New faces excited for next chapter in Green Bay

Jacobs, McKinney among big additions for Packers
By: 
Luke Reimer
Green & Gold Express

While the Green Bay Packers overperformed last season and finished a game short of the NFC Championship, general manager Brian Gutekunst and his staff deemed it appropriate to make some changes.

Among those changes were the signings of two young players who are expected to make a major impact that may help Green Bay get over the hump. The first signing that Green Bay made when the new NFL season opened was running back Josh Jacobs.

Jacobs was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders with the 24th pick of the first round in 2019 out of the University of Alabama. While at Alabama, Jacobs recorded a total of 1,491 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. While those numbers don’t scream anything crazy, in 2018, he shared the Crimson Tide’s backfield with three other NFL running backs in Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.

After being selected by the Raiders, Jacobs was finally given the opportunity to be the No. 1 guy in the backfield. That proved to be a great addition for the Raiders, as in his rookie season, Jacobs totaled 1,150 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He followed that season up with another stellar performance as a sophomore in the NFL, totaling 1,065 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. With high expectations, Jacobs somewhat underperformed in his third campaign, as he ran for 872 yards and nine touchdowns.

With many in the NFL world criticizing Jacobs after his third season, the Alabama alum more than proved the doubters wrong in his fourth season. Playing in his first complete season, Jacobs led the NFL in rushing with 1,653 yards and tied his career high with 12 rushing touchdowns. During the season, Jacobs added a career-best 400 receiving yards as well. He followed that season up with 805 rushing yards in 13 games last season.

While Green Bay made the splash in free agency by signing Jacobs, many thought the team was going to partner him with Aaron Jones. Gutekunst had different plans though, as Jones was subsequently released, leaving the backfield wide open for Jacobs.

The change from Jones to Jacobs will be an interesting dynamic, as each player plays a different style of football. Jones was able to exploit defenses by hitting one cut hard and gashing the defense with as little contact as possible. Jacobs works the running back position by bruising his way through the offensive and defensive lines, trying to wear down defenses with his physical style of running.

While both styles have proven to be effective in the NFL, Jacobs’ style of running may give the Packers a little more flexibility when it comes to designing inside runs.

“I had a few (teams) to choose from, but ultimately it came down to what I have seen and what I have believed in this team,” said Jacobs, on why he opted to sign with Green Bay. “Young quarterback, young skill guys and good offensive line, so for a running back, you can’t load the box and when you do, you still have guys that can move around.”

Jacobs wasn’t the only one who made the move to Green Bay though. With an obvious weakness at the strong safety position, the Packers brought in Xavier McKinney, who spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants.

While he was with the Giants, McKinney totaled 279 total tackles and nine interceptions. Also out of Alabama, McKinney figures to slide into a prominent role on a Packers defense that is eagerly looking to limit players like Christian McCaffrey, David Montgomery and Puka Nacua, among other stars in the NFC.

McKinney will look to start immediately at the strong safety position to give the Packers a fast and strong secondary. What Packer fans should be excited about, too, is McKinney played in every game for the Giants last season.

As a whole, McKinney flies around to the ball and oftentimes uses his speed to greatly limit opposing quarterbacks. With 27 pass deflections, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, McKinney is at the top of scouting reports for every opposing offensive coordinator.

Partnering him with Jaire Alexander gives Green Bay a solid one-two punch and a great base for its growing secondary.

The Alabama alum should also bring new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley some flexibility on that side of the ball. While with New York, McKinney was able to line up all over the secondary, taking snaps at safety, slot corner and even up in the box as a hybrid linebacker. With his speed and playmaking ability, it seems likely that McKinney will be able to make an immediate impact.

“For me, I am more so like whatever we need for that game I want to go do,” said McKinney, on his favorite position to play. “I try not to get too focused on one spot. I never try to box myself in, and I think that is what gives me the ability to play in different spots in the defense and in any scheme at a high level.”

In classic Gutekunst fashion, both of these big name signings come with youth. It has become fairly obvious that Green Bay is looking to keep its team as young as possible while keeping solid talent. Coming into his sixth season, Jacobs is just 26 years old and McKinney entering his fifth season in the NFL is just 24 years old.

As has been the theme with Green Bay in recent years, the front office has not shied away from moving on from aging veterans who have had great careers in Green Bay.

In the past three offseasons, Green Bay has said farewell to Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones. Those three have been replaced by Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jordan Love and Josh Jacobs, all of whom are 26 or younger.

The youth movement in Green Bay should obviously pay dividends when the team can gel together like what was shown last season.

As we saw last season, the young Packers team needed time to figure out its game plan and play styles before being able to really compete. When it did work out the kinks, the Packers looked like one of the better teams in the league.

With a full season under the belt with Love, expectations are high for Green Bay. After faltering against San Francisco, opting to replace Jones with Jacobs and Darnell Savage, who was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, with McKinney, young, strong pieces may be in place to help the Packers finally beat the 49ers.

If all else fails this season, Jacobs and McKinney are young enough to where they should be able to play in the Green Bay system for years to come.