A little more than 15 months after the Green Bay Packers selected him in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft, former Indiana offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak is choosing to step away from the game.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst announced Saturday that Stepaniak had been placed on the reserve/retired list after spending his entire 2020 rookie season trying to recover from ACL surgery. The second-year guard had participated in the first two practices of training camp, but he was absent on Friday and Saturday before he was officially cleared from the active roster.
The Packers took a chance on Stepaniak with their third of three sixth-round picks in the 2020 draft, hoping eventually he would be able to bounce back from the ACL tear he sustained in one of his final practices with the Hoosiers in December 2019. While he spent most of last year on the reserve/non-football injury list, he was activated on Dec. 2 and practiced with the Packers for the final three weeks of the regular season, getting as close as a “questionable” status for Week 17’s final game against the Chicago Bears.
Stepaniak’s comeback efforts came to an end in January, though, when the Packers placed him on season-ending injured reserve to clear space on their 53-man postseason roster for veteran Jared Veldheer, who ended up landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list anyways.
The Packers now have a new opening on their 90-man roster after adding wide receiver Randall Cobb (via trade with Houston) and offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (as a free-agent signing) during their first week of camp.
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Packers Expectations Still High for Rest of 2020 Class
The Packers can’t be thrilled to have one of their recent draft picks step away so quickly after he was selected. Stepaniak sitting out of his rookie season might have been part of the team’s plan, but it is doubtful they ever thought the 6-foot-4, 316-pound interior lineman would struggle so much with his health that he retired before Year 2 began.
Fortunately, Stepaniak was just one of nine selections from the Packers’ 2020 draft class and not even the only lineman. Green Bay’s other two sixth-round picks were used to add Michigan guard Jon Runyan Jr. and Oregon center Jake Hanson. They also picked up three more interior linemen in the 2021 draft with second-round center Josh Myers, fourth-round guard Royce Newman and sixth-round guard Cole Van Lanen.
As for the rest of the 2020 class, the Packers have high expectations for each of their top three selections. First-round quarterback Jordan Love will become the primary backup for Aaron Rodgers in his second season, while second-round running back AJ Dillon is set to become the thunder to Aaron Jones’ lightning in the Packers’ backfield. There’s also third-round tight end Josiah Deguara, who could add another weapon to the offense once he returns from the ACL injury that wiped out his rookie season.
Kamal Martin, their 2020 fifth-round pick, is also projected to be a regular contributor in his second year alongside new veteran De’Vondre Campbell and 2020 starter Krys Barnes. Meanwhile, both of their 2020 seventh-round picks — safety Vernon Scott and outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin — should contend for roster spots this preseason.