LeRoy Butler and Tom Silverstein discuss Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers' new interest in free agent acquisitions and why they might be doing it. (Sept. 5, 2017) Bill Schulz | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY - By the time the 2017 season is over, the Green Bay Packers will have gone through more than 53 players, but the group that takes the field Sunday at Lambeau Field for the season opener against Seattle forms the core of the team.
This is by far the most veteran team general manager Ted Thompson has put together. There are nine players 30 years or older and the average years of experience is well above any other season in the Mike McCarthy era.
The team doesn’t feature a lot of Pro Bowl players, but if the Packers are among the best two or three teams in the NFC during the regular season, they very well could have a half dozen. There is more veteran depth on this roster than any Thompson team, but whether that translates into improved performance remains to be seen.
Without question, quarterback Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers a chance to win a Super Bowl every year, but the 52 players around him determine how far the team’s going to go.
Here is Tom Silverstein’s assessment of the 53-man roster (which doesn't include injured players or wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who will serve a one-game suspension to open the season). Players are ranked on the basis of what their projected contribution will be this season and what their long-term potential might be. In some cases, potential was given more weight than possible contribution.
1. AARON RODGERS, QB
Finished 2016 with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in the last 10 games. In the preseason he had a nice 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive against Washington but played just 26 snaps in two games. He came into camp in great shape and is determined to play until he’s 40. This probably is the most talent he has had around him since 2010 and he has his sights set on a second Super Bowl ring.
2. DAVID BAKHTIARI, LT
Now in his fifth season, he is the most indispensable player on the offensive line. He played 97 percent of the regular-season snaps and surrendered just four sacks despite being offered little help against other teams’ top pass rushers. The Packers smartly signed him to a four-year, $49.67 million extension last year. He’s worth more than that now.
3. JORDY NELSON, WR
There will be a time when the 32-year-old hits the wall, but there weren’t any signs of it in camp. Nelson said he only wants to play two or three more years, but he probably could go beyond that and still be an effective receiver. It’s likely he won’t play 93.2 percent of the snaps again this year because of the emergence of Davante Adams and the upgrade at tight end.
4. MIKE DANIELS, DT
No one plays harder than the 28-year-old Daniels. If defensive line coach Mike Trgovac didn’t limit his snaps, Daniels would wear himself out. He had only four sacks last year, but what many people don’t notice is his play against the run. He’s the best run defender the Packers have.
5. HA HA CLINTON-DIX, S
Though not as fast or dynamic as Nick Collins, Clinton-Dix showed he might be as opportunistic. His five interceptions ranked tied for fifth in the NFL. Still, if he wants to be considered elite he has to get his hands on more passes. With Morgan Burnett playing closer to the line of scrimmage more often, Clinton-Dix has become the deep safety responsible for covering wide swaths of the field. His tackling has improved considerably since his rookie year.
6. NICK PERRY, OLB
Two years ago, no one would have thought Perry would be ranked ahead of Clay Matthews, but his play has gotten better and better, mostly the result of being healthy. He’s a powerful man who can jack up tight ends and muscle through offensive tackles. He had 11 sacks despite playing the final five games with a club on his broken left hand and is a more complete player than Matthews.
7. CLAY MATTHEWS, OLB
Injuries have taken their toll on the nine-year veteran, but he’s still capable of making game-changing plays. It’s the reason the coaches let him play one-armed last year after he got decked by Philadelphia Eagles tackle Allen Barbre. He probably should be playing inside now and may just do that with the addition of Ahmad Brooks. He only has 11.5 sacks over his past two seasons.
8. DAVANTE ADAMS, WR
Though Nelson is still king of the hill, Adams very well could take over the mantle of leading receiver. He missed being a 1,000-yard receiver last year by 3 yards. His 13.3 average was the highest of anyone except Allison, who had only 12 receptions. He had 17 catches of 20 or more yards, nearly equaling Nelson’s team-high of 19.
9. BRYAN BULAGA, RT
Injury is still a cloud that hovers over the eight-year veteran, but he played through a shoulder injury in December and didn’t miss any games.. He’ll start this season with an ankle injury that could get worse. He’s coming off a year in which he gave up only three sacks, but after playing next to T.J. Lang for five seasons he needs to jell with Jahri Evans.
10. MORGAN BURNETT, S
Perhaps no player wears more hats on defense than Burnett. In the final year of his contract, Burnett has been working at safety, inside linebacker and slot corner. He had nine pass breakups, three sacks and two interceptions last year. This year, he could spend even more time closer to the action in coordinator Dom Capers’ “nitro” defense. The only thing missing from his game is turnover plays.
11. MARTELLUS BENNETT, TE
Not the easiest guy in the world to coach, Bennett has a chance to transform the Packers' offense. His in-line blocking ability changes everything for McCarthy, who can dictate match-ups with the versatile Bennett on the field. Bennett is a different cat and needs a lot of attention but his teammates have embraced him. If he replicates his year in New England — 73 catches for 771 yards and seven touchdowns — his addition will have been a success.
12. KENNY CLARK, NT
An ascending player, Clark is just 21 and still learning the game. He had an outstanding training camp and has nailed down the starting nose tackle job. He and Daniels carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders given all the nickel Capers plays. It means they’ll have to protect the linebackers on running downs.
13. RANDALL COBB, WR
Still one of the most talented athletes on the team, Cobb’s weakness is his route running and he’s pretty much limited to being a slot receiver. Nelson is seeing more time in the slot and with Adams expected to be a key target, it’s hard to know where Cobb fits in. But if he can get the ball in the open field he’s going to get some yards.
14. DEAN LOWRY, DE
His ranking is based on potential. Behind the scenes the coaches and front office are giddy about the things he can do for the defense now that he has learned to play inside. He’ll be an end in the base defense, but his most important role will be opposite Daniels on passing downs. His length and increasing strength make him more and more difficult to handle.
15. LANE TAYLOR, LG
Had he waited, Taylor could have cashed in bigger on the free agent market. Instead he took the security of a three-year, $16 million extension. In one-on-one pass rush drills, he continually shut down Daniels. His run blocking always has been better than his pass blocking, but his confidence in the latter has grown considerably.
16. MASON CROSBY, K
So far, Crosby has not shown a significant loss in leg strength despite turning 33 this year. The Family Night debacle is in the rearview mirror now that long snapper Brett Goode is back and the field-goal operation is stabilized. Crosby hit 26 of 30 field-goal attempts last year, including 5 of 6 from 40 to 49 yards. His kickoffs aren’t what they used to be.
17. TY MONTGOMERY, RB
Pound for pound one of the most powerful players on the team, Montgomery has all the potential in the world. He also is tightly wound and has had difficulty staying healthy. His 25-yard run on the first play of the Denver preseason game is what makes the coaches excited about his potential. The fumble he had in the Philadelphia game is what should worry them. As a former receiver, he has a chance to be a favorable target out of the backfield.
18. COREY LINSLEY, C
Other than Rodgers, there’s probably no one the team needs to stay healthy more than Linsley. After retaking the starting job from JC Tretter last year, Linsley had an uninterrupted off-season. He gave up only one sack last year, but that was in half a season of play. He’s not as athletic as Tretter, but his upper-body strength helps him with bull rushes. He has to be sharper with his run blocks.
19. JAHRI EVANS, RG
In his prime, Evans was one of the best guards in the NFL. Now 34, he’s on his last legs. However, he had a solid year in New Orleans last year after everyone wrote him off and he has been serviceable during camp. He hasn’t missed practice time, but he showed his age occasionally in the one-on-one pass rush drills and will be pressed to handle all the no-huddle the Packers run.
20. DAMARIOUS RANDALL, CB
Everything went wrong last season for the 2015 first-round pick. He was sloppy in the way he lined up, inconsistent with his tackling and undisciplined with his coverage. A groin injury made it difficult for him to play press coverage, which is what he needs to do to be successful. He worked the slot a lot in camp and had some success blitzing from there in the exhibition games.
21. KEVIN KING, CB
The 2017 second-round pick is built like no other corner on the roster. He’s 6-3, has 32-inch arms and looked like the best tackler on the team the way he wrapped up opposing receivers. Had he not missed OTAs, he probably would have pushed for a starting job. He’s going to play because he’s smart, athletic and worked every day on improving his press coverage.
22. LANCE KENDRICKS, TE
While Bennett got all the pub, Kendricks just showed up every day and did his job. He was extremely consistent until late in camp when he started dropping passes, something that has afflicted him in the past. He’s going to be used in-line, split out and in the backfield. If he’s reliable, he’ll take snaps away from Richard Rodgers.
23. DAVON HOUSE, CB
When he came out of college, House ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He wasn’t very tough and it took a lot of work with cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt to get him to tackle aggressively. Now in his seventh season, he’s the No. 1 corner. He’s going to live and die with bump-and-run coverage. A hamstring injury made it impossible to assess whether he had put a miserable 2016 behind him.
24. JOSH JONES, S
With his size and speed, Jones has immense potential. He wasn’t sound in his coverages early in camp and wasn’t able to unseat Kentrell Brice for the No. 3 safety spot. His play as a gunner on special teams was outstanding and the better he does there, the more likely the coaches are going to be confident in him to play defense.
25. JAKE RYAN, ILB
How Ryan fits into this defense isn’t known. He will play in the base package and in some nickel situations, but if he doesn’t cover well, he’s going to be on the bench. He quickly recognizes gaps he can shoot, but he needs to shed blocks and maintain gap integrity better in the run game.
26. MONTRAVIUS ADAMS, DT
Players marveled at how quick off the ball Adams was in OTAs, but then he broke his foot on the second day of camp and wasn’t seen on the field again until this past week. He’s a couple of weeks away from playing, but his potential is so great the Packers were willing to carry him until he’s ready. Missing camp was a huge setback.
27. QUINTEN ROLLINS, CB
Coming into camp, Rollins was performing better than any corner. But eventually Randall moved past him and King started breathing down his neck. Rollins’ lack of speed and football experience put him at a disadvantage and he’s someone who could emerge later more than sooner. His ball awareness isn’t great, but he’s not afraid to play press and can play in the slot.
28. JASON SPRIGGS, T
If it weren’t for a confidence-building finale against Rams backups, Spriggs would be a mess. He had a terrible camp and was getting beaten regularly in practice and games. Athletically, there’s probably no equal on the offensive line, but he can’t survive on that alone and if he doesn’t stop lunging and giving up the inside, the Packers will have to find someone else to back up Bakhtiari.
29. JEFF JANIS, WR
His play as a gunner on the punt-coverage unit earned him a roster spot again. He’s a difference-maker on special teams. He finally showed some development as a receiver but he’s still buried on the depth chart and likely won’t play more than the 233 snaps he played last year.
30. KENTRELL BRICE, S
As a rookie he established himself as the No. 3 safety. This year, he beat back a challenge from Jones and will start the season as one of the deep safeties when Burnett moves into the box. He’s a big hitter, but he has knocked himself out of games because of it.
31. JAMAAL WILLIAMS, RB
He had the most carries of any back and the worst yards per carry (2.4). He was given every chance to win the No. 2 spot and may still hold it because of his pass-blocking. But he’s got to come around soon or one of the other rookies will pass him by.
32. AARON JONES, RB
By far, the most productive of the rookie backs, he’s probably No. 2b just behind Williams. He’s a work in progress as a blocker so the coaches will have to decide when they can put him on the field and not risk Rodgers getting hit. His 5.5-yard average was impressive.
33. AHMAD BROOKS, OLB
If the 33-year-old Brooks has one year left in him, the Packers will be happy. In his prime, he brought his pads with him on every hit, covered the entire field and was a threat off the edge. The Packers will try to squeeze every ounce of what he has left in a supplemental role
34. KYLE MURPHY, T
His solid play in his second training camp earned him the backup position behind Bulaga ahead of Spriggs. The stronger he gets, the better he will get. He held his own as a starter against Denver, but despite that there’s been no consideration to have him fill the backup left tackle spot.
35. BRETT HUNDLEY, QB
The coaches maintained he made a lot of progress in what was essentially his second training camp (he missed most of last year’s because of an ankle injury). But he took too many sacks, didn’t produce on the run and made some questionable decisions. An argument could be made that Taysom Hill had a higher upside.
36. MARWIN EVANS, S
A great underdog story, Evans won a roster spot on the strength of his special-teams play last year. He made considerable gains as a safety this year and the coaches wouldn’t hesitate to use him. But he won’t play ahead of Brice or Jones.
37. RICHARD RODGERS, TE
Last year, he played 604 snaps. Unless Bennett or Kendricks gets hurt, his snaps are going to be way, way down. He’s got better hands than Kendricks but he can’t block as well and he’s not as good after the catch.
38. TREVOR DAVIS, WR
This was a do-or-die camp for Davis. He had to fight off two draft picks and some solid undrafted free agents. His 68-yard punt return earned him the roster spot and as long he doesn’t muff too many punts, he’ll probably start to see more time as a receiver.
39. RICKY JEAN FRANCOIS, DL
The Packers have liked Jean Francois for a number of years but for whatever reason didn’t or couldn’t sign him the first two times he was a free agent. Now that he’s here, he’ll be used where needed behind Lowry, Daniels and Clark. He’s a big body who plays hard.
40. JOE THOMAS, ILB
No matter what Thomas does, he can’t seem to hold down a starting spot and winds up being pigeon-holed as a nickel or dime linebacker. He’s not as big as Ryan and Martinez and that matters against the run. The addition of Brooks could affect his play time.
41. AARON RIPKOWSKI, FB
The fumble he had in the NFC Championship still hangs over him, but he won the job over Joe Kerridge because he’s better with the ball in his hands. He’s not a knock-the-pins-over blocker, but he’s proven on third downs and is athletic enough to play in a zone system.
42. BLAKE MARTINEZ, ILB
Until he learns how to avoid getting sucked in with play-action fakes, he’s going to be hard to trust. He played with more force, but he’s not as good against the run as Ryan or against the pass as Thomas.
43. QUINTON DIAL, NT
The 49ers didn’t want him because they felt he didn’t fit their new 4-3. He’s not a dynamic rusher or dominant run-stuffer but he can fill the snaps Letroy Guion would have offered had he made the team and not been suspended.
44. CHRIS ODOM, DE
The Packers are hoping he can develop into a Datone Jones-type player who is big enough to put his hand down and agile enough to occasionally cover. Claimed on waivers from Atlanta, he’s here on a trial basis and will have to win a permanent spot through his practice play.
45. LENZY PIPKINS, CB
His ability to play in the slot separated him from Donatello Brown. His 4.46 speed and supreme confidence made him stand out but he will have to offer something on special teams in order to get on the field.
46. DEVANTE MAYS, RB
The Packers probably could have cut him and gotten him back on the practice squad, but his improved play as a receiver and on special teams made them want to continue developing him. He’s got a ways to go to be able to be trusted in pass protection.
47. KYLER FACKRELL, OLB
He made modest improvement as an outside linebacker, but his special-teams play continued to be solid, earning him a spot over Jayrone Elliott. He won just a single one-on-one pass rush attempt in camp and wasn’t credited with a tackle in 103 snaps. Vince Biegel could bump him from the roster when he returns from PUP.
48. JOSH HAWKINS, CB
The fastest of the cornerbacks, Hawkins made just enough plays to keep his roster spot. He was shaky early on, but then started getting his hands on the ball. He tied with Brown for the team lead in pass break-ups. His play as a hold-up guy on punt return helped his cause.
49. LADARIUS GUNTER, CB
He was in danger of getting cut early in camp. But then Whitt moved him into the slot and he suddenly regained his confidence. He’s behind Randall and Rollins, but there are times he’ll be a better option blitzing from the slot and may see time in the nickel or dime.
50. LUCAS PATRICK, G-C
If Linsley got hurt, Justin McCray probably would get first crack at center. Patrick might get the nod at guard over McCray but that might be determined week to week based on practice.
51. BRETT GOODE, LS
The Packers keep trying to replace him because at 33 his cover ability on punts has diminished considerably. But his snapping is so consistent they can’t go on without him.
52. JUSTIN VOGEL, P
There are punters out on the street that the Packers could try, but they are willing to accept some inconsistency because when he hits the ball true he gets great hang time. He’s going to have some rookie moments.
53. JUSTIN MCCRAY, G-C
His feistiness came through in his play. He had some bad moments pass blocking but the Packers felt there was enough there to keep him around. He and Patrick will be on the bubble all season.