After a long holiday weekend, Acme Packing Company is back with our breakdown of the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster. Today we will run down players ranked from 20th place down to number eight before moving through the remainder of the rankings by the end of the week.
In the first group, players 20 to 16, we find three new faces: the Packers’ two first-round picks from the 2019 NFL Draft plus one of the team’s big free agent acquisitions from March. However, the order of these rookies may surprise a bit based on the order where they were selected in this April’s selection meeting.
20: Dean Lowry, defensive lineman
In his three seasons, Lowry has become a steady borderline starter for the Packers, whose impact has gradually grown. Interestingly, he played the most snaps of his career in 2018 — just under two-thirds of all defensive snaps — despite the team signing Muhammad Wilkerson in the offseason to take over the starting five-technique spot. Of course, Wilkerson’s broken ankle opened up that role for Lowry once again, while injuries to Mike Daniels around midseason and Kenny Clark late provided him more reps as an interior nickel pass-rusher.
As a tall player at 6-foot-6 and around 300 pounds, Lowry has learned how to use leverage better as his career has progressed, and has put his impressive athleticism to good use despite having particularly short arms for the position. With a career-high three sacks and 44 tackles in 2018, Lowry will enter a contract year as the presumed 5T starter once again with a chance to continue to define a role for himself on third downs.
T-18: Kevin King, cornerback
If this ranking were purely based on raw talent, King would almost certainly be higher on the list. When he has been healthy, King has shown all the reasons why he was the player whom Ted Thompson targeted with the first pick of his final NFL draft — length, speed, physicality, and ball skills.
However, King has played just 15 games in two seasons, suiting up just six times a season ago. And although he did record his first career interception — a crucial fourth-quarter, third-down pick of San Francisco’s C.J. Beathard in a tie game — he has yet to become a truly special player, largely because of that unavailability. Thankfully, King was a full participant in the offseason’s first series of OTA practices, and if he is healthy he would make for a terrific young tandem with Jaire Alexander.
T-18: Rashan Gary, outside linebacker
The Packers’ first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft did not end up being the highest-ranked rookie on this list (more on that momentarily), in large part because of the projection of his college abilities and role to the NFL. At Michigan, Gary was a defensive end who was primarily assigned to stop the run and draw double-teams. He played this role so well that he sacrificed the potential for big numbers on his own, working for the good of the team and allowing other players to rack up the gaudy statistics.
And although a labrum injury in his shoulder bothered him as a junior (and has resulted in him wearing a shoulder harness to start offseason practices), the Packers loved him, as he was reportedly one of the top players on their draft board.
Gary will be fighting for playing time with a pair of fellow new arrivals in Green Bay: free agent signees Za’Darius and Preston Smith. However, with all three able to line up with a hand on the ground as interior rushers as well, expect to see them all on the field simultaneously in pass-rushing situations.
17: Darnell Savage, Jr., safety
APC’s top rookie on the countdown is Savage, whom the team selected with the 21st pick after moving back up from 30. While the Gary pick drew some raised eyebrows and concerns, Savage appears to be a tremendous fit within the Packers’ defense and his tape shows a player who should be an impact defender from day one.
Indeed, Savage has been running with the starting defense already in OTAs, and rookies lining up with the ones this early is particularly rare in Green Bay. The speed (4.36 forty) and explosiveness (39.5” vertical) aren’t just there in shorts — they show up on tape as well. How Savage plays as a rookie, particularly with veteran Adrian Amos next to him, will be a big determining factor in the defense’s performance overall.
16: Billy Turner, offensive lineman
The first of the team’s big four free agent acquisitions on our list is Turner, who earned a four-year, $28 million contract with the Packers this March. Turner bounced around across several teams in the first few years of his career. A former third-round pick by the Dolphins, he started 12 games in Miami at right guard before landing with the Denver Broncos and settling in at left guard a season ago, where he played excellent football.
An athletic player who will fit nicely in Matt LaFleur’s zone-blocking running scheme, Turner has the size and strength to play inside but quick enough feet to bounce outside to tackle. Although he appears to be the Packers’ likely starter at right guard for week one, Turner seems likely to be the primary option to back up Bryan Bulaga at right tackle as well, and the team may view him as the long-term replacement for the veteran, whose contract expires after this season. That versatility should make Turner an essential piece of the offensive line for the next several years.