Today, we continue our countdown of the Green Bay Packers’ roster by looking at the players in the 30s. A trend can be observed with several of the players in this grouping - there are impressive preseason performances to build upon, but a lack of opportunity in the regular season has caused some consternation among the fan base.
Will these players repeat their impressive summers in the 2016 preseason? And will they finally earn the playing time that many believe they deserve once the games count? Or will they continue to be relegated to special teams and only occasionally see the field on offense or defense? We will all be curious to find out this fall.
40: G Lane Taylor
Taylor was one of the Packers’ key reserve guards last season and started a pair of games - one for an injured T.J. Lang and one when Josh Sitton moved out from left guard to tackle. After a rough couple of games in 2014, Taylor was solid in 2015 and earned a two-year deal despite being a Restricted Free Agent. He should again be the primary backup at both guard spots this season and has shown enough upside that he could compete for a starting job next year if one of the two veteran starters leaves in free agency.
39: FB Aaron Ripkowski
Most of us expected that Ripkowski was drafted in 2015 to be the heir to John Kuhn, and with Kuhn remaining on the free agent market that appears to be the case. Rip’s one big play last season - a catch-and-run in Carolina - demonstrated the hard-nosed attitude that he brings to the game, and he should be an effective and punishing lead blocker in the running game. Training camp will give him the chance to prove that he understands the Packer’s pass-blocking concepts.
38: OLB Kyler Fackrell
The Packers’ third-round pick arrives in a group of veteran pass-rushers and likely will need a year to earn a primary role in the rotation. However, the Utah State product demonstrated consistent ability to get to the quarterback in college and possesses a long, lanky frame that should fill out with experience in an NFL strength and conditioning program.
37: ILB Blake Martinez
Although Fackrell was drafted earlier, we have Martinez ranked higher right now based on what he can contribute to the Packers’ defense in 2016: coverage ability from the inside linebacker spot, which has been the bane of Dom Capers’ existence lately. The Stanford grad was the top-graded coverage linebacker in this year’s draft class according to Pro Football Focus, and is already carving out a role in the nickel and dime packages.
36: WR Jeff Janis
You’ll notice a trend over the next few players here, starting with Janis: great preseason performances followed by dropoffs and a lack of opportunities in the regular season. Janis has lit it up against backups in the last two summers, but has been relegated mostly to special teams duty when the games count. At least, that was the case until last year in Arizona, when he was forced into emergency duty with a depleted receiving corps taking the field. Janis caught two passes for 101 yards (this crazy fourth-down reception and the Packers’ second Hail Mary touchdown of the year) on the final offensive drive of the game, and totaled seven catches for 145 yards and two scores in that game. Always a project with great physical tools, Janis can prove he belongs in the receiver rotation with a good camp.
35: QB Brett Hundley
Last season, Hundley was the Packers’ third-string QB behind Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, but he played impressively well in his first preseason after just a few months of learning the playbook. Now he comes into 2016 with a full offseason in the program and in Mike McCarthy’s quarterback school, and he is the undisputed backup to Rodgers. While his athletic ability is not in question, he can solidify himself as one of the better young backups in the league with a good training camp and preseason.
34: OLB Jayrone Elliott
While Hundley impressed on offense last summer, Elliott has done so on defense each of the past two preseasons. He even made one of the year’s biggest plays in week two, sealing the Packers’ victory against the Seahawks with an interception. After that, however, Elliott was used heavily on special teams but was just an afterthought on defense. With a focus on his diet this offseason, Elliott is coming to training camp more motivated than ever to break into the Packers’ rotation on defense and carve out a significant role.
T-32: OT Jason Spriggs
Spriggs, the Packers’ second-round pick this spring, is likely looked at as a long-term project in terms of the starting lineup. He is immediately the team’s tallest lineman at 6’6”, and has very good movement skills. In 2016 he should have every opportunity to become the primary backup at both tackle positions and learn the offense while preparing for a possible starting job next season.
T-32: ILB Sam Barrington
Barrington will be tested in training camp when he finally takes the field again after missing all of last season with an ankle injury. Although he is currently expected to hold one of the starting jobs when the season starts, rookie Blake Martinez has been looking strong in spring practices and should be an option as a coverage linebacker in sub packages. Still, Barrington’s ability as a run-stuffer is quite good and he should see plenty of playing time on base downs even if he does not hold on to the starting job.
31: K Mason Crosby
Packers fans tend to fall in two camps when thinking about Crosby; one faction likes to cite the fact that he has never had a field-goal hit percentage over 90% in a season in his career, while the other points to his drastic improvement since his down year in 2012 and to his playoff success. Crosby has not missed a field goal in the playoffs since the Super Bowl run in 2010 (that’s 17 for 17 since 2011) and is 23/25 (92%) overall in the playoffs. Contrast that to his roughly 80% rate in the regular season and you see a fascinating dichotomy. Still, Crosby is money on PATs, even from the longer distance, and he’s been as good as they come in the playoffs.