QUARTERBACKS (3) – The Packers have opened each of the past three seasons with a trio of QBs on the 53-man roster. Considering the solid work of Joe Callahan and especially rookie Taysom Hill this summer, and just as importantly the likely departure of Brett Hundley in a trade after the season, it’s possible that GM Ted Thompson will once again go heavy at this position. If he does, the question becomes who to keep? Hill has been the better player and has the higher ceiling, but he’s also three years older than Callahan, whom the coaches really like. Ideally, Hill would spend the year on the practice squad, but even at his advanced age (27), there’s no guarantee he would make it through waivers. There are plenty of teams looking for a QB to develop.
Prediction: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley and Taysom Hill (Callahan was claimed off waivers two separate times last season, and I’m not sure Thompson is willing to take that same risk with the more talented Hill).
RUNNING BACKS (4): Ty Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski and fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams are locks; it gets somewhat interesting after that. Fifth-round pick Aaron Jones is nifty with the ball in his hands, but he probably can’t be trusted in protection. And while seventh-round pick Devante Mays isn’t as flashy, he should be more useful in the passing game this season. And don’t forget about bruising Joe Kerridge, who isn’t a big step down from Ripkowski and who’s been very good on special teams. Thompson has kept more than one fullback before, so while it’s not likely, it’s certainly possible. Undrafted free agent Kalif Phillips has done some positive things, but the practice squad is his only realistic hope of sticking around.
Prediction: Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays and Aaron Ripkowski (Kerridge was a very difficult cut, but at the end of the day, keeping a second fullback just seems superfluous. Jones should make it to the practice squad where he can work on blitz pickup and be available if needed later in the season).
TIGHT ENDS (3) – Unless Thompson decides to trade Richard Rodgers, who might be the best No. 3 TE in the league, this position has been set for months. Emanuel Byrd was pretty impressive since joining the team in early August, but he needs to get bigger and stronger and would benefit from spending the season on the practice squad. He could be Rodgers’ replacement a year from now. Undrafted free agent Aaron Peck struggled to make the transition from wide receiver and quickly dropped below Byrd on the depth chart.
Prediction: Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers (In the unlikely event that Rodgers and his $1.8 million contract is traded, there’s a good chance his replacement on the 53 would come from the outside).
WIDE RECEIVERS (6) – It’s hard to imagine Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis not making the 53, so that leaves draft picks DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre and undrafted free agents Max McCaffrey and Michael Clark battling for one or two spots. Thompson kept seven last year and could do so again. McCaffrey and Clark have outplayed Yancey and Dupre, but pedigree matters. The last player drafted before the sixth round to be cut so quickly was Jamon Meredith way back in 2009. That bodes well for Yancey, even though he hasn’t done much in camp. If another receiver sticks, it’ll only be until Geronimo Allison returns from suspension in week 2. Most young players released by the Packers on cutdown day make it through waivers, but Clark, Dupre and McCaffrey might be tempting to a rebuilding team with a dearth of wide receivers.
Prediction: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and DeAngelo Yancey (Allison could take Yancey’s place after week 1 or the Packers could keep seven like they did to open last season).
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9) – Veteran Don Barclay’s health will play a big part in who stays and who goes. If his ankle isn’t ready for week 1, either Lucas Patrick or Justin McCray will have to be kept on the 53 to be the backup center. And while Patrick has more potential, he’s currently in the concussion protocol. Jason Spriggs didn’t earn a spot on the 53 this summer, but Thompson isn’t going to release a talented player who was drafted in the second round 15 months ago. Kyle Murphy is also a lock. That’s already nine players, so extremely raw but talented Kofi Amichia could be left on the outside looking in. That would be a shame because the sixth-round pick has a brighter future than either Patrick or McCray, but he can’t play center. Intriguing undrafted free agents Geoff Gray and Adam Pankey seem destined for the practice squad.
Prediction: David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans, Lane Taylor, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy, Don Barclay and Lucas Patrick (If Barclay isn’t ready to play in week 1, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Thompson look to replace Patrick with a more experienced player from outside the organization).
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5) – As is the case on the offensive line, an injury will also complicate things here. The Packers have to decide whether to keep rookie *Montravious Adams on the 53 or place him on IR to start the season. The third-round pick hasn’t practiced since undergoing foot surgery at the start of training camp. If he stays on the 53, there’s a chance Brian Price and Christian Ringo will be released – even though both have enjoyed good summers. That would be a shame, but how can a defense that plays so much nickel justify keeping six linemen? If Adams is placed on IR, Thompson would then likely have to choose between the stronger Price and the quicker Ringo. There is one way to keep both youngsters, but it would mean trading or releasing veteran Ricky Jean Francois – a move that is unlikely but far from impossible. The former Redskin has been adequate this summer, but is he worth keeping for one season over the youth and potential of Price or Ringo? That’s something Thompson will have to consider.
Prediction – Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Ricky Jean Francois and Christian Ringo. (Tough to cut Price, but Ringo offers more as a pass rusher. As for Adams, he hasn’t proven a thing yet and his type of injury can be especially tough on big guys. Give him more time to heal and hope he can help later in the season.
LINEBACKERS (9) – The signing of Ahmad Brooks could push Reggie Gilbert to the practice squad for a second straight season. He deserves better, but Thompson probably isn’t going to cut Kyler Fackrell, who was drafted in the third round in 2016, or Jayrone Elliott, who was given a $350K signing bonus in the spring. Thompson could decide to keep six outside linebackers. Jake Ryan is the only lock inside, but Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas should feel fairly secure. Both players have enjoyed good summers. And while it might seem unnecessary to keep a fourth at the position considering how much safeties Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones figure to play at ILB in the nickel, veteran Jordan Tripp is a stud on special teams. After not being in pads since Jan. 2, it’s hard to imagine rookie Vince Biegel (foot) coming off the PUP list. Undrafted free agents Johnathan Calvin and Cody Heiman have a chance to stick around on the practice squad.
Prediction – Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Ahmad Brooks, Kyler Fackrell, Jayrone Elliott, Reggie Gilbert, Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas and Blake Martinez. (Not sure keeping six outside linebackers is necessary, or for that matter even warranted, but Gilbert earned a spot on the 53 – at least until Biegel is activated sometime after Halloween. There’s a chance that Elliott, who injured his back recently, could start the season on injured reserve. Tripp is a good guy to have around, but like Kerridge, keeping him just seems superfluous).
DEFENSIVE BACKS (11) – This seems pretty cut and dried. Corners Damarious Randall, Davon House, Quinten Rollins and top pick Kevin King are locks, as are safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Kentrell Brice and second-round pick Josh Jones. Josh Hawkins and Marwin Evans aren’t guaranteed to be on the 53, but it’s hard to imagine either getting released. Does that leave room for LaDarius Gunter? It should, considering he was the team’s best corner at the end of last season. In other years, undrafted free agents Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown would’ve had a chance to stick, but the competition was too fierce.
Prediction: Damarious Randall, Davon House, Quinten Rollins, Kevin King, Josh Hawkins, LaDarius Gunter, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Kentrell Brice, Josh Jones and Marwin Evans (Other than Hawkins and to a lesser extent Evans, this has been the expected group of defensive backs since the draft in April. Very few teams carry five safeties, but very few teams are as deep and as talented at the position).
SPECIALISTS (3) – The Packers keep trying to get rid of 32-year-old long snapper Brett Goode, but he just keeps coming back. Rookie punter Justin Vogel has an above average leg and enjoyed a pretty good summer, but his fate could ultimately come down to which proven veterans are let go over the next few days.
Prediction: Mason Crosby, Justin Vogel and Brett Goode (Vogel probably wrapped up the job on Thursday night vs. the Rams, but when it comes to punters and Thompson, you never really know. Just ask Jon Ryan).
*According to NFL rules, Adams can’t officially be placed on the injured reserve list until after the 53-man roster is set on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m. ET if the Packers want to bring him back later in the season.