After facing off with the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots in the preseason, we’ve learned a lot about the 2023 Green Bay Packers. With that being said, there are still plenty of roster spots that are up in the air on the team as we inch toward the August 29th deadline to get down to a 53-man roster.
Going into the Packers’ final preseason bout against the Seattle Seahawks, there are five position battles that are at the top of mind when it comes to a potential 53-man roster. For those interested, we made a 53-man roster projection last week, if you want to check that out.
Let’s get into those five camp battles as we break down who the names to know are and what the factors are that could lead to certain players winning or losing roster spots, based on their performance on Saturday.
Running Back #3
Running back is probably the most high-profile position on this list. With Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon taking up the first two lines on the depth chart, the question here is which back will be the team’s reserve ball-carrier in the regular season.
It’s a four-man race here, with practice squadder Patrick Taylor, practice squadder Tyler Goodson, rookie seventh-rounder Lew Nichols and undrafted rookie Emanuel Wilson still in the hunt. Due to injuries, Goodson has only been able to take three carries this preseason — all in the preseason opener — while Nichols has been missing in action throughout the duration of the preseason.
Wilson, surprisingly, has been the team’s leading rusher in the preseason, taking 21 carries for 174 yards and two scores. Behind him is Taylor with 10 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown.
The 2022 Packers only carried the ball 11 times in the regular season with non-Jones or Dillon backs, which means that they’re probably looking more for special teams contributions from the position rather than true running back skills, though. That’s where Taylor, who has made six of the potential eight starts on Green Bay’s core special teams units this preseason, blows out the competition. Goodson also started as a return man against Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Wilson is not among the 30 players who have made a preseason special teams start with the Packers.
This is going to make some of you frustrated, but while undrafted rookie receiver Malik Heath is leading the team in receiving yards this preseason (111), he looks to be behind the 8-ball in the team’s receiver rotation. Based on how the receivers have worked in with the first-team offense, it seems clear that the top five players on their depth chart are Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure and Dontayvion Wicks.
Despite Heath not taking a single rep with quarterback Jordan Love in a preseason game — or in team reps on Family Night for that matter — he looms as a summer standout. If the Packers keep a sixth receiver, it will likely come down to him or seventh-round rookie Grant DuBose, who only recently came off the non-football injury list with a back injury. How much the team weighs in their pre-draft evaluation of DuBose will almost certainly be a factor here.
With how the Packers have leaned into 12 personnel this offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if they only kept five receivers on the roster, either. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia leans heavily into playing defensive backs in the roles that receivers used to fill on special teams, meaning there’s little value in keeping a sixth receiver on the team other than “redshirting” them for a year. With so many long receiver contracts on the roster, I’m not sure it even makes sense for them to keep a sixth player.
Tight End #3 or Fullback #2
On Monday, Green Bay officially announced that tight end Tyler Davis — a significant contributor on special teams — was placed on the injured reserve after tearing his ACL in the preseason opener. Simply due to the volume of special teams snaps that the Packers need to make up for without Davis, the door has opened up for tight end Austin Allen and Henry Pearson to make the 53-man roster.
Allen is technically one of three tight ends that Green Bay is currently rostering, though, it’s worth noting that Josiah Deguara has only recently moved from tight end to “fullback” this offseason. Deguara, while playing fullback in I formation looks, has also lined up in his typical wing tight end role this preseason, also.
After starting a combined one special teams units in preseason Week 1, Allen and Pearson started a combined seven core special teams units in preseason Week 2 — out of a possible eight. That goes to show you how quickly things changed at the hybrid pass-catcher/blocker position. This one is going to come down to the wire.
Offensive Lineman #10
The Packers seem to really like their top seven offensive linemen: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan Jr., Zach Tom, Yosh Nijman and Rasheed Walker. Beyond that, two former draft picks — Sean Rhyan and Royce Newman — give them depth at guard, a particularly thin position for the team.
After that, though, the offensive line position is fairly fluid. It’s likely that the team holds onto 10 of their linemen, but it’s not necessary. With how flexible Jenkins and Tom are, the Packers have their bases covered with just nine offensive linemen. While Myers is the only “true center” in that group of nine, Jenkins, Tom and even Runyan have taken some snaps at the position in the past.
If Green Bay does want to hold onto a 10th lineman, who would it even be? An extra center in Jake Hanson, who is in the last year of his rookie contract? That would be a move to simply give the team a second center in practice, as it’s likely that one of Jenkins, Tom or Runyan would move to center with an injury to Myers. Could it be a tackle in Luke Tenuta or Caleb Jones — players who were on the 2022 team? Maybe, but if Walker has taken that next step then those linemen would likely be behind Bakhtiari, Tom, Nijman, Walker and Jenkins in the pecking order just at tackle.
Tenuta and Jones are also both dealing with injuries, which don’t help their cases.
Aside from Darnell Savage starting, I’m not sure I know anything about the Packers’ plan at safety this season, despite watching their two preseason games. In preseason Week 1, the second starter at the position was Jonathan Owens, followed by Tarvarius Moore. In preseason Week 2, the starter was Rudy Ford, who didn’t take a single rep with the first-team defense against the Bengals.
Moore didn’t play at all with the first-team defense versus the Patriots, as he was seemingly passed on the depth chart by Owens and rookie seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson Jr. Meanwhile, reserve “safety” Dallin Leavitt continues to be one of Bisaccia’s favorite special teams contributors.
There are too many mouths to feed at the position and no one has stood out defensively. If I had to bet my life on it, I wouldn’t say that any of the five safeties who are in the mix at the position behind Savage are “roster locks” at this point. No unit has more to gain or to lose against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, as up to four safeties could possibly win a starting job or fall victim to the team’s 53-man roster deadline.