12 bold predictions for the Green Bay Packers in 2021

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Training camp and the preseason are over. The 53-man roster is set. The next step? Starting the season. The Green Bay Packers will open the 2021 season in nine days against the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville.

Here are 12 bold predictions for the Packers in 2021:

Preston Smith, 10.0 or more sacks

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

The Packers could have easily sent Smith packing after a truly disappointing 2020 season. Instead, the team came up with a clever contract restructuring that provides enormous incentive for Smith to produce big in 2021, especially in sacks. The veteran edge rusher got the message, showed up to camp in much better shape and was disruptive, day after day. Expect defensive coordinator Joe Barry to have him doing more quarterback hunting and less dropping into coverage. And with Za'Darius Smith battling an injured back to start the season, Smith will be getting plenty of reps opposite ascending edge rusher Rashan Gary. The guess here is that Smith's career cycle continues, and he creates another highly productive season rushing the quarterback in an odd-numbered year.

A.J. Dillon, over 900 total yards

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Jamaal Williams, serving as the No. 2 running back behind Aaron Jones, averaged 148 touches and 727 total yards per year over the last two years. A.J. Dillon, in his second NFL season, is going to produce more. Maybe a lot more. A 17th game helps this prediction, but the guess here is that Dillon is a more efficient runner than Williams without sacrificing much in the passing game. In fact, there's a good chance he surprises as a receiver. Getting to 900 total yards would mean averaging around 50 total over 17 games. Any kind of injury to Jones during the season would make Dillon the workhorse No. 1 running back and give him a terrific opportunity to go over 1,000 total yards.

Amari Rodgers, under 20 catches

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

The top four wide receivers are locked in. Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Randall Cobb all have rock-solid roles behind All-Pro Davante Adams, and the Packers are deep at running back and tight end. There just isn't enough touches to go around, and both Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers said the rookie went through some growing pains during camp. He wasn't all that dynamic during the preseason, either. Remember, Cobb only caught 21 passes as a rookie. Have patience. Rodgers will likely return punts and get some manufactured touches within the scheme, but his impact might be limited as a rookie barring an injury to Cobb.

Kingsley Keke, 30 or more pressures

Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Kingsley Keke (96) is shown during the second day of organized team activities Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.

Keke went from one pressure as a rookie to 22 in Year 2. Bank on another jump. This one will be more difficult to achieve, but Keke has the right mix of talent and opportunity. He is an explosive interior rusher who could play all three downs consistently, and he should get plenty of chances to face guards one-on-one on passing downs. Last season, only 26 defensive linemen in the NFL registered 30 or more pressures, per Pro Football Focus. The guess here is that Keke, who added weight but still looked quick this summer, becomes a valuable and disruptive pass-rusher for the Packers in his third NFL season. If everyone stays healthy, the Packers' pass-rush could be the most productive in football.

Marginal improvement from inside linebackers

Dan Powers-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Packers talked up newcomer De'Vondre Campbell all summer, but the team did the same with Christian Kirksey last summer. While Campbell has the ideal combination of length and athleticism, there's a reason he's on his third team in three years. He'll pile up the tackle stats but probably won't move the needle at the team's annually underperforming position. Krys Barnes should be better after a shaky rookie season, but expecting the undrafted free agent to become more than an average NFL starter at inside linebacker might be asking too much. Oren Burks and Ty Summers are special teamers. Rookie Isaiah McDuffie is a long shot to play snaps but he's explosive. The inside linebacker position could be a problem area again.

Offensive line takes step back

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

If there's one legitimate concern regarding the Packers offense, it's the state of the offensive line. For at least the first six weeks, the Packers will start two rookies on the interior and Elgton Jenkins at left tackle. Jenkins probably won't be as good as All-Pro David Bakhtiari. The new starter at left guard – possibly Lucas Patrick – won't be as good as Jenkins. Josh Myers won't be as good as All-Pro Corey Linsley. Both Myers and Royce Newman will go through the ups and downs involved with being a rookie offensive lineman in the NFL. The Packers still have valuable depth along the offensive line, but this position group has real regression potential in 2021. The good news: any early issues could quickly smooth over after Bakhtiari returns and the two rookies gain valuable experience.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, yards/catch goes down, but so do drops

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There's a good chance Valdes-Scantling would have flirted with a 1,000-yard receiving season last year without a handful of bewildering drops on deep passes. He still managed to lead the NFL in catches of 40 or more yards (six) and yards per catch (20.9). The prediction for 2021? Valdes-Scantling averages fewer yards per catch, but he catches more passes and the drops come down significantly. He has earned the trust of both the quarterback and playcaller. More opportunities are coming his way. The next step in his development is becoming a more efficient all-around receiver while still providing a dangerous vertical element to the Packers offense. In a contract year, he must prove capable. Few players have been more celebrated during camp.

No. 2 CB spot remains a potentially fatal flaw

Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (20) lines up in the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Packers brought back veteran Kevin King and used a first-round pick on Eric Stokes. Clearly, resources were spent on addressing one of the team's fatal flaws from 2020. But will it matter? King hasn't been available for much of his NFL career. When on the field, he's played at a replacement level. His shortcomings were a big reason why the Packers weren't an elite defense and failed to get to the Super Bowl last season. Stokes has obvious potential but the rookie will be learning on the fly. Even Jaire Alexander was inconsistent as a rookie. Just know, quarterbacks are going to avoid Alexander, meaning most of the volume in the opponent passing game will be targeted at King and Stokes and slot corner Chandon Sullivan. The Packers need improvement from an important position, but getting it will be easier said than done. Stokes becoming a capable rookie starter could make all the difference.

Randall Cobb catches more TD passes than Robert Tonyan

Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Tonyan tied a team record with 11 touchdown catches by a tight end last season. The problem with touchdowns is the variance. Expecting Tonyan to get to double digits again in 2021 might be tough. Aaron Rodgers is still going to throw a ton of touchdown passes, so who will make up the difference? Bet on Cobb. Aaron Rodgers wanted him in Green Bay, and he talked him up all camp. Cobb is going to get targets. And Rodgers always leans on the players he trusts most in the red zone. That's Cobb. The prediction: Cobb catches around eight touchdowns, finishing second on the team behind Davante Adams.

Both Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage make the Pro Bowl

Green Bay Packers strong safety Adrian Amos (31) celebrates his interception with Darnell Savage (26) in the second quarter during their football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

The Packers might have issues at inside linebacker and cornerback opposite Jaire Alexander, but the safety play could help solve both problem areas. Or, at the very least, mitigate the negative effects. Amos and Savage have a strong case for being the top safety tandem in football. In fact, Amos should have gone to the Pro Bowl last year, and Savage is as talented as any player at the position. He was on fire to finish his second season. The Packers' pass-rush should be better in 2021, meaning an increase in bad decisions and throws into tight windows from opposing quarterbacks. Good safeties feast on both. The bold prediction here: Amos and Savage combine to intercept eight or more passes, and both make the Pro Bowl.

Packers win 12 games

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The schedule is daunting in some areas, and there could be some rough patches early as the offensive line settles in and the defense figures out a new scheme. But the Packers are as talented as any team in football, with terrific players at all the important positions, and the NFL's reigning MVP is going into what could be a "Last Dance" type of season. Aaron Rodgers cares greatly about his legacy. He knows this could be his final opportunity to win a Super Bowl in Green Bay before a new era at quarterback begins. The guess here is Rodgers and the Packers go 12-5 and win another NFC North title, using superior advantages on offense and elite individual talent on defense to secure one of the top seeds in the NFC. And then...

Packers play in the Super Bowl

Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

The truly bold prediction would be predicting the Packers to win the Super Bowl, but just having them get there – without predicting the outcome – feels bold enough after so many failed opportunities on the doorstep. Matt LaFleur's team enters 2021 as one of the two favorites to win the conference. The NFC could be deep, but the Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – two experienced and talented teams with almost all the important pieces returning from 2020 – stand above the rest to start this season. Fine, you want bold? Here's bold: The Packers, as the No. 2 seed, will beat the Minnesota Vikings in the wildcard round, the Dallas Cowboys in the divisonal round and the San Francisco 49ers in the conference championship to finally get back to the Super Bowl. Three playoff wins at Lambeau Field and a trip to SoFi Stadium in Loa Angeles for Super Bowl LVI.

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