Luke Musgrave, Jayden Reed have rare chance to start right away for Matt LaFleur's Packers
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Most rookies are bad. That tends to make it difficult for them to start Week 1. Arcane football-guy culture adds to the difficulty as even rookies with supreme talent tend to have to wait for their proverbial turn (whatever that means) behind the very players they were drafted to replace.
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur preaches the value of competition. While the Packers insist they draft the best player available over the position of greatest need, the draft records of both former general manager Ted Thompson and successor Brian Gutekunst say otherwise, at least on the second part. Even so, rookies haven’t often walked into the season expecting to start in LaFleur's brief tenure, with less-capable veterans holding the edge in position battles during training camp and the preseason.
Not only will that change this year, but the 2023 Packers could also wind up starting at least two top picks right away.
Under LaFleur’s predecessor Mike McCarthy, it was common for draft picks and even some undrafted free agents to start. It was the only way Thompson chose to improve the team most years, so the Packers coaches had no choice. LaFleur inherited a broken culture but not a broken roster, and his coaching staff has entered every season with a squad capable of being a playoff team thanks to more than just draft picks. Gutekunst has shown a willingness to fill holes in free agency and draft for depth rather than pure need.
Superstar cornerback Jaire Alexander didn’t start until the third game of his rookie year. Ditto for Eric Stokes and Elgton Jenkins, though LaFleur put Jenkins in a rare offensive-line rotation in Week 2. Rashan Gary didn’t truly become a preferred starter until 2022 but started the entire 2021 campaign after Za’Darius Smith hurt his back to the point it required surgery. There’s no likely path for Lukas Van Ness to be a Week 1 starter and Romeo Doubs only opened 2022 in the starting lineup due to Allen Lazard’s injury.
Most rookies, even the impressive ones who were also high picks, have to wait, at least a little bit, to ascend to their lead role. There’s a meaningful discussion to be had about how silly it is to be ready to start a player like Stokes or Alexander in Week 3 though not Week 1 — is the experience of two games really that impactful?— but more on that in a moment.