After watching 21 training camp practices and four preseason games, it’s time to predict the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster for the 2013 season.
* Bold represents a prediction that the player will be on the eight-man practice squad *
In: Aaron Rodgers, Vince Young
Out: B.J. Coleman
Analysis: After Young’s poor performance in the Packers’ preseason finale, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be Rodgers’ top backup this season. However, Coleman isn’t ready yet to be No. 2 on the depth chart. Another year on the practice squad is likely in store for Coleman to continue to develop. With Graham Harrell released earlier in the week, Green Bay is still without a consistent, dependable quarterback behind Rodgers. If any quality quarterbacks are released at Saturday’s deadline, perhaps the Packers look in that direction. The problem with that, though, is that puts another new QB in place — Young has only been with the team for 24 days — who has to learn a complex offensive system on the fly with no training camp time to get comfortable.
Running Backs (5)
In: Eddie Lacy, John Kuhn, Johnathan Franklin, James Starks, Alex Green
Out: Jonathan Amosa
IR: DuJuan Harris
Analysis: The season-ending knee injury to Harris made this a much easier decision for Green Bay’s front office. If Harris was healthy, there was almost no scenario in which the Packers would have kept both Starks and Green. Now, they’ll both likely be back for another year. Kuhn isn’t going anywhere yet. Though Kuhn makes a relatively high salary ($1.8 million base in 2013), Green Bay doesn’t seem ready to part with the soon-to-be 31-year-old. Amosa could be a practice-squad candidate, but there are eight others who are more deserving of those spots.
Wide Receivers (5)
In: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross
Out: Charles Johnson, Tyrone Walker, Myles White
Analysis: Before the preseason finale in Kansas City, I had Walker in and Ross out on my preliminary predictions chart. Ross had been so inconsistent as a wide receiver in training camp that it seemed unlikely for the Packers to give him a roster spot solely for his return abilities. Even in that department, Green Bay had been trying multiple players in the return game and still had Cobb to fall back on. Then, when he needed it most, Ross delivered as a wide receiver against the Chiefs, finishing with three receptions for 50 yards and looking crisp and confident in his routes. Walker’s fumble in the fourth quarter Thursday night was one of a very small number of mistakes he’s made over the past month. Even after putting the ball on the ground, Walker hustled and helped the Packers recover. If this was a 54-man roster, Walker would be on it. Walker is definitely a practice-squad player if he misses the cut. It’s a risk to not put Johnson on the roster because his skills going into this year’s draft were well known. However, Johnson missed so much time in training camp that he didn’t get to show his talent. Johnson, too, will be on the practice squad if he doesn’t make varsity.
Tight Ends (4)
In: Jermichael Finley, Matthew Mulligan, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor
Out: Jake Stoneburner, D.J. Williams, Andrew Quarless
Analysis: As difficult as the cuts will be at the back end of the wide receivers position, they are even tougher with the tight ends. After Finley, there’s not a surefire player who is a lock for the 53-man roster. Mulligan is such a good run-blocker that, especially after McCarthy’s promise to have an improved rushing attack this season, he should make it. Taylor is a very good special teams player and an improving tight end, so Green Bay is likely to keep him on board for a third consecutive season. Bostick is a major wild card. There was a report recently that teams have been coveting Bostick in a trade from the Packers, so it’s unlikely that Green Bay could sneak him onto the practice squad for the second year in a row. It wouldn’t be just out of fear that Bostick would be on the Packers’ 53-man roster in 2013. He’s an improving player, a very good athlete and the type of talent who would be good to have around next year in the event that Finley departs in free agency. Williams hasn’t yet become the NFL player that his John Mackey Award in college indicated he might turn into. Williams’ multiple healthy scratches from the gameday lineup last season could have been an early sign of trouble if he isn’t brought back. Quarless was becoming a good, well-rounded player before his gruesome knee injury in December 2011. With Quarless still only 24 years old, Green Bay doesn’t want to lose him. But general manager Ted Thompson hasn’t shown much patience recently with players that have an injury history (such as linebackers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, among others). Stoneburner would be a nice player to continue developing on the practice squad, just as Bostick was last season.
Offensive Line (7)
In: David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Josh Sitton, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten
Out: Lane Taylor, Patrick Lewis, Kevin Hughes, Andrew Datko, Garth Gerhart
PUP: Derek Sherrod, JC Tretter
IR: Bryan Bulaga
Analysis: The first six names above are easy. After that, it becomes much less certain. Van Roten has a slight edge on the seventh offensive line spot, as he is the No. 2 center and can rotate into other positions, as well. Taylor and Lewis could both stick around on the practice squad and give the Packers some in-house options if one of the seven active-roster offensive linemen suffer an injury. Green Bay would like to keep eight offensive linemen, but, after Bulaga’s season-ending knee injury and Tretter’s broken ankle, there isn’t an eighth healthy player who’s really done enough to warrant it. The Packers remain confident that Sherrod will be able to come back from his devastating broken leg injury (he’s already missed 20 months), so he could return some time after Week 6. If Tretter returns midseason as the team hopes, there is suddenly plenty of offensive line depth. But Sherrod and Tretter aren’t guaranteed to play in 2013, so Green Bay can’t afford another injury on its offensive line.
Defensive Line (6)
In: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly
Out: Josh Boyd, Jordan Miller
PUP: Jerel Worthy
Analysis: (Note: Mike Neal is being classified as an outside linebacker.) Jolly has done everything he could have to complete his improbable comeback. After missing the past three NFL seasons with a league suspension and serving six months in prison, Jolly is back to batting down passes at the line of scrimmage and being disruptive in the backfield. Jolly takes the spot that might have otherwise gone to Boyd, a fifth-round pick this year. If Boyd isn’t part of the 53-man roster, he’d definitely be a qualified member of the practice squad if the Packers can get him there. Raji, Pickett, Jones, Wilson and Daniels give Green Bay the depth and talent on its defensive line that the team hasn’t had to this extent in a while.
Inside Linebackers (6)
In: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Robert Francois, Terrell Manning, Sam Barrington, Jamari Lattimore
Analysis: Barrington was a significant special teams contributor in the preseason, so he might make it even if it’s unlikely that he plays much on defense. Hawk restructured his contract this offseason to stay with the Packers, Jones got a rich new deal as an unrestricted free agent to remain in Green Bay and Francois is a steady veteran and the top reserve. Manning’s bout with colitis as a rookie last season didn’t give him a chance to look like a fifth-round-pick type of player, but he’s only 23 years old and has a lot of potential. Lattimore, an undrafted pickup in 2011, should be back for his third season with the Packers.
Outside Linebackers (5)
In: Mike Neal, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer
Out: Dezman Moses, Donte Savage
Analysis: Neal has been transformed from full-time defensive lineman into playing a hybrid position that mostly has him at outside linebacker. Neal’s strength and natural pass-rushing ability could make him an ideal third-down player who benefits from not having his hands in the dirt. He just needs to stay healthy, which has been Neal’s biggest problem in three NFL seasons. Mulumba is an undrafted rookie who was just too effective in training camp to keep off the 53-man roster. It could be close between Mulumba, Palmer and Moses, but it was Mulumba who had the best training camp and preseason among the three of them. Palmer started off slow, but the rookie sixth-round pick finished strong and should help right away as a pass rusher. Moses has not followed up well on his surprising rookie campaign in 2012. Moses’ play hasn’t improved a lot in Year 2, and he’s likely been passed up on the depth chart by Mulumba and Palmer.
In: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Davon House, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush
Out: Brandon Smith, Loyce Means, James Nixon
Analysis: This one is relatively easy to call. Williams, Shields, House, Hayward and Hyde are locks. Bush is such a hard worker and quality special-teams performer that he likely sticks around for another year, even if he doesn’t play more than 50 snaps all season on defense. There’s a case to be made that Smith was one of Green Bay’s worst defensive players in the preseason. However, the Packers have been attempting to convert Smith from a wide receiver to a cornerback and they knew it wouldn’t be easy. Athletic and 6-foot-1, he has the body to do it. The biggest issue in keeping Smith on the practice squad to develop is that he’s already 26 years old.
In: Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo
Out: Chaz Powell, David Fulton
PUP: Sean Richardson
Analysis: Banjo signed with Green Bay on July 29 after the Packers waived safety Ryan McMahon. Though Banjo is undersized at 5-foot-10, he is a tenacious defender and has the type of on-field attitude that Green Bay’s coaching staff prefers to have in its safeties. Banjo has clearly outperformed Powell and Fulton. Safety is one of the Packers’ thinnest positions, especially with the uncertain future of Richardson following his offseason neck surgery. And, to answer this question again for anyone still wondering, Green Bay has no plans at the moment to convert Hyde from cornerback to safety. It could happen at some point in the future, but the Packers are currently set on playing Hyde at cornerback.
Special Teams (3)
In: Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode
Analysis: Pending a last-minute change of plans or an unexpected release happening on another NFL team, Crosby will be Green Bay’s kicker this season. The Packers brought in Giorgio Tavecchio for five months and Zach Ramirez for 24 hours, but Crosby was the last one standing. Crosby even agreed to restructure his contract for the 2013 season, dropping his base salary from $2.4 million to $800,000. After Crosby’s NFL-worst field-goal accuracy rate last season (63.6 percent), Green Bay won’t show the same unquestioned loyalty to him this year if his 2012 struggles carry over to 2013. The Packers know what Tavecchio can do. The young, Italian-born kicker made 56-of-64 field-goal attempts (87.5 percent) in training camp, and McCarthy acknowledged that there’s a scenario in which Green Bay brings Tavecchio back at some point. But, at least for now, it’s Crosby’s job unless he kicks his way out of it with multiple misses.