NFC North Camp Preview: Find Aaron Rodgers Some Weapons

Green Bay Packers WR Christian Watson
Green Bay Packers WR Christian Watson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - Who will emerge as Aaron Rodgers' WR1? Who will emerge as Justin Fields' WR2, WR3, and WR4? Who will survive the Detroit Lions linebacker bloodbath? How will Walkthrough get through this intro without needlessly ripping the Minnesota Vikings? (Oops, too late.) Walkthrough's 2022 NFC North Training Camp Preview will help you find answers for all of these summertime questions and get you ready for all of the preseason action, from camp battles to joint practices to preseason games that might actually be worth watching.

Chicago Bears 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading Into Camp: The new regime of Other Ryan and Other Matt (Poles and Eberflus, replacing Pace and Nagy) may not really be sandbagging Justin Fields by surrounding him with USFL talent so they can justify drafting "their guy" at quarterback in 2023. But the Bears offseason would make a whole lot more sense if they were.

Camp Battles to Watch: Darnell Mooney is set as the Bears WR1. It sounds like Byron Pringle has WR2 nailed down and rookie Velus Jones (Tennessee) is the frontrunner to be WR3. There was no chatter out of minicamp about anyone like Equanimeous St. Brown, Dazz Newsome, or Dante Pettis asserting themselves, and David Moore got arrested.

The lack of competition at receiver may have been what prompted the Bears to add Patriots first-round bust N'Keal Harry earlier this week. Harry elevates this from the NFL's worst position group to the NFL's worst position group with extra name recognition. The fact that Harry is likely to immediately push for significant playing time is discouraging. The fact that Harry's arrival probably shuts the door on Poles and Eberflus adding any other veteran help is even more discouraging.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: Luke Getsy coached Aaron Rodgers for three years without bursting into flames and is earning positive reviews for his relationship-building with Fields. He's also another blank slate who is rolling off the McVay/Shanahan/LaFleur assembly line with no other credentials besides the fact that he is rolling off the McVay/Shanahan/LaFleur assembly line. It's going to take more than a slight variation on the same offense that a quarter of the NFL is running these days to pull the talent-destitute Bears offense out of the bottom quartile of the league.

Circle-It Date: Bears-Seahawks would make a dreadful real game but should be a fascinating preseason matchup on August 18. Fields will probably need substantial preseason reps, and all of the wide receivers should get long looks (as should Drew Lock, Geno Smith, and about 30 running backs when the Seahawks have the ball). This game will be an opportunity to determine how much hope you want to hold out for the Bears offense.

Detroit Lions 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading into Camp: The Jaguars always seem to be in the first year of a rebuild. The Jets and Browns are perpetually in Year 3, when it all comes crashing down. But the Lions? They are in an endless cycle of Year 2: the team stunk last year, but the coach swears that the culture is different, and while few of the roster problems have really been solved, just wait until next year!

So here we are again, in Act Two of a saga that never goes anywhere.

Camp Battles to Watch: Here's what Dan Campbell had to say about the linebacker competition in May: "Out of all those guys we have in that room, it's going to be a bloodbath in there. … There's a ton of experience, there's a ton of youth, there's a ton of energy, and on top of that everyone of those guys in there is competitive."

Yep, that sounds like Campbell. But who will survive the Red Vetting? Former Saints role player Alex Anzalone flunked his starting audition in 2021. Derrick Barnes was a disaster as a rookie. Former Ravens special teamer Chris Board earned starter's reps in OTAs, which is not an encouraging sign. Former first-round pick and coverage liability Jarrad Davis is back after a year in Jets exile. And don't forget sixth-round pick (Oklahoma State) Malcolm Rodriguez.

Ugh. The real bloodbath may come when opponents start throwing over the middle to wide-open receivers on Sundays.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: This is how a brilliant (at career management and self-preservation, if not football) regime tempers expectations and guarantees an extra year of job security, folks: first-round pick Jameson Williams (ACL) isn't expected to be ready for the start of training camp. While fans wait for the Alabama receiver to arrive like Santa Claus and fix everything by Christmas (thus creating "momentum" for Campbell and Brad Holmes entering 2023), we'll get to see DJ Chark try to repeat his modest Jaguars success and determine if Amon-Ra St. Brown can do more than gobble up short receptions when his team is helplessly behind. Fun fact: St. Brown tied Najee Harris for the NFL lead in receptions when trailing by 14-plus points with 25!

Circle-It Date: The Lions will host joint practices with the Colts on August 17 and 18. (Dates were not official but highly probable at press time.) The sessions won't be very interesting—the Lions have a very boring roster—but Campbell is sure to deliver some soundbites about the two teams trying to slaughter each other with broadswords or something.

Green Bay Packers 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading Into Camp: Aaron Rodgers lacks the patience/social skills/human decency to mumble polite platitudes about his new receiving corps. So unless someone emerges immediately as the next Davante Adams, Packers fans can look forward to a long summer of vacant stares and passive-aggressive negging. Business as usual, in other words, except that Rodgers will be disgruntled at his young teammates instead of in addition to the organization.

Camp Battles to Watch: Let's restack the receiver room:

  • Christian Watson rode #DraftTwitter helium and the Packers' idiosyncratic draft kinks into the second round. He's a traits guy who didn't catch many passes in college, but everyone sounds certain he'll succeed anyway.
     
  • Sammy Watkins is oft-injured vaporware whose endearingly daffy worldview could make him part of a newly emerging inner circle of confidantes likely to transform Rodgers from your basic know-it-all podcaster into a character more like Aleister Crowley.
     
  • Randall Cobb is an aging but effective slot receiver whose real role is to sit next to Rodgers on flights and nod through his rants about the First Amendment.
     
  • Allen Lazard had excellent DVOA metrics last year, thanks mostly to three fine games on or after Christmas. He's someone Packers fans have insisted is just about to break out for four years.
     
  • Romeo Doubs was Carson Strong's favorite receiver at Nevada. Remember when Carson Strong was a thing?

In short, this is not a playoff-caliber receiver corps, though it's better than what the Bears or (pre-Jameson Williams) Lions will field. Rodgers will need to do a lot of heavy lifting to make these guys look good.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: It's Christian Watson. But on the defensive side of the ball, keep an eye on the Georgia talent infusion of tackle Devonte Wyatt and linebacker Quay Walker. Expectations for the Packers defense are very high, but a lot of hopes are pinned on journeymen coming off of career years (De'Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas) and maxed-out incumbents (Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos.) Walker, in particular, adds much-needed speed to a pokey linebacker corps.

Circle-It Date: Packers preseason games should be surprisingly fun to watch: Jordan Love will get lots of playing time, and he'll be throwing to receivers such as Watson, Dobbs, and Amari Rodgers (bootleg Diet Deebo Extra Lite.) The Packers visit the 49ers on August 12 in what promises to be one of the most talked about (thanks largely to a fellow named Trey Lance) preseason games on the schedule.

Minnesota Vikings 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading into Camp: Justin Jefferson said on NFL Network in June that the Vikings' offense is "not a run-first offense anymore." That means more Kirk Cousins! Oh goody gumdrops!

Camp Battles to Watch: The Vikings don't really have camp battles. When an aging veteran's contract is about to expire, they either replace him with another aging veteran or extend his contract.

Right guard may be the most important job up for grabs: second-round pick Ed Ingram (LSU) was drafted to start, but journeyman Wyatt Davis and 2021 third-round pick Jesse Davis are also in the mix.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: Za'Darius Smith replaces Everson Griffen in the "fading, oft-unavailable edge rusher" role. Jordan Hicks replaces Anthony Barr in the "reliable linebacker with maybe a year left" role. Both are moderate upgrades, which explains why our Football Outsiders Almanac projections for the Vikings are rather high, despite the snark dismissiveness Vikings fans have come to expect from Walkthrough.

Circle-It Date: Vikings fans should enjoy an August 8 Monday night practice/scrimmage. The rest of us will settle for joint practices against the 49ers on August 17 and 18. Trey Lance will make everything more interesting this summer. Even the Vikings!

Comments

24 comments, Last at 18 Jul 2022, 8:39pm

1 The lack of competition at…

The lack of competition at receiver may have been what prompted the Bears to add Patriots first-round bust N'Keal Harry earlier this week.

Just so confused by this trade. I mean, if there's anything the Patriots are known for it's having reclamation projects at WR available, right? If only the Chicago Bears can manage to find the True Talent that the Patriots weren't able to.

Still can't believe the Bears managed to take one of the worst position groups in the NFL from last year and somehow make them far worse.

2 But the Lions? They are in…

But the Lions? They are in an endless cycle of Year 2: the team stunk last year, but the coach swears that the culture is different, and while few of the roster problems have really been solved, just wait until next year!

This was the best part of the Caldwell regime. You didn't have any of that bullshit, because Jim Caldwell was an adult.

17 And moreover...

This.

None of this is to suggest there won't be forlorn stares or other body language nonsense from Rodgers at training camp -- that's probably likely even though I wish it would not occur. No one likes petulance for a colleague.

But all that said, let's at least account for the man's present words, even while we speculate about his future behavior. 

5 They are in an endless cycle…

They are in an endless cycle of Year 2: the team stunk last year, but the coach swears that the culture is different, and while few of the roster problems have really been solved, just wait until next year!

 

  Given how far into the ground the roster was plowed on Patricia's watch saying that now isn't really BS IMO.    OTOH, I completely understand the skepticism given the long term history of the franchise which will only be overcome by sustained improvements in the record.

6 The DVOA articles suggest I…

The DVOA articles suggest I may have to revise my opinions of Monte Clark, but as a general statement, it was really only under Caldwell, Fontes, and Schmidt that the Lions escaped perpetual year 2.

\You have to go back to Potsy Clark to find a coach with more than four consecutive winning seasons.
\\Part of the reason I've never bought into the criticism of Tomlin; he had two different 5-year stretches.
\\\Digging around the Clark years, I ran across Jock Sutherland, who may have had an unsurpassed ability to be vastly more successful than the coach immediately prior to him and immediately subsequent to him.

14 I would say given where the…

I would say given where the Lions were in the Patricia aftermath, they've done a pretty good job. One draft wasn't going to turn around this Lions team nor was reaching for a QB in a weak class.

In other words, they've made no obvious mistakes that I can see like mortgaging real assets for Baker Mayfield or splurging on overpriced middle tier free agents. But it's the Lions, so people can't resist. 

 

7 but a lot of hopes are…

but a lot of hopes are pinned on journeymen coming off of career years (De'Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas) and maxed-out incumbents (Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos.)

I get being skeptical of journeymen off career years, but seems weird to cite people pinning their hopes on “maxed-out incumbents” as a reason for concern. Doesn’t maxed out incumbent just mean “good player”? At least in this case it does, I think all those guys have made the pro bowl. Doesn’t everyone want a team full of those?

8 Yes

But it's another way of saying they won't get better (and may even decline).

Don't necessarily agree though. 

9 Hmmm ok, I guess it just…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Hmmm ok, I guess it just leaves out the half of the starting D that is genuinely expected to improve upon last year: Stokes year 2, Rashan Gary continued breakout, Quay Walker, Devontae Wyatt, and getting Jaire Alexander back. So if you’ve got 3 guys expected to stay the same, 5 that are expected to improve, and 3 that are variables (Campbell, Douglas, Savage), I think I’m expecting improvement overall.

12 cite people pinning their…

cite people pinning their hopes on “maxed-out incumbents” as a reason for concern.

Weird, you read that part as Mike having reason for concern? I didn't get that at all. That part just read to me "if you want to see if Green Bay's defense is going to seriously improve, watch these 2 draft picks, especially this guy."

 

11 Viking excitement

Real Vikings were exciting, though perhaps not so much as legend would portray.  These Vikings used to be exciting.  Fran Tarkenton was able to make even a moribund Giants team exciting - any team with him under center was fun to watch.  The Purple People Eaters were exciting.  Moss/Carter were exciting.  Now it's just Minnesota nice.

13 on boy..

Fields must really be unlucky to have had TWO head coaches and GMs that purposefully undermined him for unknown reasons

16 He also transferred away…

In reply to by JoelBarlow

He also transferred away from Georgia.

The guy who replaced him and the guy who he replaced both won national championships. (And one of them just took a moribund midwestern franchise named "C.B." to the Super Bowl.) Maybe it's him.

15 I'll be interested to see…

I'll be interested to see how this GB team looks next year. Despite having the best record in the league, DVOA was relatively unkind to them. They were essentially like a late 2000s version of the Colts and that team began to collapse under its own weight before falling to pieces once the QB got hurt. Also like those Colts teams, The division seems to have taken two steps back as well, so they've got that going for them.

I know Rodgers has been injury free the last few years, but he's not an iron man and his style of play plus his age means there's a danger lurking out there.

I'm mildly pessimistic about this team but then I was similarly pessimistic about them last year. 

18 So, who wins games?

Mike, after reading all your entries, I got a good laugh over how negative they all were. I'm a Packers fan and have read all manner of sturm und drang (and I had to correct the autocorrect) about the team and players (read: AR12). Your evaluation of the NFC East had more depth. Was expecting better from you than this rather superficial rant.

 

19 Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers lacks the patience/social skills/human decency

Lol wtf?

21 Oh, and I don't know what I…

Oh, and I don't know what I love more: Aaron Rodgers tears (which, as Bears fan, I get to experience about once every eight years) or the tears of Packers fans when someone points out that he is a terrible human being.

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