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Rookie draft picks generally hog the spotlight, but here’s a truth in the National Football League: A big chunk of improvement on a year-to-year basis comes from the development of draft picks from years prior.
The Green Bay Packers will be expecting more from a few members of the 2020 and 2021 draft classes in 2022.
Here are eight recent draft picks with an opportunity to play more and provide more impact this season:
TE Josiah Deguara (third round, 2020)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
2021 snaps: 367
Deguara plays a demanding position with a steep learning curve from college to the NFL, and he lost most of his first season to an ACL injury. It’s hardly surprising that he’s only caught 26 passes and played under 400 snaps over two mostly quiet seasons in Green Bay. Now, he’s entering Year 3, and the Packers need him to play a big role – especially early in the season – while Robert Tonyan recovers from his own ACL injury. Deguara should be well-versed in the offensive scheme, on the same page as the quarterback and physically ready, all necessary ingredients for him to take a big leap in 2022. A lot of snaps will be available until Tonyan is ready, and even once he’s back, Deguara should be the top option as the hybrid fullback for Matt LaFleur.
WR Amari Rodgers (third round, 2021)
(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
2021 snaps: 103
Rodgers, as a 21-year-old rookie, wasn’t physically or mentally ready to be an instant contributor at the NFL level. He couldn’t get on the field as a receiver, and his returning production left a lot to be desired. The Packers believe he’s faster and more confident entering Year 2, and now there’s a good chance development for a young player could intersect with opportunity in 2022. Gone are Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and while Rodgers isn’t a perfect replacement for either receiver, the Packers do have to fill those snaps and replace those targets. Even if he’s behind Randall Cobb as a slot receiver on the depth chart, an eventual opportunity to play is likely; Cobb turns 32 in August and has missed at least five games in three of the last four years. Unless one of the rookies is an instant star, Rodgers is going to be on the field and seeing targets in 2022.
OLB Jonathan Garvin (seventh round, 2020)
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
2021 snaps: 395
Za’Darius Smith is in Minnesota after being released, and Whitney Mercilus is somewhere enjoying retirement life. The Packers’ only notable addition at edge rusher this offseason was fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare, who will likely need time before he’s a contributor. The favorite to be the top backup rusher behind Rashan Gary and Preston Smith has to be Garvin, who is entering Year 3 after playing almost 400 defensive snaps in 2021. He has intriguing size and length, and he actually produced 25 total pressures (per Pro Football Focus) in a reserve role last year, but he must be better in 2022. Too many of his snaps were empty snaps. Garvin doesn’t turn 23 until late July, so patience was always required. The Packers will hope he takes off in a bigger role this year.
CB Shemar Jean-Charles (fifth round, 2021)
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2021 snaps: 37
Who will be the fourth cornerback on the depth chart behind Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes? Jean-Charles will get a chance to win the job, especially as a top backup in the slot. His competition: Keisean Nixon (free agent signing), Kabion Ento (undrafted free agent), Rico Gafford (transitioning from receiver), Kiondre Thomas (undrafted free agent) and Raleigh Texada (rookie). Only Jean-Charles was a draft pick. While he lacks ideal size, Jean-Charles is a feisty competitor who was always sticky in coverage at the collegiate level and a favorite of the Packers scouting staff. With a big second-year jump, he could become an important depth player. And for all backup cornerbacks, special teams is hugely important. Jean-Charles must be a core player for Rich Bisaccia in 2022.
S Vernon Scott (seventh round, 2020)
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
2021 snaps: 0
It’s tough to make sense of Scott’s first two seasons in Green Bay. He was a reserve safety and special teamer over 15 games and 273 total snaps (defense and special teams) as a rookie, but he was only active for three games and played just 17 special teams snaps in 2021. The Packers must see the talent but lack the necessary trust in putting him on the field. Maybe that changes in 2022, especially with an opportunity available behind starters Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Henry Black played almost 300 snaps as the No. 3 safety last year. Scott will compete with holdovers Shawn Davis and Innis Gaines, rookie seventh-rounder Tariq Carpenter and undrafted free agent Tre Sterling for a roster spot. His command of the defense and ability to communicate calls must improve in Year 3.
LB Isaiah McDuffie (sixth round, 2021)
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
2021 snaps: 192 (special teams)
The Packers used a first-round pick on Quay Walker, likely squashing any chance of McDuffie surprising his way into the starting lineup in 2022. But Rich Bisaccia is rebuilding the special teams, and linebacker Oren Burks – a core special teamer over the last four years – is now in San Francisco, creating opportunity on two fronts. Making the team will require McDuffie to become a do-it-all player for Bisaccia and prove capable as a backup in place of Burks. He’s big, fast and relentless, making him a perfect player for the job. McDuffie could easily play over 300 snaps on special teams while chipping in behind Walker and De’Vondre Campbell at linebacker.
OL Cole Van Lanen (sixth round, 2021)
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
2021 snaps: 1
Van Lanen was active for just one game as a rookie, so he’s essentially coming off a redshirt season on the practice squad in 2021. The Packers drafting three players with left tackle experience didn’t help his case, but don’t rule out Van Lanen from winning a roster spot as a versatile backup at tackle and guard. He moves well and should be more physically ready after a year at the professional level. The Packers are going to need depth to form along the offensive line this summer, especially at right tackle and the interior after losing Billy Turner and Lucas Patrick. The 2022 draft picks will provide stiff competition, but Van Lanen should get every opportunity to be an important backup in his second season, especially if he’s stronger and more comfortable at multiple positions.
DL T.J. Slaton (fifth round, 2021)
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
2021 snaps: 255
A couple of things to consider here. First, the Packers made a significant investment along the defensive line this offseason by signing veteran Jarran Reed and drafting Devonte Wyatt in the first round. There are big roadblocks to getting on the field for Slaton, but adding Reed and Wyatt doesn’t necessarily have to keep Slaton on the bench all year. What if the Packers want Slaton to be the primary nose tackle on early downs, allowing Kenny Clark to play in wider, more attack-friendly positions? Slaton wasn’t good as a rookie, but he flashed some disruptive ability against the run. A second-year jump could make him an important part of what the Packers try to do against the run in 2022. Linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker will gobble up tackles if Slaton and Clark are eating up blocks on first and second down.