Last week, I projected how many players the Green Bay Packers will likely retain on offense entering Week 1 of the 2015 regular season. Given the strong reader response, it only makes sense to dive into the other side of that coin.
The Packers' defensive breakdown historically has proved more volatile than its offensive counterpart. While the 3-4 base defense has been in place since 2009, the team has taken a far more flexible approach to building that side of the roster. The number of players retained at each level of the defense has been anything but static, a factor that makes this projection more difficult than the last.
Still, let's give it a shot.
(Note: For the sake of simplicity, each breakdown assumes no injuries)
Total defense: 26 players
Perhaps the only part of this forecast that won't prove challenging is the total number of players. With the offense projected at 24 and special teams taking up three (a placekicker, punter and long snapper), the remaining amount of roster spots goes to the defense. As with the offense, the Packers have kept the same number of defenders each of the last four years.
Defensive line: 7 players
The Packers' decision to re-sign both B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion suggests that the team will hold onto more defensive linemen heading into this season than the previous one. Last year, only five players -- Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Mike Pennel and Guion -- appeared on the opening week roster, the lowest such amount since Green Bay began implementing the 3-4 defense in 2009. Entering training camp, six current Packers have spent time on the team's 53, a figure that does not include 2014 third-round pick Khyri Thornton or 2015 sixth-round pick Christian Ringo.
Outside linebackers: 5 players
While Clay Matthews expects to shift between linebacker spots again this season, he's designated as an outside player for our purposes. Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Neal are the other roster locks at the position. The Packers also have Jay Elliott, Adrian Hubbard, Andy Mulumba and multiple undrafted rookies to look through. At least one of them should make the team.
Inside linebackers: 4 players
Sam Barrington stands as the only known starter in the group. Jake Ryan is the only other inside linebacker that can feel safe about his roster spot due to his draft status. Everything else is up in the air. The Packers will keep at least two of the remaining options.
Cornerbacks: 6 players
The three Green Bay corners with meaningful playing experience -- Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde -- are effectively guaranteed roster spots. So are first- and second-round picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Though the Packers have often kept only five cornerbacks, the talent in the group probably necessitates a sixth.
Safeties: 4 players
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett have entrenched themselves as the starting safeties in Dom Capers' defense, guaranteeing roster spots for each. The Packers matched a lucrative offer to Sean Richardson, meaning he'll also make the cut. The versatility of Hyde and Randall gives the team leeway if they want to keep an extra defensive linemen or linebacker instead of a fourth safety, but Chris Banjo's utility on special teams should be enough to keep him in Green Bay.