Heading into the Packers’ ninth game, all eyes will be on Brett Hundley as he tries to notch his first win as starter. Veterans like Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, and Mike Daniels will be expected to kickstart a vastly underperforming pass rush. However, it’s younger guys like Jason Spriggs, Kyler Fackrell, and Dean Lowry who will need to step up if the Packers want to start winning games. Rookies like Vince Biegel and Montravius Adams might not start this year, but they need to make sure the team’s performance doesn’t drop off when the reserves are giving the starters a break.
Hawkins played out of his mind this preseason, and he earned his roster spot with aplomb after struggling to see the field as a rookie despite the rash of injuries. Hawkins’ solid play likely helped the Packers feel confident enough in their cornerback depth to release LaDarius Gunter early in the season. It remains to be seen whether that was a wise move, after the Packers once again saw multiple injuries to their cornerbacks group.
Quinten Rollins was sent to IR and is highly unlikely to return this season. Davon House has struggled with injuries, though when healthy he has played well. Kevin King has been fantastic in his rookie campaign, though he has also missed time. Damarious Randall has seemingly acquitted himself with fantastic play recently, but he has also been benched and still has maturing to do. Behind Hawkins are two undrafted rookies in Lenzy Pipkins and recently-promoted Donatello Brown. Josh Hawkins will be depended upon to provide stable depth for a CB unit in flux.
So far, the results have been generally positive when Hawkins has seen the field. Hawkins had a breakout game against the Bears in week four, racking up five tackles and three passes defensed. He followed that up with solid games against the Cowboys and Vikings. With the cornerbacks mostly healthy, Hawkins hopefully won’t see extended action again soon, but if he does he’ll be ready.
Jason Spriggs was placed on IR on September 21st and is able to play after 8 weeks. He’s been activated by the Packers, which means he’ll likely see his first action in week 10. With Bryan Bulaga out for the season with an ACL injury, Spriggs is more needed than ever. Brett Hundley has little chance to succeed if he can’t stay upright, and they have less help at tight end without Martellus Bennett.
Spriggs did not have the best preseason, and he didn’t look great in limited action before his injury. However, especially with offensive lineman Justin McCray dealing with an ankle injury of his own, Spriggs is the best option the Packers have. The Bears game will highlight just how badly the Packers need Spriggs at bookend, as he will not be able to fill in for the injured Bulaga and McCray is still questionable to play.
Dean Lowry was neck-and-neck with Kenny Clark in terms of hype for much of the offseason. Both linemen showed promise as rookies, and then both played well in preseason. However, Clark has seemingly pulled ahead as a regular season starter alongside Mike Daniels. Lowry is nominally a starter in the base, but in the Packers’ preferred nickel package, Daniels and Clark tend to be the down linemen.
Dean Lowry certainly has not played poorly, notching a fairly impressive four tackles for a loss of yards this season. One of those stuffs was against the Lions, the same game he was credited for half a sack (which means he has 0.5 more sacks than Kyler Fackrell so far). However, after flashing potential as an interior pass rusher his rookie season, Lowry will need to do more if he wants to prevent Montravius Adams from eating into his subpackage snaps.
Kyler Fackrell is healthy and has been a regular contributor on special teams and as a rotational pass rusher. He hasn’t exactly done much to stand out, however. He seems good on punt and kickoff coverage, but the Packers didn’t spend a third-round pick for a special teams ace. With Ahmad Brooks questionable to play against the Bears, the Packers need Fackrell to step up at outside linebacker.
As a linebacker, Fackrell has fewer than nine tackles on the season, one for a loss of yards, and one fumble recovery. As a pure pass rusher, he is serviceable, though he has not registered a QB hit since week three and has zero sacks on the season. He struggles to set the edge against the run, as he’s never exactly been known as a physical player. About to turn 26 years old in a couple weeks, Fackrell will not be radically transforming his frame, but he needs to show some improvement if he doesn’t want to be a major liability.
Kyler Fackrell is the opposite of physical. pic.twitter.com/KPqT7AsniD
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) October 25, 2017
Vince Biegel missed the entire offseason, training camp, preseason, and played his first regular season game against Detroit after being activated from PUP. Despite having only two padded practices before the game, he played pretty well. He certainly seemed to play better than Kyler Fackrell, who is in his second year and was drafted one round earlier than Biegel. Chris Odom was claimed on waivers after being waived by Atlanta during cutdowns, but he has made little impact so far.
Against Detroit, Biegel made one stop in kick coverage, already pushing Fackrell for time on special teams. Far more importantly, however, Biegel looked like someone ready to contribute at outside linebacker as he played 19 defensive snaps (more than Chris Odom’s 11, and over half of Fackrell’s 27). Two of his three tackles were near the goal line, and though he wasn’t credited for it, he helped force a tackle for loss of yards. Biegel looked better against the run after sitting out 10 months than Fackrell has ever looked. Biegel wasn’t as impactful as a pass rusher, but as he’ll improve as he works on his pass rush moves. As mentioned earlier, Ahmad Brooks is questionable to play with a back injury, so Biegel will likely be needed on defense once again.
Montravius Adams was selected in the third round this year, and the front office was “surprised and elated” that Adams was still available to them . Unfortunately, he injured his foot before his first padded practice and subsequent surgery kept him out for several weeks. Adams returned week three, but was essentially a non-factor and did not play another game until the Lions game. He has not exactly been needed, as Quinton Dial contributed almost immediately upon being signed after his release from the 49ers.
With Dial out against Detroit, Adams saw 18 snaps (over half of Lowry’s 29 snaps). He once again did not contribute to the stat sheet, but he looked better. He hasn’t flashed the speed that made him an enticing pick in the third round, but he did show impressive strength and showed he can hold up against NFL-caliber linemen. Dial will be out against the Bears, so Adams will have another chance to show off the surprising athleticism the Packers saw when they selected him to boost their interior pass rush.
After being anointed Montgomery’s backup to begin the season, fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams has found himself leapfrogged by young phenom Aaron Jones. Drafted one round ahead of Jones, Williams was supposed to provide solid north-south running to complement Ty Montgomery, and Jones’ role was unclear. Now, Aaron Jones has jumped to feature back while Montgomery has carved out a role as a reliable third-down back. However, Williams has always been the type of runner who does the most damage in cold weather. As the season grinds on, the Packers will need a hard runner to spell the 5’9” Jones and the converted wideout Montgomery.
After notching his first touchdown against Detroit on a one-yard goal line run, Williams will be looking to prove he can still contribute to the Packers’ rushing attack. Though Alonzo Highsmith quipped before the draft, “Teams that say they want a running back by committee, it’s because they don’t have one (great) running back,” right now the Packers are staring down the barrel of a bona fide committee. Jones and Montgomery have proven to be talented runners, but they’ve also shown susceptibility to high variance in production. That means, despite having several breakout games under their belts, Jones and Montgomery have also had down periods as runners. If Williams can be that guy to reliably provide three yards and a cloud of dust, he can wear down defenses and tee up Jones & Montgomery to feast. A dirty word in some parts, committees don’t always have to be a sign of an inefficient backfield.