With the preseason finally complete, it’s time for the Green Bay Packers to get to the difficult process of whittling down their roster from 90 players to 53. Final cuts must be in by 4:00 PM Eastern on Saturday, which means that Brian Gutekunst and company have a little over 36 hours to make their decisions.
Those cuts will be difficult, as always, as the Packers have a number of intriguing young players to consider for the back end of the roster. They also will need to weigh the balance of keeping players at different positions, as well as some injury considerations — particularly at wide receiver and inside linebacker.
Here’s how we at Acme Packing Company see the roster breaking down. Eight contributors weighed in with their roster predictions during and following Thursday’s preseason finale, and we have settled on this group of 53 to make the team as of Saturday night. Of course, a few names will probably change by the same time on Sunday, with injured reserve and waivers coming into play, but this is the place where we’ll start.
We also propose a possible surprise at each position in an effort to prepare Packers fans for the inevitable unexpected decisions.
Starter: Aaron Rodgers
Backup: DeShone Kizer
Ultimately, we at APC cannot justify a third quarterback on this year’s roster, and a narrow majority of votes from our contributors came in favor of Kizer. He did not put up gaudy stats this preseason (unlike Boyle in the Raiders game) but he has had some good throws that were eliminated by penalties or drops. Kizer also threw one interception against Kansas City, but that seemed to be due to receiver J’Mon Moore stopping on his route.
All told, neither backup has been especially consistent or impressive this preseason, particularly when under pressure. Boyle has looked more comfortable when given good protection and allowed to throw in rhythm, but Kizer has the athletic ability to make a play when the pocket breaks down. It would not be a shock if the Packers go the other way here, but Kizer is our pick.
Possible Surprise: One quarterback? What if the Packers cut both Kizer and Boyle and reached out to a veteran backup? That wouldn’t be any more surprising to us than keeping all three quarterbacks.
Running Backs (4)
Starter: Aaron Jones
Backups: Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Danny Vitale (FB)
Tra Carson and Dexter Williams have been locked in a battle for the third running back job all throughout camp, and although Carson is the more reliable player, Williams has much more impressive raw athletic ability. We’re betting that Brian Gutekunst sticks with his draft pick and the potential at that third running back spot, especially after he had a nice performance in the second half and capped the game off with a 3-yard touchdown.
Possible surprise: Could the Packers keep just two tailbacks? Carson had a nice run on the first drive, but he doesn’t show much burst overall, while Dexter Williams has really struggled in the passing game. One possibility would be to keep only Jones and Williams, then scour the waiver wire on Sunday for an RB3 option.
Wide Receivers (7)
Starters: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison
Backups: Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis, Equanimeous St. Brown, Allen Lazard
The bet here is that St. Brown sticks on the initial roster, then goes to injured reserve on Sunday. Even if he would be ready to go by week five or six, the Packers probably need that roster spot for week one to make room for a waiver claim. The starters are locked in along with Kumerow, and Davis’ big game in Winnipeg earns him the WR5 spot.
Until midway through Thursday’s game, we had Shepherd as the overall pick to beat out Allen Lazard for the WR6 job to start the year, in part due to the unfortunate and untimely concussion that Lazard suffered a week ago. However, Shepherd did little to nothing as a receiver in the game (one catch for three yards) and, most critically, he fumbled a kickoff in the third quarter. With it, he may have fumbled away his roster spot.
Fundamentally, the last spot comes down to Shepherd vs. Lazard. They couldn’t be more different receivers, but while Shepherd provides return ability and slipperiness from the slot compared to Lazard’s big body and gunner ability, that fumble will loom large with the two players seemingly running so closely in the competition. The pick now goes to Lazard, with the Packers hoping to sneak Shepherd onto the practice squad.
Possible surprises: It would be a surprise if Equanimeous St. Brown doesn’t stay on the roster, since his injury appears to put him in line to return around midseason. The team would need to keep him on the initial 53 to maintain his eligibility to return if placed on IR. The other surprises would be keeping either six (with Shepherd getting cut as well) or eight (keeping both Shepherd and Allen Lazard).
Also J’Mon Moore can’t make the roster over guys like Shepherd and Lazard after his performance in camp this year, right? Right?
Tight Ends (4)
Starter: Jimmy Graham
Backups: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger
This is probably the easiest position on the roster to handicap. Graham is the guaranteed starter, Tonyan and Lewis will split time at the in-line position, and Sternberger is a rookie third-rounder who would obviously make the team if healthy. The rookie left the game just before halftime on a cart, but thankfully was back in after the break and should be good to go for next week.
Evan Baylis had a nice schemed touchdown catch and one ridiculously great rep in pass-blocking, and he seems like a good practice squad candidate.
Possible surprise: Could Marcedes Lewis get cut? He hasn’t been a factor in the preseason, barely playing at all. APC’s Jason Hirschhorn believes that the Packers could cut him on Saturday to save a roster spot, then sign him back to the 53-man roster a day or two later after placing someone on injured reserve.
Offensive Line (9)
Starters: David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Billy Turner, Bryan Bulaga
Backups: Elgton Jenkins, Alex Light, Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick
The starting line is now set, thanks to Matt LaFleur’s comments before the game that confirmed that Taylor will be the week one starter at left guard. Jenkins is a no-brainer keep, as he will probably still compete with Taylor throughout the season. Light is the team’s only semi-reliable backup tackle, so he makes the team. Then it comes down to depth; Patrick seems like a lock given that he was among the group of players that did not play at all on Thursday night, and we have McCray earning the last spot thanks to his experience and ability to play all over the interior.
Possible surprise: Keep an eye on Adam Pankey. The third-year pro offers some valuable guard/tackle versatility, which could be a critical factor. The group above doesn’t have a ton of tackle depth, though Turner would logically be the backup right tackle and McCray could play there in a pinch. Pankey would provide a little more depth on the outside.
Defensive Line (5)
Starters: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry
Backups: Montravius Adams, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster
We’re calling the 2-4-5 the Packers’ base defense, so Clark and Lowry get the starting spots. Meanwhile, Adams and Keke are locks, and Lancaster has done enough to earn a seat in the preseason finale.
Possible surprise: It would be a shock, especially with how much the Packers will likely line up edge rushers on the inside, for the team to keep six linemen. But Fadol Brown or James Looney could snag a spot. The other surprise would be if the Packers let Lancaster go. He’s not a factor as a pass-rusher, but he does enough in the run game and the Packers don’t have another backup for Kenny Clark, so it would still be stunning if he didn’t make the team.
Outside Linebackers (4)
Starters: Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith
Backups: Rashan Gary, Kyler Fackrell
The Smiths will make for a fun starting tandem on the outside, while Gary will provide depth behind them. Thanks to Reggie Gilbert going to the Titans this week, Fackrell still finds a spot here, despite a less-than-impressive training camp.
Possible surprise: Keep an eye on Markus Jones. The mid-training camp pickup had a huge pressure on Thursday night, hitting quarterback Kyle Shurmur and forcing a wayward ball that turned into a pick-six for inside backer Ty Summers. Jones seemed to struggle a bit with defending the read-option, but that play was an excellent rep by Jones to show some pass-rush ability, and he also recovered a fumble on the next series. Those big plays could land him a last-minute roster spot.
Inside Linebackers (5)
Starter: Blake Martinez
Backups: Oren Burks, Curtis Bolton, Ty Summers, James Crawford
Given the injuries at this spot, we’re only projecting a single starter for the time being — more on that in a moment.
Burks was the expected starter coming into camp, and with his injury on the mend he’ll surely be on the 53. Bolton then impressed significantly before suffering an injury of his own, and like Burks, he’s on the team with the hope of him recovering quickly. Summers had a very impressive pick-six on Thursday night to lock in his spot, motoring for 71 yards and his first Lambeau Leap.
James Crawford has struggled mightily with tackling on defense and does not look like a reliable player on that unit, but he made another big play on special teams, forcing a fumble on a punt return. And with the injuries at the position, the Packers probably need a third healthy body. He did seem to suffer a concussion in Thursday night’s game however, which could be a big hit to his roster chances.
Possible surprise: Crawford could easily miss the 53, but that would not be a huge shock even before his injury. The biggest surprises that are still reasonable would be the team moving on from Bolton instead, which would likely happen by putting him on injured reserve and ending his season, or Brady Sheldon getting a spot over Crawford.
Starters: Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Raven Greene
Backup: Will Redmond
We’re listing three starters here because Greene will likely serve as a starter at linebacker in week one with Burks and Bolton injured. The big question here is whether anyone has earned a spot behind Greene and the two obvious starters.
In APC’s view, Redmond is the guy to stick as the fourth player at the position. He played everything from corner to safety to linebacker on Thursday and made numerous nice tackles, including a few in the middle of the line in the run game.
Possible surprise: If the Packers aren’t sold on Redmond, they could feasibly keep just three safeties, particularly if they keep a seventh cornerback (more on that in a moment). There are players at the corner position who could pitch in at safety (Tramon Williams, perhaps Chandon Sullivan?) and the team seems to be treating its defensive backs fairly interchangeably this year.
Starters: Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams, Tony Brown
Backups: Kevin King*, Josh Jackson, Ka’Dar Hollman
The question coming into Thursday night was whether Hollman or Chandon Sullivan would take hold of the sixth cornerback spot. Hollman looked impressive early on and gave up only one significant completion — a nice high-point on the football by a 6-foot-6 Chiefs wideout.
Possible surprise: Sullivan could get the nod over Hollman, though the Packers seem to love their sixth-round pick. Alternately, the team could find a way to keep seven corners and hold on to both players, especially considering the fact that Sullivan played a bunch at safety on Thursday night and could help out there as well.
Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley
The punting and long snapping jobs are solid. And our bet is that the Packers stick with the known quantity in Crosby for the final year of his contract.
Possible surprise: It would be a surprise for Sam Ficken to beat out Crosby for the kicking job, even despite Crosby’s missed PAT on Thursday, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.