Packers Players Who Can Climb Depth Chart with Impressive Camp
The biggest storyline heading into Green Bay Packers camp is the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Aaron Rodgers. As the reigning MVP prepares to face off against Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson in Capital One's The Match on Tuesday, there's no telling when or whether the unhappy signal-caller will report to camp.
While Green Bay plays the waiting game with its best player, it must continue preparing for the coming season. The Packers have a playoff-caliber roster even without Rodgers and will need to find the 53 best players to carry into 2021.
Rodgers will undoubtedly walk into a starting role if and when he does return, but things won't be so simple for other players. It can be difficult to crack the starting lineup on a roster with this much depth and talent, and some players will have to impress ahead of September to see significant playing time in 2021.
If new standouts do emerge, though, it's only going to make Green Bay better. Here we'll examine three players who could climb the depth chart with impressive performances in camp and in the preseason.
WR Amari Rodgers
After ignoring the position in the 2020 draft, the Packers finally drafted a wide receiver this offseason, taking Clemson's Amari Rodgers in the third round. While Rodgers' draft status suggests he will get an early opportunity, there are several more experienced pass-catchers ahead of him on the depth chart.
Davante Adams is locked in as the No. 1 receiver, and the Packers also have Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and Devin Funchess at receiver. Where Rodgers has a bit of an edge is in his ability to thrive as a slot receiver.
"A team needing a slot-only WR with some return ability will find value in Rodgers' consistency and feel on short and intermediate routes," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote during the draft.
It's too early to pencil in Rodgers as Green Bay's new slot specialist, but that will likely change with an impressive training camp. If the rookie can prove that his short-area quickness, physicality and vision work against a Packers defense that ranked seventh against the pass last year, he's going to find his way on to the field in the regular season.
Edge Rashan Gary
Two years ago, the Packers used a first-round pick on Michigan pass-rusher Rashan Gary. However, Gary has largely been stuck behind edge-defenders Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the depth chart. Gary played just 24 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie and 44 percent of them last season.
Gary has flashed his potential when given the opportunity, though. He had five sacks and 19 quarterback pressures in a rotational role last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Gary had the highest pressure rate in the NFL from Week 10 on.
With a strong camp, Gary should finally push one of the Smiths for a starting gig. It won't necessarily be easy, as both veterans are well-established in Green Bay's defense. The two have combined for 42 sacks over the past two seasons.
Smith and Smith are also both scheduled to become free agents after the 2022 season. Giving Gary the opportunity to establish himself as a long-term starter off the edge would make a lot of sense. However, he will first have to prove he's up to the challenge, starting with a strong performance in camp.
RB AJ Dillon
At first blush, it seems like Aaron Jones is locked in as Green Bay's starting running back. Jones is coming off of back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, and he signed a four-year, $48 million deal this offseason. However, it would be unwise to count out second-year back AJ Dillon, who only saw occasional opportunities as a rookie.
Dillon, a second-round pick out of Boston College last year, could push Jones for the starting role—or at least something close to a 50-50 split. Dillon was buried behind Jones and Jamaal Williams last year and also missed five games on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
When Dillon did get an opportunity, though, he shone. In his lone game with double-digit carries—in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans—Gary racked up 124 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Williams left for the rival Detroit Lions in free agency, so Dillon should be, at worst, No. 2 on the depth chart. It's not unreasonable, though, to believe that he could supplant Jones as Green Bay's primary ball-carrier. The Packers drafted Dillon in Round 2 for a reason, and that's to be a significant piece of their offensive future.
Contract information via Spotrac.