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The 4 big surprises the Packers made at roster cutdowns

What a time for general manager Brian Gutekunst to keep his draft picks.

NFL: AUG 25 Preseason - Packers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers made several odd moves on Tuesday that signaled that the team is still looking to build long-term instead of short-term, no matter how many people in Packerland are clamoring for another Lombardi Trophy. We’re not talking about moves like releasing both cornerback Rico Gafford and Kiondre Thomas to only keep five at the position or moving on from arguably their best backup pass-rushers in La’Darius Hamilton and Kobe Jobes, but situations where general manager Brian Gutekunst and company elected to keep young draft picks on the roster over players who were playing significant ball, and well, in the preseason.

Let’s take a look at the four moves that tell the story of the Packers’ cutdowns.

#1) Only keeping two running backs

Early on Tuesday, it was reported that the Packers moved on from undrafted rookie running back Tyler Goodson, who had been battling with Patrick Taylor for the team’s initial third running back role. I say initial because the team also has Kylin Hill, a 2021 seventh-round pick, on the physically unable to perform list.

The surprise came when Taylor was also named as a released player by Green Bay’s official roster announcement, meaning that the squad only currently has two running backs — Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon — on the team. With no one who made the 53-man roster currently expected to go on injured reserve with a designation to return, there’s no reason for the team to waive Goodson and Taylor at the moment but sign one back to the active roster before Week 1.

Still, the Packers will need a third running back on the team in some form or fashion. You can’t be one in-game injury away from playing Jones or Dillon every single down of an NFL game. That leaves the team with two options. They can either:

  1. Pick a running back up on Wednesday who was released on Tuesday or
  2. Use Goodson and/or Taylor as call-ups from the practice squad until Hill returns to the team.

The Packers can do this via the practice squad promotion system that our sister site DraftKings Nation explains as such:

In 2020, the NFL started a new collective bargaining agreement before the pandemic was in full swing. That CBA allowed for up to two players in a given game week to be promoted to the active roster without giving the players a normal player contract. Normally, a player must be removed from the 53-man roster to make room for a practice squad promotion. Then, if the promoted player is sent back down to the practice squad, he has to clear waivers. That is not the case with these two players. Also, a single player can be activated from the practice squad three separate times in a season. If a team wants to activate that same player a fourth time, they must be added to the active roster.

Under this new rule, players revert to the practice squad the next business day without going through waivers. A player can be utilized in this way for two total games during the season. The promotion has to happen before 4 p.m. ET the day before the game.

A team can promote one additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive test result.

Hopefully, they both pass through waivers tomorrow! The Packers are going to need them.

#2) Tariq Carpenter makes team over Shawn Davis

When summer practices began, Shawn Davis was the team’s third safety behind Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Once Savage went down on Family Night with a hamstring injury, though, Vernon Scott was placed into the starting lineup opposite of Amos in a somewhat surprising jump on the depth chart.

In Week 1 of the preseason, with Amos and Savage held out of competition, Scott started alongside Dallin Leavitt, who signed on to contribute on special teams, before Scott and Leavitt eventually went down with injuries of their own in the preseason. The third-team lineup at safety was made up of Davis and Micah Abernathy, who was brought in from the USFL ranks to help with safety depth. That was the group that started in Week 3 of the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs.

At no point was rookie seventh-round pick Tariq Carpenter really in the mix at the position on defense. In fact, this is how the snap counts broke for the safeties in the first halves of preseason games this summer:

  • 59: Davis (waived)
  • 36: Scott (waived with injury designation before Week 3)
  • 33: Abernathy (did not play Week 1)
  • 20: Leavitt (did not play Week 2/3)
  • 10: Carpenter

Including Amos and Savage, who again were held out of the preseason, Carpenter was probably the seventh safety on the defensive depth chart when everyone was healthy. While he was drafted for his special teams contributions as a player in between the linebacker and safety positions, he hasn’t consistently started on special teams, either.

We know Gutekunst loves his draft picks and holds onto them as long as he possibly can, but this year’s protection of his seventh-round picks might be the most surprising roster stashes that he’s had in his tenure.

#3) Jonathan Ford makes the team over Jack Heflin and Chris Slayton

Speaking of seventh-round rookies: Jonathan Ford. Ford was the team’s third-string nose tackle this preseason behind Kenny Clark and TJ Slaton. In total, Ford played just 20 snaps in the first halves of preseason games this summer, dwarfed by the combined 88 snaps that Chris Slayton and Jack Heflin did.

Based on preseason play, it seemed as though the Packers would either just roll into the regular season with five defensive linemen or keep one of Heflin and Slayton, who played well this summer as second-team defensive ends. Ford never once played in a way that pushed him up the lineup in the preseason, as he was out-snapped by both Heflin and Slayton in every first half of every preseason game.

With three true nose tackles on the team now, the Packers really only have three defensive end bodies on the active roster in Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed and rookie first-round pick Devonte Wyatt. There’s a decent chance that Slaton is going to have to play out of position at 3-4 defensive end to give the defensive line starters breathers when he’s not helping keep Clark’s legs fresh.

#4) Samori Toure makes the team over Juwann Winfree

Speaking of seventh-round rookies: Samori Toure. Toure was used as the team’s eighth receiver all summer, from camp to the preseason. Arguably the team’s sixth receiver, Juwann Winfree, was given every opportunity by the coaching staff to showcase his skills to the front office over the past few months. Not only did he get some work with the first-team offense and quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Family Night, but he started at receiver with the second-team skill players in the preseason (opposite of Romeo Doubs) and out-snapped Toure 88-44 in the first halves or preseason games.

Rodgers even went as far as to praise Winfree, the kiss of death that previously met Jake Kumerow and Bronson Kaufusi in the past. For whatever reason, though, the Packers stuck with their draft pick instead of the player who was taking the snaps in the summer.

I’m excited about the eventual off-season leak of how Rodgers is holding a grudge against Gutekunst about this move and how it’s playing into his 2023 retirement decision.