First look at Packers' rookie class in uniform
Much of what transpires during rookie minicamp doesn't ultimately matter. However, the Packers still can glean a few useful kernels of information from this early look at the prospects.
The Green Bay Packers formally welcomed their draft class as well as a host of undrafted rookies during rookie minicamp this past week. The players won't work out in full football gear until much later in the offseason. However, the minicamp provides the team with its first glimpse of the fresh young talent on the roster.
Today's edition of The Leap digs past the photo-op, unindicative parts of this minicamp and highlights what the Packers can actually glean from this early look at the rookie class.
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What stood out most among the Packers' draft picks relative to how they looked in college?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: The annual tradition of remarking on the large size of Rookie X holds little value. Football players tend to be huge people! Not exactly ground-breaking analysis.
However, not all big players can run like small ones during drills. And depending on the position, those movement skills don't always jump out on the tape from their collegiate careers. Practice situations like those in rookie minicamp provides a showcase those traits and highlight the truly exceptional athletes in attendance.
The two tight ends the Packers draft, Oregon State's Luke Musgrave and South Dakota State's Tucker Kraft, move much more fluidly and fast than most other players at their position. That, of course, backs up the tandem's exceptional athletic testing as both earned Relative Athletic Scores at or above 9.68 out of 10. But those numbers don't fully encapsulate the full breadth of their physical gifts such how Musgrave's acceleration after catching a pass or the way Kraft can dip his hips and get behind his shoulders without losing speed.
Both tight ends entered the NFL with some questions. Musgrave must prove he can stay healthy while also developing as a route-runner while Kraft has to demonstrate that he didn't just thrive in college due to playing mostly FCS competition. Obviously, they will need more than a rookie minicamp to provide answers.
But the Packers haven't had one tight end with such impressive physical gifts in years let alone two.
Can the Packers compete without a meaningful veteran addition to the receiving corps?
JBH: At earlier stages of the offseason, the Packers signaled their interest in adding a veteran to the receiving corps, a nod to the extreme young and inexperience that currently characterizes the unit. With Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marcedes Lewis, and Robert Tonyan all off the roster, the team's top returning wideouts and tight ends in terms of career targets all entered the NFL a year ago: Romeo Doubs (67) and Christian Watson (66).
Accordingly, it came as a bit of a surprise that the Packers didn't add a veteran prior to the draft. A year ago, general manager Brian Gutekunst signed Sammy Watkins as a late free-agent addition to help fill the void at wideout while the rookies learned on the job. That move remains an option at this stage, but Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur makes it sound like the team's Plan B.
"I think time will tell," LaFleur after Saturday. "It is certainly a very talented room. It's going to be a hell of a competition in terms of who is getting the snaps. At first glimpse at some of these young guys that were just in here, they are some talented guys. They're going to be exciting to work with. We will see how it goes. I'm sure it will be a very fluid situation in terms of just how much we throw at them. If need be, I know Gutey is going to do whatever he can to help field the best possible team, and if need be, we will turn that way. But right now, we are just going to let those guys compete."
For all the promise Doubs and Watson offer, they still appear to have plenty of development ahead of them before leading a high-end passing game. Even if one or both make the leap this season -- hardly a guarantee -- asking them to serve as leaders in the receiver room the same way Cobb and Lazard did a year ago seems unrealistic. That matters considering the Packers have other young wideouts like draft picks Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks who could use guidance beyond what the coaches can offer.
As for the tight ends, the Packers haven't officially closed the door on bringing back the soon-to-be 39-year-old Lewis. LaFleur praised Lewis over the weekend as well but provided no assurance that the veteran would return.
"He's a pro's pro. You guys know how I feel about Marcedes," LaFleur said. "A lot of times, these guys learn more from some of the players than they do from us as coaches because they can give them little nuggets. They've been in the fire. I've said it to our guys, I think a player-led team is more powerful than a coach-led team. And we've got a lot of young guys, which is really exciting too. But I think anytime you got a veteran guy like that who's played for as long as he's played at such a high level, it can be beneficial for everyone."
But despite LaFleur's praise for Lewis, a return doesn't appear in the offing. Last Sunday evening, Sports Illustrated reported that the Packers have decided not to re-sign Lewis. The veteran tight end subsequently posted a lengthy, cryptic statement that many have interpreted as his unofficial goodbye to Green Bay.
With so much youth among the pass catchers, it doesn't seem realistic to expect the Packers to make it through an entire season without adding at least one veteran presence. Even if Lewis will not rejoin the roster, adding someone with his leadership and experience could prove valuable for rookie tight ends Musgrave and Kraft. The same would apply to a veteran wideout and the cavalcade of young players at that position. The front office should at least keep an eye on the veteran market in case someone with a little more juice than Watkins becomes available. Watson and Doubs should lead that group, but they probably can't do it alone at this stage.
Which rookie not selected with a top-100 pick has generated the most excitement for you at this early stage of the process?
JBH: Perhaps the no-pads environment simply lends itself better to skill-position players, but wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks looked the part during rookie minicamp. The loose hips and quick acceleration out of cuts that helped him stand out at Virginia during his dominant 2021 season remain present, and his size makes him a more imposing matchup than the typical fifth-round wideout.
Of course, this comes with caveats. The drops and issues with contested catches don't come to the fore during the mostly contactless minicamp. Wicks won't have to prove he has overcome those issues or face the top-end defenders on the Packers' roster until later in the offseason. Likewise, his ability to internalize the offense and operate within it during more competitive practice situations and games remains entirely a mystery as it would with any rookie.
But Wicks looks like the prototypical Green Bay receiver beyond the basic measurements, and that should intrigue the coaches as they plan for the next step of the offseason program.
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