Green Bay Packers: Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth-Chart Predictions
Then, beginning Saturday evening, general manager Ted Thompson began the process of signing undrafted free agents.
To get to the 90-man offseason roster limit, the Packers can sign 21 undrafted free agents and have already begun filling up those spots.
None of the rookies has so much as even played a minicamp, but we're still going to take a stab at a post-draft 53-man roster projection and depth chart.
Consider this more of a thought experiment; we're setting a baseline now to use for comparison throughout OTAs and training camp.
At first blush, the Packers appear to have filled the holes at starting positions and obtained the depth they'll need to reach the playoffs—but, of course, now it's up to head coach Mike McCarthy and the players to make that happen.
Carrying only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster could be a risky move, but given the information we have about the 90-man roster, it's the best projection we can make.
Aaron Rodgers' 2016 season mirrored the offense as a whole; it was a drop-off from the last several years. He posted a career-low (since becoming a starter) completion percentage of 60.7 and averaged just 6.7 yards per pass.
Of course, his performance reflected the struggles of the offensive line and receiving corps; the passing average is indicative of how much the loss of Jordy Nelson and absence of a deep threat affected Rodgers' game. He also had minor offseason knee surgery, and there's no telling how much that may have affected his game in 2015.
Both Rodgers and the offense are primed for a comeback in 2016, however, with Nelson returning, running back Eddie Lacy in better shape and veteran tight end Jared Cook joining the team. Though no one hopes to see second-year player Brett Hundley have to take the field in the regular season, he'll have the opportunity to make strides on the scout team.
Expect the Packers to keep a third quarterback on the practice squad in case depth becomes an issue at the position this season. Ryan Williams is on the offseason roster, and the Packers signed Wesley College quarterback Joe Callahan on Saturday, as Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
In somewhat of a surprise, the Packers did not select a running back with any of their draft picks, so for now John Crockett gets the nod as the third halfback on the roster.
As of May 1, the Packers had not re-signed fullback John Kuhn, so second-year player Aaron Ripkowski is the sole fullback in Green Bay's backfield presently.
Perhaps the Packers didn't draft a running back because they're so encouraged by Eddie Lacy's conditioning progress this offseason. The bruising back became noticeably heavier throughout the 2015 season, but after head coach Mike McCarthy publicly criticized him, Lacy began working with Tony Horton of P90X fame and has been looking trim and fit this offseason.
After he amassed only 758 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games last season, the Packers will look for another 1,000-yard year from Lacy in 2016.
James Starks got a two-year contract extension this offseason, but the Packers can cut him after one year without taking much of a cap hit. He struggled with fumbles in 2015, losing the ball four times. That's twice as many as in any other season.
Still, Starks makes up a nice one-two punch with Lacy. However, now that he's in much better shape, Lacy shouldn't have to rotate with Starks as often.
John Crockett earned a spot on the 53-man roster last season and saw action in two games. He should get a chance to show how far he's come in training camp.
Two things jump out from this depth-chart prediction immediately. The first is that Jordy Nelson, who is "ahead of schedule" in rehabbing his torn ACL, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, is back on top. The second is that fan favorite and former Badger Jared Abbrederis is nowhere to be found.
Right away, we have to establish that there's no way the Packers are keeping seven wideouts on their final roster. If that's the case, one of Davante Adams, Jeff Janis or Abbrederis is on the chopping block to make room for fifth-round rookie Trevor Davis.
Adams may deserve the ax the most for his poor play in 2016, but Abbrederis, whose roster spot is somewhat dependent on his return ability, finds himself looking at a younger and faster return man in Davis. Adams, after struggling with drops and playing injured, also started to come on again in the playoff game against Washington, catching all four targets and one touchdown.
Ty Montgomery missed much of his rookie season with an ankle injury, so think of his rookie season as a redshirt year. He can build on his 15 receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.
Janis finally started to deliver on the hype surrounding him toward the end of the 2016 season; perhaps not coincidentally, that's also when he started to get meaningful snaps. He had a monster showing in the playoffs against the Arizona Cardinals, with seven receptions for 145 yards and two scores.
Rookie speedster Trevor Davis is a given on returns, but can he make the field on offense? The California product has been knocked for his pedestrian route running, but he brings the speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash) this offense is missing.
Don't be too alarmed at the status of veteran tight end Jared Cook atop homegrown Richard Rodgers on the depth chart.
Cook may receive more targets in the seam as the Packers work down the field, but Rodgers will still get red-zone targets and will be on the field on first and second downs as well.
Over the last two years, Rodgers and Andrew Quarless split snaps (and starts), and Cook and Rodgers will likely do the same. The Packers will just play to their strengths.
For depth and extra blocking on two-tight end sets, the Packers round out the position with Justin Perillo and Kennard Backman.
If Green Bay desperately needs a roster spot in another position group, Backman's position may be negotiable, but the 2016 sixth-round pick deserves more time to show what he can do.
The Packers didn't draft a tight end as expected, but if Cook doesn't work out, they almost certainly will next year.
The Packers have some tough decisions to make regarding the offensive linemen; in fact, it's probably the most difficult position group to forecast this early in the year.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari will be a free agent in 2017, and if the Packers can't afford to re-sign him at that time, they may have found his long-term replacement in rookie tackle Jason Spriggs out of Indiana, whom Ted Thompson traded up to grab in Round 2.
Starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are also set to hit free agency in 2017. Arguably the best guard tandem in the league, the Packers may well have to let one of them walk—or keep both and say goodbye to Bakhtiari.
Center Corey Linsley, in better news, is under contract through the 2017 season, but his backup, J.C. Tretter, will also be a free agent in March.
Now the Packers have better depth behind right tackle Bryan Bulaga with rookie Kyle Murphy. As for the final reserve spot, it came down to Don Barclay, Lane Taylor and Josh Walker. Even though Barclay and Taylor just re-signed one- and two-year deals, respectively, the Packers managed to get two of their offensive line targets in the draft in Spriggs and Murphy.
If the Packers do keep a 10th offensive lineman, it will likely be Taylor, whose two-year deal is worth $4.15 million with $600,000 guaranteed, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Whether players are listed under defensive tackle or defensive end is semantics more than anything, so don't assume that, for example, Letroy Guion won't ever play at nose. The official Packers roster lists Guion as a defensive end, but he may help anchor the line with rookie Kenny Clark (who is listed among the defensive tackles).
Meanwhile, Datone Jones is listed as a defensive end, even though in 2015 the Packers really began to use him as more of an outside linebacker.
He'll likely continue to rush the passer in defensive sub-packages, which the Packers utilize more than 50 percent of the time anyway.
The rookie Dean Lowry is a true 3-4 defensive end, a position he played at Northwestern, and is an intriguing addition to the team for his work ethic and effort on every play. He may also come onto the field in sub-packages to rush the passer; at Northwestern in 2014 he had 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
Mike Daniels, who earned a lucrative four-year, $41 million contract with $12 million guaranteed in late 2015, per Spotrac, already started delivering on that investment in January.
He'll continue to lead what looks to be a solid group of young linemen in 2016.
First-round pick Kenny Clark out of UCLA looks like a replacement for B.J. Raji at nose tackle. Even though Clark isn't ideally sized (6'3", 314 lbs) for the position in an NFL 3-4 scheme, he did play nose and 1-technique in UCLA's 4-3 base defense. He also fits the Packers' trend of getting smaller and more athletic on the defensive line.
Mike Pennel will serve a suspension for the first four games of the season, but he has built a foundation of impressive play, and his potential is still high. However, while he once appeared to be being groomed as the nose tackle of the future, now he'll most likely be a rotational player along the line.
In this depth chart, Christian Ringo, the Packers' sixth-round selection in 2015, gets the nod over Josh Boyd. Ted Thompson surprisingly let Ringo go in final cuts last offseason, but he continued to make his case as he worked hard on the practice squad.
Ringo played at multiple positions along the line before eventually settling in at 3-technique, and as he began to improve, another team offered him a contract to sign him away from the Packers' practice squad. Ringo, however, opted to stay with the Packers, and now he hopes they will return his faith in them with a spot on the final roster.
The outside linebacker group looks deep now, but the team must prepare for many of its edge-rushers to hit free agency in 2017.
Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Jayrone Elliott will all become free agents in March. Needless to say, drafting linebacker Kyler Fackrell in Round 3 was an astute choice by Ted Thompson.
Clay Matthews moving back outside this season means he and Julius Peppers will set the edge together for what may be the final year.
Fackrell has the length and athleticism that teams look for at the position, and he is a natural fit as a 3-4 outside 'backer. He had 80 tackles or more in each of his last three full seasons, and if he hadn't torn his ACL in 2014, he likely would have been drafted much higher.
After the Packers elected to waive Nick Perry's fifth-year option on his rookie contract, the linebacker did enough in 2015 to prove he was worth another year and is on a one-year deal worth $5.05 million, per Spotrac.
Elliott is entering the final year of his contract, continuing to build on his first preseason, in which he led the NFL in sacks, per Packers.com. He had 21 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in 2015.
This depth chart could look different after training camp.
The Packers now have some options at what was arguably their weakest position group heading into the 2016 NFL draft. Sam Barrington, the middle or "Mack" linebacker, could prove be the hard-hitting run defender, while rookie Blake Martinez could be the "Will" linebacker the defense has been missing.
The Packers will call on the rookie out of Stanford, who was ranked the top coverage linebacker in the 2016 draft class by Pro Football Focus, to drop into coverage and contain tight ends down the seam.
But don't count out second-year player Jake Ryan, who will also push for a starting job.
The fourth inside 'backer spot is a contest between Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford. While Thomas was cut and then re-signed from the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, Bradford remained on the practice squad and wasn't active for a single game in 2015. That gives Thomas the edge.
The cornerback group is consistent with last year's; the odd men out here were Demetri Goodson and practice-squad player Robinson Daniel.
Sam Shields, who is under contract through 2017, missed four games in 2015 but still had three interceptions, 13 passes defended and, for the first time in his career, a fumble recovery against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in November 2015.
Damarious Randall put together an excellent rookie season, proving to be worth his first-round draft status. Injuries saw him earn some starts—he finished the year with nine—and he had 14 passes defended and three interceptions in the regular season and two passes defended and another pick in the postseason.
Not to be outdone by his rookie classmate, 2015 second-year pick Quinten Rollins also had a solid first year in the NFL, with six passes defended and two interceptions in the regular season. He'll likely take over as the primary slot corner in Casey Hayward's absence.
LaDarius Gunter didn't get a lot of action in the regular season, playing in eight regular-season games and one playoff game, but he's proved he has the ability to make plays at the NFL level; he just needs opportunities.
|2||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix|
Morgan Burnett is under contract through 2017. The Packers run defense suffered when the strong safety missed five of the team's first six games, but Burnett came back to make 68 combined tackles and two forced fumbles after the bye.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is continuing to refine his game as he enters his third season in the league. The safety led Green Bay in tackles with 116 (89 solo) and had three interceptions and three sacks Head coach Mike McCarthy praised him for having the best second season of any player, per Packers.com.
Defensive back Micah Hyde will become a free agent in 2017. He had a career-high 51 tackles last season and also posted a top mark in interceptions with three. He'll also likely continue to return punts for the Packers in 2016.
Chris Banjo started one game in 2015 and was (and should continue to be) a special teams captain and standout.
|Kick Returner||Trevor Davis|
|Punt Returner||Micah Hyde|
|Long Snapper||Rick Lovato|
Kicker Mason Crosby signed a four-year extension with the Packers in March 2016, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported at the time, via NFL.com. He made 22 of 26 field-goal attempts last season, the longest being 56 yards. He was a perfect 36-of-36 on extra-point attempts.
Tim Masthay may have to compete for his job yet again in training camp this year. The Packers signed free-agent punter Peter Mortell on Saturday, as he himself tweeted. Masthay's net average went up to 40.2 yards in 2015 from a career-low 37 in 2014, and he had no blocked punts.
The Packers drafted rookie Trevor Davis partially for his speed and return chops, so they may as well let him loose in 2016 and see what he can do returning kicks.
Micah Hyde will likely continue to return punts as he enters a contract year.
Rick Lovato replaces long-term long snapper Brett Goode.
53-Man Roster Projection
Here is the projected roster:
|48||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||FS|