With training camp still months away it’s hard to predict what the roster will look like come September, but as die-hard fans know, it’s never too early for a look ahead.
Packer’s general manager Ted Thompson and his staff drafted heavy on defense last week, so the first prediction I have for the final roster follows that same trail. It will be heavier on defense.
I also believe that quality depth at certain positions such as defensive line will steal roster spots from positions where depth is not as valuable.
Here we go…
QB, Aaron Rodgers- Rodgers returns from an MVP performance in 2011 to lead the Packers top ranked scoring offense in 2012.
QB, Graham Harrell- Harrell will step into Matt Flynn’s old role as backup quarterback from day one, and he’s more ready than most people think. There is a strong chance that B.J. Coleman or Nick Hill could make the roster as well, but I’d bet on the Packers giving one of them a practice squad spot and banking the extra roster spot.
FB, John Kuhn- Kuuuuuuhn! Fan favorite and team player John Kuhn isn’t going anywhere. Enough said.
RB, James Starks- Starks showed the Brass in Green Bay enough last season for them to let Ryan Grant move on. The Buffalo product will carry a much bigger load in 2012.
RB, Alex Green- Recovering from a torn ACL isn’t a cake walk, but Green is young and resilient. He’ll have to prove in training camp that the burst and agility that got him drafted is still there, but if he does he could see significant playing time as a third down back.
RB, Brandon Saine- The third year back out of Ohio State will battle for a roster spot in training camp and as everyone knows the third spot will go to the best remaining pass blocker. I believe that will be Saine.
WR, Greg Jennings- Jennings is a top ten receiver in the NFL and another solid season in 2012 will see him get the recognition he deserves from the media.
WR, Jordy Nelson- Nelson ran away with the ball last season going for double digit touchdowns and career bests in every related category. There has been talk that he could be used more often in the slot for 2012 but I’m skeptical about that theory because teams don’t often put their tallest receiver in the slot.
WR, Randall Cobb- Expect Cobb to get much, much more involved in the offense in 2012. He is an ideal fit in the slot, but can hold his own outside as well. Cobb should be one of the more exciting Packers to watch in 2012.
WR, Donald Driver- Driver is busy “Dancing With The Stars” for now, but make no mistake he still offers value as a savvy receiver and veteran leader in the locker room. 2012 might be his last year, but expect him back because of the depth and sure hands he still offers at the position.
WR, James Jones- Jones is under a relatively new contract so any practice squad member or undrafted free agent that wants his roster spot will have to make big waves from day one to have a chance at taking it. But, because of his untimely drops and the fact that he looks to have hit his full potential it wouldn’t be out of the question for the staff to go a different direction.
TE, Jermichael Finley- After losing much of the 2010 season to a torn meniscus Finley returned to full health in 2011 but had to shake off some rust and MUST get back to having reliable hands in 2012 if he wants a chance at a long term contract with the Packers.
TE, Andrew Quarless- Quarless saw less playing time in 2011 due to the return of Jermichael Finley. Quarless was still effective when called upon, but will have to prove himself more worthy than D.J. Williams to hang onto the number two job though training camp.
TE, DJ Williams- As mentioned above Williams will battle Quarless for number two responsibilities and he as well needs to have a strong showing to stick around. If the coaching staff decides they want to keep three quarterbacks this year the tight end position could be cut down and neither Williams nor Quarless offer good value as a blocker like Tom Crabtree.
TE, Tom Crabtree- Crabtree isn’t flashy, but Aaron Rodgers likes him as a receiving option and his physicality in the blocking game is an asset that the Packers will covet without an elite running back or proven backup for Rodgers.
LT, Marshall Newhouse- Newhouse was thrown into a starting role before he was ready for it last year, but was still able to provide sufficient protection, and most importantly, he improved as the season went on. At this point he projects to be the starter at left tackle.
LT, Derek Sherrod- 2011’s first round draft selection broke his leg late in the season while filling in at right tackle. He’s scheduled to be back and healthy in time for training camp, and if he is could push Newhouse for the starting role, although it isn’t likely.
LG, TJ Lang- Lang was solid in 2011 and should continue along that path in 2012. He is one half of one of the NFL’s best offensive guard duos.
OG, Ray Dominguez- Dominguez is a player that started out last season on the practice squad but eventually made his way to the 53 man roster due to injuries. He should be able to add to that experience and win a spot as a backup guard in 2012.
C, Jeff Saturday- The Packers made possibly their most important offseason move when they signed Saturday in free agency. Scott Wells was overpaid by the Rams and Thompson was able to turn a bad situation into a positive by not only filling, but possibly upgrading the position.
OG/C, Evan Dietrich-Smith- As a player E.D.S. finally began to put the pieces together last season. He spent time at right guard filling in for josh Sitton during his injury and performed exceptionally well against good competition. He is a valuable piece of the offensive line puzzle and adds depth not only at guard, but center as well.
RG, Josh Sitton- When healthy Sitton is the Packers best offensive lineman. He missed some time in 2011 but has been healthy for the rest of his tenure in Green Bay. Look for Sitton to continue that success on a strong right side between Saturday and Bryan Bulaga.
OT, Nick Campbell- Campbell is a small school player entering his third year which is typically when undrafted free agents start to catch on in Green Bay. Campbell was on the roster in 2011, so look for him to keep his spot and provide more emergency depth for the Packers.
RT, Bryan Bulaga- Head Coach Mike McCarthy has said that he plans to keep Bulaga on the right side going forward, and based on his level of play in 2011 Bulaga could be on his way to a Pro Bowl if he can stay healthy this season.
OT, Andrew Datko- It’s not every draft that you can take defensive players with your first six picks and still land a high caliber offensive tackle for your team. Datko has legitimate injury concerns but if he goes through training camp without problems he’ll be a valuable addition to the final roster. Due to the nature of his injury the best fit for him is to be a backup at first, but he could also give the Packers flexibility by lining up as an extra blocker in goal line situations much like Nate Solder did in New England last year.
NT/DE, B.J. Raji- The “Freezer” missed the offseason workout program last year due to the lockout and it showed in his conditioning. It probably didn’t help much having a lack of depth behind him either, as he played too many snaps to be truly effective. Raji will be better than ever in 2012.
DE/NT, Ryan Pickett- 2012 could be Pickett’s last year in Green Bay. The Packers drafted Jerel Worthy whose body type and athleticism is very similar to Pickett’s. Nonetheless Pickett should remain a factor along the line for now, and should also be more effective due to the improved rotation the Packers will use.
DE, Jerel Worthy- As soon as the Packers traded up in the second round I was sure the target was Worthy. I don’t care about any knocks on him disappearing and can’t understand any idea that he will struggle with double teams in the NFL. He has the size, power, and speed of an elite lineman and you can see it in action on the field. The Packers will improve his overall conditioning, use him in the right situations, and keep him fresh throughout games. I expect him to be a force in 2012.
DE, Cj Wilson- Depth depth depth, that’s the word when it comes to CJ Wilson. He adds valuable depth in case of injuries and hasn’t quite reached his potential. He’ll have to make noise this year to return in 2013.
DE, Jarius Wynn- Wynn was nothing if not unspectacular in 2011, but he came in and played at a level higher than many thought he was capable of, and although he should return to his backup role in 2012, he is certainly more valuable due to the experience he gained.
DE, Anthony Hargrove- The Packers knew Hargrove would get a suspension for his role in the bounty scandal when they signed him. Eight games is a little stiff, but when he is available he really fits the type of player the Packers look for. Another interesting point about him is that he’s likely to see his first playing action one to two weeks after his suspension ends, which could add depth in a fresh body and help build momentum going towards the playoffs.
DE, Mike Daniels- I’ll start of by saying that I don’t care that Daniels is only six feet tall. I watched some game tape on him and he uses his low center of gravity to his advantage, is surprisingly quick, and does a really good job shedding blocks. The Packers don’t spend fourth round picks on players that won’t make their roster.
DE/DT, Daniel Muir- Muir returns to Green Bay after a long stay in Indianapolis and will fill a role as a run stuffer and block eater much like Howard Green, although he is considerably lighter than Green. When I gave him this roster spot it was between him, a third quarterback, Safety MD Jennings, and Mike Neal. These are the fringe players to watch in training camp.
LOLB, Nick Perry- Perry being available for the Packers at pick 28 was unbelievable, his workout results were about flat with both Redskins linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerriagan, who have both proven to be effective at getting to the quarterback. I would think Perry would slim down to 260 or 265 pounds just from the drills and conditioning he’ll participate in to improve his pass coverage abilities. He’s pretty lean at 270 already but dropping an extra five or ten pounds should give him some extra lateral mobility.
OLB, Brad Jones- Jones’ presence on the roster is part of what gave the Packers the flexibility at outside linebacker to select Perry. Jones is adequate in pass coverage and does a good job tackling in space. I would expect him to split time with Perry early on.
ROLB, Clay Matthews- Matthews has to enter the 2012 season feeling like a little kid on Christmas morning. Opposing offenses won’t be able to focus two and three blockers on Clay like they often did in 2011. Expect Matthews to set foot back into double-digit sack territory.
OLB, Frank Zombo- Zombo might not have what it takes to be a starting linebacker for the Packers, but he is certainly a serviceable backup and good special-teams player. He’s also gained valuable starting experience.
ILB, A.J. Hawk- Hawk is a solid role player for Green Bay and will continue his role inside the defense in 2012.
ILB, Desmond Bishop- Bishop really hasn’t been a game-changer since he took over as a starter and needs to start making big plays or he risks being outshined by Hawk in 2012.
ILB, D.J. Smith- Smith is an undersized player that literally had oodles of tackles throughout his collegiate career, and showed his knack for finding the ball-carrier at an NFL level when he saw playing time. The impressive thing about Smith is how quickly he reacts to the ball without over pursuing.
ILB, Terrell Manning- Manning has a chip on his shoulder after going later in the NFL Draft than he had anticipated. He has a good chance to make his name with the Packers as the inside linebacker position will be watched closely in 2012 and could be the next position to be revamped going forward.
CB, Charles Woodson- Whether Woodson moves to Safety or stays in his hybrid role is yet to be seen. Either way, he’s a lock to make the roster and will be happy to take advantage of the improved pass rush from the front seven.
CB, Tramon Williams- The talk that Tramon Williams regressed in 2011 is ubsurd. The defense regressed yes, but Williams is still an elite corner and it will show in 2012.
CB, Sam Shields- It’s pretty crazy to think that every player in the Packers secondary regressed last year. Ted Thompson gave a pretty good hint of what he thinks the real problem was in last week’s NFL Draft, and Shields, like Williams and Woodson will return to form this season.
CB, Casey Hayward- Hayward is a solid addition at cornerback. He is easily the best corner Ted Thompson has drafted in his time a general manager. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaches use him in their secondary.
CB/S, Jarret Bush- Bush re-signed with the Packers before the draft and he’s lucky he did. With the additions of Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillan, Bush’s role in the secondary as the third safety is in jeopardy. With that said, he is still a good contributor on special teams which along with his contract could be his saving grace.
CB, Davon House- House has the physical tools and skills to be a good NFL corner. Participating in a full training camp will help him develop, but he might still be the lowest man on the Packers’ cornerback totem pole.
FS, Morgan Burnett- Burnett was the saving grace at free safety after Nick Collins suffered a serious neck injury and it looks like he’ll transition into that role for the foreseeable future.
SS, Charlie Peprah- Peprah gets a lot of flak for his performance last season, but like the rest of the secondary I think he’s better than advertised. He did have 94 tackles and five interceptions in 2011.
S, Jerron McMillan- McMillan is the wild card of the Packers 2012 draft class. He’s a rangy hard-hitting prospect who has the size and physical tools to be effective if he can learn the defense in time to compete with more experienced players.
LS, Brett Goode- Goode is the Packers long snapper. He’s not broke so I don’t think they will try to fix him.
K, Mason Crosby- Crosby finally lived up to expectations last year and the Packers sure hope he plans on making a career of it.
P, Tim Masthay- Masthay is one of the best punters in the NFL. He didn’t get very many opportunities to show it last season, but he came to play when his number was called. He’s only going to get better.
Notable Players Who Missed the Cut
DE, Mike Neal- Neal has spent most of the last two years injured, and while he did flash exceptional ability early on, his latest on-field performances have failed to show that same explosiveness. Add to that his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and the depth added to the defensive line during the draft, and Neal is in a spot where he’ll have to be dominant and completely injury free throughout training camp. That’s a tall order if you ask me.
QB’s, Nick Hill/B.J. Coleman- The Packers have elected to keep only two quarterbacks on their roster in the past and only signed Graham Harrell to the roster last season to protect him from being poached from the practice squad by other teams. Hill and Coleman will battle it out for the third string job in training camp, and the winner will likely end up on the practice squad.
ILB, Robert Francois- Francois was the fourth inside linebacker last year, and would have to beat out either D.J. Smith or Terrell Manning to make the roster again. Smith’s nose for the football and Manning’s potential to crack the starting lineup will prove too much for Francois to overcome.
OLB, Erik Walden- of the three players that rotated through the left outside linebacker position in 2011 Walden supposedly provided the best pass-rush and run stopping abilities. With Nick Perry in the mix going forward Walden no longer offers that specialty and the athleticism and pass-coverage skills of Zombo and Jones pair better with Perry’s abilities.
S, MD Jennings- Jennings surprised a lot of people in 2011 making the roster as an undrafted free agent. With Nick Collins not able to return and the addition of a safety in only the fourth round of the draft, the competition inside his own position won’t be as tight, but the overall competition throughout the team has improved to the point where Jennings could struggle to keep up.
WR’s, Tori Gurley, Shaky Smithson, and Dale Moss- The chance that one of these players makes the final roster this year is actually pretty good. Each offers something different in terms of size, athleticism, and experience, but this will ultimately come down to a position battle at training camp and a decision by the Packers on how many receivers they’ll want to keep.