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2018 Packers 90-man roster ranking, #30-21: Green Bay’s youth movement is served

Our top-30 kicks off with first and second-year players looking to make an impact in Green Bay.

Vanderbilt v Mississippi
Oren Burks may be a rookie, but his athleticism and coverage ability could boost this defense right away.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In light of the NFL announcing its Top 100 Players of 2018 and with the Green Bay Packers finalizing their spring roster, Acme Packing Company is back this week to break down the team’s 90-man roster, player-by-player. Once again, here is our 90-Man Roster Ranking, this time for 2018.

These rankings represent a composite of the individual selections from several APC contributors. Today, we continue with players ranked 30 through 21, a range dominated by rookies and second-year players. The only proven veteran on this list comes at the top, with kicker Mason Crosby filling out the last spot before the top-20.

30. Oren Burks LB

Green Bay traded back into the third round of the 2018 draft to get the versatile Vanderbilt linebacker. Packers scouts said Burks was the top athletic tester at the position, running 4.59 and jumping 39.5’’ at 6’3 233. The former safety also threw up a 131’’ broad jump, putting him in the 97th percentile of linebackers. Clearly the panel believes Burks will challenge for the starting inside linebacker position next to Blake Martinez as well as competing for the dime linebacker spot. Coaches rave about Burks as a student of the game, a leader, and a person, along with his football ability. Being a rookie won’t stop him from being a leader on this team sooner than later.

29. Kentrell Brice S

Mike Pettine loves to play three safeties and with Josh Jones slated to line up more near the line of scrimmage, expect Brice to play deep opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in a lot of two-shell looks for this defense. While the corners will play an aggressive brand of physical, in-your-face press coverage, the deep defenders have to be able to read and cover distance. We know Brice can be a punishing tackler, but he’s inexperienced reading the field and too often finds himself out of position. His ability to adapt and evolve will go a long way to make sure Jones continues to play his more natural box role, which should be a signature piece to this defense. Brice doesn’t have to be flashy or make big plays, but rather make sure the ultra-talented playmakers on this defense can rely on him to do his job so they can go hunt.

28. Justin McCray G

Starting offensive linemen generally should be higher on this list, but we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers play in front of patchwork offensive lines before and make it work. McCray came into the season as an unproven, mostly unknown player and became an essential piece of this offense with his ability to play guard or tackle. He’s likely to open the season as the starting right guard and Green Bay should feel good about him there. They can trust him and that’s truly all a team can really ask for from an interior offensive lineman. He’s going to be in the right places and do his job. McCray also road graded for one of the best run games in the league last season. If he can get better as a pass protector, he has a chance to be an above-average player at the position.

T-26. Jamaal Williams RB

Availability puts Williams this high on the list. He’s clearly a less dynamic, less explosive, less versatile back than either Aaron Jones or Ty Montgomery, but of the three of those players, he was the only one to not deal with long-term injury problems in 2017. Williams may not have the breakaway speed or make-you-miss ability, but he’s a gritty, physical back who proved he can power a running game even into heavy boxes. As a rookie, he showed surprising alacrity handling the passing game duties, with big plays off swing passes and screens. Reliability can’t be understated as a trait for a running back and right now, Williams is the most reliable back on this roster.

T-26. Vince Biegel OLB

A foot injury turned Biegel’s rookie season into a de facto redshirt season with the ex-Wisconsin star playing in nine games for the Packers but starting none and registering the same number of sacks. Biegel played just 11.6% of defensive snaps, a number that will go up out of necessity in 2018 with Ahmad Brooks gone and the Kyler Fackrell experiment running on fumes. The Packers need a third edge rusher and Ted Thompson drafted Biegel to be that guy. Clearly the team believes in his ability (or at the very least, his ability plus Reggie Gilbert’s upside) because Brian Gutekunst waited until the seventh round to address the edge. And Kendall Donnerson has about as much chance to make a significant impact as a pass rusher this season as I do.

25. Geronimo Allison WR

Allison may technically be the starting boundary receiver opposite Davante Adams, but he’s likely no better than #4 in the pecking order of pass catchers behind Adams, Randall Cobb and Jimmy Graham. And if one of the Montgomery/Jones/Williams backs takes the reigns as a feature back in this offense, it wouldn’t be surprising if he had more catches than Allison over the course of the season. That said, the former UDFA from Illinois looked more explosive last season before injuries derailed his season along with the Brett Hundley factor. If the Packers were comfortable with Allison as the starter, Gutekunst likely doesn’t triple-down at receiver in the draft. Allison is a placeholder at receiver in the long-term, but in the short-term the team needs him to be more reliable than he’s been to this point in his career.

24. Josh Jackson CB

Get in the face of receivers at the line, use strength and length to disrupt timing, and find the football to make a play on it. They’re core tenants of press-man coverage under Mike Pettine and they’re traits Jackson possesses in excess. Though Iowa didn’t require Jackson to press often, when given the option in rookie camp, Jackson opted exclusively for that technique in drills. His ball skills are the best we’ve seen coming out of college in recent years and if not for an average 40 time, there’s no way Jackson falls to 45th overall in the draft. Some Packers fans seem more excited for Jackson, the second corner selected on this roster, than Jaire Alexander, and there’s certainly reason for optimism. If he learns to use his length at the line, his speed (or lack thereof) becomes less of a factor. Jackson may be a little too high on this list given how unlikely it is he’ll unseat Tramon Williams or Kevin King to start, but his presence on this roster looms large long-term.

23. Dean Lowry DL

This is too high in my opinion. I didn’t have Lowry much lower and in retrospect, I should have. The combination of Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Muhammad Wilkerson form an indomitable front. Lowry is a luxury piece. He showed encouraging growth last season, particularly as a pass rusher, and he may end up being an useful sub-package rusher at times. But he’s a backup defensive lineman who might not even be the sixth or seventh best rusher on this roster. He’s a valuable player because he can play inside and outside and offers essential backup ability. He can give any player on this front a breather, which is useful positional versatility, but in terms of his impact on this roster, I’m not sure he belongs ahead of any of the players we’ve discussed on this list.

22. Ty Montgomery RB

There are cases to be made that this ranking is too high or too low for Montgomery. When he’s healthy, he can be a dynamic offensive weapon capable of lining up anywhere on the field. Mike McCarthy did a poor job of maximizing this versatility last season and overexposed Montgomery early in the season to an unnecessary workload. Clearly the rookie backs could have played snaps to ease the burden.

But that’s part of the problem. Montgomery has had a serious injury every year of his career and simply hasn’t proven to be a reliable feature of this offense for 16 games. If Aaron Jones is healthy, he’s the best pure runner on this team even if he’s not the weapon in the passing game Montgomery can be. And if the receivers on the depth chart stay healthy, the Packers don’t really have a place for Ty in the passing game either. So what is he? What can he be? Where does he best fit? Those are significant questions McCarthy and Joe Philbin have to answer. Short of knowing the plan for him, it’s hard to know just how valuable he will be for this team. We know he can be a critical offensive cog. But will he be? And will he be healthy enough to play that role?

21. Mason Crosby K

At this point, the days of questioning McCarthy over Crosby’s presence on this team feel like discussion about a different player. After an ultra-clutch 2016 season including two ridiculous 50+ field goals to help beat the Cowboys in the playoffs, Crosby essentially bought himself tenure in the Packers kicking room. They trust him from just about any distance, in any situation, which is an extremely valuable weapon to have.

I wish McCarthy would eschew field goals more often than he does and simply go for fourth downs. This team has been more aggressive in recent seasons in those situations, a trend that can hopefully only become more pronounced as McCarthy grows more comfortable with what the numbers say (which is almost always to go for it on fourth down). But when the team needs points, they know they can count on Crosby to get them. With under a minute left and down less than three, Green Bay knows just about anywhere in opponent territory is close enough to give Crosby a shot. That’s real added value for a kicker.