Well here we go again, last year I was completely off and I don’t expect to be much different this year. I have however thought a lot about the rationale for creating a NFL roster and I came up with these ideas a couple weeks ago, which I’ll try to use as my baseline rules.
Offense – 24 players
Quarterback (2): Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell
Rodgers is obviously a lock and I almost think it’s too late for a backup quarterback switch. I know some people have been speculating that the Browns will drop the price for Colt McCoy and Thompson will trade for him, but my assumption is that the Brown’s asking price is way too high at the moment (since as far as I can tell no team has been in serious talks with the Browns), and chances are good Thompson will get outbid by some other team if the price does indeed drop into a competitive offer, so I suspect McCoy goes somewhere else and Harrell remains the backup quarterback.
Running Back (5): James Starks, John Kuhn, Cedric Benson, Alex Green, Brandon Saine
I’ve put Starks still as the lead runner, as I think Benson needs more than one good outing to take the pole position in my opinion; but really that might be a moot point if Starks can’t get on the field. I think Brandon Saine’s spot really depends on the health and performance of Alex Green; if the Packers believe that Green is healthy and productive enough after his ACL injury that he can manage the 3rd down back role by himself (with help from Kuhn), then Saine might be expendable, but personally I think was quietly becoming a very decent pass blocker, which the Packers highly covet. Kuhn rounds out the group as the sole fullback.
Tight Ends (4): Jermichael Finley, Tom Crabtree, DJ Williams, Ryan Taylor
Nothing really interesting with the tight ends, Finley obviously leads the group, with Crabtree, Williams and Taylor all sort of in a mix for the backup position. Each has their own strengths, Crabtree and Taylor can operate as a fullback and Williams is capable of playing the “move” tight end or H-back, and all three contribute on special teams. It will be interesting to see what they do when Andrew Quarless returns (if he does at all, as they may choose to just shut him down for the entire year), my suspicions would be that they add Quarless back by stealing a spot from another position.
Wide Receiver (5): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Donald Driver
After the entire ruckus about keeping 6 or 7 wide receivers during the offseason, nothing really came to fruition. Gurley has largely been invisible during the preseason and while Borel has seen many more opportunities, he has had several big drops and botched kick returns. I don’t think either will make the 53-man roster; each will probably be offered a practice squad spot, but chances are at least one will sign elsewhere. I also don’t think Jones will be traded (again, if anyone wanted him, why not sign him during free agency when it doesn’t cost a draft pick? Its not like Jones blew it up last year to warrant more attention) and Driver isn’t going anywhere simply based on his contract (much like Ryan Grant’s contract last year)
Offensive Line (8): Marshall Newhouse, TJ Lang, Jeff Saturday, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Don Barclay
The starting offensive line of Newhouse, Lang, Saturday, Sitton and Bulaga is pretty much set, so they’re all locks to make the team. Given by the fact that Sherrod wasn’t placed on IR during the 75-man roster reduction leads me to believe that the Packers feel like Sherrod is close to getting back on the field and they’ll probably be willing to keep a spot for him even if he can’t go starting week 1. To compensate for that I’ve added Don Barclay, who typically plays guard but can be a swing tackle in a pinch. So while Sherrod comes back from his leg injury, Barclay is the backup swing tackle and when Sherrod finally gets healthy Barclay probably ends up as the inactive linemen as Dietrich-Smith can play both center and guard. Speaking of Dietrich-Smith, he hasn’t shown much of anything during the preseason, but no one else is close to taking his spot as the backup center so he’s on the team pretty much by default, especially considering the age of Jeff Saturday.
Defense – 26 players
Defensive Line (7): Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji, CJ Wilson, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Daniel Muir, Philip Merling (replaced by Mike Neal after week 4)
Pickett and Raji are locks as starters and Wilson looks to have secured a spot with Wynn being released during the 75-man roster reduction. Worthy and Daniels obviously also get spots as they were high draft picks. One issue I’ve always had with the defensive line is there is no true backup nose tackle; for instance if BJ Raji were to get hurt, they can’t move Ryan Pickett over to nose tackle without opening up the starting defensive end spot so I think Daniel Muir gets a spot for depth as well as well as to let Raji and Pickett start a rotation on the line from their positions. Finally, Philip Merling rounds out the group, in my opinion he wasn’t all the spectacular and will probably be replaced by Mike Neal once his suspension is finished since the Packers are still heavily invested in the 2nd round pick.
Linebackers (9): Clay Matthews III, DJ Smith, AJ Hawk, Nick Perry, Dezman Moses, Jamari Lattimore, Terrell Manning, Robert Francois, Brad Jones (replaced by Erik Walden after week 1)
Again Matthews, Smith, Hawk and Perry are locks to make it and Moses has lived up to the offseason hype to at least warrant a roster spot. As for the backups, Lattimore and Manning have scheme flexibility as they can line up both on the outside and inside as well as in special teams. Robert Francois likely makes the spot unless his injury is an issue for the Packers front office. Brad Jones takes the final slot and is the one who is probably cut if the Packers decide to keep Erik Walden instead. Jones can technically play inside linebacker (but there are already two backup inside linebackers there so it’s debatable if that is of any use) but Walden is a more violent pass rusher (despite the fact that he didn’t show it at all last year). Both play special teams so really it’s a coin flip between the two. I’ve put Jones being replaced by Walden after his suspension since there are enough backup inside linebackers and Walden offers more in pass rush than Jones.
Defensive Backs (10): Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Morgan Burnett, Jarrett Bush, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Sam Shields, MD Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Sean Richardson
I have the Packers going in with 6 cornerbacks and 4 safeties (though Woodson might count more as a safety at this point). Woodson, Williams, Bush and Burnett are definitely locks based on last year while Hayward, House and McMillian are also pretty sure bets considering their draft positions. I’m not completely sold on MD Jennings, but he’s probably the most polished safety left when you exclude Burnett (who would be the other safety) and Woodson (when he’s playing cornerback), so he’s probably going to make the team as well. Finally I put Richardson over Levine because Richardson has the body type to play safety and he’s shown up on special teams so I think he’ll get the last roster spot.
Specialist (3): Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode
The specialists remain the same as last year. Both Crosby and Masthay are on long-term contracts and while Goode is on a contract year, it shouldn’t be too hard to lock up a long snapper without breaking the bank, so hopefully the trio remains together for years to come.
Practice Squad (8): BJ Coleman, Andrew Datko, Vic So’oto, Tommie Draheim, Dale Moss, Lawrence Guy, Diondre Borel, Marc Tyler
Coleman is a lock to make it to the practice squad, as I can’t imagine any team willing to sign him to an active roster and chances are good the Packers will match any offer Coleman gets. Andrew Datko also will get a spot after being drafted as he gets back to full strength from his shoulder injury. Speaking of offensive linemen, the Packers desperately need to develop someone to take over for Saturday and considering that both Saturday and Scott Wells were not highly coveted during the draft says to me that good centers can be found outside of the first 5 rounds of the draft, so Draheim fits that mold; he played tackle in college, guard during the preseason and was a potential center as well, so he has good versatility (hopefully he has good butt height and isn’t a sweater). The Packers also seem to like to keep a couple wide receivers on the practice squad so Dale Moss, who has done pretty well in his limited opportunities and has great physicals gets a spot as well as Diondre Borel, mostly because the Packers need a backup returner if Cobb were to get hurt (no way are the Packers letting either Williams or Nelson go back to return kicks anymore). Finally, a running back is also typically on the practice squad and really the only choice is Marc Tyler, but the Packers could elect to sign another running back that gets cut. The Packers could also probably go with another linebacker (as they love the body type) and Vic So’oto hasn’t done anything this year to promote himself, but his fantastic preseason last year might be enough to warrant a practice squad slot this year. Finally, to round it off, Lawrence Guy gets another year to develop unless the Packers see more upside in a cornerback that they like.