On the brink of training camp, the Green Bay Packers’ roster is filled with strong competition.
In the offseason, Ted Thompson and company set out to increase the size and speed of the roster at multiple positions and there’s plenty of reasons to say they’ve succeeded. Analyzing the team, there will be plenty of tough cuts as several positions undergo transitions from veteran players to young newcomers with enticing measurables.
Looking at the 90-man roster, here are four of those tough cuts and why they are potentially 53-man candidates.
TE Beau Sandland
Unquestionably, the Packers have a deep interest in the tight end position and won’t hesitate to keep extra players if they see the right fit. Just look back to 2011 when Thompson and Mike McCarthy chose to keep five tight ends. They’ve also upgraded position with size-speed combinations the past two free agency periods to contribute to the team’s aerial attack.
The Carolina Panthers’ seventh round pick in 2016, Sandland spent time on both the Panthers and Packers’ practice squads last season. He has an interesting background story, having begun his college career in the junior college ranks before transferring to Miami and Montana State later in his career. Despite only two productive college seasons, Sandland was a top performer at the Combine in the bench press and vertical and broad jumps in addition to running a 4.74 40-yard dash at 6’5.” Perhaps most notable are his long arms and big hands. A pass catcher that was forced to develop his run blocking at Montana State, Sandland is set to turn heads in training camp.
Richard Rodgers’ future clearly is in limbo in Green Bay after two noteworthy tight end signings, but may still make the team in the last year of his rookie deal. Whether Rodgers stays or goes, the well-rounded Sandland could be groomed to be his replacement.
CB Daquan Holmes
All signs would seemingly point to a difficult road for Holmes making the 53-man roster. He was a rather late undrafted signing, coming to Green Bay on June 7 after a May rookie orientation camp. He was a Division II defensive back at American International. He’s not a large cornerback at 5’11” and 187 pounds.
However, there is a lot of intrigue to Holmes and his fit in Green Bay. Holmes was a playmaker to the utmost degree during his time in college, setting school and Northeast-10 conference records with 20 interceptions and six returned for touchdowns. He also recorded 233 tackles and 14.5 for loss in his career before starring at the Division II/III National Bowl showcase and garnering MVP honors. A number of teams checked in on Holmes prior to the draft and the corner has drawn a number of comparisons to New England Patriots small-school product Malcolm Butler.
If there’s one thing the Packers value in defensive backs, it’s versatility. That is Holmes’ strength coming into camp. He played primarily safety this past season, but seemed to embody the rover role that Damarious Randall inherited at Arizona State as the secondary’s best player. On tape, he was a man among boys at the DII level, with his 4.45 speed on display as he broke on the ball with ease and found himself in position for turnovers time and time again. His film also showed a player unafraid to hit and wrap up.
With cornerback, safety, and special teams experience as a kickoff returner and gunner, Holmes offers enough versatility to battle for a roster spot or at least a practice squad role while he adjusts to the speed of the NFL.
WR Max McCaffrey
Throughout the offseason, McCaffrey received more buzz for his NFL bloodlines than his own football prowess. The son of long-time NFL veteran receiver Ed and brother of Panthers first round running back Christian, it’s safe to say Max has gotten lost in the shuffle. But he shouldn’t be.
At 6’2,” Max has good size for the position and matches it with a 4.46 40 time, as recorded at his Duke Pro Day in 2016. In addition, his 36.5-inch vertical jump and 10’2” broad jump would have been in the top ten at the receiver position at the Combine if invited. Max had a good career at Duke, lining up both underneath and on the outside, and showing the ability to stretch the field and create after the catch.
After spending most of last season on the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad, McCaffrey was signed to the Packers’ practice squad in December before an NFC Championship Game promotion to the active roster. He’s been a quick learner and earned the high praise of wide receivers coach Luke Getsy.
“He’s done a great job. Max, from the day he got here last (year), he worked really hard at learning the offense. He had a great start (to the offseason) because he’s learned it even though he was practice squad and all that good stuff.”
“He saw how coach (Mike McCarthy) ended up putting him on the roster for the last game in case we needed him, (and) that’s the mentality that he has and the approach that he has — he was ready to play. He’s really ahead mentally, especially when you compare him to these young rookies, he’s much further ahead.”
Perhaps no other position carries as much training camp competition as wide receiver. With three bonafide starters and five players in their first four years, including two late round draft picks this season, Green Bay will have some extremely hard decisions to make. Just don’t count out McCaffrey quite yet.
OL Geoff Gray
Offensive linemen typically don’t reap the attention the so-called “skill position” players do. Therefore, it’s not a surprise Gray hasn’t received the same level of attention as other undrafted free agents this offseason. However, the Canadian product has a very good chance at landing a roster spot at the end of camp with the offensive guard position still in flux.
Gray, formerly a member of the University of Manitoba Bison, is an imposing figure at 6’6” and 310 pounds. The biggest challenge for Gray making the transition to the NFL game may be the formation of the defensive line, which lines up over the ball rather than one yard off the line of scrimmage like in Canada. While Gray figures to be a guard in the NFL, any versatility to move outside to tackle or center in an emergency would help his cause of making the team. Gray’s head coach at Manitoba raved about his intelligence for the game, calling him a Stanford and Harvard type of guy who transfers his academic intelligence (engineering student) to the field. Having a big, strong frame to go along with numbers signaling explosion off the snap at his Pro Day only helped Gray’s stock leading up to the draft.
Now in Green Bay, Gray has a real opportunity. Although free agent signee Jahri Evans is the leading candidate for the starting job at right guard, there is little proven depth behind him. While Don Barclay can line up all over the line and Lucas Patrick and Kyle Murphy spent time with Green Bay last season, Gray may be in a tight battle with fellow developmental rookie guard Kofi Amichia for a final spot on the line. At the very least, Gray is a prime candidate for a season on Green Bay’s practice squad.