The Green Bay Packers have said goodbye to some players who made key contributions during the 2023 season. Players like Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari and De’Vondre Campbell will not be back with the Pack in 2024. While the draft will bring in new talent, the Packers are looking for some returning players to take a step forward in their development and help the team improve. Injured veterans like Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes are not included in this list although their return should also help the team improve. Here is a look at seven returning Packers players the team is hoping will take a step forward in 2024 and make a bigger contribution to the team’s success:

Packers Who Should Take a Big Step Forward in 2024, Number Seven: Isaiah McDuffie

There are several reasons Isaiah McDuffie has a chance to take a big step forward this season. The departure of Campbell opens up a starting spot at linebacker. The change to a four-man front in the team’s base defense opens up another starting job.

Finally, McDuffie has previous experience working with new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley who coached him at Boston College.

McDuffie also showed signs of taking the next step forward last season when filling in for Campbell and Quay Walker when they were injured.

The Packers are hoping McDuffie raises his game and plays well as a full-time starter in 2024.

Numbers Six and Five: Dontayvion Wicks and Jayden Reed

Dontayvion Wicks surprised a lot of people with his strong performance as a rookie. The fifth round pick out of Virginia started the season far down the depth chart but ended up starting six games and playing in 15 over the course of the season.

Once he got a chance to play, he picked up his play and showed a lot of potential. Wicks finished the season with 39 catches for 581 yards and four touchdowns. He dropped only three passes all season, showing good hands and had a catch percentage of 67.2.

Wicks also demonstrated the ability to make plays downfield which should serve him well.

Jayden Reed led the Packers in catches and yards as a rookie despite being on the field for just 56 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Reed primarily lined up in the slot, but his route tree and responsibilities grew as the season progressed.

He finished the season with 64 catches for 793 yards and eight touchdown catches.

With more experience and a chance to see more playing time, Wicks and Reed could take a big leap in his second NFL season.

Packers Who Should Take a Big Step Forward in 2024, Numbers Four and Three: Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft

Both Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft enjoyed strong rookie campaigns. By the end of the season, head coach Matt LaFleur had to be excited about the prospect of having them both in the lineup at the same time.

Musgrave is the better downfield threat who can stretch the field and get open down the seams. The second-round pick from Oregon State finished the season with 34 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown. He missed six games in the second half of the season with a lacerated kidney but returned to action for the final game and in the playoffs.

When he got hurt, Kraft took advantage of the opportunity and made his mark. He finished the year with 31 catches for 355 yards and two scores. While Musgrave gets downfield, Kraft excels at running after the catch. The South Dakota State alum can easily turn a short pass into a sizeable gain because of what he can do once he gets the ball in his hands.

Both second-year tight ends could take a big step forward in year two of their NFL careers.

Number Two: Christian Watson

Christian Watson has the physical tools to be an elite NFL receiver. He has outstanding speed and size and excels at catching deep passes. His very presence on the field can open up things for his teammates because opposing defenses have to account for Watson on every play.

Watson still has to work on some things. Improving the precision of his pass patterns would help as would cutting down on his drops.

Obviously, staying healthy would also be a key for the former North Dakota State star. He has seen a hamstring specialist to try to reduce the chances of suffering another injury to that muscle.

If Watson can reach his full potential, he could become an extremely dangerous weapon for Jordan Love and the Packers offense.

Packers Who Should Take a Big Step Forward in 2024, Number One: Rashan Gary

Rashan Gary played every game in 2023 but he was still recovering from a season-ending knee injury that ended his 2022 campaign after nine games. The team had him on a play count in the first half of the season and he seemed to tire and slow down a bit later in the year.

The Michigan alum should be fully recovered from the injury in time for 2024. He will have to adjust to the team’s new defense under Hafley although he played with his hand on the ground in college.

Gary was among the better players in pass rush win rate last season and if fully healthy, he could reach double digit sacks for the first time in his NFL career.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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