Will Donald Driver be on the Packer 53-man roster in 2012?
The Green Bay Packers are as deep as any team in the National Football League, making the competition for a spot on the 53-man roster as fierce as any in pro football.
Since the arrival of general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have consistently been among the league's youngest teams. They are constantly turning over the roster and turning over the back end with young talent to be developed with an eye on the future.
This is a critical component of the Packers' team-building philosophy, and creates a pipeline of young talent ready to step in and replace aging veterans, free-agent departures and players lost due to injury.
Dating back to 2006, McCarthy's first season as head coach, the Packers have averaged 13.5 new players each year on the final 53-man roster. Last season, the team had 10 new faces, seven draft picks and three rookie free agents make the team. So it is very much out with the old and in with the new in Green Bay.
Another telling statistic about the Packers' commitment to youth is that since 2006, the average age of the Packers roster has been 25.69 years; and as McCarthy told the Green Bay Press-Gazette last Sunday, "It’s a young man’s league in my opinion— no disrespect to the older players. I think that’s a trend that’s only potentially going to pick up."
Judging by their history, the Packers' 53-man roster will be one of the youngest in the NFL and will boast plenty of new faces. Here is a breakdown of the current roster by position with a look ahead to training camp.
Aaron Rodgers is the leader of the Pack.
Locks (2): Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell
On The Bubble (1): B.J. Coleman
Practice Squad Candidate (1): Nick Hill
The Packers are set at quarterback with 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers returning for his fifth season as the starter. Backup quarterback Graham Harrell is an unproven commodity, but he has spent two seasons in the Packers offensive system, which has helped Harrell earn the trust of McCarthy and the organization.
Coleman, a seventh-round pick in this year's draft, has a strong arm and will be worth developing, but is not ready to compete with Harrell for the No. 2 job and is better suited for the practice squad at this point in time.
Hill, a former Southern Illinois and Arena League quarterback, is a long shot to make the roster and will need to make a big impression just to get consideration for the practice squad.
Can Starks Handle Being the Starter?
Locks (2): James Starks, (FB) John Kuhn
Good Bets (2): Alex Green, Brandon Saine
On The Bubble (2): Marc Tyler, Duane Bennett
Practice Squad Candidates (2): (FB) Nick Cooper, (FB) Jon Hoese
Running back is one the few positions of relative weakness for the Packers right now as they enter the season with a group of talented but unproven players.
Starks, the projected starter, showed promise in 2011 but was hampered by both injuries and his time-sharing with former Packer Ryan Grant, whose return to the team appears unlikely.
With Grant out of the picture, Starks should receive the bulk of the carries this season as long as he avoids injury.
Saine projects as the primary backup to start the season, as Green works his way back from an ACL injury that cost him the majority of his rookie campaign in 2011.
Tyler, a once promising high-school prospect that went undrafted out of USC, is a perfect candidate to open the season on the practice squad.
Kuhn, who enters his seventh NFL season and sixth with the Packers, is a folk hero in Green Bay and for good reason. He is a fullback who can do it all; excelling as a blocker, receiver and short-yardage back, has had 18 career touchdowns and earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2011.
Hoese, an undrafted free agent from Minnesota, was signed to the Packers practice squad last Decemberr and will compete with Cooper, a rookie from Winston Salem State to be Kuhn's backup. The winner will likely earn a spot on the practice squad, but that is not guaranteed.
Jennings is still Aaron Rodgers top target.
Locks (4): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb
On the Bubble (4): Donald Driver, Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, Shaky Smithson
Long Shots (3): Dale Moss, Marcus Rivers. Darius Reynolds
The Packers know how important wide receivers are to the success of the west coast offense, so even though keeping as many as six receivers seems over the top, the talent level at the position could easily justify it.
Back in 2010, the Packers decided to keep three fullbacks, which was highly unconventional, so they will not be afraid to keep six wide outs if they feel it gives them the best chance to win.
Driver was good enough to average 12 yards and 37 receptions last year while hauling in six touchdowns. He is reliable in key situations and provides the veteran leadership every championship team needs. So while he is squarely on the bubble, if he is on the club when training camp gets underway, expect him to be on the opening day roster.
Jennings, Nelson, Jones and Cobb are all locks to make the roster.
Gurley played well enough in training camp last season to earn a roster spot and actually turned down a spot on the Vikings active roster near the end of the year to finish the season with the Packers.
Whether it's with the Packers or another team, Gurley will be on an NFL roster come opening day.
Diondre Borel and Shaky Smithson each spent 2011 on the practice squad and both would be candidates again—however, it is more likely that both players end up on active rosters elsewhere in the NFL than back in Green Bay.
Moss is a highly skilled athlete from South Dakota State who played basketball for four years before playing football for the first time last fall. The 6'3" 213-pound rookie caught 63 passes for 949 yards and six touchdowns in his only season. He will likely land on the practice squad, but depending upon what happens with Driver, he could potentially sneak onto the roster.
Finley has the potential to play much better in 2012 than he did in 2011.
Locks (1) Jermichael Finley
Good Bets (3): Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor, D.J. Williams
Practice Squad Candidates (2): Eric Lair, Cameron Ford
PUP: Andrew Quarless
The Packers are hoping Finley will bounce back and have a much better season in 2012 than he did in 2011. Last season he struggled with drops, but his lack of a contract beyond the season may have played a role in that.
Finley signed a two-year extension this offseason worth $15 million, giving him some financial piece of mind as he enters the season as the clear starter. Yet, the short-term deal still gives him plenty of incentive to perform at a high level, so he can cash in following the 2013 season.
The Packers will be expecting improvement from both Williams and Taylor, while Crabtree will continue to be relied upon for his blocking and special teams contributions.
Quarless is still recovering from a knee injury and will likely begin the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Will Marshall Newhouse take the next step in his development this season?
Locks (7): C-Jeff Saturday, G-T.J. Lang, G-Josh Sitton, T-Bryan Bulaga, T-Marshall Newhouse, T-Derek Sherrod, G/C-Evan Dietrich-Smith
On the Bubble (6): C-Sampson Genus, G-Ray Dominguez, T-Andrew Datko, C-Tommie Draheim, T-Herb Taylor
Practice Squad Candidates (3): T-Mike McCabe, G-Jaymes Brooks, C-Don Barclay
The Packers do have legitimate concerns along the offensive line entering the season, such as who will be the starting left tackle and how well Jeff Saturday can hold up at center at 37 years old.
Newhouse, a fifth-round pick out of TCU in 2010 and Derrick Sherrod, a first-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2011, will duke it out to be the starting left tackle in what will be the the most important position battle of Packers training camp.
Saturday, Lang, Sitton and Bulaga are all locks to start and Dietrich-Smith is a near lock to make the roster as well, considering he is the only backup at center and both guard positions with any game experience on the NFL level.
After the top seven, the battle for the last couple of spots should be intense.
Datko is a young athletic tackle out of Florida State who has a chance to be a solid swing tackle and will compete with Herb Taylor, who is a veteran of three NFL seasons.
Former Arkansas tackle Ray Dominguez appears to have a lead on the other backup position along the interior after having made a successful transition to guard.
Draheim is a rookie free agent from San Diego State, where he played left tackle at 6'4" and 295 pounds. The Packers love his athleticism and are excited about his potential at center. He will compete with Genus—who returns from a year-long stint on the practice squad—to potentially determine the Packers' center of the future.
Raji is the key player along the d-line for the Packers.
Locks (4): B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels
On The Bubble (4): Daniel Muir, Lawrence Guy, C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn
Practice Squad Candidate (1): Johnny Jones
Suspended: Mike Neal, Anthony Hargrove
The Packers defensive line was a strength in 2010 and a weakness in 2011. B.J. Raji, who played a mix of nose tackle, defensive end and defensive tackle in nickel situations, made the Pro Bowl last season but played at a much higher level in 2010.
The coaching staff should allow Pickett to play the majority of snaps at nose tackle in the 3-4, allowing Raji to play end, which suits him better. Pickett is a run-stuffer, who excels at taking on double-teams and is the ideal 3-4 nose, while Raji is much better at DE/DT, where he can use his power and explosiveness to disrupt the offensive backfield.
Worthy, a second-round pick from Michigan State, will be asked to play a key role on defense as a rookie, likely starting in the base 3-4 and rushing the passer opposite Raji on passing downs.
After the top three, the picture gets a little murkier. Fourth-round pick Mike Daniels is almost guaranteed a spot due to his pass-rush ability, which should allow him to help right away on third downs.
Muir is a former Packer, who made the team as a rookie free agent in 2007 and returned as a free this offseason. He is not flashy or spectacular but can hold at the point of attack against the run. He also provides some versatility up front, which will be important while the Packers deal with early season suspensions to Hargrove and Neal.
Guy, a seventh-round pick in 2011, flashed potential as an interior pass-rusher in training camp last season before injuries derailed his hopes of making the roster.
Guy is healthy now, and the 6'5", 300-pound defensive end/defensive tackle has plenty of raw ability. A year in the Packers offseason program should do wonders for his development, as he gets ready to battle it out with Wilson and Wynn for the final defensive-end spot.
Nick Perry may prove to be a steal for the Packers.
Locks (6): Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, D.J. Smith, Terrell Manning
Good Bets (3): Jamari Lattimore, Brad Jones, Erik Walden
On The Bubble (4): Frank Zombo, Vic So'oto, Robert Francois
Practice Squad (1): Dezman Moses
Last season the Packers kept 10 linebackers and it would not be the least bit surprising to see them keep a similar number in 2012.
Matthews, Perry, Hawk and Bishop are locks to make the team, as is Smith, a second-year player from Appalachian State and Manning, a player Thompson traded up to select in the fifth round of this year's draft.
Walden was average as a starter last season opposite Matthews at outside linebacker, notching 41 tackles and three sacks in 15 starts. He has a good chance to stick just in case Perry is not quite ready to be a three-down player, but his future is as a backup.
Lattimore made the Packers as a rookie free agent from Middle Tennessee State last season and has upside as an edge rusher. In college, he registered 30.5 sacks and will get every chance to work his way on the field this season. He contributed on special teams in 2011, which means his spot on the 53-man roster is secure.
Jones, a fourth-year player from Colorado, offers position versatility, help on special teams and has flashed pass-rush skills throughout his career. He is in a good position to make the roster.
That leaves Zombo, So'oto, Francois and Moses competing for the 10th linebacker spot, if it even exists. Zombo and So'oto are both hurt by their lack of contribution on special teams, while Francois is a solid contributor in that area but offers little when asked to play from scrimmage.
Moses was a college defensive end at Tulane who will convert to outside linebacker. He is likely to spend a season developing on the practice squad.
Woodson can still be an effective corner and so much more.
Locks (6): Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, Charlie Peprah, Casey Hayward.
Good Bets (3): Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Jerron McMillian
On The Bubble (3):: M.D. Jennings, Brandian Ross, Anthony Levine
Practice Squad Candidates (2): Sean Richardson, Dion Turner
The secondary is a major concern entering the 2012 season for the Packers, and depending on how the position battles shake out, there could be major changes ahead.
The biggest potential change is if the team decides to move Woodson from cornerback to safety. Currently, he plays a hybrid role and roams the field as a corner, linebacker and safety, so it seems foolish to move him permanently to safety, where it would simply make it easier for offenses to identify him.
The coaching staff is expecting a big jump this year from Burnett, the former third-round pick from Georgia Tech, who was solid in his first full season as a starter last year but still has room for improvement. He notched 78 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one sack.
Due to the lockout, Burnett did not get the benefit of a full-offseason nor did Shields, so the coaches expect big improvement from both players, which would go a long way to improving a secondary that allowed more passing yards than any other team in NFL history.
Peprah would probably be better served as a No. 3 safety, but has started 25 games the past two seasons and performed admirably, intercepting seven passes and breaking up 15 to go along with 117 tackles.
Hayward, a promising second-round pick out of Vanderbilt, is a complete corner in the mold of Woodson. In three seasons as a starter for the Commodores, he intercepted 15 passes and posted 19.5 tackles for loss. He should at least see time in sub packages as a rookie.
McMillian, a hard-hitting safety out of Maine, will compete with Peprah and Jennings for playing time opposite Burnett.
Bush has value due to his special teams prowess and is on solid footing for a roster spot.
If the Packers keep ten defensive backs as they did last season, the final roster spot will likely come down to Jennings, Levine and Ross.
Jennings, who made the active roster in 2011 as a rookie free agent from Arkansas State likely has a leg up right now, but Ross and Levine have each flashed some potential and will be worth a long look come training camp.
Crosby proved last year he is one of the NFL's top place kickers.
Locks (3): K - Mason Crosby, P - Tim Masthay, LS - Brett Goode
The Packers will have the luxury of having the same battery in the kicking game for the third straight season. Crosby is coming off his beat season as a pro, in which he converted on a career-high 85.7 percent of his field goal attempts.
Masthay had another solid year punting, averaging 45.6 yards per punt—good enough for 17th in the NFL—while also pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line 23 times, ranking 18th.
Goode enters his fifth season as long snapper and has done an exceptional job since taking over the position in 2008.