Top position battles at Packers 2017 training camp
FOX Sports Wisconsin
FOX Sports Wisconsin breaks down five position battles to watch during Green Bay Packers training camp.
Benny SieuBenny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
When Green Bay went through some injuries at running back last season, wide receiver Ty Montgomery was put in that role and enters 2017 as the presumed starter. He is a work in progress -- especially as a blocker -- but presents a dual threat out of the backfield thanks to his receiving skills. When Montgomery needs to come out, or if he proves unable to carry the brunt of the load, the Packers have three rookies fighting out likely two roster spots -- it's hard to imagine the Packers keeping five backs (four tailbacks plus their usual fullback). Jamaal Williams from BYU would seem to have an edge for one of those spots as he was drafted in the fourth round. That would leave fifth-rounder Aaron Jones and seventh-round pick Devante Mays to battle it out for the final roster spot, not to mention playing time. We further broke down the three rookie RBs here. Undrafted free agents Kalif Phillips and Williams Stanback also will be in camp, but they obviously have an uphill climb.
Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are entrenched atop the depth chart, but the field is wide open after that. The Packers drafted DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre to fill out a group that includes Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis, any of whom has a solid enough chance of making the final roster. Allison likely has an inside track after developing a solid rapport with Aaron Rodgers late last season, but a one-game suspension could hurt his chances slightly. Davis' speed is enticing, but after appearing on just over eight percent of the Packers' offensive snaps last season, he's got work to do. Former seventh-round pick Janis has held off contenders for a couple of years, enhanced by his work on special teams. The Packers also have Maxwell McCaffrey, who was signed to the practice squad in late December. This should be a spirited and interesting competition, with legitimate NFL players having to be let go.
Clay Matthews and Nick Perry will start on the outside and no doubt likely see at least 75 percent of the defensive snaps each game. However, Matthews has said like last year, he'll also be used on the inside. With Julius Peppers (who played in 56.6 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps in 2016) back in Carolina, there are three candidates to capture the remaining playing time: fourth-year linebacker Jayrone Elliot, 2016 draft pick Kyler Fackrell and 2017 draft pick Vince Biegel. Elliot, who had 19 tackles and a sack in 11 games last season, might have the early leg up, at least if you go by contracts. He was re-signed this offseason for $1.6 million, with a guaranteed base salary of $950,000 -- a nice raise from the $600,000 he earned in 2016. It figures Green Bay envisions Elliot with a bigger role. Fackrell, who had 16 tackles and two sacks, was taken in the third round, thus there's some expectation of the kind of player Green Bay thinks he can be. Biegel was taken with the first pick in the fourth round and, as Wisconsin Badgers fans know, has an unrelenting motor but has had injury issues and will start training camp on the Physically Unable to Play list.
Green Bay rotated a lot of players along its three-man front last season and we probably can expect the same in 2017. For now, it appears as though Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark will be the ends, although both could slide inside to the middle (especially Clark). Letroy Guion saw 43.4 percent of the defensive snaps last season but is suspended for the first four games of the season and has another court case (and possible additional suspension) to worry about. Ricky Jean Francois, a veteran free agent signed back in late March, might have the edge entering training camp. Jean Francois has played in 153 regular-season games in his career with 12 sacks. His top challenge could come from former Auburn standout Montravius Adams, the team's third-round pick in this year's draft. As a senior, Adams had 44 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Dean Lowry is mainly an end, but the Packers did line him up on occasion on the inside and could do so again when it wants a little more quickness at that position. Brian Price and Christian Ringo will also be hoping for playing time.
Micah Hyde provided a valuable role for the Packers in 2016, but he's now in Buffalo. Green Bay, however, has some nice options to replace him. Despite being the team's third safety, Hyde was on the field a lot last season -- 79.2 percent of the snaps -- thanks to his ability to cover in the slot. The best bet is probably Damarious Randall, who played safety in college. Davon House, back in Green Bay for his second go-round with the team, has experience in the Packers' system and, specifically, being the nickel back. From 2011-14, House played in 40 games for Green Bay with just 14 starts. He knows and understands the position. The Packers certainly would like to see top pick Kevin King grab a starter's role, but if he can't, and Randall or House moves into the lineup, he could get some valuable experience in a slot/nickel role. North Carolina State safety Josh Jones provides another option. Like King, he was taken in the second round and, also like the 6-foot-3 King, he has good size (6-2, 220 pounds). Jones doesn't figure to unseat starters Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Morgan Burnett, but with Burnett perhaps playing a hybrid linebacker role there's room for Jones in the defensive backfield.