Packers' roster skews young, again
As the Green Bay Packers enter the third and final phase of the NFL offseason with organized team activities starting next week, the roster is nearly filled and once again skews young.
Since general manager Ted Thompson took over in 2005, the Packers have valued youth. Of the 88 players on the roster, the average age is 24.5 years old with 44 percent never having suited up for an NFL game.
Only three players on the roster — Aaron Rodgers, Julius Peppers and John Kuhn — have 10 or more years of experience. That's the fewest among NFC North Division teams, where the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have seven each, and the Minnesota Vikings have five.
This offseason, the Packers shed veterans Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush and Matt Flynn, and added eight draft picks and 18 undrafted college free agents.
The team's first OTA session is May 27-29. Here's a look at how the rookies and other newcomers fit into their position groups:
Quarterbacks (4): Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley (rookie), Matt Blanchard (newcomer).
Outlook: The battle to be Rodgers' backup figures to be the most competitive in his eight seasons as a starter. Tolzien was inactive for all but one regular-season game last season, but the Packers felt good enough about his development to keep him over last year's No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn, who turns 30 in June and remains a free agent. Only $100,000 of Tolzien's one-year, $1.35 million was guaranteed, so he'll need to make the Packers' 53-man roster to collect. The job seemed to belong to Tolzien until the Packers traded up in the fifth round to take UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley earlier this month. It was only the fifth quarterback Thompson has drafted since 2005. Outside of 2012 seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman, the other four all made the Packers' opening roster. Hundley has good size (6-3, 226) and possesses a decent arm.
Running backs (5): Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Rajion Neal, John Crockett (R), Alonzo Harris (R).
Outlook: Lacy has settled the Packers' carousel at running back, registering 3,001 total yards in first two seasons. The Packers did a better job of keeping Lacy fresh for the stretch run last season with Starks providing occasional relief with 103 touches. The 29-year-old Starks is entering the final year of his deal. North Dakota State's Crockett (6-0, 217), an invitee to the scouting combine, is seen as one of top undrafted free agent prospects. Harris (6-1, 237) was a four-year bell-cow at Louisiana-Lafayette and built more in the power-back form the Packers like to utilize.
Fullbacks (2): John Kuhn, Aaron Ripkowski (R).
Outlook: Kuhn is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but was assured only $25,000 in workout bonuses with the one-year contract he signed last month. He'll be 33 when the season starts. Ripkowski thought he might go undrafted when the Packers brought him in for a pre-draft visit, but they liked him enough to make him the first fullback they've drafted since 2009 (Quinn Johnson). This will be Kuhn's stiffest competition since.
Wide receivers (12): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Myles White, Ty Montgomery (R), Ricky Collins (R), Adrian Coxson (R), Jimmie Hunt (R), Javess Blue (R), Larry Pinkard (R).
Outlook: The Packers are extremely deep at receiver after re-signing Cobb and drafting Montgomery in the third round. Nelson and Cobb are coming off Pro Bowl seasons, and Adams seems like an ideal fit as the No. 3 receiver in the starting offense. The fiercest competition will be at the bottom of the depth chart where 2014 draft picks Abbrederis and Janis will attempt to hold off a horde of undrafted rookies, including Collins out of Texas A&M-Commerce.
Tight ends (5): Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perillo, Kennard Backman (R), Mitchell Henry (R).
Outlook: The Packers waited until their eighth and final pick in this year's draft to address a tight end position that was considered one of their weakest spots coming into the offseason. Backman could develop into a threat in the seam, a presence the offense has lacked since Jermichael Finley's neck injury. Rodgers won the starting job in camp with his hands last year, but quickly lost it because of his blocking. Quarless was steady, but he'll battle Rodgers for the job again this summer.
Tackles (5): David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Don Barclay, Jeremy Vujnovich, Fabbians Ebbele (R).
Outlook: Thompson has been lauded for re-signing Cobb, but you could make a strong argument bringing back Bulaga was equally important. Bulaga bounced back from an ACL injury to provide consistent protection for Rodgers, especially late in the season when the quarterback was dealing with a calf injury. Barclay is a nice insurance policy, but he's returning from a torn ACL. Bakhtiari should have more room for growth in Year 3.
Guards (6): Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Lane Taylor, Josh Walker, Matt Rotheram (R), Marcus Reed (R).
Outlook: Sitton is at the peak of his powers. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl last season and played at an All-Pro level even after tearing ligaments in his big toe midseason. Lang had perhaps his best season despite dealing with his own ankle injury during the latter half of the season. Rotheram (6-5, 325) has the ability to play anywhere on the line and could push Taylor for a backup role.
Centers (4): Corey Linsley, JC Tretter, Garth Gerhart, Andy Phillips (R).
Outlook: The Packers found a gem in Linsley in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Linsley was the only offensive player to not miss a snap last season and should develop with another year of seasoning. Tretter seems best suited at center, but played guard and tackle last season. Gerhart was on the active roster for all 18 games last season.
Defensive linemen (10): Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, Datone Jones, B.J. Raji, Josh Boyd, Mike Pennel, Khyri Thornton, Bruce Gaston, Christian Ringo (R), Lavon Hooks (R).
Outlook: Daniels is entering a contract season. Despite his stature, he's in the conversation with Cullen Jenkins as the Packers' best pass-rushing lineman since they moved to a 3-4 defense in 2009. Guion and Raji return on one-year deals in hopes of proving themselves worthy of longer commitments. It will be a critical year for Jones, who's mostly been a rotational rusher. He plays the run fine, but hasn't been the pass-rushing threat the Packers hoped for when they drafted him in the first round in 2013. Thornton, a third-round pick last year, will need to show more than he did last year to compete with Boyd, Pennel and sixth-round pick Ringo for snaps.
Inside linebackers (7): Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford, Nate Palmer, Jake Ryan (R), Joe Thomas, Josh Francis (N), Tavarus Dantzler (R).
Outlook: The Packers either have a lot of faith in Barrington or they're planning to use outside linebacker Clay Matthews inside again this season. Ryan is the only addition outside of undrafted signings. Bradford and Palmer are looking to make the full-time conversion from the outside. Ryan, a fourth-round pick, looks the part, but will need to show he's explosive enough to make plays at the next level. Thomas and Dantzler were coveted college free agents and could contend for roles.
Outside linebackers (9): Matthews, Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Jayrone Elliott, Andy Mulumba, Adrian Hubbard, Jermauria Rasco (R), James Vaughters (R).
Outlook: It was Peppers' presence that allowed the Packers to get creative with Matthews last season. Now 35, the eight-time Pro Bowler will need to show he can still keep up in a young man's league. Perry will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason after the Packers chose to not pick up his fifth-year option. The Packers have had at least one undrafted outside linebacker make the roster since 2010. Two of them, Andy Mulumba and Jayrone Elliott, will look to turn back bids from Rasco and Vaughters, who each received a $5,000 signing bonus.
Cornerbacks (7): Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Demetri Goodson, Damarious Randall (R), Quinten Rollins (R), Tay Glover-Wright, LaDarius Gunter (R), Bernard Blake (R).
Outlook: The Packers have three proven defensive backs who can play cornerback in Shields, Hayward and Hyde. They spent their first two draft picks on fortifying the position with Randall and Rollins, a second-rounder who played only one year of football after playing basketball at Miami of Ohio for four seasons. Randall will be making the switch from free safety at Arizona State. Hayward and Hyde should get plenty of opportunities to show they can replace Tramon Williams on the boundary. Goodson shined a little on special teams late last season.
Safeties (8): Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo, Jean Fanor, Kyle Sebetic (N).
Outlook: The Packers have greatly improved their depth at the position over the last two seasons. Burnett returned to form after the addition of Clinton-Dix in the first round last season. The Packers integrated Clinton-Dix slowly before he supplanted Hyde midway through last season. The Packers matched Oakland's offer sheet for Richardson, a special teams stalwart whose $2.55 million salary is almost entirely guaranteed. Banjo has spent time on the active roster in each of the last two seasons.
Specialists (4): Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Cody Mandell (N), Brett Goode.
Outlook: Crosby's accuracy dipped to 81.8 percent last season, but protection breakdowns resulted in three blocks. The Packers brought in Mandell as competition for Masthay after a late-season slide. It's the first time they've carried two punters on the offseason roster since Masthay won the job in 2011. Goode doesn't face any competition, but likely has something to prove in a contract year.
Heaviest player: Marcus Reed, a 345-pound undrafted rookie guard out of Fayetteville State.
Lightest: Tay Glover-Wright, a 175-pound first-year cornerback out of Utah State.
Tallest: Fabbians Ebbele, a 6-foot-8 undrafted rookie tackle out of Arizona.
Shortest: Safety Chris Banjo and wide receiver Randall Cobb, 5-foot-10 veterans.
Most experienced/oldest: Julius Peppers, a 35-year-old, 14-year veteran linebacker.
Youngest: Quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker James Vaughters, 21-year-old rookies.
Most represented college: Alabama — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Adrian Hubbard, Eddie Lacy and Cody Mandell.