Three Packers poised for breakout 2020 seasons, including two former first-round picks


The Green Bay Packers weren’t hurting for big performances in 2019, when the team clinched its first playoff appearance in three years and finished atop the NFC North under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur. But after a 17-point loss at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round, the Pack will be looking for even more players to step up in 2020, especially considering their offseason’s already been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We all know the usual suspects when it comes to X-factors for a Green Bay playoff run: Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, etc. But if we look beyond the obvious contributors, who are some Packers poised to break out in 2020? Who are some guys that might very well be more important to Green Bay’s next go-round than anticipated?

Here are three considerations:

If you happen to be a Colts fan reading this, your outraged screams are probably warranted. But let’s take a step back. First off, Funchess almost literally can’t be less of a factor than he was in 2019. That’s not a ringing endorsement obviously, but the big-bodied pass catcher has now had more than a full year to recover and rest up. He’s still just 25. And we know Rodgers likes bigger red-zone targets, even if his last one (Jimmy Graham) had a similarly scary history of drops.

No one should expect Funchess, the former Panthers starter, to come in and be the rock-solid No. 2 the Packers have long needed. But that’s kind of the point. In 2020, Adams will be healthy again, Green Bay should be even more committed to the run game that worked in LaFleur’s debut, and another, younger wideout should be on the WR depth chart by way of the draft. This is a prime opportunity for Funchess to use his size as a true role player, gobbling up touchdowns off Rodgers’ play-action.

Three years ago, Funchess caught 63 balls for 840 yards and eight TDs. Anything close to those numbers would qualify as somewhat of a breakout, especially in the context of the Packers’ offense. The bar might be low, but the upside is still very much there.

Gary should be familiar not only to Packers fans but anyone who paid attention to the 2019 NFL Draft process, during which a torn labrum didn’t stop him from going 12th overall. If you were judging his rookie season purely on statistics, however, you might’ve forgotten he went so high; the Michigan product logged just 21 tackles and two sacks despite playing all 16 games. And yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a more logical breakout candidate on Green Bay’s defense, which had two double-digit sack artists in Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith in 2019.

Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was one of countless team leaders pleading for patience with Gary ahead of the linebacker’s first NFL season, reminding everyone that sometimes pass rushers — especially “works in progress” like the raw Gary — take a few years to fully unleash. After a full, healthy season behind two good starters and learning Pettine’s system, Gary seems primed to do at least one of two things: 1. Get a big uptick in reps, or 2. Better capitalize as a passing-down specialist.

Savage isn’t so different from Gary in that he’s a second-year defender with a first-round reputation, going 21st overall in 2019 before logging mixed results as a rookie in Pettine’s system. But he might be the safest of the bunch — of any Packer, to be frank — when it comes to likely breakout players for 2020. The Maryland product wasn’t always the most disciplined while battling an ankle problem, but he flashed his play-making potential in 14 starts — enough to warrant talk of a likely Pro Bowl candidacy as a second-year leader.

Five pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles made it clear Savage has some difference-maker in him. Now, with a full NFL season under his belt, he should be set to anchor Green Bay’s defense under new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, who’s overseen Pro Bowlers like Earl Thomas and Harrison Smith over the years, most recently as the Vikings’ secondary coach. In fact, it’d be downright surprising if Savage isn’t able to replicate, if not eclipse, his turnover marks from 2019.

Looking for a Packer who’s bound to be one of the team’s biggest names in a year or two? He’s your guy.

Honorable mentions

  • WR Equanimeous St. Brown: Sidelined for all of 2019 with a high-ankle sprain, the former sixth-rounder averaged almost 16 yards per catch in a limited role as a rookie … and just might get more big-play tries in 2020.
  • TE Jace Sternberger: A 2019 third-round pick with highly reputed route-running ability, he might be the missing piece they’ve needed at TE, where Graham floundered before relocating to the rival Bears.
  • ILB Christian Kirksey: He’s more so a Comeback Player of the Year kind of guy, but if he stays healthy, Green Bay’s ILB corps won’t miss a beat; he was once a tackle machine in Cleveland.





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