Man, the 2018 Packers (6-9-1) really were a dumpster fire. And there are a hell of a lot more negative things to focus on than positive. But we’re choosing to focus on more of those positives than most people. Not because we want to be disingenuous to Packers fans, but because we do believe there are many things to be excited about for the immediate future of the Green Bay Packers.
We hand out some team MVP Awards as we look at the future of this team.
2018 Season MVPs:
Offense: WR Davante Adams, T David Bahktiari
Adams posted one of the best seasons in wide receiver history in Green Bay. Had he not been injured in Week 17, he’d likely have the all-time receptions record and, perhaps, the all-time yards mark. He’s the Packers’ best receiver since 2014 Jordy Nelson, but he is the first man in Green Bay with true “Sterling Sharpe potential” since Sharpe’s immaculate 1994 season. If healthy in 2019, we see him taking another stab at these records. He has to be mentioned first as the 2018 Packers’ offensive MVP.
Left tackle David Bahktiari is a beacon of consistency for the Packers. He’s got the faith of an entire organization and he, once again, proved his toughness as a leader for this team. He’s the type of player that helps a team win a ring. Some franchises wait a decade or longer to find an elite left tackle, the Packers have theirs. He was named First Team All-Pro for his efforts in 2018. He is exactly what a team with an elite, aging right-handed quarterback needs.
Defense: DT Kenny Clark, CB Jaire Alexander
Six sacks for a true nose tackle in today’s NFL is quite an accomplishment. Six sacks in just 13 games played is even more impressive. It’s crazy to think that Kenny Clark is just 23 years old. He seems like a grizzled veteran at this point. He’s definitely going to be one of the leaders on this team for years to come. Along with a forced-fumble and two fumble recoveries, Clark set career high marks in passes defended, quarterback hits, solo tackles, tackles for loss, and obviously sacks.
After Clark comes Jaire Alexander, a born leader that has emerged as such in his rookie season. The stats don’t tell the full story for Alexander. He simply looked the part in 2018. We, like most, couldn’t be more excited to have this kid on the Packers.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
No one would have expected that a fifth round pick wide receiver would put up two 100 yard games for the Packers in 2018. What’s most exciting about “MVS” is his 15.3 yards per reception average. He’s a much needed deep threat counterbalance to Davante Adams’ (elite) possession receiving style. The Packers haven’t had a true speedster to launch the ball up to in quite some time. The kid is 6’4” as well. Only twice in 2018 was he held without a catch; he has a bright future with 12 throwing to him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: CB Jaire Alexander
The swagger Alexander plays with is infectious for his teammates. He will, in the coming years, elevate this entire defense. 66 tackles for a rookie cornerback is no joke, as he showed he’s just as tough as he is athletic. His five passes defended against the Los Angeles Rams, in the Packers’ toughest and arguably biggest game of the year, was his national coming out party. He’s got elite instincts, we’re excited to see his game once with a full year of experience under his belt. The best part is that this team doesn’t need to go after a shutdown cornerback in the offseason, they have theirs. Even Bill Belichick complimented him.
Biggest Positive Surprise of 2018: Aaron Jones’ Yards Per Carry
Running back Aaron Jones sustained his 5.5 yards per rush from his rookie year to a lot more carries as the featured back in 2018. His nine touchdowns, in just eight official starts, were noteworthy. Him actually being able to live up to Packers fans hype is the best surprise of 2018 — after coming back from a two-game suspension to start the season.
To continue to average 5.5 yards per rush in the NFL, as the main man in the backfield, is an extremely rare feat. It’s a mark that Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and Ahman Green never hit over the course of a season (minimum 100 carries). He’s got a chance to be remembered in Green Bay as an all-timer. Not to mention, his 206 receiving yards are a sign of big things to come as the Packers’ new coach Matt LaFleur will surely utilize Jones out of the backfield in 2019. He’s built in the mold of New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara when the ball is thrown his way. It’s a sign that Jones has the ability to continue into the future with this yards per attempt, as he should only get better with experience (especially with pass blocking on third downs, which will allow him to stay on the field longer).
Of course we have to mention Kyler Fackrell as one of the best surprises of 2018 for this squad as well. Fackrell reaching double-digit sacks (10.5) is something no one saw coming. However we won’t go too far over the top. Despite Fackrell’s production, he is unlikely to be an elite player for this defense moving forward. That said, even if GM Gutekunst adds a few pieces to this defense, he can still be an important part of this team’s future plans.
Biggest Disappointment of 2018: The Tight End Position
Broadly, the Packers’ offense inability to jive was the biggest disappointment of 2018. This caused the Packers to start slowly week after week and they were unable to put together any sustained success. The combination of the Packers’ tight end position and Aaron Rodgers was particularly catastrophic — and it should have been a strength. Having former All-Pro Jimmy Graham, former Pro Bowler Marcedes Lewis and former Wisconsin Badgers standout Lance Kendricks and being able to muster just three touchdowns between them is… frustrating.
To make matters worse, the three of them combined for 16 touchdowns in 2017, but with Rodgers throwing to the them, it was disastrous. Graham alone had 10 scores in 2017; he was supposed to be a red zone maestro with Rodgers throwing fades to him. He was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons — he didn’t come close in 2018. By far, this position group (and the quarterback’s ability to utilize the position) is the biggest disappointment of 2018. Hopefully the tight end position can bring more to the table in 2019; that should definitely be a priority for the LaFleur. If he wants to get Rodgers back to All-Pro status, it’ll start with the tight ends making a bigger difference.
Disappointment Continued: Injuries, Injuries, Injuries…
The next biggest disappointment of 2018 was, once again, injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerback Kevin King will apparently never be able to stay healthy and Mike Daniels playing in just 10 games was frustrating, especially with Muhammed Wilkerson going down with a season-ending injury in Week Three. The defensive tackle position was mangled to say the least.
On top of that, just about every safety the Packers put on the field got hurt or traded to Washington (ahem, HaHa Clinton-Dix). But the truth is, the linebacker position never recovered from losing Jake Ryan before the season even began. The same goes for this team’s edge rushers as defensive end Nick Perry played in just nine games and wasn’t effective when he was in. Injuries are a part of football, but man, they hit especially hard in 2018.
The Things That Gives Us Hope For 2019: Youth Movement
The big four rookies that played, and played well, for the 2018 Packers. The two rookie wide receivers (MVS and Equanimeous St. Brown) and the two rookie cornerbacks (Alexander and Josh Jackson) that played big for this team. There is a young foundation building on this team. Especially with the two third-year running backs returning (Jones and Jamaal Williams) and young defensive leaders in previously mentioned Alexander, Clark and one of our favorite players with a heck of a motor in linebacker Blake Martinez. LaFleur has some great youth to work with, not to mention his two First Round draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.
There is tons of money ($40-45M to be exact) to spend in free agency or in trades in the 2019 season. This is huge because this team has holes to fill. This financial flexibility paired with the fact that the Packers have two first round picks to build their team with or use as trade bait to build their team even faster is obviously exciting. GM Brian Gutekunst has staked his reputation on being aggressive with a mandate to “win now” — this offseason will answer if that is true or not.
There will be a new special teams coach in Green Bay in 2019, thank God. Wow, we are excited to be rid of Ron Zook. He, quite possibly, was the worst special teams coach in recent NFL history. Every facet of the special teams let this team down, repeatedly, in 2018. One of LaFleurs fist moves was firing Zook. Good work, man.
LaFleur being the new head coach in 2019 will make a huge difference — it’s just a breath of fresh air. Mike McCarthy was a great coach for this team, but his voice and scheme had grown stale. LaFleur will re-energize the Packers and Rodgers. A fresh, more aggressive, approach to offense will will do wonders for this team (and fans).
The Thing That Doesn’t Give Us Hope for 2019: Uncertainty
The Packers still lack an elite pass rusher. Sure, free agency, a trade, or first round draft pick could change that. But at the moment, the lack of an elite rusher off the edge simply does not have us excited for 2019. It’s the most crucial element on a team after an elite, accurate quarterback in our opinion.
Clay Matthews is simply beyond his prime years as an edge rusher. All good things must come to an end. Will the Packers have an elite pass rusher in 2019?
The uncertainty around how LaFleur will be in his first ever chance as an NFL head coach for the Packers in 2019 also is both exciting and a bit enerving. The Packers have been stable for well over a decade and that stability hinges on whether LaFleur can transform this team into a contender again or not. LaFleur keeping Defensive Coordinator Pettine is huge. He has seemed to be the answer for the Packers, as his defense was an improvement from the 2017 squad and was more creative than the Packers have seen for years.
Injuries. Injuries to key players, and this trend of it happening every single year (especially on the defensive side of the ball) has us timid while predicting the team’s success in 2019, too. Who will it be next year? If it’s any combination of Clark, Alexander or Martinez we aren’t sure if the defense can survive it. If it’s Rodgers again — well, we don’t even want to go there.
2018 was a whirlwind year with ups and downs… but mostly downs. The Packers’ comeback win over the Bears in Week One was a big up, but it was pretty much all downhill from there. The truth is that 2019 has every opportunity to be better, but that is not guaranteed. If the young guys keep getting better and GM Gutekunst pushes the right buttons in free agency and at the draft, this team could be a contender again sooner than later. If the team gels around LaFleur and believes in the message (starting with Rodgers) things could turn around quickly.
Can the Packers challenge Chicago next year for the division title? Well, posting a better record that 1-4-1 record against the NFC North is the first place to start. The 2018 Packers, hopefully, will be a distant memory as soon as next fall.
In Gutekunst and LaFleur we trust. What other choice do we have?