The Green Bay Packers are about a month away from the beginning of training camp. The sports world is consumed by the Aaron Rodgers saga, but Packers fans are waiting for practice to start so other storylines can take attention away from a drama-filled offseason.
Among those storylines will be potential breakout players. These are the unsuspecting players who outperform in practice and have an outside shot of making an impact during the regular season. So, we are picking an underrated player at each position that could start making noise when the pads go on and camp begins.
We’ll start with the offense.
Quarterback: Blake Bortles
Green Bay Packers quarterback Blake Bortles (9) participates in minicamp practice Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.
Bortles’ career numbers are not great. He’s thrown only 14 fewer interceptions than Rodgers despite 3,953 fewer passing attempts. However, Bortles did start for a team that reached the AFC Championship Game in 2018, and he is reunited with former coach Nathaniel Hackett in a system he knows from a pair of stops with Sean McVay in Los Angeles. For those who question the signing, the team knew they wanted to add a veteran well before the Rodgers news surfaced. Bortles just happened to be the right fit. Green Bay will afford Jordan Love every opportunity possible in practice and during the preseason. However, it will be impossible for him to match the experience of Bortles. Because of that, Bortles is an underrated player not only to make the roster but also serve as the backup quarterback this season, especially if Rodgers isn’t back.
Running back: Kylin Hill
Green Bay Packers running back Kylin Hill (32) is shown during a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 8, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
The Packers were surprised to find Hill available during the seventh round. However, despite being an after-thought on most draft boards, Hill has a chance to contribute right away. He gained a ton of experience running the ball for Mississippi State and can also be a weapon on special teams. Through the first half of offseason workouts, Hill has been impressive. Coaches have spoken highly of the rookie’s versatility after he made a handful of plays during practice. That being said, even though he is behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, Hill can still earn playing time. It is well-known that Matt LaFleur uses a running back by committee approach, and Hill can easily win the No. 3 spot on the depth chart with Jamaal Williams no longer in the picture.
Wide receiver: Devin Funchess
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Devin Funchess (11) is shown during a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 8, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Funchess opted out of the COVID-stricken 2020 season for personal reasons. However, the 27-year-old wide receiver was in town for mandatory minicamp and looks ready to make a run at the 53-man roster. In 2019, Funchess appeared in just one game for the Indianapolis Colts before a broken collarbone knocked him out for the rest of the season. Funchess is now healthy and re-focused as he joins a crowded wide receiver room in Green Bay. Funchess has the potential to be a reliable red-zone threat and a solid depth piece. Outside of Davante Adams, he is the most experienced pass-catcher on the roster, which gives him a good shot at making the team. If he can grasp the playbook and build rapport with his quarterback, it’s not hard to picture a scenario where Funchess is a steady target in the Packers’ offense in 2021.
Tight end: Dominique Dafney
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Dafney played in five games last season as an undrafted free agent. He caught two passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. His one touchdown came in Week 17 against the Chicago Bears on a 13-yard reception. Dafney also contributed on special teams, making two tackles. Green Bay has a loaded group at tight end that includes Robert Tonyan and veteran Marcedes Lewis. Also, Josiah Deguara will be returning from an ACL injury after a strong start to his rookie season. The team is also hoping for more out of Jace Sternberger, a third-round pick in 2019. That puts Dafney low on the totem pole, however, he was active over Sternberger at the end of last season and in the playoffs. Dafney’s blocking and special teams’ contributions could help him carve out a role on this year’s team.
Offensive line: Ben Braden
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Braden was signed to the practice squad last October. This is his second stint with the Packers after spending time on the practice squad in 2019. Braden is already off to a good start this offseason, spending time at left tackle during OTAs. Braden took reps with the first-team offense in place of David Bakhtiari, who is rehabbing an ACL injury. According to offensive line coach Adam Stenavich, Braden could be competing for a starting role at guard or tackle. That’s enough to have him as an underrated player to watch during training camp and the preseason.