GREEN BAY, Wis. – Never in NFL history has a roster been picked with so little information.
With no offseason workouts, a late start to training camp and the elimination of the preseason, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has watched just 12 practices. The team will practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week but, by and large, the cake has been baked.
“I think you’re running on faith a little bit,” Gutekunst said on Saturday. “Certainly, we’ve got a lot of guys on this team that have gone out there in regular season and proven things, so I feel very comfortable in that. With the young players, without that foundation of spring to build off of coming into training camp, I think it’s been tough. But, at the same time, those guys are going to be counted on as we go forward. You don’t have as much proof as maybe you would’ve had in other years.”
Green Bay’s roster is at 80 players. By 3 p.m. Saturday, it must be down to 53. By noon Sunday, the 16-man practice squad can start being formed. That practice squad, which is expanded from last year’s 10 players and can contain up to six veterans, will be a key part of the roster formulation.
“It’s not always about picking the best 53 guys. It’s about picking the guys that make the best team,” Gutekunst said.
After watching 11 of the 12 practices (due to COVID restrictions, I was not allowed to watch Friday’s practice in the Don Hutson Center) and conversations with the assistant coaches, here’s my best guess at the 53-man roster.
Who made it (3): Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Jordan Love.
Who didn’t make it (0): None.
Why: This was the easiest position group to predict a month ago and it’s the easiest today. Boyle is the clear No. 2 after a consistently productive dozen practices.
Who made it (3): Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, AJ Dillon.
Who didn’t make it (3): Dexter Williams, Damarea Crockett, Patrick Taylor (NFI).
Why: Tight ends Josiah Deguara and Jace Sternberger can handle some fullback duties and returner/receiver/running back Tyler Ervin can line up just about anywhere. With Jones and Jamaal Williams entering their final season under contract, Dexter Williams would be a logical practice-squad stash.
Who made it (6): Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Tyler Ervin, Jake Kumerow, Equanimeous St. Brown.
Who didn’t make it (4): Reggie Begelton, Darrius Shepherd, Malik Taylor, Malik Turner.
Why: This was the toughest position to peg. The top four on this list are locks. Will Green Bay keep five or six? Kumerow’s willingness and ability to do the dirty work make him a good fit for what Matt LaFleur wants to do offensively. St. Brown, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, was having a decent camp before suffering an undisclosed injury. Shepherd is coming on strong but his performance last season is hard to forget. Taylor and Turner have stated their cases, as well.
Who made it (4): Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Josiah Deguara, Jace Sternberger.
Who didn’t make it (2): Evan Baylis, John Lovett.
Why: Sternberger has been a disappointment in his second training camp but how much of that is him and how much of that was being sidelined by COVID? The coaches love Deguara’s ability to line up here, there and everywhere. That probably knocks off the intriguing Lovett, who is listed as a fullback but spends individual drills with the tight ends.
Who made it (9): LT David Bakhtiari, LG Elgton Jenkins, C Corey Linsley, RG Lane Taylor, RT Rick Wagner, RT/G Billy Turner, G/C Lucas Patrick, T Alex Light, T Yosh Nijman.
Who didn’t make it (6): G Jon Runyan, C Jake Hanson, G Simon Stepaniak (NFI), G Zack Johnson, T John Leglue, T Cody Conway
Why: Taylor’s superb training camp has made him the clear front-runner at right guard. He will be an immediate upgrade over Turner, who manned that position last year. So, who will start at right tackle? Wagner, who is coming off an arm injury, has plenty of experience. Turner’s inconsistency must be maddening. In the one-on-ones, he won both reps against Za’Darius Smith on Friday and did it again against Preston Smith on Sunday. However, he hasn’t played to that level in 11-on-11. From there, who rounds out the depth chart? The ninth spot was between Nijman and Runyan. Nijman’s upside and the importance of his position perhaps give him the edge over Runyan. The sixth-round pick has been inconsistent in his transition from collegiate left tackle to NFL left guard but might be difficult to get through waivers.
Who made it (6): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, Treyvon Hester, Montravius Adams.
Who didn’t make it (2): Willington Previlon, Delontae Scott.
Why: Last season, receiver Davante Adams missed four games with turf toe. If that’s the same injury for Montravius Adams, he might not be back until a week or two into the season. It would be one heck of a gamble to go into Minnesota, a run-first team, with only four healthy defensive linemen. So, the veteran Hester gets the nod, assuming he’s healthy.
“We’ve had a few nicks over the last week or so but we’re hopeful that none of those will be long-term,” Gutekunst said on Saturday. “Certainly, we feel like we’ve got enough healthy bodies and talent to compete coming into Week 1.”
Who made it (5): Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Tim Williams, Jonathan Garvin.
Who didn’t make it (3): Greg Roberts (PUP), Randy Ramsey, Tipa Galeai.
Why: This unit could be tremendous. Gary seems ready to take a quantum leap forward after his underwhelming rookie season. He’s been fantastic throughout camp. Williams has made a lot of plays, as well, albeit against mostly the second-team offensive tackles. Garvin, a seventh-round selection, has flashed enough vs. the run and as a pass rusher to beat out the undersized but impressive Galeai for the final spot.
Who made it (4): Christian Kirksey, Kamal Martin, Oren Burks, Ty Summers.
Who didn’t make it (2): Curtis Bolton (PUP), Krys Barnes.
Why: It didn’t take long for Martin, the team’s fifth-round pick, to make his move at inside linebacker. Burks, whose first two training camps were derailed by significant injuries, was underwhelming when healthy this summer and he’s hurt again. Bolton, who impressed last summer before suffering a torn ACL, has been going through extensive on-field workouts for about two weeks but remains on the physically unable to perform list.
Who made it (5): Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson, Ka’dar Hollman.
Who didn’t make it (4): Stanford Samuels, DaShaun Amos, Kabion Ento (IR), Will Sunderland.
Why: Green Bay has reason to be excited about the starting trio of Alexander, King and Sullivan. The depth is a potential problem, though. Here’s Josh Jackson’s training camp, neatly summarized in a span of five plays on Sunday: Pass broken up, pass interference, went for an interception but gave up a touchdown. He’s the unofficial leader in pass breakups this summer but also probably has given up the most big plays. Hollman’s athletic upside gets the nod over Samuels’ performance for the final spot. Samuels went undrafted after a miserable Scouting Combine; therefore, the team should be able to get him through waivers and onto the practice squad.
Who made it (5): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Will Redmond, Raven Greene, Vernon Scott.
Who didn’t make it (1): Henry Black.
Why: Greene’s injury history is troubling. His first two seasons have ended on injured reserve and he’s banged up again. Yet, he figures to play a key role on the defense because he’s got the toughness to play in the box and the speed to cover. The versatility and special-teams acumen of Redmond, a college corner, is an asset as a sixth defensive back. Scott, a seventh-round pick, has some intriguing upside to earn the 53rd and final spot on my roster.
Who made it (3): K Mason Crosby, P JK Scott, LS Hunter Bradley.
Who didn’t make it (0): None.
Why: These three went through camp without any competition. Bradley still isn’t consistent enough; it’s a good thing Scott has good hands as the punter and holder.