The Green Bay Packers have just over two weeks to finalize a roster that will hopefully get the team back to the Super Bowl. Over that timeframe, players will continue to jockey for spots on the final depth chart, with both expected and surprising training camp battles emerging in Green Bay.
Many of the starters have long been established, but there are still competitions to be won up and down the depth chart. Some were foreseen early in the offseason (cornerback, depth receivers) while others have heated up more recently (running back, pass rusher). So with just two more tune up games, which Packers have the most to prove?
The Packers knew early in the offseason that finalizing the backfield would be difficult. Aaron Ripkowski is locked in as the starting fullback, but beyond that things get more complicated. Fellow fullback Joe Kerridge has drawn praise from Aaron Rodgers, leaving the door open for Green Bay to potentially hold on to two FBs. Even if the Packers elect to stick solely with Ripkowski, the battle for the featured role in the backfield has heated up over two preseason games.
Ty Montgomery, who assumed the role midway through last season, still sits as the probable number one halfback. However, fourth round pick Jamaal Williams has started attracting attention with strong pass blocking and steady camp production. While Williams and Montgomery will occupy the #1 and #2 slots, rookies Aaron Jones and Devante Mays will continue to fight for a spot as the number three back. There’s still plenty of time for one of the four to make a big impression, especially given the team’s overall struggles through two preseason games. So far, no running back on the Packers’ roster is averaging more than three yards per carry. Jones’ lowly 2.8 ypc currently lead the Green Bay backfield.
The battle with the biggest implications on the Packers’ season will be at corner. The story that’s been beaten to death is how both Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins struggled in year two after promising rookie campaigns. Green Bay looked to remedy that situation by drafting Kevin King and Josh Jones and bringing back Davon House through free agency–all the while reaffirming a belief that Randall and Rollins could bounce back. Toss in Ladarius Gunter, who played admirably for an UDFA in a bigger-than-expected role, and the overall order of all the team’s corners still needs a lot of ironing out.
Based on experience and camp performance, House figures to emerge as the #1 when the season begins. Despite his 2016 struggles, Rollins has also excelled so far this preseason. As expected, rookies King and Jones have had up-and-down games as they adjust to the NFL, but King could also become a starter opposite House. Jones, on the other hand, looks to fill a hybrid role that brings extra speed to the defense as a whole. Randall remains too young to give up on after a promising rookie campaign, but staying healthy will go a long way toward ensuring he keeps a prominent role on the 2017 squad.
The top end of the 2017 receiving corps has been set in stone since last season ended. Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb will (barring injury) hold down the top three receiver slots. But beyond that, things get difficult to predict.
Green Bay kept seven wide receivers to start last season, the most in the NFL. Geronimo Allison looks to join the team in Week 2 after missing the opener due to suspension, but his performance late last year should ensure him a spot on the team. Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis have failed to develop a rapport with Aaron Rodgers in their time in the league, but their special teams abilities as gunners and returners make them valuable. Malachi Dupre, DeAngelo Yancey, Max McCaffrey, and Michael Clark have also thrown their names into the mix, with McCaffrey and Clark impressing thus far in the preseason. With the most moving pieces for depth signings, it will be wide receiver that likely goes down to the wire when final roster cuts are made.
Like wide receiver, the top of the depth chart looks set for the team’s primary pass rushers. Clay Matthews and newly-paid Nick Perry will start at the two outside linebacker positions, but a handful of others will compete for snaps after that. Dean Lowry and Kyler Fackrell both enter their second seasons after flashing potential in limited action as rookies. Both showed a strong ability to get to the quarterback, and could allow Matthews and Perry some rest to stay fresh. While Fackrell and Lowry look to be next in line behind the starters, Jayrone Elliott and rookie Vince Biegel could also have an impact by the time the regular season rolls around.
There will undoubtedly be some tough cuts as the team lowers its roster to 53, and unforeseen injuries could impact who ends up with a roster spot. Other battles lower on the depth chart are also undecided, but the competitions for wide receiver, running back, corner back, and pass rusher will garner the most attention over the coming weeks..——————
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 .