Packers lack potential young stars outside of Kenny Clark, RBs

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — They have a 34-year-old quarterback in Aaron Rodgers whose most proven offensive weapon (Jimmy Graham) is 31, their best pass rusher (Clay Matthews) is 32, and even their kicker (Mason Crosby) is well into his 30s.

No wonder the Green Bay Packers didn’t land a single player on ESPN’s best NFL starting lineup of players under the age of 25.

That’s essentially limited to the past three draft classes, and it could be a byproduct of former general manager Ted Thompson’s decline.

It’s probably too early to include any of the Packers’ 2018 draft picks in the conversation, although Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, made the list over Ezekiel Elliott.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the Packers’ starters (and potential starters) under 25 at each position on offense and defense:

Quarterback
DeShone Kizer

Age: 22

One coach familiar with Kizer called the former Browns starter a “total rebuild” after he went winless in 15 starts for Cleveland. He’ll have to show marked improvement to challenge Brett Hundley for the backup job. The Packers unloaded a headache — cornerback Damarious Randall — to get Kizer in a trade.

Running back
Jamaal Williams/Aaron Jones

Ages: 23

At this point, it’s a tough call between the two. Williams looked more capable of handling workhorse duties, but Jones showed more explosiveness. Jones can’t play the first two games because of an NFL suspension, but by midseason, perhaps he could overtake Williams.

Receiver
Geronimo Allison

Age: 24

The former undrafted free agent will have to fend off competition from Michael Clark, a former college basketball player whose 6-foot-6 frame makes him an intriguing prospect, and the three receivers picked on Day 3 of the draft this spring. But Allison looks like the best bet to open the season as the No. 3 receiver behind Davante Adams (who doesn’t qualify for this list because he’s already 25) and Randall Cobb.

Tight end
Emanuel Byrd

Age: 23

This is a veteran position group with Graham, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis. But Byrd looks like a developmental project. He was promoted from the practice squad for the regular-season finale and caught two passes for 31 yards.

Tackle
Kyle Murphy/Jason Spriggs

Ages: 24

One them could start at right tackle to open the season if Bryan Bulaga’s rehabbed knee isn’t ready. Both finished last season on injured reserve. Murphy, a sixth-round pick in 2016, might have the edge over Spriggs, a second-round pick in the same draft.

Guard/Center
Lucas Patrick

Age: 24

The former undrafted rookie started two games last season — one at left guard and one at right guard. He has also worked at center, although he has not had any games reps there.

Defensive line
Kenny Clark

Age: 22

He’s the closest thing the Packers have to an under-25 star. He was only 20 when the Packers picked him in the first round in 2017 and won’t turn 23 until a month into his third NFL season this year. Clark had all 4.5 of his sacks last season in December and was perhaps the team’s most impactful player on defense late in the season.

Outside linebacker
None

Even potential up-and-comers Vince Biegel and Reggie Gilbert already have exceeded the age requirement — they’re both 25 — and they’ve hardly played. They’ve combined for one career sack; Gilbert got it in last year’s regular-season finale. Same with Kyler Fackrell, who is already 26 even though he was in the same draft class as Clark.

Inside linebacker
Blake Martinez

Age: 24

All the 2016 fourth-round pick did was tie for the NFL lead in tackles last season while ranking second on the Packers’ defense in snaps played. He figures to be a cornerstone in the new defensive scheme.

Cornerback
Kevin King

Age: 23

Big things are expected from last year’s top pick now that his ailing shoulder has been surgically repaired. The Packers expect to see the real King this year. Throw in this year’s top-two picks — Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson — and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is flush with young cornerback talent.

Safety
Josh Jones

Age: 23

Morgan Burnett, 29, left in free agency, which opens the door for Jones, who made seven starts last season as a rookie second-round pick.

Photo: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentine

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The ‘real Kevin King’ should finally appear in training camp

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The hooting and hollering from the other end of the locker room was so loud that it interrupted Aaron Rodgers’ session with reporters. Twice, Rodgers paused and looked to his right, where a group of Green Bay Packers defensive backs were whooping it up.

Kevin King was not among them.

King sat quietly at his locker while a group that included the Packers’ top two 2018 draft picks — Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson — went about their locker room fun.

Jim Matthews/Green Bay Press Gazette via USA TODAY Sports

The same can be said for what’s happened on the field this spring, where the addition of Alexander and Jackson to the cornerback position added some much-needed juice. Meanwhile, King, the Packers’ top draft pick in 2017, has been limited only to individual drills to let his surgically repaired left shoulder heal.

More than a year after the Packers picked him at No. 33 overall, they still haven’t seen King at his best. Assistant coach Joe Whitt, who tutored the cornerbacks last season before his promotion to defensive passing game coordinator, said after King’s season ended prematurely because of the injury that “you haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet.”

That statement holds true — for now — but Whitt believes that will change soon.

“Hopefully in training camp,” Whitt said this offseason. “Hopefully he’ll be full-go in training camp. He’s been really attentive; he’s worked his butt off in the workroom. The guys in the workroom are just raving about the way his work ethic hasn’t necessarily changed, but from Year 1 to 2 you grow up, and he’s matured that way.

“He’s been in [cornerback] Tramon Williams’ back pocket the whole time learning, not just necessarily the defense but how to be a pro and how to be in the league 13 years. So he’s doing everything. He’s been in my back pocket, ‘Hey, Joe, what’s the defense here?’ Because he hasn’t been on the field, but he wants to know what every call is. He wants to communicate with myself and [cornerbacks coach] Jason [Simmons] and make sure that he understands the checks on the side so he can get mental reps each time. But you’ll see the real Kevin King come training camp.”

The 6-foot-3 King gave the Packers something they didn’t have — a lanky, long-armed cornerback suited to cover the NFL’s sky-scraping receivers. Almost immediately, however, a shoulder injury that hampered him in college resurfaced. He didn’t make it through the first week of training camp without issue. He tried to play through it for as long as he could, appearing in nine games while wearing a restrictive harness before the Packers shut him down. Despite the injury, he showed he was a willing tackler, and although he didn’t record an interception, he broke up eight passes before he underwent surgery in December to repair the torn labrum.

“I feel good,” King said. “I went to the best surgeon in the world, Dr. [James] Andrews. He got me right, so I feel good.”

Still, the Packers haven’t let King participate in 11-on-11 periods during OTA practices and probably won’t during next week’s minicamp, either. That leaves new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine still somewhat unsure of what he has in the second-year cornerback.

“It’s hard to tell at this point because I know a lot of the film from last year, that he was playing essentially with one arm,” Pettine said. “Just in talking to Joe and Jason, they think the world of him and think the ceiling is real high there. Just looking at him, it surprised me; I didn’t realize how tall he is until I met him in person. Just with receivers getting bigger and bigger — just look at the guys we’ve got to cover in practice — it will be nice to have a corner with that size and length.”

Given how limited King was last season, it seemed curious that one NFL executive already has written off King in comments to ESPN’s Mike Sando for an Insider story evaluating each team’s offseason moves. Said the personnel evaluator: “Green Bay has to take corners because they missed on [Damarious] Randall, they missed on [Quinten] Rollins, they probably missed on the Washington kid last year [Kevin King].”

The Packers brought back Davon House, who started 12 games last season, and re-signed Williams after three years away from Green Bay. Even with the addition of Alexander and Jackson, there’s a good chance King will be one of the two starters on the outside when the season opens. So far, Alexander has looked like a capable No. 3 corner in the slot.

“I think it’s going to be a big jump for him,” House said of King. “I’m excited to see what he looks like healthy because last year he was banged up the whole year, and I thought last year he wasn’t bad at all for a rookie. So I’m excited to see what he brings this year.”

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