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What to expect from the 16 new Packers on the 53-man roster

Which new faces will actually get playing time this year?

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

16 new faces made the Green Bay Packers’ initial 53-man roster. The questions are: Who are they, and just how many of them are going to see significant playing time in 2023?

Take a journey with us, as we go player-by-player, breaking down the roles that the 11 draft picks, 3 undrafted free-agent rookies and 2 free-agent signings are expected to play in this upcoming season.

QB Sean Clifford

Clifford wasn’t even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine this offseason, which made his selection in the fifth round of the draft a surprising one. Despite that, Clifford impressed in the preseason, completing 41 passes on 57 attempts (71.9 percent) for 391 yards (6.9 yard average) and a touchdown to go along with two interceptions. Ahead of the first preseason game, Clifford displaced the released Danny Etling as Jordan Love’s backup, which is the role that the Penn State graduate is expected to fill this season.

RB Emanuel Wilson

After initially signing with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent, Wilson was waived by Denver in May. The Division II product would then sign with the Packers, where injuries to Tyler Goodson and draft pick Lew Nichols provided him an opportunity for playing time. This summer, Wilson posted 38 carries for 223 yards and two touchdowns, all of which led Green Bay in the preseason. In fact, his 223 rushing yards led the entire NFL this preseason. He is expected to be the number three back behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in 2023.

WR Jayden Reed

A second-round draft choice, Reed almost immediately took over as the team’s starting slot receiver. During the preseason, Reed played 38 snaps with quarterback Jordan Love, which was only outdone by Christian Watson (54 snaps) at the receiver position. Assume that Reed going to be on the field this year when the team is in three-receiver sets, while Watson and Romeo Doubs are the starters in two-receiver looks.

WR Malik Heath

Heath generated buzz in minicamp and training camp, but his hype really took off during the preseason. The undrafted rookie caught 12 passes for 146 yards, which were good enough numbers to finish fourth and seventh league-wide, respectively, this preseason. Mind you, that was with the game against the New England Patriots in Week 2 of the preseason called off early. When starting receiver Romeo Doubs was held out of action with a hamstring issue in the preseason finale, it was Heath — not second-round pick Jayden Reed — who stepped up in Doubs’ place as an outside receiver. Should Christian Watson or Doubs miss playing time this year, those reps are going to go to Heath.

WR Dontayvion Wicks

Wicks, who had a great junior season before a senior slump at Virginia, was a popular selection that the Packers made in the fifth round of the draft. Unfortunately, injuries really limited his opportunities. In the preseason opener, Wicks wasn’t on the field due to a concussion. In the preseason finale, it was a hamstring issue that held him on the sideline. In the end, he wasn’t one of the five receivers to get on the field with starting quarterback Jordan Love in the preseason, but seventh-round rookie Grant DuBose dealing with his own injury issue (back) probably saved Wicks from getting released. File Wicks’ spot on the depth chart firmly under “reserve.”

TE Luke Musgrave

No offensive skill player played more first-team snaps in the preseason than second-round tight end Luke Musgrave. He’s the clear starter at the position, out-snapping (55) both Tucker Kraft (12) and Josiah Deguara (9) at tight end. Musgrave is going to do everything from lining up on the sideline on third downs to playing as an inline tight end on base downs, as the Packers figure out just how quickly they can get him up to NFL speed.

TE Tucker Kraft

Early on in camp, it looked like Kraft was the fourth tight end on the Packers’ depth chart, but the third-round rookie saw increased opportunities due to injuries at the position. Tyler Davis, a core special teamer, tore his ACL in the preseason opener — which ended his 2023 campaign prematurely. Josiah Deguara, who is technically now listed as a fullback, also missed time with a calf injury this summer. Expect Kraft and Deguara to both get playing time behind Luke Musgrave at tight end this year, with each player having their own specific packages.

DL Colby Wooden

Behind the starting lineup of Kenny Clark, T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt on the defensive line, Colby Wooden is the next man up. That’s a rare position to be in for a fourth-round rookie, but Green Bay’s defensive line depth of Wooden, sixth-round rookie Karl Brooks and 2022 seventh-round pick Jonathan Ford have played a combined zero regular-season snaps in the NFL. Wooden might also get on the field in pass-rushing situations, depending on how much of a pitch count that the starters are on.

DL Karl Brooks

While he never received a snap with the first-team defense during the preseason, sixth-round rookie Karl Brooks feasted on backup offensive line this summer. Buried a bit behind Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt and Colby Wooden, he’s expected to be the team’s fourth defensive end option this year, but don’t be surprised if he ends up pushing Wooden for playing time, eventually.

OLB Lukas Van Ness

Green Bay’s first-round pick rotated with Kingsley Enagbare and Justin Hollins as Rashan Gary’s injury replacement this preseason, but Gary is now a full participant in practice and is expected to start in Week 1 against Chicago. It will be interesting to see how the Packers use their pass-rushing rotation, as it’s difficult to tell if Van Ness is third or fifth on the depth chart. At the very least, the rookie was put in some premium special teams spots this summer, including on punt protection with the starters in the preseason finale.

OLB Brenton Cox Jr.

Cox, one of three undrafted free agent rookies to make this team, is talented — but rough around the edges. He was dismissed from both Georgia and Florida during his college career, which is why the Packers didn’t have to spend a draft pick on him. Still, he impressed enough in the preseason — even behind a logjam at outside linebacker — to warrant a roster spot. As the sixth outside linebacker, Cox looks primed for a “redshirt” season this year. Next year, potentially without Preston Smith or Justin Hollins on the roster, is when he’ll get more burn.

CB Carrington Valentine

Maybe the star of the preseason, Valentine — a seventh-round rookie — looked every bit the part of a starting cornerback. Valentine received most of the injury replacement snaps that were available when Jaire Alexander was held out of action. All he did was continue to make plays, which left the Packers confident enough in him that only four cornerbacks made the initial 53-man roster. Until Eric Stokes is activated off of the PUP list, Valentine will be Green Bay’s number three option at outside corner (behind Alexander and Rasul Douglas) and number two option in the slot (behind Keisean Nixon.)

SAF Jonathan Owens

One of just two veteran free-agent signings to make the roster, Owens actually started at safety with Darnell Savage in the preseason opener. That job now seems to be filled by Rudy Ford, who started there in the final two preseason games, but Owens — who started 17 games with the Houston Texans last year — looks like the next man up at safety. He also is expected to contribute on special teams this year, as special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia loves to use safeties in the third phase of football.

SAF Anthony Johnson Jr.

The seventh-round rookie did enough in the preseason, on both special teams and on defense, to earn a roster spot. Johnson will probably begin the season as the Packers’ fourth safety but should get some playing time on special teams. Just two years ago, Johnson was a college cornerback, but he’s quickly adapting to a new position.

K Anders Carlson

Green Bay’s sixth-round rookie kicker had an up-and-down summer, regularly missing wide right on chip shots while at the same time drilling long kicks. It seems like special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia is holding firm that Carlson is worth developing, though, as the team never even brought in a second kicker to test the rookie this spring or summer.

P Daniel Whelan

The only 2023 XFL signing to make an initial 53-man roster in the NFL this year was punter Daniel Whelan, who was the All-XFL punter this spring. The Irish national had a cup of coffee with the New Orleans Saints last year but saw his first extended look at NFL playing time with the Packers this preseason. He beat out incumbent starter Pat O’Donnell, who was released on Monday, for this roster spot.