The Packers 2021 Draft Class May Contribute a Lot This Season

The Green Bay Packers held the 29th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft which means they were picking near the bottom of every round. That is to be expected by a team coming off its second consecutive 13-3 campaign and back-to-back trips to the NFC Championship Game.

But the Packers draft class of 2021 seems to be ready to make significant contributions to the team in their first season in the league despite the return of 20 of last year’s 22 starters on offense and defense (Corey Linsley and Christian Kirksey/Kamal Martin being the exceptions).

Here is a look at how the Packers draft choices are expected to contribute during their first NFL seasons as we head towards the final preseason game in Buffalo:

1. CB Eric Stokes

Like most rookie corners, Stokes is having his ups and downs in practice. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have been “picking on” Stokes to get him to improve his level of play and Stokes has a positive attitude despite getting beaten by two of the best in the business regularly during training camp.

Stokes is in a battle with veteran incumbent Kevin King for the second starting cornerback spot. As of now, King is still listed as the starter on the Packers unofficial depth chart.

Stokes is expected to take over the starter opposite Jaire Alexander at some point this season. Even if he doesn’t, expect the rookie out of Georgia to have a role on defense especially in nickel and dime packages from Week 1.

2. C Josh Myers

Myers is likely to be the biggest contributor in this year’s rookie as he is projected to be the team’s starting center. The former Ohio State star was penciled in as the starter from day one of OTAs and he hasn’t disappointed.

Myers is also calling the signals for the offensive line, something that departed center Corey Linsley did last year.

In the preseason, Myers had a slightly disappointing performance against Houston but rebounded and played better against the Jets.

He has a solid attitude and work ethic and should be the Packers starting center for the next several years.

3. WR Amari Rodgers

Rodgers should have a role on the offense and on special teams as a rookie. He is presently the favorite to be the punt returner although he struggled in that role against Houston, muffing a punt inside his own 10 yard line. Rodgers bounced back with a better performance against the Jets.

Rodgers will likely have a similar role to Tyler Ervin’s last year, running end arounds, jet sweeps, screen passes and playing some as the slot receiver and sometimes lining up in the backfield. Rodgers would have likely had a bigger role in the offense if the Packers hadn’t reacquired Randall Cobb.

In the preseason, he has shown some flashes but clearly, he still needs time to integrate himself into the offensive scheme.

4. G Royce Newman

Newman is now considered the frontrunner to be the Packers starting right guard as multiple players battle for those two starting spots. Newman is strong and has good football smarts. He is showing improvement in practice as time goes on.

We will see if Newman continues to be in the starting lineup after David Bakhtiari returns to the lineup and Elgton Jenkins moves back to left guard.

Even if he doesn’t start, expect Newman to contribute on special teams and to be one of the team’s top backups at the guard position.

5. DL T.J. Slaton

Slaton has been a pleasant surprise in camp this season. The former University of Florida star has been effective in both training camp and preseason games.

Slaton weighs 330 pounds and is a difficult man to move. He has shown the ability to penetrate on running plays and to occupy blockers which allows teammates to make tackles. He even recorded a sack on a nice swim move against the Jets.

Expect Slaton to be part of the defensive line rotation as a rookie with the possibility of picking up increased playing time and responsibility if he continues to make progress.

6. CB Shemar Jean-Charles

Jean-Charles is likely to make the roster and contribute on special teams. He may see some action on defense depending on his play and the injury status of those ahead of him on the depth chart.

The coaching staff is pleased with the way the Appalachian State alum plays the ball and they believe he has the potential to compete for a larger role on defense in the future.

7. OL Cole Van Lanen

Van Lanen isn’t fighting for a starting spot, but he is expected to make the 53-man roster. The University of Wisconsin product can play both guard and tackle and is expected to be a developmental backup lineman and to play on special teams units as a rookie.

8. ILB Isaiah McDuffie

McDuffie’s start to training camp was slowed by an injury but he has returned to practice. The sixth-round pick out of Boston College is in a fight for a roster spot at inside linebacker with several other players.

If he doesn’t make the cut, McDuffie is a strong candidate to start the season on the practice squad (unless another team claims him on waivers). If he does earn a roster spot, his rookie year contributions will most likely come on special teams.

9. RB Kylin Hill

Hill is in a three-way battle for the third running back spot behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Hill is considered the front runner entering the third preseason game based on what he’s shown in training camp and in the first two preseason games.

He has scored a touchdown in each of the team’s two preseason games including one on a screen pass and one rushing score.

The former Mississippi State star has a nice burst through the hole and has done a good job at catching passes out of the backfield and even in pass protection. Protecting the quarterback and running reliable routes are critical to getting playing time in Matt LaFleur’s offense.

In addition to his expected duties as the third running back, Hill is the frontrunner to be the Packers kick return specialist and may contribute elsewhere on special teams as well.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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8 points

Comments (28)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Irish_Cheesehead's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:12 pm

It’s pretty amazing looking at this list that the top 5 guys could all be starters at some point this season. This on a team that is stacked with returning veterans. It’s still early, and we really don’t know how much they will actually contribute, but at this point it looks like a very good draft class. It’s quite a change from draft and develop (and wait patiently) that we’ve grown to know and love!

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GilMartin's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:40 pm

The early returns are promising. I hope these guys continue to develop. Thanks for the comment, Irish_Cheesehead.

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NitschkeFromTheGrave's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:14 pm

With eyes wide open I'm pulling for all the rookies to contribute, especially Mr. Slaton, he is much needed on D and I'm hoping he exceeds the expectations.

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GilMartin's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:41 pm

He has been a pleasant surprise so far in camp. Just didn't expect him to be ready to step in right away. Hope he can keep it up. Thanks for the comment, NitschkeFromTheGrave.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Certainly, the makings of one the finest draft classes that I can recall in years. If so, the continued long-term success of the GBP could very well point back to this class. Also, I'll add the undrafted players - Innis Gaines, Jack Heflin and Christian Uphoff - as potential contributors.

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GilMartin's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:42 pm

I am also interested in seeing what undrafted players like Gaines, Heflin and Uphoff can do if they make the team. I think at least one or two of those guys will and the others could be on the practice squad. Thanks for commenting, Alberta_Packer.

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mnbadger's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:37 pm

Looks good so far and I'm excited to watch the young players develop and contribute. They'll bring a new level of youth and enthusiasm for the game that gets lost as players add years. It takes a great year like this to make up for a couple missed opportunities in the past. GPG

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GilMartin's picture

August 26, 2021 at 12:44 pm

That's a good way to look at it, mnbadger. Remember, the 1995 draft class was a big reason for 1996's title run. A while to go before we can say this much about this year's class but the early returns are encouraging. Thanks for the comment.

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ImaPayne's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:03 pm

First, you lost a top pro bowl center so your not upgrading that position with a new guy. This is another reason Rodgers was pissed we lose a lot more talent then we replace it with.
Second, these so called multiple postion players the packers lean towards in the draft are at the cost of finding one stud who was a solid rock player in college.
Gutt has passed up great players like JJ Watt for the multi use ones and its to save a buck.
I see no stars or play makers in this bunch to be honest. IF they are above average at best then expect an above average result.
Buffalo should expose some of this on Saturday. We may finally find out what Love is made of after a year long wait

-14 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:56 pm

JJ Watt WAS a great player. However being well past his prime (32 years), often injured, and a $30M contract is not a prudent signing. In other words, you're paying a premium price for an expiring and damaged commodity.

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Johnblood27's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:29 pm

The Pain mighta meant TJ Watt since we are talking draft selections...

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:45 pm

Initially, I thought so too, but TJ Watt was drafted in 2017, when TT was still the GM. However, JJ Watt was a free agent this recent off-season - so I'm assuming that was his reference. So Gutekunst could not have drafted TJ and was wise to bypass JJ.

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croatpackfan's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:46 pm

But Gutekunst did not pass on TJ Watt. It was TT time, remember?

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packer132's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:32 pm

Packers resigned 20 of 22 starters from a 13-3 team. You don't pay a center $13 million a year, no matter how good he is. Who else did the Packers lose? Wagner, Kirksey, Jackson, Hollman? Teams turnover about 25% of their roster every year. I would say the Packers had a great offseason. You can jump off the bandwagon anytime.

8 points
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dobber's picture

August 26, 2021 at 02:03 pm

Don't feed the troll.

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HarryHodag's picture

August 27, 2021 at 02:03 pm

Amen, brother. The Troll doesn't even know the difference between J.J Watt and T.J. Watt. Both were under the watch of Ted Thompson, not Gute.

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Tedlyflyfisher's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:16 pm

You’re right; you are a pain.

5 points
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nostradanus's picture

August 26, 2021 at 01:50 pm

Nice wrap up on the rookies Gil,

I am quite thrilled with this draft class so far (fingers crossed, it is preseason). Here’s my forecast on the rook’s.

CB Stokes - he’s not ready to start, they will go with King, but Eric will get plenty of playing time this year.

C Myers - Josh will start (and take his lumps) come playoff time the kid will be a seasoned veteran.

WR Rodgers- Amari will play the Tyler Ervin role and of course return punts. Under the tutelage of Cobb he will have some big moments in a limited role and blossom in 2022.

G Newman - Royce has shown all of the promise and tools necessary to be a really good one. Will he start?
I think they may go with Patrick temporarily due to his veteran status. He may have some starts down the road though, it’s a long season.

DT Slayton - we are all excited to see BIG 93 on the field! I see him as a 15 - 20 snap a game player on early downs.

CB Jean Charles- Shemar will make his mark on Special Teams and as a back up in the slot. Sullivan has the Star ⭐️ locked down for now.

OL Van Lanen - to tell the truth I didn’t have high hopes for the Hometown kid, I was wrong. He will make the 53 but probably not play a whole lot this season. That’s ok though, his time will come in 2022.

LB Mcduffy - I originally thought this kid was going to the PS. With the cutting of Martin and his play against the Jets, he just may sneak onto the back end of the roster as a special teams guy.

RB Hill - wow 🤩 what a find this kid was in round #7! He will make meaningful contributions at RB and on Special Teams! Great get Gute!

DT Heflin - it is very possible the Packers keep this kid over Lancaster and shave $1 million off the salary cap!

S Uphoff - if he makes the team it will be strictly as a special teams gunner and it will be the 53rd spot.
But he’s got a shot.

S Gaines - he didn’t have a great game against the Jets but he has shown up throughout camp. They will stash Innis on the PS for sure!

ND

9 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 26, 2021 at 06:40 pm

I am a big fan of Innis Gaines and his game. Yes, he didn't standout against the Jets - but I attribute part of that to the non-existent pass rush by the D-line - which gave Wilson a lot of time to throw. Still he was around the ball a lot and always a willing tackler. Yes, at the very least, a PS player!

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nostradanus's picture

August 26, 2021 at 07:23 pm

Yep I’m a fan of his also, it’ll come down to who’s better on Special Teams him or Uphoff

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Tundraboy's picture

August 26, 2021 at 08:22 pm

I like Uphoff on ST. His play against the Jets reminded me of Chuck Cecil. We could use some of that. Hell with this ST we could use a lot of that.

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Lphill's picture

August 26, 2021 at 02:47 pm

Can’t have 2 rookies start on the O line , Stokes will be the starter probably after the first series of the saints game when King comes out with an injury , JK Scott is God awful .

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croatpackfan's picture

August 27, 2021 at 08:53 am

I agree JK is not good, but awful one here is only you.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 26, 2021 at 03:16 pm

Thanks Gil for that fine article.

By now you likely realize I lean to the optimistic side, and sometimes I'm too optimistic.

However, from what I have been able to read and see on TV with this draft class, I feel it is one of the strongest. While it may not be in the class of our 1958 draft which landed three Hall of Famers Ray Nitschke, Jim Taylor, and Jerry Kramer plus the outstanding linebacker, Dan curry, I do believe it will be among the best we have had in a decade.

I along with a group of other Packer fans are hoping for a Super Bowl this year.

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stockholder's picture

August 26, 2021 at 04:48 pm

They should contribute right away. But don't expect them to be better then the guy they replacing. Stokes won't replace King, unless he's injured. Linsley was All-pro. And when Bahk comes back. That just changes the whole OL. POINT: This draft was a year too late. And if "none" of them succeed in the long run. Were headed for a lot of trouble if Rodgers Leaves. Because you just don't replace All-pros easily. But lets use that NEXT Man UP Theory. Because that is what is happening. Yes; they should contribute. But are they better material? They weren't the BPA on the board. And that may be the biggest criticism this team may face after Rodgers.

-3 points
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marpag1's picture

August 26, 2021 at 08:59 pm

It's hard to overstate how important this class could be. The Packers need these rookies (and Love) to pan out because that's the only way that the Packers will be able to manage the salary cap bloodletting that is coming. These guys need to be good enough so that the Packers will be able to cut a few of the higher priced Billy Turner types and replace them with rookie deals.

6 points
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PatrickGB's picture

August 26, 2021 at 08:59 pm

So far, many reports out of camp have Stokes getting beat a lot. I hope it’s because our QB’s and WR’s are too good. But this is not what I wanted to read about a player drafted that high. I am looking forward to see him (hopefully) shine on Saturday.

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MarkinMadison's picture

August 26, 2021 at 09:08 pm

There is a lot to like about this rookie class - and I say rookie class because UDFAs matter too (looking at you Heflin).

As much as I like these guys this OL is probably going to struggle until Bakh is back and at full strength. Lucas Patrick is a big disappointment so far this year. Good on others for battling, but Patrick should have shut the door on them.

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