Want to retain that overachieving 7th round linebacker for the regular season? How about the undrafted tight end that spent last year on the practice squad? Is there room for a ninth offensive lineman?
These are the types of questions every NFL general manager will be facing over the next few weeks as their rosters are cut to 75 and, soon after, to 53. Right now, everyone's in love with their 90-man roster. A handful of guys on every team have earned the attention of their coaches and look like contributors. Unfortunately, there's not room for everyone, and capable players on every team are soon to receive a call from the "Turk."
But some unheralded long shots will make the final roster. In Green Bay, we already have an idea of who those players might be. Undrafted outside linebacker Andy Mulumba has outplayed competitors like Dezman Moses (a similar UDFA who made the team a year earlier) while Johnny Jolly has shown he can still get into the backfield after a three year layoff. Each deserves to make the team.
So how can the Packers get these and other impressive upstarts onto the final roster? Here are the areas on offense where the Packers can trim some fat:
Heading into training camp, most believed that the Packers effectively had three roster spots going to Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, and DuJuan Harris, with two more to assign amongst John Kuhn, Alex Green, and James Starks. As of right now, there's no indication the Packers are serious about getting rid of the team's only fullback, so Kuhn's probably safe as well. That leaves one roster spot open to Green or Starks.
But perhaps the Packers shouldn't give it to either. After an impressive open to training camp, Starks looks like the same pedestrian runner from the past two years and the prospect of injury still looms over him. Similarly, Green hasn't shown the same burst he displayed at Hawaii (though, to be fair, he hasn't had much time behind the starting offensive line). Neither back offers something unique to the position. Green's ability as a receiver out of the backfield is matched by both Franklin and Harris. Starks' powerful running is at best a poor man's imitation of Lacy. If the Packers decide to stick with just the two drafted rookies, Harris, and Kuhn, they'll have one fewer roster spot at the position than last year's opening roster.
A year ago, the Packers made waves when they kept six receivers heading into the season. By the end of 2012, they were carrying seven. No NFL team needs to burn that many roster spots on receivers, and the Packers are unlikely to do so again this season.
Fortunately, some of the trimming has already taken place. Greg Jennings quietly and respectfully departed for Minnesota while Donald Driver, the Packers all-time leading receiver in yards, called it a career in February. That leaves five wideouts from the 2012 roster. Additionally, undrafted rookies Tyrone Walker and Myles White have consistently performed well enough to validate consideration for the final roster. That's to make no mention of Charles Johnson or Kevin Dorsey, a pair of tall and speedy 7th-round picks with considerable upside.
While they could justifiably go seven deep, perhaps the Packers are best off sticking with only five receivers. The top four (Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jarrett Boykin) are unquestionably a notch or more above the rest of the field. That leaves one more slot to fill with either Jeremy Ross or one of the rookies.
Despite his dropped passes, Ross would stand to be the favorite in that scenario unless Micah Hyde or someone else manages to steal away the punt return job. If that does happen, then the final roster spot can be allotted to whichever rookie receiver the coaching staff is most comfortable with. Regardless of who wins the fifth receiver job, the Packers could also reasonably expect one or more of the remaining rookies to pass through waivers and accept a spot on the practice squad. That way, the team is protected should one or more of their rostered receivers go down with an injury.
Under McCarthy, the Packers have often kept an unusually high number of tight ends. In 2011, five of them opened the season on the roster constituting almost 10% of the Packers' roster. A year later, four of those remained with Andrew Quarless spending the year on the PUP and IR. Historically, few teams have made such a commitment to the tight end position.
There are advantages to retaining extra tight ends. In a pinch, many can double as an extra fullbacks for power run formations, and like linebackers, tight ends have the perfect body type for special teams. However, with the Packers set to carry as many as six inside linebackers this year, perhaps there isn't a need to continue overstocking at tight end.
As of this moment, only two tight ends, Jermichael Finley and Matthew Mulligan, are good bets to make the roster. Brandon Bostick, a converted wide receiver who spent last year on the practice squad, has also played well. The remaining tight ends have either been plagued with inconsistency (D.J. Williams) or injuries (Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor).
Should the team elect to keep only three, another roster spot will be spared. In that scenario, the question becomes which tight end takes the final spot. As mentioned earlier, Bostick has been the most impressive of the other tight ends. This is primarily due to his athleticism and receiving ability, both of which rival Finley. However, he's still green as a blocker and may not provide insurance for Kuhn at fullback.
There's another layer to Bostick's situation as well, practice squad eligibility. While Williams, Taylor, and Quarless have all accrued enough experience to invalidate them for the practice squad, Bostick could spend another season there. Stashing him would give the Packers a roster-ready fourth tight end should injuries hit and give him another year to work out his blocking deficiencies. The problem with this scenario is Bostick would be left unprotected while on waivers and could be picked up by another team.
Regardless of how the third spot plays out, the Packers are probably better served reducing their tight end count so a more valuable player at another position can make the team.
That concludes part one of Saving Space on the Packers' 53. Check back in the coming days for part two: Defense.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn