The Green Bay Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL at utilizing a draft and develop mentality. They select players in the draft who have the potential to contribute immediately as rookies, as well as players who will grow into future stars that the Packers retain in free agency.
This year, Green Bay selected four offensive players and four defensive players in the draft, and has a number of undrafted rookies who are making impacts in the preseason as well. With the preseason now halfway finished, which direction are the Packers’ rookies headed in as they fight to make the final roster?
Damarious Randall – The Packers’ first round selection was hampered by an injury during portions of training camp and was held out of the team’s first preseason game against the Patriots. He played adequately in Week 2 against the Steelers, allowing three receptions on five targets. Randall also made an interception on the first play of the second half, demonstrating the ball-hawking ability that the Packers hope Randall continues to exhibit throughout the season. He has yet to make a case to be a starting cornerback for Green Bay, but he will see significant playing time this year.
Quinten Rollins – Green Bay selected another defensive back with its second pick, and he has had an up-and-down preseason through two weeks. In his first live action, Rollins allowed just 26 yards on five receptions and defended two passes. He had built off of success he was having in training camp where he was getting reps with the first string defense. But against the Steelers, he allowed completions on both balls thrown at him for 71 yards. He also got juked badly by Tyler Murphy for Pittsburgh’s first fourth quarter touchdown. Like Randall, he may not be a starter just yet, but he will get plenty of opportunities to prove himself during the season.
Ty Montgomery – Montgomery was a surprising pick for a Green Bay team that was already loaded at wide receiver. But following the injury to Jordy Nelson, he will have more chances to contribute on offense in 2015. Drafted largely to be a return specialist, Montgomery has yet to make an explosive return in the kicking game. But he has a combination of size and speed that makes him a dangerous weapon on both special teams and offense. His chances have been limited through two preseason games, but Montgomery’s stock will continue to rise as he gets more reps with the offense.
Jake Ryan – Ryan was another player who made a big impact in the first preseason game but was limited in the second one. He looks like he could very well be Green Bay’s answer at inside linebacker, and could be starting by the end of the season. He got 45 snaps against the Patriots, but saw just 17 against Pittsburgh. Ryan continues to impress in camp, and the next two weeks will show what Ryan’s status on the team heading into the season opener will be.
Brett Hundley – Hundley took a step back after a solid showing against New England. He completed 4/6 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 of the preseason, but heavy amounts of pressure from the Steelers defense limited him to just nineteen yards. Hundley was sacked twice playing behind a struggling third-string offensive line, but failed to make much of an impact on the game. With Tolzien continuing to play well, Hundley appears locked in as the team’s third quarterback.
Aaron Ripkowski – Ripkowski was drafted to be the likely replacement to John Kuhn at some point in the future. While he has not seen much time as a fullback through two preseason games, he is emerging as a major special teams contributor. Ripkowski recorded two special teams tackles in each of the first two games, and is solidifying his case to be on the coverage team. He might see limited action as a fullback in 2015, but his primary impact will come on kickoff returns.
Christian Ringo – Ringo struggled in both practice and the first preseason game, but rebounded a little against the Steelers. He recorded a quarterback hurry and a tackle in Week 2 after failing to record a tackle against the Patriots. Ringo still faces an uphill battle to make the final roster, and appears more likely to be a practice squad candidate at this point in the preseason.
Kennard Backman – The Packers’ final selection in the 2015 draft has yet to really assert himself thus far in the preseason. He has four receptions for an 25 yards after two games. With Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, and Justin Perillo all ahead of him on the roster, Backman will have to do more to earn a roster spot.
LaDarius Gunter – Gunter has been one of the biggest surprises on the entire roster so far in the preseason. Once a long shot to make the team, he now appears very likely to not only earn a spot on the roster, but see significant playing time throughout the season. He has been the team’s highest rated defensive player by Pro Football Focus in each of Green Bay’s first two preseason games. Gunter has yet to allow a touchdown, while recording an interception and three passes defended in two games.
Other UDFAs – John Crockett and Alonzo Harris continue to battle for the third running back slot. Each running back scored a touchdown last week, but neither of them made a contribution in Week 2. Crockett is a better receiving option out of the backfield, while Harris runs with a style similar to Eddie Lacy. Larry Pinkard or Eddie Williams has a chance to sneak onto the roster after Nelson’s injury, though they would need very strong performances to do so. Matt Rotheram continues to make a case to make the team as a reserve on the offensive line, especially with how much Don Barclay has struggled so far.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .