Rookie contributions are definitely on the upswing down the stretch, particularly in the case of sixth-round ILB D.J. Smith, who made significant strides in his second start replacing the injured A.J. Hawk vs. Oakland. Entrusted with the extra duty of relaying defensive calls on each play, Smith sill managed to make more than a few plays himself both against the run and in coverage. Smith finished tied for the team lead in tackles vs. the Raiders with 10 and registered one of the Packers' four interceptions. Hawk is reportedly close to being ready to return to action, but it appears Smith has earned himself a lot more playing time.
A Packer rookie making his presence felt for first time aside from special teams was seventh-round TE Ryan Taylor. The team leader in special-teams tackles entering the game with 10, Taylor's role was expanded when he caught a four-yard TD pass for the Packers' second score of the game on his first snap from scrimmage in a regular-season game. Both he and fifth-rounder D.J. Williams could see expanded action at tight end with Andrew Quarless now out for the season. Taylor's TD catch came on a play in which the Packers used four tight ends. Williams played for the first time since Oct. 23 and did a decent job as a lead blocker. He was also targeted for one catch.
First-round rookie Derek Sherrod played the entire second half at left tackle vs. the Raiders in place of Marshall Newhouse, as the Packers decided the time was right to get him some meaningful playing time. In his first meaningful action since Week Five, he was inconsistent but better than he looked in the summer.
Undrafted rookie Brandon Saine left early in the Raiders game with a head injury after seven snaps. Saine had one seven-yard gain and two catches for 14 yards on what probably would have been a big day had he not been knocked out. Early reports indicated Saine could be back in action this Sunday.
We finish this rookie report with a rundown on second-round rookie Randall Cobb, who had grabbed top billing just about every week in this space up to now. The knee injury suffered by WR Greg Jennings could bode well for Cobb and his 15.8 yards-per-catch average — not only as a receiver but in other creative roles. Cobb had two catches for 45 yards last Sunday, including a long of 26. He also had a 50-yard kickoff return among his four kick returns that would have been a 33-yarder if not for a replay malfunction. Cobb made two questionable decisions on his punt returns but remains a major threat every time he touches the ball.