The Green Bay Packers have seven undrafted rookies who are seriously in the running for the 53-man roster.
A tip of the cap to the Packers’ scouting staff for that. I can’t remember a year in my 24 seasons covering the team that had this many viable undrafted players.
Not all of them are created equal, and the top five are receiver Geronimo Allison, safeties Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans and cornerbacks Josh Hawkins and Makinton Dorleant. Brandon Burks also has a shot because of a thin running back corps, and Brian Price for the same reason on the defensive line.
In the end, as few as only two or three could end up on the Packers’ final roster. A recent hamstring injury hurts Dorleant’s chances, for instance, and the Packers’ glut of NFL-caliber receivers could do in Allison even though he has been as good as anyone in the group.
But most if not all look like they have promising futures in the NFL, and if all were to make it with the Packers after final cuts Saturday, it wouldn’t be a shock.
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The NFL’s roster cuts to 53 are due by 3 p.m. CDT Saturday. There’s one preseason game left, Thursday night at Kansas City, for the Packers’ bubble players to make their final cases. The guys fighting for the last roster spots will get plenty of playing time.
Following is my prediction of how the final 53 will break down when general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy make their choices:
Quarterbacks (2): Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley.
Comment: Undrafted Joe Callahan has shown some playmaking as camp has gone on but doesn’t warrant a roster spot unless Hundley (ankle injury) can’t play in the opener. Hundley was in pads and taking part in individual drills at practice Monday, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be ready for Week 1.
Running backs (4): Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Aaron Ripkowski, Brandon Burks.
Comment: The Packers have a glut at receiver and can afford to go light here. It was a close call between undrafted rookie Burks and holdover John Crockett as the No. 3 halfback and I initially went with Crockett because he's bigger (217 pounds to Burks’ 208) and the better blocker. But it appears the shoulder injury suffered by Crockett against San Francisco will hand the job to Burks.
Receivers (7): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis.
Comment: Something has to give here. Nobody keeps seven receivers, but I don’t see how the Packers don’t. And that still leaves a good player on the outs, in this case Geronimo Allison. A rare Ted Thompson trade is a real possibility. In my view Nelson, Cobb and Montgomery can’t be traded. Abbrederis (past concussions) and Janis (broken hand) probably don’t have much value to other teams. Davis has a quality (speed) that the Packers lack at this position, and he might be an untapped talent, so I’m thinking they wouldn’t move him, either. That leaves Adams and Allison. If it comes down to cutting an eighth guy, I’d say Allison over Davis. And then he’ll get claimed by another team.
Offensive linemen (9): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, JC Tretter, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs, Lane Taylor, Don Barclay, Kyle Murphy.
Comment: It looks like Corey Linsley (hamstring) will open the season on PUP, so he won’t count against the roster. That leaves Barclay as the backup center, though he also has position versatility and can play anywhere but probably left tackle in a pinch. Taylor and Josh Walker are guards, and though Taylor has been only OK in the preseason the Packers liked him enough to pay him a $600,000 bonus, so he sticks. If they want to go lighter here to keep an extra defensive back or linebacker, Taylor could be in jeopardy.
Tight ends (3): Jared Cook, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perillo.
Comment: Though McCarthy loves stocking up at this position, Kennard Backman hasn’t done anything to justify a roster spot. He’s a decent bet for a second season on the practice squad, as is Mitchell Henry.
Defensive linemen (5): Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Brian Price.
Comment: The fourth-round pick Lowry makes it on potential and might be ready to help later in the season. For the fifth and final spot, the undrafted Price is bigger (6-3, 318) and stronger than Christian Ringo (6-0½, 298), who could be headed to the practice squad again. When Mike Pennel returns from a four-game PED suspension, Price is a good bet to the practice squad.
Inside linebackers (4): Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Sam Barrington, Joe Thomas.
Comment: Carl Bradford emerged from nowhere to make a run at a roster spot and could make it is as the fifth man or ahead of Barrington or Thomas. Barrington still shows rust coming back from ankle surgery last year, but at least he hits when he gets there. Thomas probably has the special-teams edge on Bradford.
Outside linebackers (6): Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Kyler Fackrell, Lerentee McCray.
Comment: Fackrell makes it based on draft status (third round) and potential (6-5, 4.72-second 40). McCray gets the nod over Jayrone Elliott. Both are special-teams core players, and though Elliott might have a slight edge there he has been invisible as an edge defender. McCray at least has shown a little pass rush. Undrafted rookie Reggie Gilbert appears worth keeping on the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (5): Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins.
Comment: Hawkins, Makinton Dorleant and practice-squad holdover Robertson Daniel are fighting for probably only one spot. Dorleant’s hamstring injury at San Francisco last week hurts his chances. Daniel is big (6-1, 205), but Hawkins has more upside because of his catch-up speed (4.39-second 40 to Daniel’s 4.46 seconds). Demetri Goodson doesn't count against the roster while he serves a four-game PED suspension.
Safeties (5): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, Kentrell Brice, Chris Banjo.
Comment: Brice, an undrafted rookie, has to be a lock because of his speed (4.43 40) and willingness to hit. Banjo’s status could be shaky because of a hamstring injury at San Francisco last week, but if it’s not serious he joins Janis as the two most important core special-teams players. Marwin Evans, another undrafted rookie, had an interception last week and looks every bit the NFL player as well. The Packers will be lucky if they cut him and he goes unclaimed.
Specialists (3): Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Rick Lovato.
Comment: Masthay hasn’t had a strong camp, but his hang time was consistently better than Peter Mortell’s, so the Packers cut the latter Monday. Masthay still could use a good game Thursday at Kansas City or risks having the Packers replace him from Saturday’s waiver wire.