A Premature Packers Intial 53-Man Roster Prediction

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, I’m not talking about Christmas.

Football is right around the corner, and with that, anticipation for the beginning of the NFL season is through the roof.

Fans across the country have flocked to their favorite teams training camp to watch inexperienced rookies and seasoned veterans alike get back on the gridiron.

As the Green Bay Packers wrap up their second week of training camp, I’d thought it would be fun to prematurely predict who will be on the Packers initial 53-man roster heading into Week 1.

Quarterbacks (2): Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
After waiving Kurt Benkert in June, General Manager Brian Gutekunst made it clear that the Packers will only keep two quarterbacks on the roster this year. Barring any injuries, Rodgers and Love are both locks to make the roster.

What to watch for during camp:

Jordan Love is now entering his third season in the NFL. Regardless if he is the future face of the franchise for the green and gold or just a trade asset, his performance during camp will be crucial for what the Packers decide to do moving forward.

Running backs (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillion, Patrick Taylor
The Packers entered camp with a deep running back room spearheaded by one of the best one-two punches in the league in Jones and Dillon. Last year, they combined for 2,306 total yards, 86 receptions and 17 touchdowns.

Before camp started, Kylin Hill was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last October. Because of this, the third running back spot is still wide open and will be a major storyline throughout camp.

What to watch for during camp:

Taylor initially signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) after the 2020 draft. He was a nice complement to Jones and Dillon last year averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The Packers also signed former Iowa RB Tyler Goodson and Oregon State RB BJ Baylor after the draft. This will be a fun room to watch throughout training camp and the preseason, but Taylor gets the nod for now due to his previous experience in the offense. However, when Hill recovers, expect him to take over the third spot.

Receivers (7): Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins, Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Amari Rodgers, Samori Toure
This position group is, without doubt, the most intriguing. With the departure of Davante Adams this offseason, the Packers wide receiver room is full of unproven talent and question marks. Outside of Lazard, Cobb and Watkins, the Packers don’t have any receivers with more than seven regular season career receptions. Because of this, don’t be surprised if the Packers take seven receivers as opposed to six.

The battle for the seventh spot will certainly be competitive. Malik Taylor and Juwann Winfree have experience on the active roster, but the Packers used a draft pick on Toure for a reason. According to reports, multiple teams had contacted him during the NFL Draft, expressing interest in signing him as an undrafted free agent. His special team’s ability will ultimately earn him a spot on the initial 53.

“I can run down on kickoffs. I can return kicks. I can return punts if that’s where they want me,” Toure said when asked if he can play special teams. “I can get down there at the gunner spot. I feel like there are a lot of different ways I can impact the team. Being a late-round draft pick, I know special teams has got to be somewhere where I contribute.”

What to watch for during camp:

Outside of Romeo Doubs’ hot start to camp, the emergence of Amari Rodgers is intriguing. Last year, Rodgers had a very underwhelming rookie season, both as a receiver and returner, but receivers coach/passing game coordinator Jason Vrable said that Rodgers is “in the best shape of his life.”

On Monday, Rodgers tweeted, “At the beginning of training this offseason I weighed 218. Today I’m at 202 and feeling better than ever. Trust the process and results will come.”

This year Rodgers will be faster, stronger and more comfortable in the Packers offense. Even if Rodgers is just serviceable this year, he will be able to rotate in with Cobb in the slot, keeping Cobb healthy as the year goes on.

Tight end (4): Robert Tonyan, Mercedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis
It’s extremely unlikely that Robert Tonyan will be healthy for week 1 after tearing his ACL vs. the Arizona Cardinals last year, but reports indicate that he may be early in the season before Week 6 so it doesn’t make sense to put him on PUP to start the season. I anticipate Josiah Deguara to build upon his sophomore campaign, a year in which he garnered 25 receptions, 245 yards and two touchdowns.

What to watch for during camp:

Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff have been raving about Tyler Davis this offseason. He played meaningful snaps towards the end of last year on offense and special teams and has been making plays at camp so far.

“Tyler is a guy that I didn’t know a whole lot about when we acquired him,” LaFleur said. “It was just something you could see each day when we were out there as he was learning the offense and getting his reps on the scout team. Then he got forced into play, and I thought he did a hell of a job.”

Offensive lineman (10): David Bakhtiari, John Runyan Jr., Josh Meyers, Royce Newman, Yosh Nijman, Zach Tom, Sean Rhyan, Cole Van Lanen, Jake Hansen, Rasheed Walker
One of the biggest storylines of camp is the health of David Bakhtiari. David Bakhtiari entered training camp on the PUP list after experiencing a setback in his recovery. Considering that Bakhtiari hasn’t played a full game in over 18 months due to an ACL tear he suffered on December 31, 2020, it is certainly worrisome. Last week, Bakhtiari opened up about the status of his knee.

“My knee feels normal, and that’s the biggest plus,” Bakhtiari said. “Now it’s just getting that normal feeling again when I play football… I would say I really enjoy how my knee functions, operates and moves.”

I tend to be a glass half full guy and think he will be ready for Week 1, and therefore, he gets a spot on the initial 53.

Pro Bowl OL Elgton Jenkins is also still recovering from an ACL injury and will likely be on the PUP list entering the season, but according to LaFleur, he is set to return sometime “soon”. Rookies, Rhyan and Tom have been working in and out of the first team offensive rotation and will presumably get snaps early this season.

What to watch for during camp:

Focus on who is getting first-team snaps at tackle. If Bakhtiari and Jenkins both start the season on the PUP list, training camp and the preseason will be crucial indicators of who will replace them. Last year, Nijman played both left and right tackle and held his own. Through two weeks of camp, Tom has got multiple snaps at right tackle with the first team. Regardless of what happens in the weeks leading up to Week 1, LaFleur echoed what he has seemingly said for the last two years: He will put out “the best five” linemen week in and week out.

Defensive Line (5): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed, Devonte Wyatt, T.J. Slaton
Long gone are the days of Kenny Clark getting double-teamed practically every play. The Packers defensive line is loaded entering 2021. Packers General Manager made it a priority to add to the group via free agency by signing Jarran Reed and spending a first-round draft pick on Devonte Wyatt. The Packers could end up taking six guys here, but I opted to use this spot for another offensive lineman.

What to watch for during camp:

Early reports from camp indicate that Packers Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry is introducing heavier packages catered toward the defense line. Wyatt played all over the defensive line during his time at Georgia. Keep an eye on the different packages Barry comes up with throughout camp.

Outside Linebackers (4): Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Kingsley Enagbare, Randy Ramsey
The Rashan Gary hype is real. The fourth-year player had 9.5 sacks last year and was essentially unblockable in January’s playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Gary is poised to break out this season and is a prime dark horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). Kingsley Enagbare was a steal in the fifth round of the draft, but similar to Gary early in his career, Enagbare is a project player that needs work. He’ll be a rotational pass rusher his rookie season as he learns behind Gary and Smith.

What to watch for during camp:

The fourth outside linebacker spot. Randy Ramsey did not play at all last year due to an ankle and fibula injury, but in 2020 he was a core special teamer and got meaningful snaps as a pass rusher.

Inside Linebacker (4): De’Vondre Campbell, Quay Walker, Krys Barnes, Ty Summers
The Packers finally did it! They invested resources into linebackers. After signing All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell to a five-year, $50 million contract extension the Packers used a first-round draft Pick on Quay Walker. The Packers now have two sideline-to-sideline linebackers that excel at stopping the run and pass. Barnes is a quality rotation player who has two years of experience starting. Barnes will be an excellent subpackage player and special teamer. Summers gets a spot on the 53 over Isaiah McDuffie because of his special team experience.

What to watch for during camp:

How often the Packers play base 3-4 defense. Last year the Packers played in nickel defense quite a bit. Now that they have two quality inside linebackers, I expect them to play more base defense, especially on early downs.

“One of the things we looked at in a player like Quay, he’s got some similarities to (De’Vondre Campbell) so having two interchangeable pieces there gives our defense so much flexibility,” said Gutekunst. “It’s been a while since we’ve been able to stay in certain packages with two inside backers.”

Cornerback (6): Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglass, Eric Stokes, Keisean Nixon, Shemar Jean-Charles, Rico Gafford
Opposing receivers beware. The Packers have arguably the best trio of corners in the NFL in Alexander, Douglass and Stokes. However, this is a top-heavy group. Former Oakland Raider, Keisean Nixon, was a nice addition who will most likely play in the slot and contribute on special teams. But outside of that, Jean-Charles and Gafford have very little experience. The Packers may look to sign a veteran if they don’t feel this group is deep enough.

What to watch for during camp:

Rico Gafford, a former receiver-turned-cornerback, was the Packers primary kick returner on Friday. At Wyoming’s pro day he ran a 4.22 40-yard dash. If the Packers like what they see in Gafford, he could turn into a core special teamer both in the kick/punt returns and in kick coverage as a gunner.

Safety (5): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage Jr., Shawn Davis, Vernon Scott, Tariq Carpenter
With Henry Black departing in free agency, Shawn Davis will look to take over the third safety spot. The former Indianapolis Colts fifth-round draft pick had 5 interceptions, 5.5 tackles for loss and 123 tackles during his collegiate career at Florida.

It will also be interesting to see how the Packers play Tariq Carpenter. The seventh-round pick was drafted to be a core special teamer but based on his size, the Packers may want to use him in the box in certain sub-packages.

What to watch during camp:

After a rocky 2021 season marred by dropped interceptions and coverage issues, Savage is looking to bounce back to his former self. He was productive in 2020, a season in which he had 4 interceptions, 12 passes defended and 75 total tackles. Keep an eye on him during one-on-one drills against tight ends and slot receivers, an aspect of his game that he struggled with last year.

Kicker (1): Mason Crosby
The Packers special teams, especially the kicking unit, was a disaster in 2021, but I don’t anticipate Crosby to go anywhere. In almost every season that Crosby has had a “down year”, he has followed that up by playing extremely well. Don’t believe me? Look no further than 2020.

Punter (1): Pat O’Donnell
The Packers signed him in free agency. Unless he gets injured, he is a lock to make the roster.

Long snapper (1): Jack Coco

After the special teams implosion in the playoffs (and throughout the 2021 season), I don’t see Steven Wirtel making the roster this year.
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