he impacts Sternberger too. One less pure TE, 2 H Backs and Funchess is an option.

2 points
2
0
LambeauPlain's picture

July 09, 2021 at 02:04 pm

Cold...Agree Funchess hasn't forgotten to play football, but he hasn't learned to run faster than a 4.7+ either. ESB's size and speed will be hard to cut if he has a good camp. Health has been his achilles heel. Stay healthy and perform in camp and I think the makes it.

I think the Pack only keeps 5 WRs and the competition will be fierce. DA, MVS, Lazard, and Rodgers are locks. 1 spot I think ESB has the inside track. Winfree and Gaither are intriguing however.

2 points
2
0
Coldworld's picture

July 09, 2021 at 05:49 pm

Funchess had a lousy run at the combine, but ran a 4.48 at his pro day. Even allowing for favorable timing, that’s plenty fast enough for him. Adams ran a 4.56 at the combine, for comparison.

2 points
2
0
Savage57's picture

July 09, 2021 at 05:22 am

Jackson is afflicted with the same condition which was the undoing of Ladarius Gunter and Davon House - heavy feet. Big corners who have the quicks to keep up with the speed merchants of the NFL WR world are rare. The Packers have two, and we saw the liability one of them created in the NFCCG.

He's not real fast, is easily beaten by burst, and doesn't possess recovery speed. Imagine him trying to cover Davante, and the picture becomes as crystal clear as it is disappointing.

2 points
3
1
Coldworld's picture

July 09, 2021 at 09:25 am

I think they wanted to use Jackson inside, I think that was the plan. For some reason they aborted that, as he seemed to really struggle reading the plays. They have not reverted and they don’t trust him outside. Like Burks, I’m somewhat surprised that he’s still here. Absent some Barry insight unlocking either of them, I don’t see either remaining so as Gute picks up others as he typically has or the cut down if that doesn’t happen.

4 points
4
0
oceanstrength's picture

July 09, 2021 at 05:40 am

you forgot running back. where Dexter Williams has done nothing but get paychecks. Has some young competition.

7 points
8
1
Coldworld's picture

July 09, 2021 at 09:30 am

Good point. Absent injuries, he seems to be in direct competition with Hill at least, even if they keep 4. If only 3 make it, he’s got to be better than Taylor, whom I find intriguing as a Dillon back up or short yardage specialist. If he hasn’t improved in pass protection, he may be the bottom of the RB list going into camp.

1 points
2
1
jannes bjornson's picture

July 09, 2021 at 10:37 pm

The guy should have been cut, year One.

0 points
0
0
LambeauPlain's picture

July 09, 2021 at 01:40 pm

I think D. Williams has very little chance to make the 53. Hill and Taylor both have good shots to make the 53 as I believe the Packers will keep 4 RBs.

In fact I think he is second to Burks on Ken's list.

3 points
3
0
LambeauPlain's picture

July 09, 2021 at 01:52 pm

Good analysis, Ken.

Jackson may be out of chances, but there are two developments that may resurrect his career: 1. Barry plays a lot of zone where Jackson excelled at Iowa. That would minimize his tendency to grab in man coverage. 2. I still think he could be serviceable at S where the action is in front of him and where the Pack could add depth. CB is crowded room with lots of talent now. S less so.

Burks is likely gone. McDuffie sealed his fate. Summers has more upside, having played QB for most of his football life. And with the trio of Campbell, Barnes and Martin...no room for Burks in the room.

Lancaster will make the 53 to tag team with TJ at nose to get Kenny more snaps at 4 tech.

3 points
4
1