Now that we're headed into the final week of the preseason for the Packers, we're only a little over a week away from the big roster cut that will bring the roster down to 53 players, as required by the NFL.
The Packers have looked very solid this preseason, and numerous players who are on the roster bubble have had impressive moments. However, only 53 guys can be kept on the roster by opening week, meaning that 27 players will be cut between now and then, with five cuts being made later this week, and then 22 more at some point before the first game of the season.
So who will make the roster? Here's a general idea of what could play out, and why:
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell
While the Packers only kept two quarterbacks last year, that was mostly because the options to be the third QB weren't as strong as Harrell. Harrell opened some eyes in the game against the Colts, going 4-for-5 and making some pretty throws, especially on a 13-play, 90-yard drive. I know I'm rooting for him to make the roster, as he's gone from being one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history, to being an undrafted free agent.
Running Backs: Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, James Starks
It most likely comes down to Starks and Kregg Lumpkin for the final running back spot, and it's a tough call. Lumpkin's looked pretty good this preseason, and he was on the roster for a decent portion of last season as well. Meanwhile, sixth-round pick Starks has been hurt, but he most likely has better potential as well. I do think that whichever one doesn't get picked for the roster will end up on the practice squad.
Fullbacks: Korey Hall, John Kuhn
While the Packers kept three fullbacks last year (a bizarre move considering that fullback is a position that is being phased out by most teams in the NFL), I can't imagine they'd do the same thing again, especially when they have so many talented young rookies they could keep at other positions, and Quinn Johnson hasn't seen too much time on the field in the preseason games.
Wide Receivers: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jason Chery
That's right, I think Jason Chery makes the roster. Why not? The first four spots are locked in by Jennings, Driver, Jones, and Nelson, while the fifth spot is contested by over half a dozen guys, including Brett Swain, who was the fifth man last year.
However, the Pack have shown no qualms about cutting established fifth wideouts in the past (they did that to Ruvell Martin last season). Plus, Swain lost over half of his season to injury last year, and the Packers probably like the potential of Chery as a return man as well.
Chery broke off a huge 75-yard punt return touchdown yesterday against the Colts and went practically untouched, showing great speed on the play as well. Here's what Mike McCarthy said about Chery after the game: “How could you not be excited about that young man?... He gets an opportunity and we’ll definitely give him some more opportunities, I can promise you that, as we move forward into this next week.”
Sounds pretty good. However, there are a ton of good young receiving options for the number five spot, and the Pack really can't go wrong with any of them.
Tight End: Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee, Andrew Quarless
The Packers have several ways they could go with the third tight end spot, and Quarless might be the best option. In addition to this, the Packers spent a draft pick on Quarless, unlike the others. Not that that's a deciding factor, but I'd imagine they don't want to throw away that fifth round pick, and Quarless has looked pretty nice this preseason, getting a good touchdown grab against the Colts. Spencer Havner would likely be the second-best option, as he has the most experience of the three, catching four touchdown passes last year with the Pack.
Offensive Tackles: Chad Clifton, Marshal Newhouse, Mark Tauscher
The Packers only have five tackles right now, as opposed to nine guards and centers. Breno Giacomini and Chris Campbell are likely the two cuts here, with Newhouse looking like he could have some potential.
Offensive Guards: Daryn Colledge, Bryan Bulaga, Josh Sitton, TJ Lang
All of these guys except Bulaga are holdovers from last year. Some of them could see some time at tackle (Bulaga was drafted as a tackle, of course, and Lang saw time at tackle last year).
Centers: Scott Wells and Jason Spitz
Both Wells and Spitz were with the Packers last year, and they shouldn't be going anywhere.
Defensive Ends: Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins, Justin Harrell, Mike Neal, CJ Wilson
The first four are pretty sure bets (don't be too certain about Harrell, as he's been a huge disappointment thus far in his career and is having back problems AGAIN, but the Pack will almost certainly give him one more year to prove himself). After that, it's between CJ Wilson, Jarius Wynn, Ronald Talley, or nose tackle Anthony Toribio for the final defensive line spot. Wilson may have the upper hand, as holdover Wynn is hurt, and Wilson could have some potential.
Nose Tackle: BJ Raji
Raji will obviously make the roster, but it remains to be seen whether the Pack keep backup Anthony Toribio, or one of the defensive ends such as CJ Wilson.
Outside Linebackers: Clay Matthews, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo
The first four are pretty certain to make the roster, but Zombo may not. However, the undrafted rookie has looked very impressive this preseason, especially when he started and played almost the entire game against the Colts, picking up nine tackles and a nice sack-fumble on Peyton Manning.
Inside Linebackers: AJ Hawk, Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop
There's less depth on the inside than on the outside for the Packers' linebackers, but some of the OLBs can play in the middle as well. Robert Fancois made a nice play in the Colts game when he recovered a fumble and returned it 30-some yards, but I doubt he'll unseat Bishop.
Cornerbacks: Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Tramon Williams, Pat Lee, Sam Shields, Brandon Underwood
I have the Packers keeping six corners, which may be one too many. However, I doubt they'd get rid of one of their established players (Williams is a future starter for the team, Lee and Underwood could be as well), and the raw athleticism and ability of Sam Shields will keep the Packers from cutting him. He's shown great hands, getting two picks and having several passes-defensed this preseason, and he has top-flight speed as well. Oh, and he can be a return man, then I'd say he's worth a gamble.
Safeties: Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett, Atari Bigby, Derrick Martin, Will Blackmon
Collins is a two-time Pro Bowler, Burnett could start on Opening Day as a rookie, Bigby is a proven veteran, Martin is a true special teams ace, and Blackmon is their primary return man. No reason to cut any of those guys, except for the fact that the Packers will have a ton of good players for the secondary (I've included 11 on this projection of the 53-man roster) and maybe not enough space, as they may choose to keep another defensive lineman and get rid of one of these secondary guys.
Specialists: Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode
Crosby is definitely the kicker, but Masthay and Bryan have alternated punts all preseason, and they've really matched each other well. The punting job will be a toss-up, as both guys have really kicked well but there's no way the Pack can, or would, keep both. Brett Goode is the long snapper.
So that's about it. I'm definitely looking forward to the start of the regular season, as the Packers look to once again have one of the best (AND youngest) rosters in the league. Best of luck to all the Packers players (and players on every team) as they go for a roster spot over the next two weeks.