Bob McGinn, a Journal Sentinel beat writer/columnist covering the Green Bay Packers, provides his annual analysis of the 53-man roster. The rankings were determined on the basis of each player’s value to the team. Sometimes a player was downgraded because he plays a position with so much depth that his absence would be less significant. Others were upgraded because of the importance of their positions and the shortage of depth behind him.
1. AARON RODGERS, QB
Ranked by Pro Football Weekly as the NFL’s best player regardless of position entering the second straight season. Playing lighter than he has (218 pounds) after eliminating dairy from his new semi-vegan diet. Exhibition games played (one), pass attempts (nine) and snaps (26) all were career lows. Coming off poorest of eight seasons as a starter.
2. MIKE DANIELS, DE
Second on this list in 2014, sixth in ’15. He was the team’s best player last year. The Packers appear paper-thin up front, especially until big man Mike Pennel returns from suspension in Game 5. This wasn’t one of his special camps by any stretch, but maybe at 27 he has learned how to pace himself in August. The hardest of the hard-chargers and a committed, violent, purposeful leader.
3. CLAY MATTHEWS, OLB
Adopted a “grin and bear it” approach the past year and a half on his shift to inside linebacker. His star waned as a result, but coach Mike McCarthy labeled him on Monday as strictly an outside player. At 30, he has taken as much punishment as he has dished out in seven seasons. A 12-month-a-year workout guy, it’s in his genes to play many more years, and at a high level.
4. JORDY NELSON, WR
When none of the other wideouts significantly elevated his game in the last four months, the pressure on Nelson to lead the unit once again only intensified. He’s a resolute campaigner with a thirst for competition. Only time will tell if the right knee that was surgically reconstructed about 12 months ago will limit his effectiveness or availability.
5. T.J. LANG, G
Since becoming a starter in 2011 this is his highest rating: he was 16th in ’11, 12th in ’12, 13th in ’13, ninth in ’14 and 14th in ’15. It’s largely due to the release of Josh Sitton, whose high-water mark was No. 4 in ’13. If the Packers were to lose Lang and his physical presence, enforcer instincts and big personality, especially now minus Sitton, it might be catastrophic. Fully recovered from winter shoulder surgery.
6. DAVID BAKHTIARI, T
His unbeaten record (14-0) in the seven periods of the one-on-one pass-rush drill summed up his summer. It was his best camp, and this figures to be his finest season. Management plans to lock him up with a long-term contract extension during the season if he stays healthy and his performance level doesn’t drop. Scouts said Bakhtiari always played tough at Colorado but that he lacked the size to make it work. With increased weight and strength has come a confidence that oozes out.
7. SAM SHIELDS, CB
Highest rank yet. Was 21st in 2010, 11th in ’11, 22nd in ’12, 16th in ’13, 14th in ’14 and 10th in ’15. Played his best football a year ago and enjoyed an injury-free, productive summer as the team’s shut-down corner. Early in camp Shields said there was nothing to prevent him from playing on a par with Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman and the other premier corners. Has never been voted to the Pro Bowl.
8. EDDIE LACY, RB
Personnel people around the league look at exhibition tape and estimate Lacy’s weight between 245 and 250. Whatever it is, Lacy fully understands that his football and financial future rests on his production this season. His 20-carry, 114-yard (5.7) work in 34 exhibition snaps speak well of his preparation. He was third on this list the past two years, fifth as a rookie in ’13.
9. HA HA CLINTON-DIX, S
Moved way up from 18th last year and 28th as a rookie after posting by far his best season. He has been more informative and approachable to reporters this summer. He seems much more interested in taking on a leadership role, not only in the secondary but on the defense and the entire team. Barely played (29 snaps) in exhibition games but his talent stood out in practice.
10. JC TRETTER, C
With Corey Linsley stuck in rehab mode (hamstring) since mid-May, Tretter reclaimed the job that he lost in August 2014 because of his own major injury (knee). Excellent athlete with keen diagnostic and communication skill. “He’s a great player,” Sitton said on Aug. 28. Ranking of 41st a year ago is evidence of his massive change of fortune. Contract will expire at year’s end.
11. BRYAN BULAGA, T
He had three minus plays against rookie DE Jihad Ward in a mere 17-play stint against Oakland, creating some concern, but was much better in 29 snaps against San Francisco. He’s playing at 310 this year, five to seven pounds lighter than a year, in what is likely an effort to reduce the stress on his joints. Injury avoidance is the key to all his seasons.
12. BLAKE MARTINEZ, LB
The lasting image of Martinez’ early summer was seeing him lying flat on his back in the locker room studying his computer playbook during the later stages of a media period. He’s a bookworm in the best sense of the word, and because of it he stands a good chance of playing almost 100 percent of the snaps. Teammates already appear to trust him. Now it will be determined if he can handle the rough stuff inside. It’s a mystery why the coaches played him for just 73 snaps in the four games.
13. MORGAN BURNETT, S
A hamstring injury sidelined him all four games, and that wasn’t good. He was able to practice during the first two weeks, and frequently was at linebacker alongside Martinez in the 4-2-5 nickel defense. At 6 feet 1½ inches and 210 pounds, he has the bulk and the nerve to stick his face into bodies when run shows. The Packers highly value his organizational skill in the back end.
14. JARED COOK, TE
CB Damarious Randall called him a “first-down machine.” He was that and more this summer, hauling in passes short and long and almost never dropping a ball. His blocking wasn’t bad, either. The Packers made a serious effort to find out what they had, giving Cook 88 snaps after his debut in pads was delayed eight practices by minor foot surgery. The last tight end ranked this high was Jermichael Finley, who went off 13th in 2013, his final season.
15. LETROY GUION, NT-DE
The abrupt hiatus taken by B.J. Raji in mid-March thrust Guion into an unaccustomed position of prominence. He did nothing to damage his chances on the field although injuries limited him to just 14 exhibition snaps. With the youth and uncertainty at inside linebacker, the Packers need Guion to keep blockers off them by siphoning double-team blocks.
16. JULIUS PEPPERS, OLB-DL
Peppers’ exhibition playing time in three seasons has dwindled from 54 to 43 to eight snaps (one game). The coaches got him to the starting line, but it’s hard to say at age 36 what he still can bring to the race. His starting job in base was ceded to Nick Perry. Peppers’ primary role figures to be with his hand down at tackle in sub defenses. He’ll be asked to run a lot of stunts, a form of pass rushing that is far from his favored mode of attack.
17. RANDALL COBB, WR
Cobb had his share of drops this summer but nothing like the regular season of 2016 or training camp of ’14. Last year, Cobb demonstrated that he’s not a No. 1 receiver. With Nelson and Cook attracting coverage, Cobb should be able to beat most nickel backs one-on-one with a two-way go and could be in line for a solid season.
18. DAMARIOUS RANDALL, CB
He can run, jump, press and play off. He can tackle and blitz, too. Now into his second season after making the move from safety at Arizona State, Randall has the makings of being a reliable if not a big-play corner. He exudes confidence, an absolute necessity at the position. With Shields on the other side he will be challenged, and his response must be better than it was late last season.
19. NICK PERRY, OLB
For the first time in a five-year career he has made it through an offseason and training camp with virtually no injuries. He had a quiet camp, playing just 30 snaps in the games and winding up 0-12-1 in the pass-rush drill. Perry has the range, the weight and the strength to batter tight ends at the point of attack, but championship defenses often have 10-sack players at his position. His career-high is four.
20. JAMES STARKS, RB
The epitome of an unchanged player is Starks. The calendar might say he’ll turn 31 in February but you wouldn’t know it by his sunny disposition, supreme conditioning and new-found durability. With John Kuhn gone and Jhurell Pressley new on the scene, there’s also a place on third down for Starks provided Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery aren’t used extensively from the backfield. He’s still dynamite on red-zone screens, too.
21. QUINTEN ROLLINS, CB
He ended last season as one of the club’s top three corners and enters this one the same way. Aggressive to the ball on short to intermediate routes. Came close to a bunch of interceptions in camp. With additional seasoning, those breakups might become picks. Physical in run support, but must be careful not to throw his body around indiscriminately at the risk of needless injury.
22. JAKE RYAN, ILB
Missed about 3½ weeks with a hamstring injury that sends him into the season having played just 14 snaps in the exhibition finale. Not real big and not real fast, but has a nose for the ball and falls into his fair share of tackles. Should be expected to perform at a higher level in second season than he did as a rookie seven-game starter.
23. DATONE JONES, OLB-DE
Figures to play a substantial role in sub defenses as a pass rusher. Looks like the first man off the bench at outside linebacker to relieve Nick Perry on third downs. If age finally begins catching up to Julius Peppers, Jones would be the next man in with his hand down in passing situations. He lost at least 10 pounds to play standing up, but in limited exposure over a guard didn’t look out of place physically.
24. MASON CROSBY, K
Begins 10th season operating with a new holder for the first time since 2010 and an old snapper that will have had only a week to get reacquainted. Crosby had another outstanding summer after signing a four-year, $16.1 million ($5 million guaranteed) contract in March. His previous rankings: 14th in 2007, 16th in ’08, 25th in ’09, 29th in ’10, 25th in ’11, 23rd in ’12, 35th in ’13, 32nd in ’14 and 23rd in ’15.
25. LANE TAYLOR, G
Four-year starter at RG (2009-’12) at Oklahoma State. Given opportunity of a lifetime as successor to Josh Sitton at LG. He ranked 49th in 2015, 48th in ’14 and 52nd in ’13. Has outlasted his challengers with power (31 reps on the bench in March 2013) and grit. Didn’t test well athletically in 2013: 40-yard dash of 5.36, vertical jump of 24½ , broad jump of 8-0. Short arms (31 3/4), large hands (10 3/8). His score on the Wonderlic intelligence test was 19.
26. KENNY CLARK, NT
Hard to get a read after he played just 39 snaps in the first two exhibition games before being shelved by a back injury. Won’t turn 21 until October but he appears to be a more mature individual than D-line busts Jerel Worthy and Justin Harrell. Strong and aggressive. Doesn’t look like a fluid athlete on the move.
27. JARED ABBREDERIS, WR
Day in, day out might have been the most productive wideout in camp. Probably best suited for the slot but opened eyes by flanking wide right in Kansas City and hauling in a take-off route for 40. Limited by size and ordinary speed but always gets the most out of what he has. Should contribute in the return game.
28. RICHARD RODGERS, TE
Completely overshadowed by Cook this summer but in his own way enjoyed a solid camp. Dropped about 15 pounds from last season but one personnel man noted that his blocking, which was wholly deficient in 2015, appeared improved in 60 exhibition snaps. His hands really are special.
29. MICAH HYDE, S
His stretched-out, goal-line interception against Cleveland’s Robert Griffin in the opener was the Packers’ defensive play of the summer. In line to serve as the sixth defensive back in the dime package where his ability to tackle, blitz and cover tight ends can be best utilized. Speed limits him covering wideouts man-to-man.
30. DAVANTE ADAMS, WR
Erratic all summer, failed to erase memories of his awful performance in 2015. Every year in practice he makes acrobatic, one-handed catches along the sideline to remind everyone of his timing and ball skills. According to scouts, he continues having problems getting off the line of scrimmage.
31. DEAN LOWRY, DE
Certainly didn’t play to his fourth-round draft status. Hustles and competes. “But you wouldn’t know he was there,” one scout said after the third exhibition game. “Tries hard but doesn’t shed a block.” Didn’t make one memorable play in 73 snaps, second most among the D-linemen. Has the size to play inside but played mostly outside at Northwestern. It has been an adjustment.
32. JACOB SCHUM, P
He’s just 5-10, his arms are short (28½) and his hands are small (8 3/4). He couldn’t get into a camp as a rookie out of the University of Buffalo in 2012, then was cut six times before being claimed on waivers by the Packers. But, in the fourth exhibition game with his livelihood on the line, Schum had a great eight-punt night: 45.5 (gross), 41.3 (net), 4.63 (hang time), three fair catches and outstanding directional work. Can it continue? Stay tuned.
33. AARON RIPKOWSKI, FB
The decision not to bring back John Kuhn rankled some fans. Among some personnel people, however, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Kuhn had outlived his usefulness a few years ago. Ripkowski played 31 snaps, missing one game because of injury, and didn’t block well against Cleveland. His value could increase late in the season when the Packers run the ball more.
34. JASON SPRIGGS, T
Played well in Game 1 and Game 4, poorly in Game 2 and so-so in Game 3. Rangy, athletic second-round pick spent almost all his summer at LT. As advertised, he’s a better pass blocker than run blocker. Struggles came more against power than speed.
35. BRETT HUNDLEY, QB
What was to be the five-game Brett Hundley show fizzled because of an ankle injury that limited him to 20 snaps in one game. As a rookie, he played 136. When the ankle cooperated, Hundley performed well. He seemed even more disciplined in the pocket, knowing when to extend and when to stay put.
36. JOE THOMAS, ILB
Adding about 10 pounds in the offseason made a major difference. Instead of the 225-pound gnat scurrying among the tree trunks, Thomas used the new weight to hit as hard as probably anyone on defense. He also was more in command of his reads, trusted his decisions and made some impressive stops against run and pass. He beat out Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford and Beniquez Brown for a job.
37. LaDARIUS GUNTER, CB
He went to camp as the No. 4 corner and ended camp as the No. 4 corner. Gunter is a resourceful, physical player with quickness and long arms. He must be skilled because his speed is below average. Gunter’s playing time might hinge on his ability to contribute on special teams, an area of the game in which he pales next to Josh Hawkins.
38. DON BARCLAY, C-G-T
After his dreadful showing last season, the Packers easily could have waved good-bye to Barclay. Instead, they offered him a one-year split contract for the minimum salary of $675,000. With Corey Linsley hors de combat, Matt Rotheram headed out the door and Jacob Flores sidelined early, Barclay spent the last month at center and found a home. Being two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery rather than just one made a difference. If Lane Taylor falters, Barclay looks like the next man up.
39. CHRIS BANJO, S
Ron Zook, the special teams coach, has called Banjo the team’s top player in the kicking game. It’s because Banjo is bright, committed to special teams, speedy and a hitter. A hamstring injury early in Game 3 ended his August and meant additional playing time for rookie free agents Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans, both of whom made the team. So did Banjo, who has become a Jarrett Bush clone.
40. JOSH HAWKINS, CB
Flew off the edge and blocked a field-goal attempt in the practice at Lambeau Field. It was the first of a series of flash plays by the rookie free agent when the lights were on. He’s undersized (5-10½, 190) but has the confidence to press regardless of the opponent because of that 4.39 catch-up speed. Made a name for himself playing wide on the punt and punt-return teams, too.
41. JAYRONE ELLIOTT, OLB
Survived the final cut for a third straight year primarily because of his proven ability on special teams. Almost seemed to regress as a pass rusher. Went 0-11 in the pass-rush drill after finishing 3-9-3 in 2015 and 4-4-2 in ’14. Needs to develop counter rush moves because at this point he gets shoved wide almost every time.
42. TY MONTGOMERY, WR
Played 107 snaps in four games and didn’t have a reception for more than eight yards. Dropped two passes in the finale, short-armed a throw inside against the Raiders and showed no sideline awareness against the Browns. He was something of an enigma in four seasons at Stanford, too. If he has a role early, it might be returning kickoffs and taking some snaps as a gadget-type back.
43. KYLER FACKRELL, OLB
In practice, Fackrell could hardly have been more ordinary. His 0-12 record in the pass-rush drill underscored a rookie unable to win with speed or power. In games, it was a different story. Other than Game 2, when the Raiders overpowered him, he applied consistent pressure. In Game 4, he dominated the Chiefs’ backup tight ends to register four of his five tackles for loss.
44. JEFF JANIS, WR
Janis had surgery to repair a right hand damaged in an Aug. 10 ball-security drill. He returned to practice less than three weeks later, even catching a pass. Janis showed little development on offense in the first 9½ practices, raising doubts if he ever will be more than a jump-ball sideline receiver with dynamic special-teams ability.
45. JUSTIN PERILLO, TE
Kennard Backman, a sixth-round pick in 2015, couldn’t beat out Perillo, the free agent signed out of Maine in ’14. Perillo has improved his quickness in and out of his breaks. He remains a plodder after the catch, but does have a feel for finding windows in zone coverage and how to post up against man-to-man. His blocking remains marginal, but the Packers don’t ask tight ends to do a lot of heavy lifting in the run game.
46. KENTRELL BRICE, S
Brice accepted a $2,000 free-agent signing bonus from the Packers against offers from the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Chiefs. The signing bonus for a late first-round choice such as Kenny Clark was about $5 million. After watching Brice, one scout equated him to a first- or second-round pick. He’s a phenomenal athlete who makes plays, hits hard and seems to have a feel for the game.
47. JHURELL PRESSLEY, RB
The former Vikings undrafted rookie was claimed on waivers. “New Mexico ran a ‘pistol’ offense so most of his carries came off the option,” one scout said. “He has good quickness, vision, pad level and finish. Not a big person (5-10, 206) but looks good physically.” One of the best pure athletes at RB in the draft. Scored 13 on the Wonderlic.
48. CHRISTIAN RINGO, DE
Mike Pennel’s four-game suspension opened the door for Ringo, who beat out Brian Price and Tyler Kuder for a roster berth. Saved his best game for last. Poor man’s Mike Daniels gets covered up at the point of attack but does have some jets off the ball and quick twitch on the move.
49. TREVOR DAVIS, WR
Flashed promise as a return specialist before suffering a shoulder injury in Game 4 that will sideline him indefinitely. With 4.41 speed, he and Jeff Janis rank as the fastest wideouts. His ability to get deep was evident, but it was a surprise to see tap-dancer feet and ability to drop his hips at the top of his intermediate routes.
50. KYLE MURPHY, T
A concussion one week into camp sidelined him for two weeks of practice and one exhibition game. Played 152 snaps at a functional level in Games 2-4 to outlast G Lucas Patrick for the final O-line berth. Murphy stood up against the Raiders’ Bruce Irvin in an impressive debut. He needs major weight and strength development, but his feet aren’t bad and he didn’t appear the least bit intimidated.
51. BRETT GOODE, LS
Old pro returns to the fold after being unemployed for eight months. Blew out his ACL on Dec. 20 in Oakland and underwent surgery eight days later. As grooved as a snapper can be. The question that can only be answered with contact is the resiliency of his knee less than nine months since the operation. Also, can he provide any support as a tackler if the need arises?
52. MARWIN EVANS, S
First player from Milwaukee (Oak Creek High School) to make the Packers’ roster in a long time. Five-year collegiate player (two years of junior college) started for only one season at Utah State. Fits profile of the new hybrid safety position because of his size (5-11½, 208), speed (4.47) and explosive striking ability.
53. JOE CALLAHAN, QB
Caught a break when Brett Hundley had ankle problems for most of camp and made the most of it. Started two of the four games, playing 61.4 percent of the offensive snaps. Quick learner with a good arm, especially on the move. Possesses almost a sixth sense feeling and then avoiding trouble.
WR – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis
TE – Jared Cook, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perillo
T – David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy
G – T.J. Lang, Lane Taylor, Don Barclay
C – JC Tretter
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
FB – Aaron Ripkowski
RB – Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Jhurell Pressley
DE – Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo
NT – Letroy Guion, Kenny Clark
ILB – Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas
OLB – Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell
CB – Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins
S – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, Chris Banjo, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans
K – Mason Crosby
P – Jacob Schum
LS – Brett Goode
RESERVE/PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM (1)
C Corey Linsley
RB John Crockett, CB Makinton Dorleant, NT Tyler Kuder. G-C Kyle Steuck
CB Demetri Goodson, DE-NT Mike Pennel
PRACTICE SQUAD (10)
WR Geronimo Allison, LB Carl Bradford, TE Devon Cajuste, LB Reggie Gilbert, RB Don Jackson, G Blake Muir, G Lucas Patrick, NT Brian Price, WR Herb Waters, S Jermaine Whitehead