As we finish up our countdown of our Green Bay Packers' roster rankings today, we look to the twenties where we find several key backups and a few projected starters.
One group that is well-represented in this group of players is the front seven, with seven of the ten players in this section playing linebacker or on the defensive line. While that might suggest solid depth, there's quite the dropoff between the top player or two at those positions and this group, even though some of these players will be starters this season.
30: Datone Jones, DE
Entering his third year, Jones has yet to truly break out, but he has remained a fixture as an interior pass-rusher, even if he has not posted massive production. He will need to impress in training camp this year, as he just earned a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.
29: Don Barclay, OT/G
Missing his third NFL season due to a torn ACL was a setback for Barclay and for the Packers' offensive line depth, as he was likely to be the team's top backup at both guard spots and right tackle. Thankfully, the team's starters at those positions missed a total of one start, as Barclay's absence was not crushing. He returns on a restricted free agent tender for 2015 with an eye on reclaiming his status as the sixth lineman.
28: John Kuhn, FB
As Eddie Lacy's role as the third-down running back has grown, it has done so at the expense of Kuhn's snap count, which was his lowest since 2009. However, he has strung together two straight seasons of plus run-blocking, as he has developed his lead blocking skills as he is used more in that role. Regardless, Kuhn is a favorite of his teammates (and many of the fans), and a stalwart on special teams, so it would still be a surprise to see him off the roster come September.
27: Mason Crosby, K
A year after setting a career high in field goals made and field goal percentage, Crosby returned in 2014 with a solid (albeit unspectacular) follow-up season. Three blocked field goals hurt his percentage though, as he would have been over 90% for the first time in his career if he had made those three instead. There's no question, though, that Crosby has turned his career around after his disastrous 2012, and has been solid and consistent over the past two years.
26: James Starks, RB
One of the better backup running backs in the NFL in 2013, Starks took a bit of a step back last year as his yards-per-carry dropped from 5.5 to 3.9 despite having almost the same number of carries. He did increase his production as a receiving back, however, and still provides the Packers with a solid number two option behind Eddie Lacy.
25: Mike Neal, OLB
Returning on a new two-year contract in 2014, Neal's second season as a hybrid outside linebacker and interior rusher and was thought to be playing a somewhat diminished role thanks to Julius Peppers' emergence and both Clay Matthews and Nick Perry being healthy. Instead, he still played over 700 total snaps, recording 4.5 sacks but by and large earning poor grades from Pro Football Focus. If the young linebackers develop over this season, this might be Neal's last in Green Bay.
24: Letroy Guion, DT
Guion's play at nose tackle last season was a major source of relief for the Packers, as B.J. Raji's bicep injury decimated the depth on the defensive line. This year, Guion will likely contribute more from the 5-technique position as well as spelling Raji on the nose, and hopefully will be more effective while playing fewer snaps this season. One major question hanging over Guion's head is a suspension that he will likely receive from the NFL as a result of his drug charges in the offseason (which were eventually dropped).
23: Nick Perry, OLB
Perry is one player who can't seem to stay reasonably healthy at all, and even though he played 15 games in 2014 he was playing hurt for most of them. We can't even use the "when he's healthy" argument because we do not really know what he could do when healthy. Like many players below him, he has shown the occasional flash of great play, and hopefully after offseason shoulder surgery he will finally come into the season at 100% health.
22: Sam Barrington, ILB
Not content to let his play in the second half of last season speak for itself, Barrington has been vocal about his desire to take a leadership role on defense, especially with his play. The defense played better with him paired with Clay Matthews in the middle than any other combination of inside linebackers, and he will look to provide a steady presence next to the flashier Matthews (or a young linebacker, depending on what happens in camp).
21: B.J. Raji, DT
It might seem to be a tired refrain, but Raji once again enters this phase of the offseason impressing his coaches. Last year, he was nearly unblockable in camp after being moved back to nose tackle. Then a torn biceps ended his season midway through training camp and called Guion into action. This year, Raji is back on a one-year deal for the second year in a for and the nose tackle job is again his to lose.
Stay tuned for the rest of the countdown this afternoon.