Any Packer fan knows that ever since Ted Thompson took over as General Manager of the Green Bay Packers he has loaded each position on the field with a bounty of talent. In doing so, he also gave us, as fans, the opportunity to scrutinize every player on the roster.
In that respect, I give you the five most probable players to break-out next season for the Packers. These are not the five players that you always hear people speak of, such as James Starks, Sam Shields, etc. These are bonafide secrets that could take the team, and potentially league, by storm.
So, without further ado...
A former fourth-round selection of the 2011 NFL Draft, House was expected to make somewhat of a contribution on special teams.
That hasn’t been the case.
However, as the young cornerback continues to progress throughout his rookie season, he has managed to impress the coaching staff with his physicality at the line of scrimmage. A trait such as this was supposed to be a drawback and was a partial reason to his dropping during the draft. But, on an attacking Packer defense, House will have plenty of opportunity to make an impact in 2012, especially with the potential departures of Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee.
This one isn’t going to be as surprising. If you’re a Packer fan and have watched the previous two games you have noticed the impact that Smith has had for this Packer defense. A smaller version of current LB Desmond Bishop, Smith has made big play after big play, whether it’s intercepting a pass, forcing a fumble, or simply breaking up a play behind the line of scrimmage.
The rookie linebacker won’t be a secret much longer depending on how much longer Bishop and/or Hawk is out. Smith has provided depth to a previously thought of as weak linebacking corp.
Another reason to expect a breakout season is the situation opposite Clay Matthews. Frank Zombo hasn't been able to stay healthy, Erik Walden has had run-ins with the law, and Vic So’oto appears to be an enigma. With that in mind, who’s to say that Smith won’t be able to play outside in the Packer defense? He’s tenacious enough to make defensive coordinators plan for him and that’s better help than anything Clay Matthews has gotten in the past two seasons.
Coming out of the 2011 preseason, one of the most talked about rookies was linebacker Vic So’oto. Following an impressive game against the Kansas City Chiefs, most analysts were expecting So’oto to start opposite Clay Matthews for the majority of the regular season, but lingering back problems have derailed that possibility for the time being.
While So’oto is now healthy, I think it is unreasonable to expect him to make a substantial impact for the rest of the season. Back injuries are one of the most difficult to return to form from during the course of a season, especially when it’s the first time dealing with them. That doesn’t mean his skills will diminish in the future though.
So’oto has a relentless motor, similar to that of Clay Matthews III, the linebacker playing opposite of him. He has great instincts while playing the run and has shown to being adept at pass coverage.
More people would argue that defensive end Mike Neal is more deserving of a spot on this list, but from what I’ve seen of him (very little to be more specific) I’m not as impressed as I was when I saw So’oto. Neal didn’t seem to have the motor that the Utah State alum possesses and hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the past two seasons. While I hope both can breakout in 2012, I foresee So’oto making much more of an impact.
The former 2010 Mackey Award winner out of Arkansas is a slightly smaller Jermichael Finley. While I’m sure you’re familiar with my fascination of Finley, Williams could just as easily step into that role in the Packers offense.
While Williams hasn’t had the opportunities that many expected this season, it is not meant to be a slight to him. In a crowded depth chart at tight end, including Finley, Tom Crabtree, Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, and Williams himself, the Packers are loaded at tight end and wide receiver as well. With so many choices to choose from, McCarthy can only spread so many opportunities out to backups. However, that may not be the case in 2012.
With Quarless potentially out for an extended time, Finley possibly leaving, and Donald Driver’s inevitable retirement, Williams will have a better shot at making an impact in 2012. He has the speed and size to devastate defenses, but he will need to improve his blocking to consistently have a place on the field. With the 2012 NFL offseason being “lock-out free,” Williams will have all the opportunities in the world to break-out.
Before I have you all up in arms about the possibility of Aaron Rodger’s backup breaking out next season, consider what happened to Matt Flynn.
Flynn had shown improvement each preseason under Mike McCarthy and showcased his quarterback skills against the New England Patriots on national television during the 2010 NFL season. Ever since then, Flynn has been one of the most talked about backup quarterbacks in the league. During the previous offseason, Flynn had been talked about potentially going to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Instead, he will likely leave the Packers during free agency for a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere (Seattle?).
Now Harrell, in my mind, was arguably one of the most improved Packers’ backups since the end of the 2010 season. Even without an offseason to work with quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Harrell still was able to post a comeback victory against the Indianapolis Colts during the 2011 preseason. Even though the Colts look like they could be beaten by a college football team at this point, it’s still impressive that a former system QB in college could transition this well into the NFL.
In terms of importance to the Packers, he has beaten out every QB he has faced since he joined the Packers outside of Aaron Rodgers and Flynn. Also, during the course of the past two seasons, the team activated him late in the season to avoid the chance of another team scooping him up off the Packers’ practice squad.
If something were to happen to Rodgers in 2012 (God forbid), I have faith that Harrell will be able to step up and keep the Packers in ball games and potentially lead them to victories on more than one occasion.