Over the next few weeks, we will break down each position on the Green Bay Packers' 2015 roster in detail, discussing each player and making our predictions for the final 53-man roster.
With our breakdown of the outside linebackers wrapped up, it is time to release our predictions for which players at the position who are currently on the 90-man roster will make the final 53-man roster in early September.
This position was one of the toughest for us to judge - not only on how many players the Packers would keep, but on which names would make it. Once the votes were tallied, we came up with five outside linebackers on the squad (not including Clay Matthews, as we'll have more on him coming up). Here are the names of those five and their projected roles.
Starters: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry
Odds are that you've noticed that there's a certain name missing from this list of starters. I assure you, there is a good reason for it - namely that we expect Matthews to play inside linebacker on base downs, at least to start the season. The left outside linebacker job belongs to Peppers, which should surprise no one. We have Perry tabbed as the starter on the right, however, as he was more productive on a per-snap basis in 2014 than Mike Neal and should (emphasis on should) finally be 100% healthy.
Reserves: Mike Neal, Jayrone Elliott, Adrian Hubbard
Backing up these starters (and Matthews when he shifts to a pass-rushing role on third downs) is the trio of Neal, Elliott, and Hubbard. Neal is at this point what he is - he provides value as a rotational player who can spell the starting linebackers and who holds up reasonably well against the run. He also runs hot and cold as a pass rusher - sometimes pressuring the quarterback after an impressive move, and other times being washed out of the play entirely. Still, he played nearly 700 snaps last year and will likely be called upon once again for a substantial snap count; after all, Peppers hit 35 years old, Perry being 100% all year is no sure thing, and Matthews' new role keeps him inside frequently.
Elliott of course burst onto the scene during the preseason last year with one magnificent defensive series, but it was his play on special teams that distinguished him during the season. That likely is his best route to the roster this year, but he should be more heavily in the rotation for defensive snaps this year.
The debate between Hubbard and Andy Mulumba was one of the closest among all of our projections this year. Unfortunately for Mulumba, his torn ACL cost him his second year and we expect that his athleticism will have slipped a bit as a result. Hubbard has no such limitations, as he is one of the more physically imposing and athletic players on the unit. With a year spent on the practice squad learning the pro game, he earned a fair share of first-team reps during OTAs and we think his brain has begun to catch up to his body. However, much like Elliott, the last man in at outside linebacker will be called upon heavily on special teams, and it could very well come down to whichever player shows the best ability on those units that gets the spot.
Coming up on Monday, we'll shift inward and break down the inside linebackers.