On Tuesday morning (or maybe late Monday night, who knows), the Green Bay Packers finally revealed their first unofficial depth chart of 2023. The chart itself is now up on Packers.com, and although much of it is predictable and unsurprising, there are a handful of interesting nuggets and observations to take from the first edition.
As always, the Packers approach their depth chart by placing every player’s name in a single spot. Therefore, a versatile player like Zach Tom can only slot in at one specific place, rather than being listed as the backup at multiple positions. (That ends up being a moot point for that player, as you’ll see shortly, but use it as an illustrative example.)
Let’s take a look at a few of the more interesting notes from this first depth chart as the Packers get ready to play their first preseason game in Cincinnati this Friday evening.
As I alluded to above, Zach Tom could be listed as the backup at any number of positions, including both tackle spots and center. Instead, the Packers list players in only one spot, but slotting Tom in as the starting right tackle is fascinating. Last season, Yosh Nijman manned that spot for the second half of the season, with Tom starting games at left tackle and guard. However, although Tom has been getting significant snaps at center in an apparent competition with incumbent Josh Myers, the team lists Tom at right tackle instead, with Nijman backing up David Bakhtiari on the left side.
Of course, the situation on the line will remain fluid for the next few weeks. Expect the Tom/Myers battle to rage on for some time, but it’s still a telling sign that the team has Tom ahead of Nijman at tackle right now as well.
There isn’t much surprise at the boundary receiver spots — Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs man the top line of the depth chart with rookie Dontayvion Wicks behind Watson. But it’s in the slot that the depth chart doesn’t quite match up with what we’ve seen in practices so far. Although rookie Jayden Reed has been taking the bulk of the first-team reps in the slot so far in camp, he’s on the second line of the depth chart behind Samori Touré.
To be sure, Touré has been having a good start to camp, but he’s splitting time more with the outside receivers rather than being a dedicated slot. This might simply be a function of the Packers’ choice to give each player a single place on the chart — perhaps they see Touré as an especially versatile WR3, and putting him on the top line, even if it’s not in a spot where he would see a majority of his snaps, is the best way to reflect that.
Moving down the chart, it’s interesting to see second-year pro Bo Melton behind Doubs rather than with the slot receivers. Meanwhile, 7th-round rookie Grant DuBose just came off the NFI list on Monday, but he’s listed behind Reed in the slot group rather than as a depth player on the boundary.
Josiah Deguara, fullback
It’s finally official — Josiah Deguara’s formal transition to fullback is complete. Sure, he may have a number in the 80s and be listed on the roster as a tight end, but by finally listing him as a fullback on the depth chart, the team is clearly defining the role that he’ll play in the offense this year.
This should not come as much of a surprise; after all, he has always been more of an H/F player, typically lining up exclusively in the backfield or on the wing. This just makes that positioning a bit more official by splitting him off from the rest of the tight end group.
Speaking of tight ends, it’s no surprise to see Luke Musgrave as the starter given that he played every snap (that we could see) with the starters during Family Night. Still, the Packers don’t distinguish between their in-line and split-out tight end positions on the depth chart, so look for Tyler Davis and Tucker Kraft to share more of the former snaps.
Kenny Clark’s move to end
This summer was filled with speculation and expectations that Clark would move out from his traditional nose tackle position to one of the defensive end spots, thanks to T.J. Slaton’s expected elevation to the starting lineup. That was how the Packers used those two players in the handful of instances when both were on the field together in a 3-man line last season, and indeed, that’s where they are listed on the starting depth chart, with Devonte Wyatt opposite Clark.
It makes sense — Clark is a more athletic player than Slaton, who is more of the traditional nose tackle body type. Plus, moving him off the nose should allow Clark to be more of a pocket disruptor than a gap-filler, which plays better to his strengths. Depth on the line will certainly be a concern, but if the top three can stay healthy, there’s a chance it could well be a very solid trio.
Outside linebacker rankings
With Rashan Gary coming back off the PUP list on Monday, he received his typical top-line status on the depth chart opposite Preston Smith. More interesting than that, however, is where the players down the roster are positioned.
Behind Gary at more of the pass-rushing edge spot on the left side of the defense are Justin Hollins and Brenton Cox, in order. That leaves Lukas Van Ness as the top backup to Smith, followed by last year’s 5th-round pick, Kingsley Enagbare. Enagbare being “below” Hollins on the depth chart is a bit of a surprise, but that could be based on the team’s preference for which player fits best at which edge spot. Yes, the team does rotate their edges, but they do tend to have slightly different responsibilities, and that is likely the reason for the players being listed where they are.
Safety to Nickel?
Although there are no surprises with the boundary cornerbacks or Keisean Nixon’s status as the top nickel corner, the one big move involving this group is actually a position change for Innis Gaines. Formerly a safety who played a little bit in the slot, Gaines is now listed as Nixon’s primary backup at nickel rather than with the safety group. Gaines even leapfrogged former 5th-round pick Shemar Jean-Charles, who is behind him in the third-team category.
Gaines played in 7 games last year, getting in on 44 defensive snaps. All of those 44 snaps came in the final three weeks of the season, and he was on the field to start the week 18 game against the Lions. Meanwhile, Jean-Charles was a gameday inactive for every game after week 7. Clearly the Packers feel that Gaines brings more on special teams than SJC, and at this point they see him as a better option as a big slot (he’s 6’2” and over 200 pounds) than the diminutive Jean-Charles.
Return of the All-Pro
Speaking of Keisean Nixon, he is the top option for now at both return spots, holding the first line of the depth chart ahead of rookie Jayden Reed. Touré is the third option on punt returns, while running back Tyler Goodson is behind Reed on kickoffs.
Nixon, without question, sparked the team’s return game last season and deservedly earned first-team All-Pro honors at kickoff returner. And although he had far fewer opportunities on punt returns (just 11 attempts), he did post a very respectable 12.7-yard average. However, Reed was an excellent return man in his own right at Michigan State, averaging more than 15 yards per return on punts. It should not be a surprise to see him earn at least a share of the duties in that phase, even as Nixon is likely to hold down the job on kickoffs.