Three Players Who Need to Be Difference Makers in 2020

The Packers need these three players to step up in 2020. 

All in all, the Green Bay Packers’ 2019 season was pretty spectacular. Playing for a rookie head coach and being one game away from the Super Bowl isn’t something anyone can easily dismiss. But after coming so close last year, they have their eyes set to go a game further in 2020. If the Packers want to make it to the final dance, they will have to get the most out of every player on the roster. However, these three guys need to be difference-makers this season for this team to reach its fullest potential.

Jaire Alexander 

Alexander wants to be considered among the NFL’s best corners. Following two productive seasons, he’s on his way but still needs to get over that last hump to be considered elite. The former first-rounder was an All-Rookie selection by Pro Football Writers of America in 2018. Last year, he cemented his job as the number one corner and improved his totals in interceptions (2) and pass deflections (17). Now 2020 needs to be a statement year for Alexander. A few of those pass deflections need to turn into takeaways, and opposing quarterbacks need to be fearful when throwing in his direction.

Jace Sternberger

He’s TE1, and it’s only his second season. Honestly, you could almost consider this year an extension of his rookie season for Sternberger. Six games and 60 offensive snaps aren’t much to go off of, but Green Bay feels they have something in Sternberger nonetheless. Earlier this month, general manager Brian Gutekunst spoke highly of the tight end he selected in the third round in 2019, saying he is a guy they are “depending” and “counting” on to do big things in year two. The Packers are expected to weaponize Sternberger’s athleticism and receiving prowess in LaFleur’s offense. If all goes well, he will be a guy Aaron Rodgers can consistently look for to stretch the field and extend drives.

Allen Lazard

After coming on strong halfway through last season, the expectations for Lazard this offseason are very high. As an undrafted free agent, no one thought Lazard would finish the season second on the team in receiving yards (477) and tied for second in touchdowns. When Devin Funchess decided to opt-out, the expectations for Lazard were elevated once again. Rodgers and LaFleur both love what he brings to the table, and Davante Adams is also eager to see what his protégé is capable of. Like Alexander, Lazard is entering his third NFL season. Now is about the time for guys with their experience to start putting their game together to make a greater impact. Green Bay is going to need a lot out of Lazard this season because, with every passing day, it appears he is set to be WR2.

The hype surrounding the three players mentioned needs to be real in 2020, or the Packers are in danger of falling short of expectations following an outstanding first act under LaFleur.

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (15)

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RCPackerFan's picture

August 10, 2020 at 06:57 am

I agree with the list and these are the guys who have to take the next big step in becoming the difference makers we need.

I will add some alternative names who have to take a major step this year.

Darnell Savage -
As a rookie he showed why they traded up for him. He has that make up speed that was very similar to Nick Collins. IMO he is the closest to Nick Collins that we have had since Collins' career ended.

Rashan Gary -
In order for our defensive front to become scary good, we really need Gary to take a big jump in year 2. He was the highest draft pick we have had in a while and we really need him to take a step. IF Gary takes a next step, our front will consist of The Smith Bros, Gary and Clark. That could be a downright scary unit. But a lot of it depends on if Gary can take that next step.

MVS -
I still really like MVS. I think he has shown us that he can be a major contributor to the offense. He has shown that he can be the big time play making threat we have been lacking. The problem with him has been consistency. Last year he seemed to lose confidence after an injury and never was the same. But the first 7 games last year was really good. He had 21 receptions for 416 yards, 19.8 ypc and 2 TD's. He was on pace for 48 catches, 950 yards and 4 TD's. But finished with 38 rec, 581 yards, and 2 TD's. If MVS can carry that over for a whole season, he will give the offense a player unlike anyone the offense has. He has a bit of Javon Walker in him. Hopefully he can have a year 3 like Walker had in his 3rd year.

Some other guys I think and hope can take a leap this year. Josh Jackson, Oren Burks, Kingsley Keke.
Jackson I think has the potential to be very good. Just needs to get on the field to show it.
Burks has the ability to be really good. He needs to stay healthy.
Keke I think has the potential to be starting next to Clark. I think he is going to surprise people.

One alternate guy that I think could have a major role this year.
Tyler Ervin. He brings a unique skillset to the offense. He has a lot of ability and will have a full offseason to learn the offense and a whole offseason for the coaches to find ways to use him. He could be a major contributor to the offense this year.

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dobber's picture

August 10, 2020 at 02:43 pm

I was encouraged when the Packers integrated Tyler Ervin into the offense last year after picking him up. It showed that the new offensive staff was flexible enough to recognize opportunities when they found them. Still, he only played a grand total of about 2.5% of the offensive snaps, and only had more than 2 in a game in the last two games of the season (7 in a blowout over MIN, and 14 in that lax game against DET at the end). That said, I don't think he's regarded as more than just a returner and bottom-of-the-depth-chart RB, so I don't think we'll see much more than a couple snaps per game out of him.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

August 10, 2020 at 07:08 am

I guess I'd like to know what the rubric/definition of "difference maker" is for you, Brandon.
I feel like you'd want to pick players who "were the same as their peers on the roster, but need to be MORE."
If that's the (my) definition, then J Alexander already IS one of those.
I'd replace him with K Keke, probably (SOMEONE needs to step up on the line).
If you want a DB, I'd go with J Jackson or C Sullivan probably, although I feel like there are a number of guys who COULD be the one who rises into "difference maker."
The same issue exists for A Lazard, he COULD be bypassed by ESB (or MVS, but I'm not holding my breath on him).
Maybe the most important "difference maker" would be whoever rises (hopefully) at ILB.

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Bure9620's picture

August 10, 2020 at 08:04 am

Definitely Lazard, but he is a reason why I am not really worried about the Packers pass catchers. 477 yards in basically 9 1/2 games is on par with where a #2 WR should be. He will likely be as targeted at Sternberger and Jones. Those are your main 3 pass catchers behind Adams who could lead the league in targets.

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Stroh's picture

August 10, 2020 at 05:56 pm

The LaFleur offense is RB and TE centric. That makes it really important Sternberger steps up and they already have Adams as the #1 WR. Lazard isn't that important
in this offense. The QB, RB and TE will be the drivers of the offense, not so much an alleged #2 WR.

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Handsback's picture

August 10, 2020 at 08:07 am

Alexander has played pretty well, but not one of the league's best. He needs to show continuous improvement and consistency. I like RC PackerFan's response in that Gary and Savage will have a lot to say if the Packer defense improves this year.
Knowing there may not be a season this year, I was watching last year's Ravens and 49ers game yesterday. First off Mostert had a monster day against the Ravens by running the same plays he destroyed Green Bay with in the playoffs. Second, the Ravens looked almost unstoppable at times. Between Jackson's option plays and a punishing running game....tough to beat.
Here's my point, if the Packers can't figure a way to stop the run they will never be a SB team. Gary may be one of their best run stoppers so I expect him to have a really solid year. Savage is also extremely important with his speed in stopping those off-tackle runs and covering the mistakes that King and Alexander may have.
So IMHO...those two will have a dramatic effect on the Packer's defense this year. The Packer's defense will have a dramatic effect on how far they go in the playoffs.

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packerbacker-53's picture

August 10, 2020 at 11:49 am

I disagree with Alexander on this list. He is good and will be great. We need ESB to be huge this year. Lazard has been evaluated by several coaches and execs and they like what they see, but know at the end of the day he is at best a weak 3 WR. You can't force a dog to be a lion. Also, Rashan Gary needs to be the 1st rounder we drafted. Period. Keke should also be on this list.

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Stroh's picture

August 10, 2020 at 06:04 pm

They will barely even use a 3rd WR. Its a RB and TE centric offense. A #2 or 3 WR mean little. The QB, RB and TE need to be productive, not a 2nd or 3rd WR. In McCarthy's offense it would be, but not in Lafleur's offense.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

August 10, 2020 at 12:58 pm

It's a lot more than 3 players that are needed for the Packers to be successful in 2020.

For position grouping CB play in a Pettine system is key. Alexander/King/Sullivan/Jackson need to be as a group. Alexander was outplayed by King in 2019. King produced more interceptions and Alexander dropped way too many. We need the group not Alexander to be difference makers.

ILB as mentioned needs to have difference makers not liabilities appear.

For TE it's not all on Sternberger and he's not the defacto #1. We still have Mercedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan. Lewis showed he still has athleticism when he hurdled a db in 2019 and he's like having another OL with a team posed to run more in 2020.

RT is a big ? headed into 2020 we need for Wagner to have a good year or for a project or draft pick to step up. Left side of the line and center is solid but RG was mediocre and without Brulaga RT is the concern.

Still a lot of questions on the defensive side of the trenches outside of Clark. Keke gets thrown out there a lot but I fail to see the hype so far. What Packer fans know is Clark can't do it all by himself here's hoping someone steps up.

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CoachDino's picture

August 10, 2020 at 02:50 pm

Disagree that King outplayed Jaire. IMO not even close but I'm with ya on the rest.

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splitpea1's picture

August 10, 2020 at 03:25 pm

Let's just say it would be very, very helpful if Sternberger became a difference maker in stretching the field and being productive in the red zone. I know we're going to be running it more, but there's nothing wrong with picking up gobs of yardage and touchdowns through the air if the opportunities present themselves.

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Stroh's picture

August 10, 2020 at 06:37 pm

Just getting productive play at ILB would go a long way. Becoming a difference maker on D might be asking too much. But consistent and productive play at ILB would help a lot.

Not every position needs to be difference makers. Role players just doing their job is plenty at some positions.

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Packers0808's picture

August 10, 2020 at 02:41 pm

I strongly believe that Bigleton is being very highly over looked! Experience is a big factor even though on different formulated format!

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dobber's picture

August 10, 2020 at 02:51 pm

I think one of the players who could make a tremendous impact by stepping up his play is Darnell Savage. He was credible in 2019. You don't deal up in round 1 for credible, you're looking for impact plays. If Savage moves from credible to an upper-echelon FS in 2020, this defense will improve significantly. Amos can then be used in a way that better suits his skills, and CBs all look better with good S play behind them.

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Stroh's picture

August 10, 2020 at 05:44 pm

I don't think Lazard stepping up is going to make a difference to be honest. Sternberger absolutely should be on the list along with Jaire. After them Savage and/or Gary. Since the Smiths are on board that might lessen the need for Gary somewhat. That leaves Savage as the next most important. Having Jaire and Savage step up in prominence would be ideal to really make a difference on the defensive side.

Keke would really help as well and then a productive ILB next to Kirksey.

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