Beat writers Jim Owczarski and Ryan Wood analyze the Packers' season opener against the Bears and provide their predictions on who wins. Packers News
GREEN BAY - Ranking the Green Bay Packers’ roster from No. 1 to No. 53 resulted in a lot of changes from a year ago.
That will happen when a new general manager adds 21 players who were not with the organization a year ago. That’s nearly a 40 percent turnover rate and it made for some tough calls and debatable projections, given so many unknowns.
Only two players from the 2017 ranking wound up in the same place this year and they were Nos. 1 and 2.
The 53-man roster GM Brian Gutekunst has amassed doesn’t include as many young players who have little chance of being active unless there are a massive amount of injuries. He has added veteran talent through trades and free agency and might have the best mix of young and old since the 2010 Super Bowl team.
There are potential depth problems at linebacker, offensive line and running back, and the number of rookies who will have to play at cornerback and wide receiver isn’t ideal. How good of a job Gutekunst did in following his “win now” philosophy will come through as the season plays out.
RELATED: Tom Silverstein's NFL picks: Week 1
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
Here is Tom Silverstein’s assessment of the 53-man roster. Players are ranked on the basis of two things: 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. There are 54 ratings because running back Aaron Jones is suspended for the first two games.
1. AARON RODGERS, QB
After Carson Palmer’s retirement, Rodgers, 34, became the sixth oldest starting quarterback in the NFL. He has broken both of his collarbones, costing him seven games in 2013 and nine in ‘17, but otherwise has missed only one other start because of injury (concussion, 2010). After signing a four-year, $134 million extension Aug. 30, Rodgers will be under contract with the Packers until he’s 40, and he seems determined to play that long. One thing to keep an eye on is Rodgers’ interception totals. He had six in six games to start last year and was on pace to set a career mark. Age is a great equalizer when it comes to reaction time.
2. DAVID BAKHTIARI, LT
The Packers witnessed how much Bakhtiari meant to them when he pulled his left hamstring last year and missed four games. The offense changed, even while Rodgers was still healthy, to account for the sixth-year tackle’s absence. He was directly involved in four sack plays, but responsibility was arguably shared on all of them. There’s no amount of single-blocking Bakhtiari can’t handle and his running blocking is better than average. He was a second-team All-Pro each of the last two seasons and should have been a Pro Bowl selection also. He’s a bargain at $12 million per year.
3. DAVANTE ADAMS, WR
He’s not among the fastest receivers. He isn’t among the tallest. He doesn’t have the longest arms. And his hands aren’t that big. But he has some of the sweetest feet in the NFL and his work ethic has him on the verge of a breakout season. He had an outstanding training camp and in Rodgers’ only exhibition game appearance, he caught a short slant and broke loose for a 27-yard gain. His numbers were pedestrian last year but that’s because the quarterback play was awful once Rodgers got hurt. After the Dallas game Week 5, opponents started matching their No. 1 corner on him and that should continue this year. Had five drops last year, but his hands are sure in clutch situations.
4. NICK PERRY, OLB
From a pure talent standpoint, Perry has the potential to be the team’s best defensive player. But he must play a lot more than 49.4 percent of the snaps as he did last season due to hand, hamstring and ankle injuries. The medical staff brought him back slowly from ankle surgery and he’s had a lot of time to work on his flexibility, so he comes into the season free of injury. At his best, Perry is a powerful edge player who plays the run as well or better than he rushes the passer. He had seven sacks in 518 snaps last year and 11 sacks in 603 the year before. In new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system he’ll likely be used as both an outside linebacker and defensive end.
5. KENNY CLARK, NT
Now in his third season, Clark, 22, is finally the age most guys are when they get drafted. There isn’t one attribute that sticks out with him, he’s just a good football player with a great attitude and growing strength. He’s not going to be a pass-rushing demon, but he was second on the team with 11 quarterback pressures and seems to be progressing in that area. He has great body control, stays low and isn’t on the ground much. Pettine is going to sacrifice him a lot so that others can rush free to the quarterback, so Clark’s statistics might not be that great. But he can make his mark on early downs by beating his man off the snap and getting into the backfield. Being around veteran Muhammad Wilkerson has helped him a lot.
6. MUHAMMAD WILKERSON, DT
The Packers better hope Wilkerson isn’t the 2018 version of Joe Johnson, the hard-working, well-respected defensive end that coach/GM Mike Sherman signed in 2002. Once he got paid, Johnson went on sabbatical and played like he didn’t care anymore. Wilkerson is only 28 and he might have worn out his welcome with the New York Jets, but he has plenty of talent left and all the motivation in the world to succeed. Signed to a one-year deal, Wilkerson has a chance to resurrect his career and get paid again if he plays it right. In camp, he was difficult to move for offensive linemen and his height resulted in some batted balls. Wilkerson is reunited with Pettine, the former Jets coordinator, and the Packers are hoping it helps him return to being the feared pass rusher he once was.
7. JIMMY GRAHAM, TE
Don’t think of the 30-yard veteran as a tight end. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. He’s going to line up as a receiver more than he is as an in-line tight end. Graham had 16 touchdowns in his last two seasons with Seattle, so he can still be a force in the red zone. But scouts say he has lost speed and his ability to split safeties isn’t what it used to be. He had just eight catches of 20 or more yards and none over 40 last year. His yards per catch dropped to 9.1. His intelligence and savvy are reasons he has meshed well with Rodgers during practice. Graham has played 16 games in each of the last two seasons, so the Packers feel they should be able to get some mileage out of him.
8. MIKE DANIELS, DE
Once one of the top two or three players on defense, Daniels slipped some last year. He played in 60 percent of the snaps and finished with five sacks, six quarterback hits and three pressures. A former member of the organization said last year Daniels wouldn’t come out of the game when told, took chances that screwed up the scheme and was getting harder to control. He had a quiet camp due to a thigh injury, but one of the few practices where he was allowed to turn it loose, he dominated pass-rushing drills. Wilkerson, a New Jersey native like Daniels, may be able to convince his new teammate that there’s glory in sacrificing yourself so someone else can get to the quarterback. Daniels has all the talent in the world, he just needs to harness it.
9. CLAY MATTHEWS, OLB
The 10th-year pro was a lot more disruptive than people gave him credit for last season. He led the team with 12 quarterback hits and 12 pressures and chipped in six tackles for loss. What was missing were splash plays. He had the hit on quarterback DeShone Kizer that caused a late interception in Cleveland, but just one forced fumble and two pass deflections. He had 7½ sacks playing 62.8 percent of the snaps, but there were several favorable match-ups that he didn’t take advantage of. If he isn’t getting to the quarterback this year, it might be time to move him inside.
10. BLAKE MARTINEZ, ILB
During the offseason, Martinez worked hard to tone his body and get it ready for another season of around 1,000 snaps. He was beat up at the end of last year and knowing that he would be on the field every down for Pettine, he went to work on making sure he was ready. He looked quicker both in his drops and his rushes. He’s never going to be a blow-‘em-up run defender, but very few of those exist anymore. Pettine needs him to be versatile, to see plays develop from all kinds of different positions on the field. He tied for the NFL lead in tackles last year but needs to improve his takeaway production. He will be the conductor of the defense.
11. BRYAN BULAGA, RT
At some point, Bulaga is going to crumble like a house of cards given all the injuries he has suffered. But it doesn’t appear it’s going to happen this year. He is in great physical condition and the only question is whether his surgically repaired knees, battered ankles and beat-up hip will hold up. He was having a terrific year when he tore his right ACL last year, sharing in just one sack. McCarthy will have to test Bulaga gradually given his long absence from game action and shouldn’t leave him alone against Khalil Mack in the opener against the Bears. But if Bulaga stays healthy and plays close to where he was last year, he’ll allow Rodgers to scan the field and avoid lots of big hits.
12. HA HA CLINTON-DIX, S
After his embarrassing performance in the season finale against Detroit where it appeared he passed up tackles he should have attempted, Clinton-Dix has a lot to prove to scouts around the league, especially if he wants them to pursue him in free agency. It doesn’t appear the Packers have made a move or plan to make a move to re-sign him before the season ends. After a season in which he had three interceptions, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries, he’s playing this year for a big contract. Pettine will let him play closer to the box than Dom Capers did, but even if he doesn’t, there’s no excuse for not making plays. Great ones figure out how to get it done. It should help him that he’ll be playing with some veteran corners who know what they’re doing.
13. KEVIN KING, CB
If he didn’t have chronic shoulder problems, King might have a top-10 ranking. He’s skilled, long-armed and intelligent. He has worked hard at improving his jam at the line of scrimmage and he knows how to use his height and length to his advantage. Last year, he tried to play with a brace on his left shoulder, but wound up on injured reserve so he could have his labrum repaired. This year, his right shoulder is bothering him and he has been wearing a brace on it. If it’s the same kind of injury, the likelihood of him not lasting the season is pretty good. If he’s healthy, he’s a starter and the No. 1 corner. But that’s a big if.
14. AARON JONES, RB *
A potential star in the making, Jones showed last year that he’s as explosive as any back in the division. He also showed bad judgment in getting slapped with a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse program. Jones was on pace for 18 rushes of 20 or more yards, which would have led the league, but he suffered a pair of torn MCL injuries that curtailed his season. He worked in the offseason to strengthen his lower body, but it could be he’ll be one of those backs who can’t stay healthy. He could easily be the No. 1 running back because of his home run ability, but durability will be in question until he proves otherwise.
15. RANDALL COBB, WR
In the final year of his contract, Cobb is out of the shadow of Jordy Nelson and clearly the No. 2 receiver behind Adams. He’s going to be given every opportunity to prove he’s more than just a slot receiver whose best work is on scramble plays. He had 68 catches last year but averaged just 9.9 yards per attempt. With Rodgers back under center, he needs to win routes more often and break more tackles, which has been one of his strengths. Playing in the backfield should be scrapped so that he can focus on being a wide receiver.
16. COREY LINSLEY, C
While linemen were dropping one by one around him, Linsley was immovable. He played every snap, the only constant on an offensive line in which the favored five starters played together just twice and the starting lineup changed from one week to the next 11 times. Linsley’s pass protection was very good and he handled some tough run-blocking assignments. He’ll be challenged by some changes in the offense that new coordinator Joe Philbin has made, but it’s nothing he can’t handle.
17. LANE TAYLOR, G
Came into his own last year and was an excellent fit for the type of run game the Packers use. He and Bakhtiari made it as attractive to run to the left as to the right. Taylor greatly improved his pass blocking as evidenced by the decision to start him at left tackle for two games last year. He, Bakhtiari and Linsley have been together a while now and are developing good chemistry, especially when Taylor is asked to pull.
18. TRAMON WILLIAMS, CB
You don’t see a lot of 35-year-old cornerbacks in the NFL, but when you see what kind of shape Williams keeps himself in it’s clear why he’s still around. This is not the Tramon Williams who burst on the scene during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2010. This a player who has learned the tricks of the trade and is getting by more with his smarts than his pure athletic ability. He should be good for a handful of interceptions, but he’s going to be challenged to cover fast receivers. He’s a great influence for the younger corners, who will be pushing him for playing time.
19. JAMAAL WILLIAMS, RB
During the offseason, the 6-foot, 213-pound back put on some added muscle and it showed in the way he handled blocking assignments in pass protection. He didn’t get much of a chance to show himself in camp or the exhibition games and so it’s hard to tell if he can break more tackles and run for longer distances. He’s going to be a good target out of the backfield, particularly on screens. He’ll never be as explosive as Jones and so he’s going to have to get some tough yards. He did not fumble on 178 touches as a rookie.
20. MASON CROSBY, K
Had a really good training camp despite having a new holder and snapper. Hit all six of his field goal attempts in the games and all 13 extra points. Converted two onside kicks last year and has had eight recovered since 2010, the most in the NFL during the span. Attempted only 19 field goals last year because the offense was so bad. Dealt with a swinging door at the long snapper position. His leg strength isn’t what it was, and punter PK Scott was worked on kickoffs during camp.
21. JUSTIN MCCRAY, G
Slow down his tape and you’ll see a guy who loves to finish blocks. He’s powerful and when he gets his hands inside he can drive players down the line. He’s strong enough to slow some players with one arm. His pass blocking is inconsistent and often not pretty, but he’s come a long way with it. Speed will sometimes cause him to lose his balance and that’s when he gets in trouble. He needs to cut down on quarterback hits he allowed last season.
22. JASON SPRIGGS, T
His value to the team could be enormous if something happens to Bakhtiari or Bulaga. He had a terrible start to camp and was getting beat right and left. He seemed to struggle with the 20 pounds he put on in the offseason. Then, suddenly, he came through in the Oakland game and started to build off that performance. He seems more comfortable at left tackle than right tackle and will be the first lineman off the bench, possibly even if it’s at guard.
23. GERONIMO ALLISON, WR
A great story because of his perseverance to go from the practice squad all the way to the No. 3 receiver position. He still has limitations and getting stripped of the ball as the Packers were driving for a potential game-tying touchdown in Carolina last year is hard to forget. He did not force his way into the lineup last year and will need to perform when given an opportunity because three rookies are waiting to steal his playing time. He needs to cut down on drops and find ways to turn short passes into longer gains.
24. JAIRE ALEXANDER, CB
He didn’t get a chance to play as much as the coaches would have liked, but at practice and in games his speed and fearlessness were evident. He got beat for a deep ball in Oakland and then came back with an interception. He can run with most anybody, but he’s going to find out speed isn’t everything. Route running is just as important. His lack of size is an issue no matter his 35-inch vertical. Big receivers are going to body him and he’s going to have to find a way to deal with it. Expect most of his early action to be in the slot.
25. TY MONTGOMERY, RB
Probably the best pound-for-pound athlete on the team, but he can’t stay healthy. He has missed 19 games over three seasons. It’s time for the coaches to stop considering him a running back and use him as a gadget player. He’s a powerful runner, but he can’t handle the grind of carrying the ball down after down.
26. DAVON HOUSE, CB
Even with the health issues he has had over the course of his career, coaches still want him in the lineup. He doesn’t have the 4.4 speed he had coming out of college, but he’s a big corner with bump ability and he will contend on most deep balls. He doesn’t blow assignments and doesn’t try to do too much, leaving others exposed. Gave up three touchdowns and five plays of 20 or more yards last year.
27. REGGIE GILBERT, OLB
Once a defensive lineman in college, Gilbert needed two years to make the transition to outside linebacker and the Packers are glad they were patient with him. Outperformed Kyler Fackrell, Chris Odom, Vince Biegel and others in camp and will start the season as the No. 3 outside linebacker. He has a lot more to learn about pass-rush moves and is going to find it more difficult to get around starting tackles than many of the guys he faced in the exhibition season.
28. DEAN LOWRY, DE
Doesn’t do anything great but gives a lot of effort and has a knack for getting his hands up on passing downs. Ate up a good number of snaps last year – 47.3 percent -- and did a decent job with his pass rush. Had seven quarterback pressures, but just two sacks and two quarterback hits. The coaches need him to finish plays and not just be close to the quarterback.
29. JOSH JACKSON, CB
It might not be long before Jackson gets on the field. Most thought he was not a good fit for Pettine’s system because of his zone background at Iowa, but he has adapted well to man-to-man coverage and shown the same ball-hawking skills he had in college. He’s going to have to learn to stop holding so much in the NFL because he’s not going to get away with it as a rookie. His speed will always be a question mark, but he should be an asset against big receivers.
30. KENTRELL BRICE, S
Being a big hitter isn’t as attractive as it used to be, not with the new helmet and defenseless player rules. It’s lucky for Brice that he has good straight-line speed and knows where he’s supposed to be on the field. He didn’t commit any penalties during the exhibition season but he came close when he hit Oakland quarterback Connor Cook and will have to be careful as the season goes on. Maybe not going for big hits will help him tackle better.
RELATED: Packers' next opponent: Quick takes on the Chicago Bears
31. OREN BURKS, OLB
After Jake Ryan tore his ACL, Burks was inserted into the starting lineup and was learning on the run when he dislocated his shoulder in warm-ups before the Oakland game. The coaches still have high hopes for him because he’s so big and athletic. He showed he can pursue the ball sideline to sideline, but getting off blocks between the tackles and picking gaps to shoot are weaknesses. He could wind up being a nickel backer for a while.
32. JK SCOTT, P
The first punter the Packers have drafted since B.J. Sander in 2004, Scott comes with big-game experience, having played for Alabama. His hang time was outstanding during camp and his distance consistent, but when he got into the games he had some blips. His final performance in Kansas City was impressive. He showed how he can flip field position. But he hasn’t punted much in windy Lambeau Field and he hasn’t punted in the cold yet.
33. JOSH JONES, S
There probably isn’t a more aggressive player on the team and his combination of size and speed make scouts drool. The problem is he didn’t take to Dom Capers’ scheme and made way too many mental errors. Pettine’s scheme isn’t as complicated, but Jones won’t get on the field until he shows he can carry out all his assignments. Brice got the starting job in part because he has great instincts and is assignment-sure.
34. MARCEDES LEWIS, TE
There aren’t many blocking tight ends better than Lewis. That’s really all the Packers need him to do, but the 34-year-old caught six touchdowns in the regular season and postseason combined last year for Jacksonville and so anything he adds in the passing game is a big plus. He’s so big it’s almost like having another tackle in the game. Don’t expect him to see a major role unless there are injuries.
35. TREVOR DAVIS, WR/PR/KR
His blazing speed and a couple of big returns last year secured him a roster spot for another year. The Packers shopped him, but they didn’t get what they wanted and decided to stick with him. He made some questionable decisions last year and probably isn’t on a long leash. He came in third (12.0) in punt returns and tied for seventh (22.8) in kickoffs.
36. LANCE KENDRICKS, TE
He can play just about everywhere, which is the reason he was kept around. Of the four tight ends, he’s the one who can play fullback if needed. He isn’t a good blocker but he tries and he can move, so he’ll see time both in-line and in the slot. Drops have been his biggest enemy and they will be the fastest way to the bench if he can’t avoid them.
37. ANTONIO MORRISON, ILB
He was cast away by the Indianapolis Colts, who thought he didn’t fit their 4-3 defense because he isn’t good in coverage. He’s not a three-down player and will be used mostly on early downs. He can get from point A to point B in a hurry and with force, but he will always have limitations (6-1, 241) and will have to be removed in nickel situations.
38. J'MON MOORE, WR
For a while it looked like Moore might not make the team, but that was never the case. He’s a fourth-round pick and Gutekunst wasn’t going to give up on him that quickly. His lack of concentration is a big problem. Until he consistently catches the ball in practice, he’s going to be on the bench. Still, he’s a good route runner and is more flexible than the other two rookies. He’s fast for his size but would be better if he were stronger.
39. DESHONE KIZER, QB
He didn’t win the backup position on performance. He won it because he’s a better prospect than Brett Hundley and has a lot more room to grow. He’s a big man with good feet and no touch. He’ll get a lot of snaps on the scout teams in practice, but if something happens to Rodgers, he’s not ready to do any better than Hundley did last year.
40. MONTRAVIUS ADAMS, DE
The Packers would like him to be ranked a lot higher than this. But he’s going to have to start using that quickness off the ball to his advantage and make some plays. He was quiet all of training camp and in the games, much like his injury-marred rookie season. He will be rotated in, but he’s the fifth of five defensive linemen.
41. KYLER FACKRELL, OLB
His greatest strength is special teams and he’ll continue to be a staple on those units. As for linebacker, Gilbert passed him up not just because of his pass rush but because he did a better job holding the edge. Fackrell still gives up contain too much and just doesn’t have the bulk to contend with NFL tackles. He’ll flash an occasional pass-rush move, but he’s rarely around the quarterback.
42. JERMAINE WHITEHEAD, S
After flashing on special teams, Whitehead started to earn some time on defense last year and under Pettine he has found a similar niche. He’s athletic enough to play in the slot in coverage or up in the box as a third safety. He’s assignment-sure and so he has gained the trust of the coaches. But he’s strictly a part-time player.
43. MARQUEZ VALDES-SCANTLING, WR
This will probably be a learning year for the rookie. He had a great game against Tennessee and then was quiet. He’s got excellent speed and a long frame, but he’s going to have to work hard this season and next to bulk up so he can fend off aggressive cornerbacks.
44. LUCAS PATRICK, OL
There’s not a lot of great tape of Patrick, but when he is thrust into the lineup he plays hard and to the whistle. He can play both guard spots and center and has experience in the offense. He might not have made it if draft pick Cole Madison had reported to camp.
45. EQUANIMEOUS ST. BROWN, WR
He might have a better chance of playing this year than the other rookies because he seems to be in the right place at the right time and can hang onto the ball. He’s not as dynamic as Moore or Valdes-Scantling so there are limits on what he can do. He’s a lot like Allison was his rookie year. At some point, they’ll probably use him.
46. ROBERT TONYAN, TE
There’s a lot to like about the former wide receiver. He looked like an accomplished receiving tight end in the games, albeit against third-string guys, many of whom aren’t in the NFL anymore. But he has a future. He has worked hard on his blocking and was worth keeping on the 53.
47. BYRON BELL, OL
At times it looked like Bell was on his last legs, but then he’d drive a guy off the line of scrimmage and show that he’s not necessarily finished. He’s beat up, but has more than 70 NFL starts, can play guard or tackle and will do whatever it takes to get his guy blocked. It’s rarely going to be pretty.
48. RAVEN GREENE, S
Not unlike Chris Banjo before him, Greene played solid special teams and seemed to grasp what was going on defensively. It’s questionable whether he’ll be active much this season, but he can help cover kicks and punts if they need him.
49. JAMES CRAWFORD, OLB
If you ever want to see how a guy can make a team with a strong performance in the fourth exhibition game, watch Crawford against the Chiefs. He was determined to put every guy he ran into on special teams flat on his back. It was impressive and may have earned him some playing time on special teams. He’s too raw to play on defense.
50. TIM BOYLE, QB
At times it really seemed like Boyle could play if something were to happen to Rodgers. But two bad interceptions against Kansas City made it evident he’s got a long way to go. Finding guys with that arm strength and that much courage to stand in the pocket is not easy. It was worth keeping him as a developmental player.
51. ALEX LIGHT, OT
He had the best camp of any of the young free agent linemen and will get a chance to develop the way Lucas Patrick, Adam Pankey and some others did over the years. How willing the coaches are to play him if injuries decimate the line remains to be seen. His spot may be dependent on if draft choice Cole Madison reports.
52. DARIUS JACKSON, RB
He’s a top-notch athlete at 6-foot, 220 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He played on all four special teams units with the Dallas Cowboys this summer. He’s basically on a two-week tryout until Aaron Jones returns.
53. KOREY TOOMER, ILB
Gutekunst wanted to take a look at Toomer, who is on his eighth team since Seattle drafted him in 2012. He’ll be a candidate for special teams and gives the defense some insurance if Burks isn’t ready to start the season because of his shoulder injury.
54. HUNTER BRADLEY, LS
Consider Bradley on a short leash. It didn’t appear he was the better of the two long snappers during camp, but Gutekunst stuck with his draft pick. He’s last on the list because he could be first gone. If he costs the team a game with a bad snap, it’s likely he’ll be replaced.
* Suspended for the first two games