Packers' robust draft revs up roster battles
GREEN BAY - It has become a spring tradition to get acquainted with a fresh batch of undrafted rookies on the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster.
Under general manager Ted Thompson, no NFL team has built a stronger reputation for giving undrafted players a true shot at winning a job. At least one undrafted rookie has made the Packers’ initial 53-man roster each season since Thompson was hired as GM in 2005. A year ago, the Packers kept six undrafted rookies on their initial roster, their most under Thompson.
It’s hard to see that trend continuing this season, at least at last year’s volume. If the Packers extend their streak of undrafted rookies making the active roster, it certainly won’t be more than a couple. The Packers added 10 players in last month’s draft, their most since 2013.
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That was also the last year the Packers kept only one undrafted rookie on their initial 53-man roster: outside linebacker Andy Mulumba.
So it will be interesting to see which undrafted rookies look like candidates for roster spots when the Packers conduct their first open session of organized team activities at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Clarke Hinkle Field. Just know there will be fewer spots available because of a more robust draft class.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the Packers’ 90-man roster (R = rookie; N = newcomer):
Quarterback (4): Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Taysom Hill (R).
Outlook: For the first time in his career, Aaron Rodgers will be the most experienced player inside the Packers’ locker room. It might seem hard to believe for fans who remember the baby-faced Rodgers sitting uncomfortably in the NFL draft’s green room, but that was 13 seasons ago. Just another reminder that the Packers’ time to win is now. They’re set up nicely behind Rodgers with Brett Hundley entering his third season as a backup. Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill give the Packers a pair of developmental quarterbacks.
Running backs (6): Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams (R), Aaron Jones (R), Devante Mays (R), Kalif Phillips (R), William Stanback (R).
Outlook: As if the draft’s third and final day wasn’t clear enough, just look at the roster. Only one of the Packers’ running backs has carried the football for them, and Ty Montgomery was a receiver a year ago. So carries in the backfield are wide open and the Packers cast the widest net they could, drafting three running backs after the first three rounds — their most ever in one draft under Thompson — hoping to increase the chances at least one of them sticks. Montgomery enters OTAs as the starter, but he has plenty of young runners chasing him.
Fullbacks (2): Aaron Ripkowski, Joe Kerridge.
Outlook: Ripkowski was a revelation replacing John Kuhn last season, a Pro Bowl-caliber fullback who surprised with his ability to carry the football. And he’ll be plenty motivated this offseason, no doubt remembering his key fumble — a rare mistake — early in the NFC championship game. McCarthy has said he prefers to keep two fullbacks on his roster, and Kerridge has a chance to repeat the secondary role he had a season ago.
Wide receivers (11): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey (R), Malachi Dupre (R), Max McCaffrey, Michael Clark (R), Montay Crockett (R).
Outlook: The Packers had an overcrowded receiver depth chart last season, forcing them to keep an unprecedented seven on their 53-man roster, though Montgomery was later moved to running back. It’s even more crowded this offseason with Allison’s emergence and the addition of Yancey and Dupre. The Packers’ top four wideouts should be set with Nelson, Cobb, Adams and Allison. Behind them, there could be fierce competition for fringe roster spots among Janis, Davis, Yancey and Dupre.
Tight ends (5): Martellus Bennett (N), Lance Kendricks (N), Richard Rodgers, Aaron Peck (R), Beau Sandland.
Outlook: No position on the roster has undergone more personnel change. Gone is Jared Cook, and into his place steps perhaps the Packers’ best tight-end tandem in two decades. McCarthy has said the Packers have three good tight ends, including Rodgers in that mix, but Bennett and Kendricks represent a potential major shift in how his offense attacks the middle of the field.
Tackles (4): David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy.
Outlook: It’s possible the Packers could have the best offensive tackle depth chart in the league. Bakhtiari, a second-team All-Pro last season, and Bulaga form one of the NFL’s top bookends. Behind them, the Packers believe Spriggs gives them better-than-average depth at either tackle spot, and Murphy (who also will get reps at right guard) has had a year to season. You don’t want to be thin with blockers at the edge of the offensive line, and the Packers shouldn’t be.
Guards (9): Jahri Evans (N), Lane Taylor, Don Barclay, Kofi Amichia (R), Lucas Patrick, Thomas Evans (R), Geoff Gray (R), Justin McCray (R), Adam Pankey (R).
Outlook: There are many more questions marks on the interior of the offensive line. Evans and Taylor should be solid, but the Packers sorely need to develop depth behind them. This position looks much different than a year ago, when the Packers were set with Pro Bowlers Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.
Center (2): Corey Linsley, Jacob Flores.
Outlook: If Corey Linsley stays health, the Packers have no issue at center. But injuries have been a problem since late in the 2015 season, when Linsley missed three games with a high-ankle sprain. He was on the physically unable to perform list until Week 9 last season with a hamstring injury, then had ankle surgery this spring that could cost him OTAs. In the past, the Packers had JC Tretter as a more-than-capable replacement at center, but he’s a starter in Cleveland now. The Packers will need to find a capable backup behind Linsley, who has played all 16 games only once in three seasons. Flores should get a lot of reps this spring, as will Barclay and Amichia.
Defensive line (9): Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Ricky Jean Francois, Montravius Adams (R), Brian Price, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion, Izaah Lunsford (R).
Outlook: The Packers wanted to create more depth on their defensive line, and they used every avenue to do that this offseason. Free agency brought in Jean Francois, who could become an eventual replacement for the suspended Guion. They drafted Adams in the third round. Daniels is a stud in the middle, but the real key to the success of this group will be whether Clark and Lowry can make big jumps in their first full offseason.
Inside linebackers (6): Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas, Derrick Mathews, David Talley (R), Cody Heiman (R).
Outlook: Ryan and Martinez are the starters, but how many snaps they get is uncertain. The inside linebacker group could consist of cross-pollination from other positions, including edge rusher Clay Matthews and strong safety Morgan Burnett. Second-round rookie safety Josh Jones might get starter snaps at linebacker in the Packers' nickel defense by early in the season. There are a lot of moving parts at inside linebacker that will likely continue to evolve throughout the offseason and first few weeks of the fall.
Outside linebackers (9): Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, Jayrone Elliott, Vince Biegel (R), Jordan Tripp, Reggie Gilbert, Johnathan Calvin (R), Josh Letuligasenoa (R).
Outlook: The Packers viewed outside linebacker as a lesser need than cornerback this offseason because it was much better on the top line of the depth chart. Matthews and Perry give the Packers solid bookend pass rushers. Behind them, it’s anyone’s guess what the Packers will get off the edge. Fackrell and Elliott have flashed pass-rush potential, but both are unproven and must be sturdier against the run. Biegel, the lone outside linebacker added in the draft, might be counted on to provide snaps early.
Cornerbacks (12): Kevin King (R), Davon House (N), Damarious Randall, LaDarius Gunter, Quinten Rollins, Demetri Goodson, Josh Hawkins, Herb Waters, Donatello Brown (R), Lenzy Pipkins (R), Raysean Pringle (R), David Rivers (R).
Outlook: The Packers would like King to start immediately. He has the physical tools to do it, but the rookie still needs to transition to life against NFL quarterbacks. House could be invaluable not only for his physical, press-man coverage on the outside, but his leadership in a young cornerbacks room. Expect Randall to be the Packers’ nickel corner in the slot. Gunter should give the Packers their most perimeter depth since 2014, while the Packers hope Rollins can give them depth in the slot. But this is a position with a lot to prove after a disastrous 2016.
Safeties (7): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans, Josh Jones (R), Jermaine Whitehead, Aaron Taylor (R).
Outlook: Safety is a much different story than corner in the Packers’ secondary. Clinton-Dix and Burnett give the Packers one of the league’s better combinations at free and strong safety. Brice might still be raw, but he gives the Packers a solid third option to replace the departed Micah Hyde. Jones might be a safety in name only, but the Packers still could go four deep if Evans continues to develop.
Specialists (4): Mason Crosby, Jacob Schum, Justin Vogel (R), Derek Hart (R).
Outlook: Thompson’s decision not to cut corners on special teams, paying Crosby $4 million a year last offseason to kick field goals, paid off huge in the playoffs. After Crosby made consecutive field goals longer than 50 yards to beat the Dallas Cowboys, there’s no doubt the Packers are in good hands — er, right foot — in close playoff games. Schum and Vogel will battle for the starting punter job. Hart, for now, appears to have the inside track on being the long snapper, though veteran Brett Goode is available if Hart stumbles.
Heaviest player: Lane Taylor, a 324-pound veteran left guard.
Lightest: Montay Crockett, a 184-pound undrafted rookie receiver.
Tallest: Several players at 6-foot-6, including TE Martellus Bennett, DE Dean Lowry and T Jason Spriggs.
Shortest: Kalif Phillips, a 5-foot-9 undrafted rookie running back.
Most experienced: Aaron Rodgers, in his 13th season.
Oldest: Jahri Evans, a 33-year-old right guard.
Youngest: Michael Clark, a 21-year-old undrafted rookie receiver.
Most represented college: California (Aaron Rodgers, Richard Rodgers, Trevor Davis), Miami (LaDarius Gunter, Justin Vogel, Herb Waters), Stanford (Ty Montgomery, Blake Martinez, Kyle Murphy) and Utah State (Kyler Fackrell, Marwin Evans, Devante Mays), each with three players.