There is still a week of practices left for the Green Bay Packers, along with their third preseason game against Seattle, so when it comes to determining those final roster spots that are up for grabs, nothing is set in stone as of yet. However, this past week went a long way in determining what that final 53 is going to look like.
As Matt LaFleur said last said, this previous week was an important one. The Packers had four practices, three of which were in pads, and two of them were joint with New England. Green Bay then played its second preseason game against the Patriots to wrap up the week.
After watching the last week unfold up close and in person, there are some changes that I have made to my 53-man roster prediction. Here is where I believe things stand right now.
Keep: Jordan Love and Sean Clifford
Previous prediction (2): Jordan Love and Sean Clifford
Not that there aren’t areas to improve upon, but Sean Clifford has really impressed and taken away any doubts over the last two weeks that he is going to be the Packers’ backup quarterback. His experience in college, coupled with his fit in the locker room, are two things that the Packers really liked about him during the pre-draft process and are key components to being a backup quarterback and helping Love navigate this season as a starter.
Running back (3)
Keep: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Patrick Taylor
Previous Prediction (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Patrick Taylor
The only question I have at this position group now is whether or not the Packers keep two running backs as they did initially last season. With the practice squad elevation rules that allow teams to elevate a player on game day up to three times before either having to sign them to the 53-man roster or releasing them, the Packers could utilize that strategy initially to make sure they have the depth they need on Sundays without using an extra roster spot. However, one possible difference this year compared to last is that the Packers seemed to be waiting for Kylin Hill to be activated off the PUP list to be added to the roster, which he eventually was before his release. But this time around, Patrick Taylor is the clear third running back option. Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur have given us the answers to the test in terms of what they are looking for in RB3, and it is Taylor with his ability to block and impact special teams.
Wide Receiver (7)
Keep: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure, Dontayvion Wicks, Malik Heath, and Grant DuBose
Previous Prediction: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure, Dontayvion Wicks, Malik Heath
I was someone at the start of training camp who pontificated on the idea of the Packers keeping just five receivers, given how active the tight ends and running backs are in the passing game, along with how much 21 and 12 personnel we’ve seen the Packers use this summer. In short, the sixth receiver would be the 10th pass-catching option on offense. However, since then, Malik Heath has continued to make plays and shown to be a willing blocker, and has taken on a larger special teams role. Seventh-round pick Grant DuBose had a solid week of practice upon his return to team activities and was also asked to block and play some special teams against New England–key components to making the final roster.
It’s also important to note that Dontayvion Wicks left Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury. As of now, we do not know how much time he will miss, but that could potentially impact the numbers at this position group as well, depending on the time frame.
This position group has become very thin for the Packers. The only other tight end on the roster is Austin Allen, while fullback Henry Pearson left Saturday’s game with a knee injury. Green Bay needs more depth at tight end, specifically someone who can fill Tyler Davis’ role as a blocker, and based on Brian Gutekunst’s comments from Friday, I believe they will look to make an addition once roster cuts around the NFL take place. It was at that time last summer that the team was able to add Rudy Ford.
“I like our group as it is right now,” said Gutekunst. “But that’s certainly something we will look at as we get to the cutdown day and beyond. Losing Tyler that’s a big loss for us because of all the things he did on offense and special teams, and he was a bit of a core leader for us.”
Offensive Line (9)
Keep: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan, Zach Tom, Yosh Nijman, Rasheed Walker, Caleb Jones, Sean Rhyan
Previous Prediction: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan, Zach Tom, Yosh Nijman, Rasheed Walker, Caleb Jones, Sean Rhyan
Caleb Jones is still sidelined, but trying to read the tea leaves, given the fact that the Packers had three offensive tackles in for workouts last week but didn’t sign any. This, hopefully, means that he will be back sooner than later from his ankle injury. In practice, I’ve also seen Jones working out with the trainer on his own during practice, so it’s not as if he is completely sitting out either. Operating under the assumption for the time being that Jones won’t go on the PUP list, that leaves what I believe to be one spot up for grabs between Sean Rhyan, Jake Hanson, and Royce Newman. All three players performed well against New England, but I will stick with Rhyan, given that he has been the most consistent of the three this summer. Hanson also left the game with a shin injury.
Interior Defensive Line (6)
As I mentioned last time, the only real question at this position group is whether the Packers keep five interior defenders instead of six and use that roster spot elsewhere since you don’t see many six-man rotations. However, Jonathan Ford continues to play well, specifically against the run, where the Packers need additional help, and he can provide a backup nose tackle option to TJ Slaton.
Edge Rusher (6)
I do wonder if the Packers will actually go heavy at both the interior defensive line and edge rusher, but after a performance in Cincinnati where Brenton Cox led the team in pressures, he continued to build upon that established momentum over the last week. As I’ve mentioned before, I could see the Packers viewing Cox similarly to what they did last year with Caleb Jones, who was also an undrafted rookie. At one point, the Packers had 11 offensive linemen on the roster in order to keep Jones off the practice squad, where I’m guessing they were fearful of another team signing him. I could very well see a similar approach taken with Cox, another high-upside developmental rookie, in 2023.
This might be the biggest change I’ve made to my roster prediction over the last week, and I’m not completely sold that this is what the Packers do, but Carpenter’s path to the roster also doesn’t seem as clear anymore either. During Saturday’s game against New England, Tariq Carpenter was behind undrafted rookie Jimmy Phillips on the defensive depth chart and played just 12 defensive snaps to Phillips’ 39. Carpenter also played just four special teams snaps compared to Phillips’ six. The transition to linebacker from safety has certainly come with a learning curve for him. We’ve also seen in recent years, with Kamal Martin briefly moving to edge rusher and Jonathan Garvin spending time with the interior defensive line, that position changes can be last efforts by the coaching staff to find a role for some players. I’m not saying that’s the case with Carpenter, but it is worth mentioning.
For what it’s worth, on a much more competitive special teams unit, Carpenter has the fourth-worst grade on the team this preseason from PFF, an area where he is expected to make an impact. When it comes to these back end of the roster positions, the battles go beyond just the position group, so Carpenter is not only competing with the linebackers, but with players like Heath, DuBose, Ford, and Cox, all of whom have shown far more upside.
Keep: Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Keisean Nixon, Carrington Valentine, and Kiondre Thomas
PUP: Eric Stokes
Previous Prediction: Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Keisean Nixon, Carrington Valentine, Corey Ballentine
With this position group, there is some definite movement that could take place depending on injury statuses. First off, I went with Kiondre Thomas because he’s healthy, and I really like the well-rounded skill set he brings to the position, as he’s able to impact special teams, get off blocks, help in the run game, and in coverage. With that said, if Corey Ballentine returns from injury sooner than later, he was a core special teams player last season and has been running with the second-team defense for much of training camp–although he was picked on a bit in Cincinnati. Or, if Stokes is activated off PUP before the season begins, then he will take the place of Thomas or Ballentine on the roster.
Keep: Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens, Rudy Ford, and Anthony Johnson
Previous Prediction: Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens, Rudy Ford, Tarvarius Moore, Dallin Leavitt
Ideally, I would like to keep five safeties, but from a numbers standpoint, I couldn’t make it work, so I went with more high-upside players such as Jonathan Ford, Brenton Cox, and Grant DuBose elsewhere. The big change I made was adding Anthony Johnson, who has seen some snaps with the ones this past week, shown off some playmaking – as well as gone through growing pains – and taken on a larger special teams role. From a roster construction standpoint, while it is still hard to envision a roster without Dallin Leavitt, keeping the young developmental prospect in Johnson makes a lot more sense over the veteran who is in Green Bay on a one year deal and can only impact special teams, especially given that the Packers are in the midst of a transition.
Special Teams (3)
Keep: Anders Carlson, Pat O’Donnell, Matt Orzech
Previous Prediction (3): Anders Carlson, Pat O’Donnell, Matt Orzech
Brian Gutekunst has made it clear that the team is going to be patient with Anders Carlson. Matt Orzech, meanwhile, is a former Super Bowl champion with the Rams and was signed to a three-year deal. The question is at punter, and as more time goes by, I tend to think the Packers will go with Daniel Whelan, but for the time being, I’m going to stick with Pat O’Donnell, and the big reason is his ability as a holder. Relying on both a rookie kicker and a rookie holder seems awfully risky. However, if they choose Whelan, I won’t be surprised.