Despite the daily drama of training camp, most NFL teams have a pretty good idea of who will be on their final 53 man roster before their first practice even begins. Between returning veterans, free agent signings, and draft picks, there really aren’t that many roster spots open for competition in a given year.
But that never slows any speculation over which lower-end player could make a surprise run for the roster. After all, there is a long-established history of players in Green Bay rising from relative obscurity to earn a spot, whether they be undrafted free agents, practice squad holdovers, or veterans on their last shot in the NFL.
Here’s our look at a few less-heralded players who could star in this year’s preseason.
Peter Bukowski - Curtis Bolton, LB
In order to be a breakout star, a couple of things need to be in play: The most important is opportunity and Bolton should get it with the Packers perilously thin at inside linebacker. After Oren Burks and Blake Martinez, it’s James Crawford and Ty Summers who all seem likely to make the roster. That could leave major playing time for Bolton who has the speed to make an impact on these backup offenses he’ll face.
He fell in the draft because of size (6-foot, 218) and just one year of production at Oklahoma, but his speed and fluidity should give him a chance to shine against third-string quarterbacks staring down targets and the heavy-footed running backs on the field in the second half of preseason games.
Bolton is a dark horse not just to be a preseason star, but to find a way onto this team given the depth at the position and potential special teams play given his physical traits.
Jon Meerdink - Ty Summers, LB
Summers is a nice companion to Bolton. Bolton is safety-sized, while Summers fits the more traditional mold of what an inside linebacker should look like. Where Bolton moves fluidly from side to side, Summers goes north and south.
But despite these differences, both could travel a similar path to the roster. As Peter aptly points out, both Summers and Bolton will have extensive opportunities not just to shine on special teams, but to play significant reps against lower quality competition. It’s easy to see Summers piling up some tackles against the lower levels of opposing teams’ rosters. It’s hard to overlook those tackle numbers in the box score, even with good reason to discount them. Summers could very well find himself the subject of some preseason buzz with a few noteworthy moments in preseason games.
Evan “Tex” Western - Gerhard de Beer, OT
After the 2018 NFL Draft, I was disappointed that the Packers didn’t (or couldn’t?) land de Beer as one of their undrafted rookies. The native of South Africa had visited Green Bay in the pre-draft process and was one of the best athletes at the position in recent memory. I had hoped that Brian Gutekunst could snag him then stash him on the practice squad while he learned to play tackle, eyeing 2019 as the season when he might be able to contribute as a member of the 53-man roster.
Then, late last season, the Packers were able to get de Beer in the building, signing him to a practice squad contract in November. I was thrilled, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in training camp and the preseason with a full offseason under his belt. Both he and rookie Yosh Nijman have ridiculous athleticism to harness, but I think de Beer’s extra year in and around the NFL will give him a leg up and make him a sneaky candidate to make the team in September, particularly if Jason Spriggs continues his streak of uninspiring preseason performances.
Of course, having the opportunity to buy a Packers jersey with “de Beer” on it would be a lot of fun too.
Shawn Wagner - Natrell Jamerson, S
Every year, there is an opportunity for a young newcomer to earn a roster spot in the Packers’ secondary. With Josh Jones’ job status uncertain, an extra safety could be looking at an even greater opportunity than normal.
For the former Wisconsin standout Jamerson, a former draft pick of the Houston Texans, speed and athleticism is a calling card. With a year of NFL experience under his belt, Jamerson brings experience as both a cornerback and safety as a versatile player who can also play special teams. While Raven Greene should see time in the box behind Adrian Amos, options are limited behind Darnell Savage at the free position. Jamerson should see plenty of time in the preseason and any splash plays could help him earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
Paul Noonan - Dan Vitale, FB
Danny Vitale is what preseason superstars are made of. The Northwestern product checks all of the boxes for “beloved fullback who can get you a yard in 3rd and short,” but there may be more to him than that. Vitale’s RAS is off the charts good
With pick 197 in the 2016 NFL Draft, the #Buccaneers selected Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 13, 2019
He posted a Elite #RAS with Okay size, Great speed, Elite explosiveness, Great agility at the FB position.#Packers pic.twitter.com/rp6skxsXVz
And under LaFleur there is actually an opportunity for an athletic fullback to do some real damage. LaFleur’s offense is all about versatility and trickery, throwing from running sets and running from passing sets. Vitale could easily see some passes go his way, and morph into a bruiser when the defense goes dime. I don’t think he’s particularly valuable in the modern NFL, but there’s like a 70% chance that the fans love him.
Matub - Curtis Bolton, LB
I’m also choosing Curtis Bolton for every reason that Peter stated above, but also due to a few things stuck out to me in his draft profile.
- His nickname is “Buzzy”. Buzzy Bolton. That’s an awesome nickname. I have a soft spot for great nicknames. I, myself, go by a nickname throughout the internet and have gotten both Mike Daniels’ and Blake Martinez’s nicknames added to their Pro Football Reference pages. Curtis Bolton NEEDS to stand out in the preseason to make the 53. If he does, I will campaign for his PFREF page to adorn the “Buzzy” moniker.
- His draft profile also mentions his special teams acumen. If there’s something about a football player I love more than a good nickname, it’s good special teams play.
Let’s go, Buzzy!