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Packers’ 2020 90-man Roster Ranking: From 30 to 21, OL and RBs battle for positions

Will the 2nd year players make a leap? Which running back will be the backup? Who is starting at guard?

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers, like every other team in the NFL at this point in the offseason, have 90 players on their roster. Those 90 men have varying backgrounds, experience levels, and natural skillsets, but they can be defined into various strata of player.

Each year following the player acquisition phase of the offseason, Acme Packing Company conducts a ranking of the 90-man roster, based purely on the caliber of the players with no attention paid to positional value or value to the team. It’s an attempt to identify who the best players are on the roster regardless of position, and this year six of our contributors submitted rankings, which we have compiled into our master list.

Over the next week-plus, we will reveal the rankings ten at a time. Today we continue those rankings with spots 30-21.

#T-29: S Raven Greene

Highest ranking: 17
Lowest ranking: 56

One of the problems with Mike Pettine’s defense is that it requires versatility at certain positions where versatility is hard to come by. If Pettine has a good hybrid safety, who can cover RBs and TEs in the secondary but also serve as a sure tackler in the ground game, things get much much easier. For two games last season, Greene was exactly that, playing a disciplined, adequate safety while proving to be quite the thumper when called upon to step up as the WILL linebacker. That’s the good with Greene, and it’s why he ranked as high as 17th in our internal poll.

As to the 56, I suspect it’s more about Pettine than Greene as traditionally, safeties don’t play linebacker for a reason. In his second game of the season Viking tight end Irv Smith rolled up on Greene’s ankle, which landed him on injured reserve. Both rankings for Greene are accurate, reflecting his contributions to some of the better defensive performances of the season, while recognizing the improbability of a 197 pound safety holding up to the rigors of linebacker play.

#T-29: EDGE/DE Rashan Gary

Highest Ranking: 23
Lowest Ranking: 42

You can’t throw a stone on the internet without hitting an opinion on the Packers’ young edge rusher. Gary is one of the most athletic players on the team, but he lacked technique and more importantly, production while at Michigan. Some analysts swear up and down that he was secretly productive at opening things up for his teammates in Ann Arbor. Some saw flashes of greatness in his rookie season. Others see him as a bust in the making made unnecessary by the Smith brothers, who won’t get the reps necessary to develop, and based on his low usage there may be some truth to that.

This may not be a make-or-break season for Gary, but it will likely define how Packer fans feel about him for the next decade. No one disputes whether Gary has the tools to succeed. The question now is all about whether he can learn to play football at a high level, and get himself on the field.

#28 RB AJ Dillon

Highest Ranking: 16
Lowest Ranking: 37

Dillon will serve as the 247-pound thunder to Aaron Jones’ lightning. The rookie out of Boston College is exceptionally athletic for his size, and poses an immediate matchup threat when he is on the field.

Matt LaFleur may be looking for the next Derrick Henry, but it’s likely he has a more athletic Jordan Howard on his hands, as they have similar body type and running styles. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, as Howard is among the best power backs in the league, and his major weakness - drops - isn’t shared by Dillon, who impressed with his receiving chops at the combine.

While I am still personally against using high picks on running backs, Dillon checks all the right boxes on SPARQ, Speed Score, and RAS, and while it’s always a stretch to spend a second rounder on the position, it stings a bit less if you get a good one. Dillon has a good chance to make an immediate impact.

#27: G Lucas Patrick

Highest Rank: 23
Lowest Rank: 32

I find myself going back to Patrick’s RAS card frequently.

UDFA guards are typically try-hard guys who scrape out careers as emergency backups, or run game specialists, but while Patrick has several obvious holes in his game, it’s easy to see why they keep him around. Those testing numbers reflect a player who may be better out of pads than in them, as he sometimes lacks lateral quickness on the field, which, given his size, isn’t going to work. That said, occasionally you also see his physical tools show up, and I end up confusing him with one of the starters before realizing it was Patrick winning the point of attack.

The Packers’ line is in transition, and several young/unheralded players will have their chances this year. Patrick has plenty of experience in the system and with Rodgers, and Billy Turner is a huge question mark in front of him. Don’t be surprised if Patrick jumps up and steals his spot.

#26 RB/WR/Offensive Weapon Tyler Ervin

Highest Ranking - 16
Lowest Ranking - 32

The man who almost single-handedly saved the Packer return game from a historically terrible performance is probably underrated here given the alternatives. Ervin could serve exclusively as a return man and likely contribute top-20 value. The fact that Matt LaFLeur began incorporating him (sparingly) into the offense with mild success raises the ceiling quite a bit. The Packer receivers outside of MVS lack speed, and a creative offensive mind could get value along the lines of Mecole Hardman or Deebo Samuel out of Ervin.

Whether Matt LaFleur is that creative mind, or is inclined to use his return man in such a fashion is yet to be seen, but it’s worth noting that Ervin was a relatively high pick, and a very successful college player. He’s not some UDFA speed specialist, and there is untapped potential here.

#25 OT/G Billy Turner

Highest Ranking - 16
Lowest Ranking - 38

Turner is here for his versatility, but it’s unclear just how valuable that is. Turner can certainly move between guard and tackle, but he’s stretched a bit thin at tackle, and his value at guard comes from the fact that guard isn’t quite as important. Turner’s a great backup to have, but he’s also one of the weirder signings in recent Packer history, and will carry a $10 million cap hit this season.

The addition of Rick Wagner likely keeps Turner at guard, but that makes him an expensive guard on a team that has plenty of options, including Patrick and Lane Taylor. Turner’s not a bad player, and he can be a useful piece for a team. There’s even a non-zero chance he outplays Wagner for the tackle spot. He’s an underrated athlete, and he moves well in space. All of that said, he’s a bit of an odd fit on the Packers, and if not for that cap hit, I wonder if he would still figure into their plans.

#24 K Mason Crosby

Highest Ranking - 10
Lowest Ranking - 66

As Crosby enters the twilight of his career he continues to show the value of a known entity. Crosby has rarely been one of the NFLs’ best, and almost kicked himself out of a job in the 2012 season, but he rallied to a level where he’s reliably 80%+ on his kicks, and his slowly declining leg strength has tracked nicely with the NFL de-emphasizing kickoffs.

Crosby is coming off the best season of his career after hitting 91.7% of his kicks. Some regression will probably knock him back down to earth, but at 36 he’s still a perfectly fine kicker to have, he likely has a few good seasons left, and hey, he’s allowed them to avoid the Bear debacle of essentially having open tryouts every season.

#23 G Lane Taylor

Highest Ranking - 20
Lowest Ranking - 31

Never count out undrafted linemen. The Packers signed Taylor out of Oklahoma State after no one saw fit to take him in the 2013 draft. What they got was a rock-solid, upper level guard capable of playing anywhere on the interior of the line for about 4 seasons.

Some recent decline with Taylor is both obvious and unfortunate, and the emergence of Elgton Jenkins, and the big contract to Turner, put him in a tough spot. That said, it appears that Taylor enjoys being a Packer, and recently restructured his deal to allow the team to save $3 million in cap space this year. He missed most of last season with a bicep injury and will be counted on primarily for depth to start the year, but Billy Turner has never had a season as good as Taylor’s best, and if there really is an open competition, the guard spot will be the biggest battle there is.

#22 TE Jace Sternberger

Highest Ranking - 15
Lowest Ranking - 30

Sternberger better be good. While the Packers have the luxury of the Smiths protecting the Rashan Gary spot, at tight end it’s Sternberger or nothing. Matt LaFleur’s offense typically requires good tight end play from someone able to block in the run game, and stretch the field on pass plays. The prototypical weapon for this offense is George Kittle of the 49ers, but Sternberger doesn’t have to be Kittle, he just needs to not be terrible. Since Jared Cook departed, the Packer tight ends have ranged from “slow but passable” to “expensive and atrocious.” Almost anything would be an improvement.

Rookie tight ends almost never contribute, and we really won’t know what we have in Sternberger until later in the season, but on paper, he does have the versatility to work in LaFleur’s scheme. He will likely be counted on to play a significant role in the slot, if things go well, you can bet on seeing him all over the formation.

At this point, it’s all just speculation. The offense needs Sternberger in order to actually function, but need doesn’t automatically mean success. If he struggles or suffers injury again there are no good options behind him, and Aaron Rodgers will likely suffer through another long season.

#21 RB Jamaal Williams

Highest Ranking - 21
Lowest Ranking - 25

Poor Jamaal Williams. Miscast as a “power back” by individuals inside and outside of the team, Williams is in reality an ideal third down back, outstanding in pass protection, and efficient as a pass-catcher. While he’s not a shifty Reggie Bush type, he caught 87% of his passes last and ranked 8th in receiving DVOA among running backs. This isn’t uncommon for Williams, who ranked 11th in 2017 and who has a nose for the sticks.

He’s not a great short-yardage back, and most big-bodied backs are not. Aaron Jones is far superior in that role, and it’s only body-shape bias that continually puts Williams in an unfortunate position. If a coach is willing to play to his strengths, he can be an excellent complement in a committee system, and if the team opts to replace his third down work with more Jones or AJ Dillon, they will expose Rodgers to additional danger.

Running backs might not matter much in the running game, but they have plenty to offer in the passing game. Mainstream coverage is absolutely terrible for players like Williams, but there is a good case to be made that he was more valuable than Jones last season, and once he’s gone, the team will suffer for it.