Two weeks ago, the most glaring holes in the Green Bay Packers' roster by consensus appeared to be inside linebacker and cornerback. At least to some degree, those concerns have been addressed by general manager Ted Thompson's selections in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins project as adequate depth (and perhaps even starting caliber options) at the cornerback position, while Jake Ryan and his long resume of accomplishments at Michigan suggest he might be able to start at inside linebacker as early as this season. Even factoring for the inevitable attrition due to injuries, the Packers feel comfortable at both spots.
However, Green Bay has a few positions where there isn't an established starter. Additionally, other positions may lack ideal depth. Granted, these are minor problems compared to the rest of the league, but they are nonetheless worthy of dissection.
For the most part, the Packers know the identity of their starting or key rotational defensive lineman. Mike Daniels, the most consistent field tilter on the defense over the last two years, will line up primarily at right end in the base 3-4. B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion will compete during training camp and the preseason for the starting job beside Daniels at nose tackle. That leaves only left end as the only major question mark.
In theory, this spot should belong to Datone Jones, Green Bay's first-round pick from two years ago. Jones has flashed as a quality interior pass rusher, but injuries have prevented him from earning a fulltime job. Fellow 2013 draft pick Josh Boyd played well down the stretch in 2014, but he's still mostly a run defender at this stage of his career.
The Packers need one or the other takes a major leap heading into Year 3, because there are no obvious alternatives. Former third-round pick Khyri Thornton fits the athletic profile of a base end in Dom Capers' defense, but his preseason play fell so short of expectations that there was meaningful discussion prior to his season-ending injury that he wouldn't make the team. Luther Robinson, a midseason addition from the practice squad, had a few key plays during his first game, but was largely an afterthought the rest of the year. Green Bay also has 2015 sixth rounder Christian Ringo, but it's unfair to expect him to contribute much as a rookie.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has consistently stated a fondness for the tight end position. However, his current crop combine for little NFL experience and none has distinguished themselves from the group.
The veteran of the group is Andrew Quarless. A sixth-year player, Quarless led all tight ends on the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (323) a year ago. Right behind him is Richard Rodgers, a third-round pick a year ago who came on strong late in the season. While he has some of the most reliable hands on the team, his blocking remains suspect. Undrafted second-year player Justin Perillo has just 11 offensive snaps under his belt and no meaningful statistics. Green Bay also added UAB's Kennard Backman and Western Kentucky's Mitchell Henry this offseason.
If Rodgers continues to develop, perhaps he solidifies the Packers at tight end. If not, there isn't much hope for improved play elsewhere. It's probably not reasonable to expect Quarless to become a better player at this point in his career. As for Perillo, Backman and Henry, whoever makes the final roster likely provides little more than special teams service this season.
Offensive line depth
By the end of the 2014 season, the Packers' starting five offensive linemen had gelled together to form one of the best units in the league, and the re-signing of right tackle Bryan Bulaga this offseason allows the group to continue to build on their success. However, missing only one start from a team's preferred five starting linemen is rare, and it's unlikely to repeat itself in 2015.
Accordingly, Green Bay's backups expect to play meaningful snaps at some point during the upcoming season. Returning are swing blockers JC Tretter and Don Barclay. In the past, Barclay has lined up at right tackle and both guard spots while Tretter has either practiced or played at center and either tackle spot. Their combined utility suggests that, barring injury, both will be active on game days along with the starters.
However, Tretter was shaky during his stint at right tackle against the Buffalo Bills. Though a small sample size, it's difficult to imagine the undersized Tretter providing viable tackle play on either side of the line. Barclay, though passable at right tackle, is not considered a practical option on the blindside. Accordingly, the Packers would need to get creative should something happen to David Bakhtiari.
One option would be to shift Bulaga over to the left side. Though he has never taken a regular season snap there, the coaching staff thought enough of his abilities to flip the entire line entering the 2013 season in order to place him at left tackle. That would allow Barclay or Tretter to step in at right tackle. While the idea works in theory, shifting a lineman to the opposite side often creates negative repercussions.
It's also possible that one of the team's unheralded tackle projects establishes himself as a rosterable player during training camp and the preseason. The Packers invested a full season into former Division III product Jeremy Vujnovich, a sign that he may earn 53 consideration in 2015. At 6'5" tackle has the necessary length for the position, and if he improves on his listed weight of 300 pounds, he could carve out a role as the team's eighth lineman.