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Packers 2018 Roster Prediction: Guessing the 53 before the preseason finale

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Who stays and who goes? Here’s one guess before the Packers close out the preseason on Thursday.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-Training Camp Jim Matthews-USA TODAY Sports

With one preseason game remaining and just four days to go until the Green Bay Packers must cut their roster down to 53 players, it’s time for one last roster prediction. New general manager Brian Gutekunst is in charge of the cuts for the first time after working under Ted Thompson for years, which could lead to some surprises.

Of course, nothing is likely to match the surprise from two years ago, when the Packers released starting guard Josh Sitton at final cuts. However, there appears to be no drama in the locker room this year, which suggests that no truly shocking releases should be in the works.

For this prediction I tried to evaluate the Packers’ likely thought process over the next few days to predict what the team will do, not what I think they should do. You’ll note a few projections of expectations for the fourth preseason game as well, which is indeed based on my own evaluations of a few specific players.

So without further ado, let’s get into it.

OFFENSE (25)

Quarterbacks (2)

Aaron Rodgers
DeShone Kizer

Ultimately, I still think the Packers keep just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, because I believe they find a trade partner for either Brett Hundley or DeShone Kizer. Perhaps this is me being hopeful that Kizer is the one who stays; he’s simply a more talented passer than Hundley, even if his pocket presence is lacking. That said, I think Hundley’s starting experience and few flashes in camp could draw out a late-round draft pick from another team desperate for an established backup option.

Still, I could see another team trading for Kizer instead, because of the reasons above. But in short, the Packers will struggle at other positions if they are forced to keep three quarterbacks.

Running Backs (4)

Jamaal Williams
Ty Montgomery, LeShun Daniels, Aaron Ripkowski

With Aaron Jones suspended for the first two games and Ty Montgomery banged up after the third preseason game, I think the Packers need a third tailback on the roster to start the year. Daniels impressed me more in his 16 snaps on Friday night than Joel Bouagnon did in three games of action, so I’m giving him the nod.

I really wanted to go without a fullback on this prediction, but just couldn’t quite bring myself to believe that Mike McCarthy will enter a season without one. Interestingly, Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge have received almost no playing time in the preseason — 29 snaps on offense for Rip (including just eight in the last two games) and just 12 for Kerridge.

The two have also seen fewer snaps on special teams than they did in the preseason a year ago; however, this could just be a result of the team wanting to give reps to rookies and other players fighting for roster spots. Ultimately, it came down to Rip or a reserve tight end for me, and I predict that McCarthy keeps the fullback.

Wide Receivers (7)

Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison
Trevor Davis, J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling

If Jake Kumerow hadn’t hurt his shoulder, I would probably slide him in the bottom seven here, probably in Davis’ place. I might have even done that if Davis had not returned to practice on Monday. Instead, Kumerow was held out all of last week and on Monday, and he probably won’t play in the preseason finale. I suspect that will result in him clearing waivers and landing on the Packers’ practice squad — or at least that the Packers will try to make that happen.

The top three options are set, but with no other players showing any strong return ability on kickoffs (and with Montgomery both fumbling the football and getting injured), Davis’ ability as both a return man and a punt gunner will probably land him on the roster. All three of the rookies have shown enough promise and ability to warrant a spot on the team, though all must become more consistent in order to earn significant snaps on offense as the WR4.

Tight Ends (3)

Jimmy Graham
Lance Kendricks, Marcedes Lewis

The questions at tight end are whether to keep a fourth player and, if the Packers choose to do so, whether that player is Tonyan or Emanuel Byrd. On the second question I give the edge to Tonyan at present, both because of a good performance against the Steelers and superior blocking ability.

Back to the question about numbers, however, I waffled back and forth between keeping Tonyan or Aaron Ripkowski, since the Packers have players in Kendricks, Lewis, and Tonyan who can line up in the backfield and who are much more versatile than Rip if the Packers elect to go up-tempo. However, the problem is special teams. Tonyan has just six special teams snaps in the entire preseason, while Ripkowski is an established contributor in that area. That, plus McCarthy still liking fullbacks, forces me to think that the team will stick with Ripkowski and hope that Tonyan makes it through to the practice squad.

Offensive Line (9)

David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Justin McCray, Bryan Bulaga
Jason Spriggs, Byron Bell, Lucas Patrick, Adam Pankey

The starting line is intact and appears ready for week one, so there are no surprises here. However, I made some big changes to my prediction on the reserves after this past weekend’s game. Spriggs has been by far the best of the Packers’ primary reserve tackles, in my eyes; that’s not saying that he has been good, but he has been significantly better than Kyle Murphy or Bell this preseason, so he’s my primary backup at both spots.

Probably the biggest item of note here is that I don’t have Murphy on the roster at all; I could see the team coming to an injury settlement with him and bringing him back at a later date or jettisoning him entirely. Even though his struggles in Oakland were injury-related, he has shown a complete inability to handle speed rushers all summer long, and Pankey has had more consistent play on the right side.

Honestly, I think Pankey and Bell are similar players in my eyes — both can play guard and tackle, and the Packers love that versatility up front — but I would rather the team keep Pankey ahead of Bell. Therefore, I think it’s either Bell or Murphy for that last spot, but I think the team keeps the player who is healthy.

Until Patrick got the start at center, I thought Dillon Day might have a job on the 53. However, Patrick showed the ability to back up Linsley in the middle last Friday in addition to playing either guard position, making Day a luxury when the Packers need numbers elsewhere.

DEFENSE (25)

Defensive Line (5)

Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Muhammad Wilkerson
Montravius Adams, Dean Lowry

The Packers seem prepared to play with more three-man lines in Mike Pettine’s nickel package than they did under Dom Capers, so having six linemen might be a necessity to ensure that each spot is backed up. I doubt the team wants Kenny Clark playing every snap and while there appear to be solid backups at the 5-tech (Lowry behind Wilkerson) and 3-tech (Adams behind Daniels), the options to back up the nose are Joey Mbu and Tyler Lancaster, neither of which have stood out in camp.

I could see the team finding room for Mbu, but on Saturday I think the Packers cut him loose. Perhaps the Packers then make a waiver claim for a reserve nose tackle on Sunday.

Outside Linebackers (5)

Clay Matthews, Nick Perry
Reggie Gilbert, Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel

Although Kendall Donnerson and Chris Odom have shown some good things in camp, the former is largely an athlete who could use development on the practice squad and the latter saw very limited time on the field a year ago and doesn’t jump off the tape.

The top four appear to be set, so the question is what do the Packers do behind them. Biegel took a step forward in the third preseason game, he’s a fourth-round pick from just one year ago, and he also has been a special teams staple since his return from the PUP list midway through last season, so I have trouble seeing him getting cut.

Inside Linebackers (4)

Blake Martinez, Oren Burks
Antonio Morrison, Ahmad Thomas

Martinez and Burks are the obvious choices, particularly if Burks’ injury is as minor as it seems. Thomas appears to have a leg up on a backup “coverage linebacker” spot as well as being a special teams contributor. If Burks isn’t ready to go for week one, Thomas seems like a potential starting option.

This leaves me deciding between Morrison and Greer Martini. Although Martini technically got the start in Burks’ place, playing next to Martinez on passing downs, Morrison is certainly more established as an NFL player in that base downs linebacker role. He brings special teams ability as well, so you’re not losing that if you go from Martini to Morrison. For now, I think the Packers will keep him, particularly if he makes a few nice plays on Thursday.

Safeties (5)

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice
Josh Jones, Jermaine Whitehead, Raven Greene

The top four appear to have spots sewn up. Brice seems to have the starting job won over Jones, but expect to see a lot of the second-year pro anyway. Meanwhile, Whitehead is this year’s Jarrett Bush — a player who lines up at safety, slot corner, maybe a little dime linebacker, and is on every special teams unit.

I think the Packers keep five safeties, however, so the decision comes down to Greene, Marwin Evans, or Quinten Rollins. Evans’ playing time dropped off a cliff in the third preseason game, getting just five snaps on defense after seeing 30-plus in each of the first two games. That suggests to me that Greene has moved up above him on the depth chart, and his forced fumble last week can only help. Finally, I think the Packers recognize that Rollins, who appears to be in a similar jack-of-all-trades role as Whitehead, is indeed a master of none and that they won’t be able to justify a spot on him. Greene is a true safety, and the Packers need a fourth one on the team.

Cornerbacks (6)

Kevin King, Tramon Williams, Jaire Alexander
Davon House, Josh Jackson, Demetri Goodson

Especially in light of Lenzy Pipkins’ trade over the weekend, it’s clear that the top five spots are locked up. With Whitehead able to contribute in the slot, the Packers can use their sixth cornerback spot on a player who can make significant special teams contributions. For his deficiencies in coverage, few people are as lauded by the team for their special teams ability than Goodson, and I think that gives him the edge over Herb Waters and Josh Hawkins.

SPECIALISTS (3)

K: Mason Crosby
P: JK Scott
LS: Zach Triner

The only real battle here is Triner vs. Hunter Bradley for the long-snapping job. Triner has been more consistent in camp, and with Bradley being just a late 7th-round pick, there’s no reason to keep him around if he can’t win the job outright.