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The Green Bay Packers must be pleased with the early returns on the 2021 rookie class through two preseason games.
By sitting 30 veteran players in the preseason opener and 32 more against the New York Jets on Saturday, Matt LaFleur’s team has provided ample opportunities for young players – including the first-year players – to see the field in meaningful ways. And for the most part, the rookies have responded with strong performances.
Here’s a quick review of the entire rookie class after two games:
CB Eric Stokes
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Snaps: 25 PFF grade: 59.0 Stokes has allowed two catches over 25 snaps. On the first, he got picked off briefly by Oren Burks on a short underneath route in the preseason opener. On the second, veteran Jets receiver Corey Davis cooked him on a double move. To Stokes' credit, he rebounded after the second by breaking up a third-down pass to Davis three plays later. It's difficult to have any meaningful takeaways from his preseason snaps, but the Packers think he's going to be very good. Just remember, he's learning on the fly.
C Josh Myers
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Snaps: 26 PFF grade: 78.8 Myers has been as advertised. He's been strong in the run game and hasn't allowed a single pressure over 15 pass-blocking snaps. In terms of overall grade, Myers is the top-rated rookie center at Pro Football Focus through two preseason games. There haven't been any obvious mistakes. Expect him to be the Week 1 starter at center when the Packers open against the Saints.
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Snaps: 75 PFF grade: 60.1 Rodgers hasn't been an impactful player as a receiver or returner so far. He's run 44 routes as a receiver but produced only seven catches for 46 yards. The majority of his snaps (over 80 percent) have come from the slot. His average depth of target is under five yards and the majority of his receiving yards have come after the catch, both stats emblematic of his role. The Packers are manufacturing ways of getting him the ball. He forced one missed tackle after a short catch against the Jets, something the Packers expect him to do a lot in his role. Rodgers has also returned two punts for 13 yards, with one fumble and one fair catch. He's the favorite to return punts.
OL Royce Newman
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Snaps: 61 PFF grade: 85.9 Newman might be the biggest surprise of the rookie class. He's the top-rated rookie guard in the NFL after two preseason games. All 61 of his snaps have come at right guard. At this point, Newman might be a favorite to start at right guard in Week 1, which would give the Packers two rookie starters to open 2021. He's fast off the ball and athletic on the move. He probably needs to get stronger to unlock his full potential at guard, but Newman looks like a real find.
DL TJ Slaton
(AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Snaps: 83 PFF grade: 61.3 Only two defensive players have played more snaps for the Packers this preseason. Playing mostly on the nose, Slaton leads the team in both run stops and total pressures. Against the Jets, he delivered his first sack on a physically dominant rep in the second half. Slaton is a massive individual who, when playing with proper leverage, can move double teams and collapse the pocket. The Packers want more consistency. He can get washed out of plays when he's tired. The hope is he can be a useful rotational player as a rookie, potentially making Kenny Clark's life easier.
CB Shemar Jean-Charles
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Snaps: 58 PFF grade: 63.3 The Packers have used Jean-Charles almost exclusively in the slot. He's allowed five catches on seven targets with one pass breakup and one penalty. The rookie is a fluid mover with obvious toughness. Learning how to cover NFL receivers will be a work in progess. He'll be an important special teams contributor if he makes the team, as expected.
OL Cole Van Lanen
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Snaps: 53 PFF grade: 74.3 Van Lanen has been one of the rookie standouts of the preseason. The sixth-round pick has played 26 snaps at right tackle and 27 at left guard and impressed at both spots. The rookie has good feet and is building confidence as a multi-positional player. He'll make the team without issue if the Packers see the potential at both guard and tackle.
LB Isaiah McDuffie
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Snaps: 19 PFF grade: 69.6 McDuffie made his preseason debut against the Jets. Two of his three tackles were considered stops, including an impressive open-field tackle of Jets running back La'Michal Perine. The rookie has closing speed, for sure. He'll need to earn his roster spot on special teams, where the Packers need linebackers to help turn the third phase around.
RB Kylin Hill
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Snaps: 38 PFF grade: 82.6 The star of the preseason. He's scored a pair of touchdowns, one a screen and another on a run. Both were impressive plays once the ball got into his hands. Hill has consistently made defenders miss and looked comfortable as a receiver and blocker. It took just two preseason games for the seventh-round pick to lock in his status as the team's No. 3 running back. He might also return kickoffs. Touches will be hard to come by at running back in 2021, but Hill could see the ball as a rookie. He's been that good.
DL Jack Heflin
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Snaps: 74 PFF grade: 71.2 Heflin looks like the gem of the undrafted free agent class. He's played the sixth-most snaps among defensive players for the Packers this preseason. A similar player as Tyler Lancaster, he handles the dirty work against the run with strength and effort, and he showed surprisingly effective counters as a pass-rusher. There's a good chance he's played his way onto the 53-man roster, although it's unclear what that means for Lancaster's future.
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OL Coy Cronk: He had a rough debut against the Jets, giving up a sack and committing a penalty while playing at left tackle. OL Jacob Capra: He was the Packers' highest-graded offensive player against the Jets. S Christian Uphoff: The Packers have played him on only 26 snaps on defense in two games, but he flashed on special teams against the Jets, making two standout plays, so expect to see him more on defense in the finale against the Bills. DL Carlo Kemp: Over 32 snaps, he's produced one pressure and one stop.