The initial 53 man roster is officially set after Tuesday’s cuts. There were few surprises from Brian Gutekunst, dealing with a talented Packers roster that is one of the most complete across the league, as evidenced by their tie for the league lead in Pro Bowl selections a season ago. There were only truly a handful of roster spots that were up for grabs this preseason. In a season in which the Packers are clearly all-in, let’s examine each of these position groups a little closer and see which are among the strongest and which leave the most to be desired.
Any position group that includes the reigning MVP is going to rank pretty highly. Aaron Rodgers is coming off of not only one of his most productive seasons, but one of the most efficient seasons for a quarterback ever. In his third year in Matt LaFleur’s system and with a fresh chip on his shoulder courtesy of the Packers front office, Rodgers is primed for another big season. But Jordan Love also showed reason for optimism after a promising preseason. He spoke after the third preseason game about his job getting Rodgers ready each week, a sentiment QB coach Luke Getsy echoed in his press availability, saying “it’s his turn to really step up in the room and have a bigger role in our game plan and have a bigger role in finding things for Aaron on film.” As far as pure talent goes, Love far and away tops the list for backups in the Rodgers era – and it seems as though the mental side of things is starting to come along for him as well.
2. Running back
Many were surprised this offseason when Aaron Jones signed an extension to remain with the Packers. After spending high draft capital on AJ Dillon prior to the 2020 season, it seemed the Packers might be preparing for life after Jones. However, with both set to return, including Dillon having a full offseason to work back into shape after missing a large chunk of time due to covid-19, the Packers will have one of the most formidable tandems in the league. Add to that a rookie in Kylin Hill who had an impressive preseason, and the Packers must feel very comfortable with their stable of backs. Expect to see more 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE), and a lot of creativity utilizing each back’s skillset from Matt LaFleur in 2021.
Possibly the most promising development this preseason was the performance of the safeties. The depth behind starters Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage was questionable, but both Vernon Scott and Henry Black showed coverage ability and toughness filling in the run game – both essential for Joe Barry’s scheme. Savage took a big step last year once he was allowed to play more of a robber role. His play-making ability is huge, and complements the steadiness of Amos well. This is a solid group with good depth, and an important position for this Packers defense.
This ranking is dependent on Za’Darius Smith’s health. His status for week 1 seems in doubt, but if he were to miss significant time, this group would suffer. Preston Smith looks to rebound from an uninspiring 2020 season, with a restructured contract filled with incentives to return to form. Rashan Gary also looks ready to take the leap into stardom, as he was able to put his countless traits to use towards the end of the season. His hand usage and overall pass rush plan were significantly improved, and he has carried that momentum into the start of this season. But behind those three – Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers had relatively quiet preseasons. Garvin did not play much on special teams a season ago, but that seems the most likely path to the playing field for these two, outside of spot relief for the top 3.
5. Wide Receiver
Outside of Davante Adams, this is a group that has been much maligned in the national media over the past few years. But this is a solid group from top to bottom, with the addition of two true slot receivers this offseason with the return of Randall Cobb and drafting of Amari Rodgers. They both bring a different skillset to the room, with much more YAC potential. MVS has also put together the most consistent camp of his young career, and hopes to build on the success he ended the year with in the NFC championship game. This group also received a ringing endorsement from QB1 last week, with Rodgers saying “when you look at those four receivers that we have at the top of the depth chart, pretty special. You got the best guy in the league, you got three incredible role players and that’s said with the utmost amount of respect.” Matt LaFleur asks a lot of his receivers in both the pass game and the run game, and this group offers a lot of versatility.
6. Offensive Line
This group has the potential to rank much higher later on in the season, but right now there is a lot unknown. The Packers will likely start 2 rookies on the offensive line to begin the year with center Josh Meyers and guard Royce Newman. Both fared well in their preseason action, but obviously the regular season is another level of competition. Their best healthy lineman will also begin the season out of his preferred position, with Elgton Jenkins starting the season at left tackle with David Bakhtiari on the PUP list. Dennis Kelly was also signed as a swing tackle, giving the Packers a little more veteran presence. This group will be tested early – facing the Saints, 49ers, and Steelers all within the first 4 weeks of the year.
Perhaps the most top-heavy group on the Packers, where right now it’s Jaire Alexander… and then everyone else. The Packers once again double-dipped at this position in the draft, bringing in first round pick Eric Stokes and fifth round pick Shemar Jean-Charles. It seems likely KEvin King will begin the season opposite of Alexander, with Chandon Sullivan remaining in the “Star” position. The rookies will look to challenge though. Stokes had his ups and downs going against Davante Adams in camp, but offers elite speed. Jean-Charles has the toughness needed to play in the slot, and could usurp Sullivan as the season progresses. Isaac Yiadom replaces Josh Jackson, but had a rough outing against the Bills in the final preseason game. He brings experience, but struggles with zone coverage when he is less able to use his size and physicality.
8. Tight end
Solid, yet unspectacular. Another position group that presents a lot of versatility, with both Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney filling the “F” role, and Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger (upon serving his 2 game suspension) filling the more traditional Y tight end role. Add Mercedes Lewis as a blocking option, and there is a lot to like with this group. Tonyan is coming off one of the most efficient seasons for a tight end in recent history with 52 catches on 59 targets and 11 TDs. If he can show improved ability after the catch, he could vault into the upper tier of tight ends around the league.
9. Defensive line
Another group that is very top-heavy, with Kenny Clark representing one of the defensive tackles in football. He will likely have more opportunity to make plays under new DC Joe Barry’s scheme allowing him to shoot gaps more often than occupy double teams. It will also be a big year for Kingsley Keke, who has shown flashes of potential but has been limited to this point with injuries. He has had a strong camp, and outside of Clark has the most potential to offer an interior pass rush presence. Rookie TJ Slaton also offers promising ability to not only occupy blockers in the run game, but have occasional pass rushing ability. Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster both return as two-down players geared to stopping the run, but offering little upside rushing the passer.
10. Inside linebacker
The inside linebacker position has been somewhat of a revolving door in recent years. The Packers are hoping that their most recent veteran addition to the group provides more stability. De’Vondre Campbell has looked the part throughout training camp, and Krys Barnes appears entrenched beside him. The Packers will likely play more base personnel under Joe Barry, so we will likely see more two linebacker groupings than in the past under Mike Pettine. This will be a prove-it year for Oren Burks, who looks to show he offers more than special teams prowess. Ty Summers and Isaiah McDuffie both will see heavy special teams snaps.
This group almost received a bump after news broke about the Packers acquiring punter Corey Bojorquez from the Rams on Tuesday. JK Scott proved too inconsistent to merit a roster spot, and Bojorquez is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in yards per punt. His biggest question will be the rapport he is able to build holding kicks for Mason Crosby. Crosby returns for his 15th season following a 2020 campaign in which he did not miss a field goal (though he missed 4 PATs). The Packers did bring in kicker JJ Molson during training camp, but it never felt like Crosby’s position was in doubt. Long snapper Hunter Bradley also returns, though it would not be surprising to see him replaced with someone off of waivers. He has also struggled with inconsistencies, and the Packers seem intent on doing everything in their power to improve a special teams unit that struggled mightily in 2020.——————
Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.