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. 22: DT Kingsley Keke (6-3, 288; 24; third season; Texas A&M)
Early in training camp last summer, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said he liked the progress made by Keke but it was time for him to “put up or shut up.”
Keke put up. The former fifth-round pick personifies the draft-and-develop path to roster building. As a rookie in 2019, Keke recorded 11 tackles, zero sacks, zero tackles for losses and one quarterback hit. In 2020, he registered 22 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for losses and eight quarterback hits.
“Year 1 to Year 2 was a huge step. Year 3 should be another drastic step for him,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said during OTAs. “Obviously affecting the quarterback, being more consistent in the run game and just building his brand. That comes with all the hard work that he’s put in during the offseason and that we’re doing right now and once fall camp comes. He’s working and trending in the right direction. But, definitely, I expect him to take a drastic step again this year.”
A lot of things have to fall in place for Green Bay’s defense to become an elite unit. That starts up front with Keke, a rebound from Kenny Clark and the potential Year 1 impact of rookie T.J. Slaton. That makes Keke, even if not a starter, one of the most important players on the team.
“Being able to play the run and get to the quarterback are my things,” Keke said last year. “I want to be able to do it all for my defense. It’s something I’ve been working on a lot in the offseason. Playing the run, I’ve got good hands and be strong and play my gap strong and be able to help others. I’ve been putting a lot of work in so I’m ready for that. …
“It’s just going out there and doing my job and doing what I do every day. I’ve been playing football since I was a kid. So, it’s no pressure.
No. 23: K Mason Crosby (6-1, 207; 36; 15th season; Colorado)
Oct. 7, 2018, is a date that will live in infamy for Crosby.
Well, probably not. Other than being asked about it by reporters, Crosby hasn’t spent much time over the past couple years thinking about his brutal day at Detroit in Week 5 of the 2018 season. In a 31-23 loss, Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point.
Crosby finished the 2018 season by making 19-of-21 field goals and all 26 extra points. In 2019, he made 22-of-24 field goals – at the time, a career-high 91.7 percent success rate – and 40-of-41 extra points. In 2020, he made all 16 field-goal attempts and 59-of-63 extra points. Added together, over the past 43 regular-season games, Crosby has missed just nine kicks. He is 57-of-61 on field goals (93.4 percent) and 125-of-130 on extra points (96.2 percent).
Throw in four games of playoff perfection, Crosby has missed only nine kicks in his past 47 games. He is 61-of-65 on field goals (93.8 percent) and 135-of-140 on extra points (96.4 percent). That’s right: Crosby has missed four field goals the past 47 games after missing four at Detroit.
Since that game, Crosby’s delivered a 93.1 percent success rate on field goals. Only Jacksonville’s Josh Lambo (95.0 percent) has been better. Of course, only one of those kickers has to deal with Lambeau Field in December.
With 1,682 points, Crosby has averaged 120 points per season. With merely 77 points in 2021, he’ll move all the way from 20th to 14th on the all-time scoring list. In the process, he’d pass former Packers kickers Ryan Longwell (19th; 1,687 points) and Jan Stenerud (18th; 1,699). Only seven players in NFL history have scored 2,000 points. Crosby, who is under contract through 2022, could reach that threshold if he plays three more seasons.
“He’s like a Timex watch,” special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton said. “He just keeps on ticking.”
No. 24: CB Chandon Sullivan (5-11 189; fourth season; 24; Georgia State)
On May 6, 2019, the Packers made one of those shrug-of-the-shoulders type of transactions when they added Chandon Sullivan.
Sullivan went undrafted out of Georgia State in 2018. After opening the season on Philadelphia’s practice squad, he was promoted to the 53-man roster and played in five games, including one start. The Eagles released him after the 2019 draft. The Packers added him shortly thereafter. Nobody could have guessed they had found a starting defensive back.
Sullivan has played in 16 games in both of his seasons in Green Bay. Last year, he replaced Tramon Williams in the slot, starting 10 games and playing 71 percent of the defensive snaps. He had one interception and six passes defensed. Of the 32 slots with at least 160 coverage snaps, Sullivan ranked 10th in passer rating (89.6), 12th in yards per coverage snap (1.13) and second in snaps per reception (10.8).
“I’m just so much smarter this year,” Sullivan said last season. “Last year, I felt like I played and moved around a lot. This year, I kind of settled in at the nickel position. Just learning overall schemes and learning how to slow the game down mentally before I move a muscle is probably the biggest help I’ve had this year from Coach Gray. I’m very fortunate to have him.”
Being smart has never been a problem for Sullivan, who will enter camp as the favorite to man the slot again. In college, he was a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy. That’s more commonly known as the Academic Heisman.
“We took grades very seriously,” Sullivan said a few days after intercepting a pass at Dallas in 2019. “My dad, he taught us to try to be the best at everything you can. Growing up, it was always straight-A’s. If you brought home a B, that’s OK but you’re going to hear about it for a little while. Hat’s off to my dad and my mom.”
He added, “People don’t realize the games are 90 percent mental. Physically, skill-set-wise, you’re good enough. That’s why you’re here in the league. That’s going to take care of itself. It’s how can you process information? That’s what separates the Aaron Rodgers from the rest of the quarterbacks in the league. It’s how well can you process the information and react? That’s all it comes down to.”
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