On paper, the Green Bay Packers appear to have a championship roster.
Whether it’s a championship team remains to be seen.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and Executive Vice President/ Director of Football Operations Russ Ball did yeoman’s work bringing back the overwhelming majority of a roster that appeared in two straight NFC Championship games. Gutekunst also orchestrated a draft that could yield at least three immediate contributors.
For the first time, there are three cutdown dates, as teams trim their rosters from 90 to 53. Teams must cut the roster to 85 by Aug. 17, to 80 by Aug. 24 and to 53 by Aug. 31.
Traditionally, teams took their rosters to 53 during Labor Day weekend. This year, Aug. 31 is a Tuesday, allowing teams to make roster claims and put together practice squads before the long weekend.
The Packers will have a handful of tough decisions to make on their way to a final 53. Here’s a look at each positional group and how Green Bay’s final roster could look.
QUARTERBACKS (3): Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love, Kurt Benkert
Analysis: Green Bay has just three quarterbacks in camp, and the guess is they’ll keep all three.
Love, inactive for all 18 games last season, faces a critical preseason as he readies to take over for Rodgers in 2022. Benkert, who spent most of 2018-20 on Atlanta’s practice squad, might be someone the Packers believe they can develop into a future No. 2.
“We’d like to take a long look at Kurt,” Gutekunst said recently. “He did some good things in OTAs.”
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Lucas Patrick, Billy Turner, Dennis Kelly, Ben Braden, Royce Newman
Analysis: Bakhtiari, who tore an ACL on Dec. 31, is currently on the PUP list. If he begins the season there, he’d be forced to miss the first six games of the year. So, if Bakhtiari is close to returning at the end of the month, the Packers will likely place him on the 53-man roster.
Many have speculated that Patrick is on the hot seat if the Packers feel comfortable going with a cheaper alternative like Runyan or Braden at right guard. But Patrick was extremely solid in 2020 and seems likely to win that spot again.
Rookie second-round pick Myers is on track to start at center. Kelly, signed in July 29, offers depth at tackle. Newman was a fourth round pick this spring and will be given time to develop.
RECEIVERS (7): Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Amari Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Devin Funchess, Malik Taylor
Analysis: The first four are locks to make the team. Cobb is a shell of the player he was during his prime years as a Packer. But Gutekunst traded for him to appease Rodgers, something he made clear to the NFL’s other general managers last week.
“Obviously without Aaron, I don’t think we would probably be pursuing (Cobb),” Gutekunst said. “This is a very important thing for Aaron and that’s why we did it.”
Funchess, who took the COVID opt-out route in 2020, had a big outing during Green Bay’s ‘Family Night’ scrimmage Saturday. Funchess might have hurt his chances, though, by using a racial slur against Asians while meeting with the media after the scrimmage.
Taylor played 209 special teams snaps last year — more than anyone else on offense — and has a leg up on a roster spot due to his prowess there.
TIGHT ENDS (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney
Suspended (1): Jace Sternberger
Analysis: The Packers can’t wait to see what they have in Deguara, a third-round pick in 2020 who tore his ACL in Week 4 last year. Deguara came off the PUP list last week and has the versatility to play both tight end and fullback.
Sternberger, a third rounder in 2019, is suspended the first two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. So Dafney makes the roster for now, and the Packers will have some tough decisions to make when Sternberger returns.
RUNNING BACKS (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill
Analysis: Jones and Dillon form one of the top 1-2 punches in football. So, the only suspense is at No. 3 running back.
Dexter Williams, a sixth-round draft pick in 2019, has just seven carries for 19 yards (2.7) in his first two seasons. He simply hasn’t been very good.
So look for Hill, a seventh-round draft pick this year, to win the job.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, T.J. Slaton
Analysis: The top four players in this group were also the top four last year. The only change is that mammoth Slaton (6-4, 330) takes the spot that was held by Montravius Adams in 2020.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5): Krys Barnes, De’Vondre Campbell, Kamal Martin, Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie
Analysis: Campbell, signed on June 9, has had an impressive camp. Barnes, an undrafted free agent in 2020 who tied for the team lead in tackles, is a player on the rise.
Martin has had a rough summer, but also has too much upside to give up on just yet. Summers is a valuable special teamer, while McDuffie — a sixth round draft pick in May — gets the nod over Oren Burks.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4): Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Jonathan Garvin
Analysis: The top three rival any in football. After that, it’s wide open.
Randy Ramsey was in line to win the fourth spot, but suffered a serious left leg injury last week. That opens the door for Garvin, who had a disappointing rookie year in 2020, to get one more shot.
CORNERBACKS (6): Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Eric Stokes, Chandon Sullivan, Shemar Jean-Charles, Ka’Dar Hollman
Analysis: The final two spots come down to Jean-Charles, Hollman and disappointing 2018 second round pick Josh Jackson.
Jean-Charles, a fifth round pick this year, isn’t going anywhere. Hollman’s 4.38 speed makes it tough to turn the page on him.
That could leave Jackson as the odd man out. In Green Bay’s final nine games last year, Jackson was inactive four times and played just three total snaps. By now, the Packers know they blew this pick and will soon head in a different direction.
SAFETIES (4): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Vernon Scott, Henry Black
Analysis: The Amos-Savage combination is one of the better ones in football. Black is a special teams standout, while Scott is a rising player. The guess here is they both edge out veteran Will Redmond.
SPECIALISTS (3): K Mason Crosby, P JK Scott, LS Hunter Bradley.
Analysis: Scott and Bradley — who arrived together in the 2018 draft — have both been disappointments. If the right player winds up on waivers, don’t be surprised if Gutekunst dumps either Scott, Bradley or both.