With the final cuts just around the corner, here are my initial predictions for how things may play out. There are a couple surprises, but overall, I think much of the roster is pretty much decided other than maybe two or three spots.
Although I assumed the Packers would keep six wide receivers all offseason, I simply no longer think that’s the case. Both Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel have been injured for part of training camp, and neither has made the same splash they made last summer at this time. I think they’ll both be let go, and the Packers will look to a different young wide receiver to stash on the practice squad.
Other than that, there aren’t too many surprises. So here goes…
Quarterback (2): Rodgers, Harrell
Although I don’t believe Graham Harrell is a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL right now, I think it’s more likely than not that the Packers will keep the position as is–with Harrell as Rodgers’s top backup. If a late-round pick could pry Colt McCoy away from the Cleveland Browns, Thompson would likely consider making that move. And despite Vince Young being an convenient punch-line for football fans, who would you rather have if you had to win a game without Rodgers: Young or Harrell? I’d take Young, and it’s not even remotely close. It’s highly unlikely that Thompson would bring in Young as a free agent, but then again, Ted hasn’t been typical “Ted” this offseason.
Running Back (5): Benson, Green, Saine, Starks, Kuhn
My oh my, how things have changed for James Starks. After choosing not to bring back veteran Ryan Grant, it appeared the Packers were set to put all their chips in on Starks. But fast forward to August, and Starks is the most likely of the four running backs to be cut. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Packers cut Starks, but I’m not confident enough to make it one of my predictions. I see Cedric Benson as the clear-cut feature back in Green Bay, I’m a believer in Alex Green, and I like Brandon Saine’s versatility. So if there’s one back the Pack will cut, it’s Starks. Kuhn will be the only full back on the roster.
Wide Receiver (5): G. Jennings, Nelson, Cobb, J. Jones, Driver
With Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel showing promise dating back to last offseason, most–including me–expected the Packers to keep six wide receivers this season. But both Gurley and Borel have missed part of training camp with injuries, and their futures with the team now appear cloudy at best. Personally, I think either player should be kept ahead of Donald Driver–don’t kill me Packer fans–but the 37-year-old’s spot appears to be safe at this point. We’ll see what happens, but I think after the season, we’ll look at Driver’s stat-line and say, “Remind me, again, why Borel or Gurley couldn’t have done just as well.”
Tight End (4): Finley, Crabtree, Williams, Taylor
There isn’t much debate here. With Andrew Quarless on the PUP list, the only question is whether or not Brandon Bostick will be kept on the practice squad after a solid training camp.
Offensive Line (9): Newhouse, Lang, Saturday, Sitton, Bulaga, Dietrich-Smith, Wells, Van Roten, Datko, Sherrod (PUP)
Roster spots are still up for grabs on the offensive line, and Thursday’s preseason finale could end up being the deciding factor for some of the young guns. After the starting five, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Reggie Wells appear to have roster spots locked down. Seventh-round pick Andrew Datko has had an up-and-down camp, but with Derek Sherrod likely to miss the first several games, the team will need another backup tackle. Undrafted rookie Greg Van Roten has been a pleasant surprise in camp this year, and I think he’d be kept over Don Barclay if the two were competing for one roster spot.
Defensive Line (6): Pickett, Raji, Wilson, Muir, Worthy, Daniels, Neal (SUS)
The defensive line is among the toughest positions to predict the final outcome. Pickett, Raji, Wilson, Worthy and Daniels likely account for five roster spots. After that, Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling may be competing for the final roster spot while Mike Neal serves his suspension. Few players have been as impressive as Muir in camp, as he’s been a consistent force in 1-on-1 pass rush drills, and appears poised to become part of the Packers’ rotation on the interior of the defensive line. Once Neal returns from suspension, the Packers will have seven players rotating on the defensive line–more than enough to keep everyone fresh.
Linebacker (9): Matthews, Perry, Hawk, Smith, Moses, Francois, Lattimore, B. Jones, Manning, Walden (SUS)
With Desmond Bishop out for the season, the outlook for linebacking corps gets a little cloudier. Matthews and Perry will surely start on the outside, while Hawk and Smith will hold down the fort in the middle. Behind the starters, rookie free agent Dezman Moses and veteran Erik Walden appear to have clearly locked down spots on the 53-man roster, as do Francois and Lattimore. Although the Packers traded up for Terrell Manning, I don’t think it’s a given that he starts out on the active roster. The rookie could be demoted to the practice squad once Erik Walden serves his suspension.
Defensive Back (10): Woodson, Williams, House, Shields, Bush, Hayward, Burnett, McMillian, M.D. Jennings, Levine
Williams, House, Shields, Bush and Hayward are safe as the five cornerbacks. Burnett and McMillian are safe at safety. And Charles Woodson is safe in his flexible role. With eight roster spots clearly locked up in the defensive backfield, M.D. Jennings, Anthony Levine and Sean Richardson are competing for either one or two roster spots. But since the Packers generally keep ten defensive backs, I think two of them will make the team, and Jennings and Levine have been more consistent than Richardson in camp. Richardson would be a candidate for the practice squad.
Specialist (3): Crosby, Masthay, Goode
B.J. Sander is not making a comeback.
Practice Squad (8): Coleman, Cooper, Boykin, Barclay, Ross, So’oto, Richardson, Guy
I highly doubt the Packers will be able to hide Gurley and/or Borel on the practice squad again this season. I’m willing to bet Joe Philbin would love to have either player down in Miami with the Dolphins’ current atrocious group of wide receivers. If Don Barclay or Greg Van Roten don’t make the roster, both are obvious candidates for the practice squad.
PUP: Sherrod, Quarless, Brooks, Zombo
Sherrod likely won’t be ready for the beginning of the regular season, so the Packers will probably opt to put him on the PUP list and preserve the roster spot. I don’t think Zombo will play another down with the Packers.
IR: Bennett, Dominguez, Bishop, Lair, McCabe