With the draft picks starting to sign their contracts and a fresh crop of Undrafted Free Agents in the fold, the Packers 90-man roster has taken shape. Only 53 will actually make the team though, so doesn’t mid-May seem like the perfect time to take a look at what spots are up for grabs? I mean, I’m sure very little will change between now and Week 1, right?
Hopefully the Packers will use some of their approximately $13 million in cap space to add another veteran or two (Elvis Dumervil and DeAndre Levy, please!). And there will be comings and goings throughout the summer at the bottom of the roster. But even if it is nothing more than an educated guess at this point, its never too early to take a look at who will make up the final 53.
Quarterbacks (3): Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
This one is pretty easy. Although the Packers allowed Callahan to bounce around the league a bit before he made it back to Green Bay this year, their willingness to trade Brett Hundley at draft time means they must like Callahan, and will want to have him as the primary backup for whenever Hundley is inevitably traded. The Packers will likely have to keep all 3 on the 53-man roster this year.
Running Backs (4): Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Aaron Ripkowski
Montgomery and Ripkowski are locks, and Williams is probably pretty close as the top RB selected and the one who appears best suited to develop into a lead back. Aaron Jones and fellow rookie Devante Mays will vie for the 3rd spot. Keeping all 3 rookie RBs would seem to be a luxury the team cannot afford, unless they all show strong value, and the guess is that Jones’ ability as a 3rd-down back will earn him the roster spot while Mays will go to the Practice Squad.
A veteran addition is also a possibility here, but the market at RB has thinned and the only one who seems to make any sense for what the Packers need is LeGarrette Blount.
Tight End (3): Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers
With no draft picks and the only UDFA they signed looking like a long-shot to make the roster, the Packers will go with their 3 veterans here. This looks to be the strongest the Packers have been at TE since Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura helped Brett Favre win MVP in 1996. 2nd-year player Beau Sandland will get a look but will likely have to settle for the Practice Squad.
Wide Receiver (7*): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, DeAngelo Yancey, Malachi Dupre, Trevor Davis
As it seems to be every year, Wide Receiver is one of the deepest positions on the roster going into training camp, with 7 guys you would like to keep on the 53 (the above, plus Trevor Davis). There appear to be tiers at the position–the top 3 are all locks and should get the majority of snaps if healthy, while the next 3 will all have a shot to make the roster and earn playing time. Allison’s play down the stretch should earn him the inside track at the 4th spot.
Yancey and Dupre both have a great shot to make the team, but likely one and possibly both will be seeing at most spot duty at Wide Receiver. Becoming Special Teams standouts would go a long way to securing their roster berths. Although more analysis has been devoted to 7th rounder Dupre, I like what I saw from Yancey’s tape better. He has the potential to be a physical threat in the red zone with enough speed to get behind defenses.
I am including Trevor Davis as the 7th WR on the roster due to the extra roster spot created by Letroy Guion’s suspension. While the Packers will hope to stash Davis on the Practice Squad if he does not make the roster, Jeff Janis appears to be done as a WR in Green Bay. One has to question his football smarts if he cannot fully grasp the offense after 3 years, and just as critically, he is much more of a straight-line runner than a shifty athlete, which is needed at the position. Janis needs to become a force as a gunner on Special Teams again, but even if he does, he still looks a long-shot to make the roster.
Offensive Line (9): David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy, Kofi Amichia, Don Barclay
The Jahri Evans signing was a particularly shrewd one for Thompson, as his presence gives the Packers the ability to groom the long-term answer at Guard for a year, as well as providing an insurance policy in case that man is not currently on the roster. The Packers appear to have a strong Offensive Line once again; although perhaps not the dominant force it was prior to Lang and Sitton’s departures, the unit will be well above-average in pass-blocking and shouldn’t be an impediment to the Offense as a whole re-gaining elite status.
The Packers have great depth with Spriggs and Murphy at backup Tackle and Amichia, Barclay, Lucas Patrick, and likely Kyle Murphy providing depth inside. Any number of players will be given snaps at Center in hopes the Packers find an answer as a backup there instead of Barclay, but if the Packers have to roll with him again, he will be ready.
Canadian UDFA Geoff Gray has the requisite size to develop into a solid Guard, and looks a good bet for the Practice Squad if he can’t make a serious run at a roster spot.
Defensive Line (5*): Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Ricky Jean-Francois, Dean Lowry, Montravius Adams, Letroy Guion*
The Packers appear to be in excellent shape along the Defensive Line. Considering there are just 2 on the field most plays, the Packers have all the depth they should need here. In Clark, Lowry, and Adams, the Packers have some intriguing young pieces.
Auburn product Adams was probably my favorite pick of the draft–if I had no idea who we’d picked and someone showed me his tape and said he was a first-rounder, I would have believed it. Very impressive quickness at the snap and athleticism for a big guy, and reports are that he put his problems with taking plays off mostly behind him in 2016. In reviewing tape of his game against Alabama, there was no indication he was not trying on any plays, although in fairness, if you can’t get up for the Iron Bowl, there is something seriously wrong with you.
Brian Price and Christian Ringo will be fighting for a roster spot. The Practice Squad seems likely for Price, while it might be time to move on from Ringo if he does not take a step. He might just not be big enough to contribute. Perhaps one will make the roster for the first few games before Guion is activated following his suspension (he will not count against the 53-man roster while serving his suspension), but my guess is the Packers will look to stash a player at another position (WR, CB, G) and keep just 5 Defensive Linemen to start the year.
Linebacker (9): Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas, Blake Martinez, Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel, Jayrone Elliott, Johnathan Calvin
Ted Thompson chose not to focus on the Linebacker position in the draft, devoting only a 4th rounder there, and backed it up by signing only one non-tryout UDFA each at ILB and OLB. I had expected the Packers to bring in a number of edge rushers to foster a healthy competition in camp for the last roster spots. Perhaps Ted knows something we don’t know, but this is a puzzling strategy in my book, as Linebacker is arguably the most important position in the 3-4 defense and the Packers appear weaker there than at any other position.
The Packers have two very good starters at OLB, but they are both injury-prone and there are far more questions than answers behind them. The Packers will really be counting on Fackrell to make a 2nd year jump; he was very productive on a per-snap basis last year, so perhaps there is reason for optimism there. Practice Squad carryover Reggie Gilbert will also get a look, but he has been an anonymous player in his time in Green Bay and at this point I would guess that another player, such as Mississippi State UDFA Johnathan Calvin, will take his spot.
The Packers did nothing at ILB the entire off-season, and once again that position will likely be a liability throughout the year. And with less-than-ideal depth at OLB, the Packers cannot afford to have Clay Matthews playing inside full-time. I understand that Ted doesn’t view this as a priority position, but there is always one and more often than not there are two ILBs on the field for each snap. Why Ted never invests in the position is truly puzzling, as nearly every great 3-4 defense seems to have an enforcer with some speed in one of the ILB spots. It looks like Packers fans will have to wait at least another year before we have any answers at ILB.
UDFA Cody Heimann will get a look as the only ILB added to the roster. His athletic testing was quite good, but he is undersized and will be facing a massive step up in competition after playing at Division II Washburn. He looks more likely for the Practice Squad.
Cornerback (6): Kevin King, Davon House, Ladarius Gunter, Damarious Randall, Quentin Rollins, Herb Waters
Cornerback is likely the position outside of Quarterback that, more than any other, will determine the fate of the 2017 Green Bay Packers. Although the Packers typically make rookies earn starting spots when there are returning veterans in place, there is no reason whatsoever that Damarious Randall or Quentin Rollins should be installed as starters prior to the season; their play was so bad last year that they should now be squarely on the hot seat, fighting to save their careers.
Kevin King should be given every chance to be the #1 CB against the Seahawks in Week 1, with Davon House starting on the other side. Although his playing time decreased last year as the Jaguars looked to go younger, House’s play in 2015 and familiarity with the defense are enough to earn him the first chance over the 3rd-year CBs.
The Packers will be praying that at least one of this year’s UDFAs, 2nd year man Josh Hawkins, or converted WR Herb Waters will develop into viable a NFL players Dmitri Goodson would also be a candidate for the 6th (and possibly 7th) roster spot at CB, but he looks more like a candidate for the PUP list following his knee injury last year.
With only one CB drafted, my bet is that Herb Waters makes the team as the 6th CB. What he lacks in experience Waters should be able to make up for with solid size and athleticism. Among the UDFAs, Lenzy Pipkins has some relatively impressive tape, but what is available showcases his run support more clearly than his coverage ability. He will need to show he can match up one-on-one in order to make the team.
Safety (4): Haha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice
Safety looks to be the strongest position on the Green Bay defense, with two established starters and some intriguing prospects waiting in the wings. 2nd-round draft pick Josh Jones figures to get a lot of playing time as a rookie, and the guess here is that he will be playing mostly the ILB role that Morgan Burnett filled last year, allowing Burnett to play in his more natural Strong Safety position. With his sideline-to-sideline speed and 6’2, 220 frame, Jones looks like a natural in the hybrid ILB role.
Kentrell Brice saw his role expand as the 2016 season wore on, and he looks to be a strong bet to make the team as the 4th Safety, but he will need to develop into a football player instead of just a battering ram if he hopes to earn meaningful snaps from scrimmage. 2nd year UDFAs Marwin Evans and Jermaine Whitehead will need strong summers if they hope to make the roster after each made little impact last year. Rookie UDFA Aaron Taylor will likely have to hope for a spot on the Practice Squad.
K Mason Crosby, P Jacob Schum, LS Derek Hart
My guess is Schum will return for another year, although perhaps UDFA Justin Vogel outplays him in Camp.
The Packers have kicked the tires on some younger Long Snappers, but Goode may still return as we get closer to Week 1.