GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster ahead of July 28, the first practice of training camp. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 12: S Adrian Amos (6-0, 214; 28; seventh season; Penn State)
Enjoying perhaps the best season of his career, Amos led Green Bay with 83 tackles. That was good news for the Packers as well as the Alzheimer’s Association. Having pledged $1,000 per tackle, Amos made an $83,000 donation in honor of his grandmother, Geraldine Thompson, who died on June 18, 2020.
“My second home basically growing up was my grandma’s house and that’s where I spent a lot of my time,” Amos said late last season. “And she had Alzheimer’s, dementia and she lived with it a long time. I just wanted to do something in her name.”
Thompson had seven children, 15 grandchildren and a “host” of great-grandchildren. She was a guiding light to Amos growing up and the heartbeat of the family, especially during the holiday season.
“It was tough but you try to surround her with love,” Amos said. “I have plenty of stories like that where she forgot my name a long time ago, but she recognized me as a loved one when I’d come in the house. It’s hard to see her decline, especially somebody that was the pillar of our family. That’s where everybody came to eat for the holidays and everything like that, and she helped so many people.”
After a solid first year-and-a-half with the team, Amos was superb during the second half of last season. In the first eight games, Amos had zero interceptions, one pass defensed and eight missed tackles. In the final eight games, he had two interceptions, eight passes defensed and one missed tackle. He was worth every penny of a four-year, $36 million contract.
Amos agreed to a revised contract during the offseason to help the Packers get in compliance with the salary cap. His cap charge for 2021 is just shy of $6 million; it soars to almost $12 million in 2022.
No. 13: S Darnell Savage (5-11, 198; 23; third season; Maryland)
As was the case with Amos, it was a tale of two seasons for Savage. Through the Week 8 loss to Minnesota, Savage had merely one pass breakup in his first six games. In his final nine games, he recorded four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. In 15 games, he finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles, first with four interceptions and second with 12 passes defensed. Critically given his role as the last line of defense, his missed-tackle rate from 18.8 percent in 2019 to 11.9 percent in 2020, according to Sports Info Solutions.
To be sure, the Packers are feeling a lot better about their first-round investment in Savage in 2019. While he made the all-rookie team, his first year in the league was plagued by missed tackles and rather ho-hum play following an early-season ankle injury. The start of last season wasn’t appreciably better.
“I’ve gotten better every year I’ve played football and every year I’ve done anything. I’m extremely excited for Year 2,” Savage said last year. “I think the emphasis I want to put on myself is continue to do what got me to this point and not overthink or anything like that. Just use my God-given ability, the brain that God gave me, the instincts, and just go. I feel like sometimes I may have been a little hesitant or whatever. As long as I just trust the process and continue to get better and continue to watch film and continue to play in this league, I think a whole bunch of improvement.”
The second half of last season, however, Savage showed a whole bunch of improvement. With Amos, Green Bay has one of the top safety tandems in the NFL. Savage, in particular, should be a real trump card for new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
No. 14: TE Robert Tonyan (6-5, 237; 27; fourth season; Indiana State)
In 2013, Tonyan completed merely 34.3 percent of his passes with three touchdowns as Indiana State’s quarterback. In a remarkable journey, Tonyan caught three touchdown passes against Atlanta on Oct. 5.
After the game, he got some congratulatory texts from his biggest fan.
“I love my mom,” Tonyan said. “She’s awesome. She’s an incredible woman. I appreciate it. She’s just super-proud. She’s done a lot for me over the years, whether it was sending my highlight tape out to college coaches, e-mailing every single college in America and getting me out there. Just the most supportive woman I’ve ever met.”
Tonyan’s stay at quarterback wasn’t long. He spent his final three seasons at receiver, catching 20 touchdown passes and topping 2,000 receiving yards. He went undrafted in 2017 and signed with the Detroit Lions but failed to make the roster. He was out of the NFL for three months before the Packers made him a late-season addition to their practice squad. In 2018 and 2019, he flashed some intriguing potential despite catching only 14 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2020, Tonyan was one of the NFL’s breakout stars. He caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. Of the 34 tight ends who were targeted at least 40 times in the passing game, Tonyan was No. 1 in catch percentage (89.7), drop percentage (0.0) and passer rating (148.3), according to Pro Football Focus. Tonyan and Chiefs star Travis Kelce tied for the NFL lead at the position with their 11 scores.
Tonyan’s production is one part chemistry and one part talent. His bond with quarterback Aaron Rodgers started in 2017, when Tonyan was new to the practice squad and Rodgers was on the comeback trail from a broken collarbone.
“If you can’t imagine it, you can’t live it. If you don’t visualize it, you’re not going to get it,” Tonyan said late in the season. “And making those plays and having the guys around me in this locker room has been unreal. The support system I have with Marcedes [Lewis] and JO [position coach Justin Outten] and the tight end room letting me be me, and then having Davante (Adams), Allen (Lazard), MVS (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) having my back on the field and just at practice, hyping me up and telling me to go be myself, as well, and then, obviously, having Aaron isn’t all so bad, either.”
Tonyan will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. With another big performance, he could price himself out of Green Bay.
No. 15: OLB Preston Smith (6-5, 265; 28; seventh season; Mississippi)
With the Packers well over the salary cap, one of the easiest big-dollar moves would have been releasing Smith. Smith signed a four-year, $52 million contract in 2019 and recorded a dozen sacks in a smashing debut season. However, his production took a nosedive last year. Not only did he go from 12 sacks to four, but he went from 23 quarterback hits to 11 (official stats) and from 23rd with 55 total pressures to 61st with 26 (Pro Football Focus).
With a $6.85 million base salary and $4 million roster bonus, his cap number for 2021 was $16 million. Releasing him would have saved $8 million. Instead, the Packers saved $7.25 million with an incentive-laden restructure.
“Man, I’m happy to have P back,” Za’Darius Smith said during the minicamp. “P is a guy who is all in. P is a guy to keep everybody going in the meeting rooms. When people are down, he’s the guy that’s keeping us laughing, man, and keeping us encouraged on and off the field. So, it’ll be good to get P back when we come for training camp. Can’t wait to get him back, man, Smith Bros.”
The Packers are counting on Smith to have a bounce-back season and now Smith is counting on it to make the money he was due. History says that will happen. Oddly enough, in odd-numbered years, Smith has averaged 9.3 sacks and forced five fumbles. In even-numbered seasons, Smith has averaged 4.2 sacks and not forced any fumbles.
“I think we ask a lot of Preston. He plays a lot of roles for us,” GM Brian Gutekunst said in March. “He’s such a versatile athlete. He can do so many different things. So, while those (pass-rushing) numbers might’ve been down, I think he affected our football team in a very positive way. So, I think there are some things between the numbers there where his value doesn’t always show. But he’s kind of been that way all his career. If you go back to Washington, his sack numbers were always a little bit up and down. But the way he affected the game with his length, not only as a pass defender but in the run game, as well, he’s a really good player for us and he’s got a lot of good years left, that’s for sure.”
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Note: This feature was published on Aug. 24 and was updated on Sept. 24 with the possibility Yosh Nijman will start at left tackle for the Week 3 game against San Francisco on Sunday.