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Ranking the Roster: Nos. 59-61 – Benkert, Two Receivers Will Battle for Roster Spots

Get to know quarterback Kurt Benkert and receivers Juwann Winfree and Malik Taylor, three players who will be fighting for roster spots in training camp.
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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 the start of training camp on July 27. 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. 59: QB Kurt Benkert (6-3, 218; 25; second year; Virginia)

Regardless of Aaron Rodgers’ future, Benkert made enough plays during his limited opportunities this offseason to put himself in a prime position to make the roster.

Benkert beat out Chad Kelly for a spot on the offseason roster with his performance at the two-day rookie minicamp. After two strong seasons at Virginia, Benkert went undrafted in 2018 and spent the past three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons – on the practice squad in 2018 and 2020 and on injured reserve in 2019. The Falcons released him on Feb. 18. He has not played in a regular-season game.

“Kurt’s had a couple of years in the league now with Atlanta and he can really throw the football,” coach Matt LaFleur said at the end of OTAs. “But it’s going to come down to being able to do that in the preseason games, to really show us what he can do and what he’s capable of. But love the guy. He’s just been a sponge in that room. Always asks great questions and I think he definitely has a chance to show what he can do this preseason.”

Benkert is named after an uncle — his dad’s brother — who was slain before he was born. One day, 2-year-old Kurt and his father, Bruce, went hunting. “We were stopped and sitting there and my son looked up at me. His exact words were, ‘When I was a big boy, me and you used to hunt here.’” Bruce paused. “I don’t believe in reincarnation, but that shook me to my core. He was 2 years old! My brother’s speaking through him, basically. I don’t know how you want to interpret it, but that was his exact words. It just chilled me to the bone.”

No. 60: WR Juwann Winfree (6-1, 210; 24; second year; Colorado)

With Green Bay’s primary receivers missing most of the offseason practices, someone had to step up. That player was Winfree, who strung together a terrific set of practices to thrust himself into the mix headed into training camp.

The Denver Broncos moved up in the sixth round of the 2019 draft to select Winfree, who played collegiately at Colorado. His rookie season was thrown for a loss by a groin injury in training camp and a hamstring injury late in the year. After playing in three games (no offensive stats) in 2019, he failed to make Denver’s roster last year after it drafted three receivers. He joined Green Bay’s practice squad on Oct. 1 and was elevated to the gameday roster twice, logging eight snaps on offense and 21 more on special teams.

“I have way more confidence this year,” Winfree said during training camp. “I know what I can bring to the table: contested catches [and] play-making ability, whether it's on the inside, outside [or] special teams. I just want to contribute making plays, because I feel I can. The key for me, is just showing accountability — me knowing my plays, me knowing they can count on me to be in the right place at the right time. That's what it's about this training camp. Whoever is the most accountable, whoever’s making the most plays is going to stay. That’s all it is.”

Winfree started his career at Maryland, catching 11 passes as a freshman in 2014. He got kicked off the team following a third suspension, spent 2015 at junior college and landed at Colorado for 2016. He missed the 2016 season with a torn ACL, caught 21 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns in 2017 and 28 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, when he was a team captain. That gave him a career total of 60 receptions for 807 yards (13.5 average) and six touchdowns.

At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he ran a 4.53 in the 40 with a 33-inch vertical at Colorado’s pro day.

No. 61: WR Malik Taylor (6-1, 220; 25; second year; Ferris State)

Rodgers was miffed the Packers released veteran Jake Kumerow at the end of training camp last summer. The winner of that final spot at receiver was Taylor.

At Ferris State, a Division II school in Big Rapids, Mich., Taylor caught 47 passes for 1,017 yards – a glitzy 21.6-yard average – and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016 and 61 passes for 906 yards and six touchdowns as a junior in 2017. However, he missed almost all of his senior season due to a hamstring injury that ruined his draft prospects.

Taylor wound up going undrafted in 2019 and signed with Tampa Bay following a tryout at its rookie camp, but only lasted a couple weeks, and he joined the Packers just before the start of training camp. While he didn’t make the roster, he showed enough to spend the entire season on the practice squad. That set the stage for Taylor to win a spot in 2020. Playing about 11 snaps per game on offense, he caught five passes for 66 yards and one touchdown, and averaged 18.6 yards on kickoff returns in 15 games.

“I had the mind-set to do everything right, to do all the little extra things,” Taylor, an intriguing blend of size and speed (4.46 at his pro day in 2019), said last year. “Obviously, they saw something in me. Thank God. I’m glad that I landed here. Last year, it was a big thing for me to come into the NFL, obviously from a D-II school. Just the mind-set you have to have and all the extra things that comes with this league. I came in at practice every day and did perform to the best of my ability.”

If Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and rookie Amari Rodgers are the locks, Taylor and Winfree will be front and center alongside Equanimeous St. Brown and Devin Funchess in the battle for the final spots at receiver.

“Obviously, this team likes a certain type of receiver,” he said. “Blocking is a big part of our offense. That’s something that we really hone in on. I think (receivers coach Jason Vrable) does a great job of making sure that we’re prepared out there during practice and that’ll translate into the games. They obviously look for a certain type of receiver, ones who can block. We dig in at the details and (Vrable) has done a great job of helping us out and fixing all the little things to go out there and perform like we need to.”

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