First, a little bit of a disclaimer:
I HATE doing roster predictions.
Why, you may ask? I don’t like pretending I’m smarter than I really am. Packers GM Ted Thompson has one of the shrewdest minds in the NFL, and I don’t. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.
I do not envy Thompson at this time of year, however. He has done such a masterful job at building a roster that he in a sense backs himself into a corner each training camp and has to make some difficult choices. A third stringer on the Packers is sometimes good enough to be a starter on the other 31 teams, but thanks to the ludicrous depth Thompson has built, they’re stuck on the bench.
Since we’re on the topic, here’s my best guess at what the Packers’ opening day roster will look like:
Quarterback (2)—Rodgers, Harrell
I’m still on the fence as to whether or not the Packers hang on to Graham Harrell or trade for a more experienced backup. Even if Harrell plays poorly against the Chiefs on Thursday, the Packers may keep him anyway. If the Browns offer some conditional picks for Colt McCoy, if they even try to trade him, then I could see Thompson pulling the trigger.
Running Back (5)-Benson, Green, Saine, Kuhn, Starks
I wanted to cut Starks, but with no one really standing out to be the sixth wide receiver, Neo remains a Packer though he’s the mostly likely of this group to get cut. Saine remains an interesting prospect once he is healthy and Alex Green keeps progressing.
Wide Receivers (5)-Nelson, Jennings, Driver, Jones, Cobb
No brainer here. With Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley disappointing in training camp, the once-possible notion of the Packers hanging onto six wide receivers has come and gone.
Tight Ends (4)-Finley, Crabtree, Williams, Taylor
Offensive Line (8)-Lang, Sitton, Newhouse, Saturday, Bulaga, Dietrich-Smith, Datko, Wells
Dietrich-Smith remains the heir apparent to Saturday as the center of the future, and Wells has shown versatility like Lang to move around the line and fill in where needed. Datko has shown just enough as the last spot here came down to him and Barclay, who despite having some versatility, just seemed to be outmuscled by Datko.
Defensive Line (7)-Pickett, Raji, Wilson, Worthy, Muir, Merling, Daniels, Neal (suspended)
I think the Packers have to keep seven to start the year with Neal being suspended and Pickett usually missing a game or more with some kind of injury. The Packers need to improve their pass rush this year if the defense has any hopes of improving over last year’s dismal performance. If Neal comes back and by some minor miracle remains healthy, then it could be time to part ways with Merling. Muir remains a bit of a wild card. He could be kept around if he is able to play solid against the run and some have even considered him an heir to Pickett in the starting lineup.
Linebackers (9)-Matthews, Perry, Hawk, Smith, Moses, Francois, Lattimore, Walden (Suspended), Manning, Jones
Terrell Manning very well could be on the opening day roster with Erik Walden serving his suspension. This is the group key to the improvement of the defense in 2012. Perry’s presence should allow Matthews to hunt with a little less attention from opposing offenses. Smith could be Desmond Bishop 2.0 once he finally gets his chance in the regular season. With Bishop out, Dezman Moses will have his opportunity to shine
Defensive Backs (10) Woodson, Williams, McMillian, Bush, House, Shields, Burnett, Jennings, Hayward, Richardson
I wanted to cut Sam Shields, but the Packers are not going to give up on his potential quite yet. How House plays with what could be a nagging shoulder injury ala Tramon Williams in 2011 will be interesting. McMillian is a wrecking ball at safety and should act as a good one-two punch with Morgan Burnett, who is my candidate for a breakout year this season should he remain healthy.
Specialists (3)-Masthay, Crosby, Goode
Dave Rayner is a sad panda.
Practice Squad-Coleman, Boykin, Barclay, Guy, Levine, Cooper, Ross, So’oto
Coleman and Boykin are the ones to watch here. Barclay could be moved up to the active roster if there are injuries in the first six weeks with Sherrod on the PUP list.
Injured Reserve (5)-Bishop, Bennett, Dominguez, Lair, McCabe
Bishop’s the big loss here, obviously.
PUP (3)-Zombo, Quarless, Sherrod, Brooks
Zombo is most likely a candidate for an injury settlement. The sooner Sherrod gets back, the sooner the Packers gain needed depth in the offensive line. Quarless should hopefully recover enough to play some role in the regular season in the passing game.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke