The Green Bay Packers have a long legacy of getting surprising contributions from unexpected sources and 2018 figures to be no different. This year, we’re sure to see at least one player rise from obscurity to make the roster, but who’s it going to be? We put the question to our writers. Here’s what they had to say.
Shawn Wagner: Raven Greene and Emanuel Byrd
The Packers’ safety position is going through some changes with Morgan Burnett venturing to Pittsburgh and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix entering a contract year coming off a disappointing 2017 season. Though he showed promise as an undrafted rookie, Kentrell Brice only appeared in six games during his second campaign due to injury. Josh Jones is focusing more fully on safety this season than the hybrid linebacker role he played last season. Marwin Evans seemed to fall out of favor toward the end of the season and is certainly not a lock for the final roster.
That opens the door for yet another undrafted safety in Greene to qualify for a 53-man spot. An instinctive playmaker from FCS power James Madison, Greene finished his collegiate career with 14 interceptions and packs some punch as a tackler despite his smaller frame. If Greene flashes in the second half of preseason games and can provide value on special teams, he could be this year’s Evans.
At tight end, the position would seemingly be solidified with the additions of Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to go along with returner Lance Kendricks. However, Lewis and Kendricks are on one-year contracts and the Packers have routinely kept four tight ends on the final roster. They could develop a receiving threat like Byrd, who caught two passes in a final game call-up versus Detroit at the end of the season, to eventually take one of the aforementioned veterans’ places in 2019. Byrd figures to be more adjusted to the NFL game this training camp after his time on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie and a full offseason with the organization.
Peter Bukowski: Ahmad Thomas
Someone else has to make it inside and I like Thomas’ chances as a former safety at Oklahoma. Mike Pettine loves to play multiple safeties and while Thomas lacks the athletic traits to be a true safety, he can be a backup roving overhang defender with special teams upside. He even played special teams at Oklahoma despite being a starting safety.
For a safety, Thomas wouldn’t pass the kind of athletic tests the Packers prize, but as a linebacker, his 4.68 40 time is nearly identical to Jake Ryan’s and his agility tests are all slightly better.
If he has to play, something has gone wrong for the Packers, but three linebackers (Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, and Oren Burks) just isn’t enough for a 3-4 team, even if they wanted to shift Clay Matthews inside for some reps. Thomas is the kind of player who can make some splash plays with his physical tackling and special teams ability, plus his versatility with where he can play fits with Pettine looks for in defenders.
Evan “Tex” Western: Raven Greene and Greer Martini
I picked both of these players to make the 53-man roster in this year’s exercise on APC, but for very different reasons. In Greene’s case, I like the athletic ability and ballhawking potential he brings to the table, and I think that the Packers’ don’t have a solid 4th safety on the roster. Neither Marwin Evans nor Jermaine Whitehead impressed last season, and with a few splash plays, Greene could easily win the job over the two of them.
For Martini, there are a few factors in play. With Aaron Jones’ suspension, the Packers have an open roster spot to start the season. I don’t think they’ll save it for another running back, and instead I kept Martini as a special teams player. Based on comments from our colleagues at One Foot Down, he’s clearly an intelligent player, and I expect that he’ll make a couple of impressive plays in camp to make a run at the 53. (Selfishly, I also want to keep him for his name so that when he makes a tackle, I can make a “shaken, not stirred” joke.)
Matub: Brett Hundley
The suspension of Aaron Jones means an extra roster spot is available for two weeks. Usually that would be used for a 7th wide receiver or an extra safety. I think it’s going to be a backup QB’s backup.
Last year Mike McCarthy postured about the time investment/cost sunk into Brett Hundley. While Brett’s fate was mostly sealed by the DeShone Kizer trade, there is precedent in his favor. In 2014, the year after Aaron Rodgers’ last collarbone break, the Packers kept 3 QBs on the roster. I believe a combination of the “playing it safe” history and Mike’s past remarks means we are not yet saying “Bye bye, Brett” (though we might at week 3).