Packers roster analysis: Will bigger mean better?
GREEN BAY - If this were a basketball team, where height and length are paramount, the Green Bay Packers would present quite a formidable lineup entering this week’s organized team activities.
Coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers put a premium on getting “bigger” this spring. Usually, “bigger” for a football squad is measured in pounds, not inches. But as the team entered its OTAs on Monday, it’s apparent the Packers have gotten significantly taller.
Whether it’s the tallest roster in the NFL depends on where you draw the line on the tape measure. The Packers lead the NFL with 49 players listed at least 6-3, and their 21 players listed exactly 6-3 is also the most. Their 28 players listed at least 6-4 is more middle of the pack, and their 15 players listed at least 6-5 is in the league’s bottom third.
The Packers used the draft to infuse their roster with height — nine of their 11 drafted players are at least 6-2 — but it also came from other avenues. The Packers' tallest player, 6-7 tight end Jimmy Graham, signed as a free agent. The Packers' tallest quarterback, 6-4 DeShone Kizer, arrived via trade.
Whether height translates much to winning is a fair debate. Tall players can clog a quarterback’s throwing window or reach high for a pass, but you can’t dunk a touchdown. Seven teams from last season’s playoffs rank among the league’s top half in players listed at least 6-3, including the New England Patriots. Five teams are in the bottom half this spring, including the Philadelphia Eagles.
Regardless, the collective height on the Packers' roster is notable. If their players have the speed and strength to match, along with solid fundamentals, they could go a long way.
The Packers entered Monday’s opening session with a full, 90-man roster. They later put defensive tackle Filipo Mokofisi, an undrafted rookie from Utah, on the reserve/retired list. No alternative move was announced. So here’s a position-by-position look at the Packers’ 89-man roster in advance of their first open OTA session at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday (R: rookie; N: newcomer):
Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer (N), Brett Hundley, Tim Boyle (R).
Outlook: Let the battle begin. One of the offseason’s best roster competitions figures to be Kizer vs. Hundley, both vying for top backup status behind Rodgers. After Hundley was gifted the job each of the past two years, general manager Brian Gutekunst ensured there would be legitimate competition when he traded cornerback Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns for Kizer in March. With the Packers not wanting to overextend Rodgers as he returns from the broken collarbone in his throwing shoulder, there should be plenty of practice reps for each.
Running backs (5)
Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery, Devante Mays, Joel Bouagnon (N).
Outlook: A year ago, the Packers appeared to be entering their post-Eddie Lacy era with a paper-thin depth chart at running back. Much has changed since then. After the success Williams and Jones had in their rookie seasons, the biggest question now is how to accommodate all the talent in their backfield. Even if Williams and Jones are more projected potential than proven production, they’ll need room to grow. Montgomery, the starter one year ago, is the best pass-catcher out of the backfield. Don’t overlook Devante Mays, a dark horse to produce after his rookie season was derailed because of fumbles.
Aaron Ripkowski, Joe Kerridge.
Outlook: On a lesser scale, the Packers' fullback depth chart is similarly clogged. In Ripkowski and Kerridge, the Packers have a pair of starting-caliber fullbacks with special-teams value at a position where teams only carry one player, if any at all. Kerridge played Ripkowski to a near draw in last year’s camp, only to injure his calf before the preseason finale and eventually reach a settlement. The Packers signed Kerridge back to the active roster in November, and they played four games late last season with a pair of fullbacks in their 46-man, game-day lineup. McCarthy has said in the past he prefers two fullbacks on his roster. Perhaps Jeff Janis’ offseason defection from the special-teams unit will entice the Packers to keep two fullbacks again this fall.
Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis, Michael Clark, DeAngelo Yancey, Colby Pearson, Jake Kumerow, J’Mon Moore (R), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (R), Equanimeous St. Brown (R).
Outlook: The Packers' receiver position is reminiscent of their running back position a year ago. Yes, they have a No. 1 receiver in Adams and a starting slot target in Cobb, but as a whole, the receiving corps lacks depth following Jordy Nelson's release. Allison might be the leading contender to start on the perimeter opposite Adams, but there is no one who projects to have legitimate, No. 2 receiver production. It’s fitting the Packers spent a trio of Day 3 draft picks on receivers, just as they did last year with running backs. Ideally, the trio of Moore, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown would have similar rookie production, though it’s more unlikely for receivers than ball carriers.
Tight ends (6)
Jimmy Graham (N), Lance Kendricks, Emanuel Byrd, Robert Tonyan, Ryan Smith (R), Kevin Rader (R).
Outlook: By far the thinnest position on the roster, only two proven tight ends remained after Richard Rodgers signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. In Graham and Kendricks, the Packers have a pair of pass catchers to stretch the middle of the field, though both need to build chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. Kendricks played sparingly behind Martellus Bennett early last season, though he caught a touchdown pass in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. His only start with Rodgers came in Week 15, after the quarterback missed eight weeks because of injury. Behind Graham and Kendricks, the Packers have a combined experience of just one NFL game. That came in last season’s finale from Byrd, who had two catches against the Detroit Lions. If the Packers keep a third tight end, the job might go to the best blocker, something neither Graham nor Kendricks does well.
Lane Taylor, Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick, Adam Pankey, Kofi Amichia, Cole Madison (R).
Outlook: A couple years ago, guard was one of the strongest positions on the Packers' roster with Pro Bowlers Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. Erosion has left the formerly undrafted Taylor the leader of this group. Taylor, who signed a three-year extension last September, enters his third season as starting left guard after impressing in his first two. The team’s starting right guard remains a mystery. McCray is probably the frontrunner, though of the many positions McCray played in a utility role last season, he got only one snap at right guard. Patrick and Pankey also will compete for the job, and fifth-round rookie Madison figures to get his chance as well.
David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs, Jacob Alsadek (R), Alex Light (R), Kyle Meadows (R).
Outlook: There isn’t a bigger void on the roster than right tackle, making general manager Brian Gutekunst’s decision to not draft one surprising. It’s clear the Packers hope they can get something from Bulaga this fall. That point is unlikely to come before midseason as Bulaga recovers from a torn ACL in his right knee. In the meantime, the Packers will rely on a pair of tackles coming off their own significant injuries. Spriggs, a 2016 second-round pick who faces a make-or-break offseason, missed nine games after tearing his hamstring while blocking for an extra point in last season’s opener, then dislocated his left kneecap in Week 16. Murphy fared better than Spriggs in three starts at tackle (one start at right tackle, two at left) but his season ended in September because of a broken foot. At least the left side is secured with blindside blocker Bakhtiari.
Corey Linsley, Dillon Day, Austin Davis (R).
Outlook: After going through most of 2017 without a traditional backup center, the Packers have more depth. They won’t need it if Linsley repeats what he did last season. Linsley was the only player on either side of the ball to be on the field for every snap last fall, playing well enough to earn a three-year, $25.5 million extension one day before the season ended.
Defensive linemen (8)
Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Muhammad Wilkerson (N), Montravius Adams, James Looney (R), Conor Sheehy (R), Tyler Lancaster (R).
Outlook: Gutekunst doubled down on a strength when he signed interior pass rusher Wilkerson to a one-year deal in free agency. It will be interesting to see how their top four of Daniels, Clark, Lowry and Wilkerson rotate. The Packers need this group to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, offsetting what their defense lacks in edge rushers.
Outside linebackers (8)
Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Vince Biegel, Reggie Gilbert, Kyler Fackrell, Chris Odom, Kendall Donnerson (R), Naashon Hughes (R).
Outlook: Same as last year, the Packers are searching for viable edge rushers to emerge behind Matthews and Perry. The Packers waited until their final draft pick to nab Donnerson, who’s unlikely to contribute this fall. Their hopes of bolstering the depth chart mainly rest on Biegel and Gilbert, who showed flashes last year but will need to make huge jumps. This much is clear: The Packers can’t count on Matthews and Perry staying on the field. Both missed time with injuries last season and neither played more than 65 percent of the defensive snaps.
Inside linebackers (8)
Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Ahmad Thomas, Oren Burks (R), Parris Bennett (R), C.J. Anderson (R), Greer Martini (R), Marcus Porter (R).
Outlook: Five rookies give the Packers a young inside linebacker depth chart. One is third-round pick Burks, who figures to get plenty of snaps as a subpackage, cover linebacker. Martinez and Ryan are the stalwarts of the group, starting most of the games over the past two seasons. After sharing the NFL lead in tackles last fall with 144, Martinez could take a jump if he improves in coverage.
Kevin King, Davon House, Tramon Williams (N), Jaire Alexander (R), Josh Jackson (R), Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins, Demetri Goodson, Lenzy Pipkins, Donatello Brown, Herb Waters.
Outlook: The Packers' priority this offseason was building their cornerback position. In re-signing House, signing Williams and drafting Alexander and Jackson with their top two picks, the Packers added a nice mix of veteran experience and young talent. King returns for his second season after his first ended prematurely because of shoulder surgery. How much he participates this spring will be worth tracking. Behind a clear top five, the Packers have several developmental prospects.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans, Jermaine Whitehead, Raven Greene (R).
Outlook: The success of this group hinges on whether Clinton-Dix plays more like 2016, when he was a Pro Bowler, or his disappointing 2017 version. The Packers have placed their trust in him, pushing Clinton-Dix to be a leader in their locker room following Morgan Burnett’s departure. At strong safety, Jones and Brice will compete to replace Burnett. There is solid depth with Evans, and the Packers like Whitehead’s versatility.
Mason Crosby, JK Scott (R), Hunter Bradley (R), Zach Triner (N).
Outlook: After Justin Vogel had the best season of any Packers punter since Jon Ryan in 2007, he was rewarded similarly with a release. In his place, the Packers expect fifth-round rookie Scott to be a “rare” talent worth their gamble. The Packers spent a seventh-round pick on long snapper Bradley, a tangible price to finally replace Brett Goode. Crosby, entering his 12th season, is the veteran sandwiched by a pair of rookies.
Heaviest player: Lane Taylor, a 324-pound left guard.
Lightest: Receiver Trevor Davis and cornerback Herb Waters, both at 188 pounds.
Tallest: Tight end Jimmy Graham and offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek, both listed at 6-foot-7.
Shortest: Aaron Jones, a 5-foot-9 running back.
Most experienced: Aaron Rodgers, entering his 15th season at quarterback.
Oldest: Tramon Williams, a 35-year-old cornerback.
Youngest: Jaire Alexander, a 21-year-old rookie cornerback drafted in the first round out of Louisville.
Most represented college: California (Aaron Rodgers, Trevor Davis, James Looney), Iowa (Mike Daniels, Bryan Bulaga, Josh Jackson), Notre Dame (DeShone Kizer, Equanimeous St. Brown, Greer Martini), Stanford (Blake Martinez, Ty Montgomery, Kyle Murphy), Utah State (Kyler Fackrell, Devante Mays, Marwin Evans) and Wisconsin (Lance Kendricks, Vince Biegel, Conor Sheehy), each with three players.