Way-Too-Early Packers Roster Projection

Here's a look at where things stand at the end of the offseason and where the battles will be waged during training camp.

Photo by Benny Sieu/USA TODAY

The collective bargaining agreement allows 10 organized team activity practices. We were allowed to see three of them.

The CBA allows three minicamp practices. Coach Mike McCarthy canceled one of them; we got to see the other two.

None of those 12 practices included real blocking or tackling.

With that small slice of the full picture, here’s our best guess at who is on the 53-man roster for the Sept. 13 season-opening game at Chicago.

Quarterbacks (3): Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley. Noteworthy: If Tolzien is a mile ahead in the race to be the No. 2 quarterback, then Hundley is a mile away from being a legitimate NFL quarterback. But the upside is there if he can grasp the many nuances of the NFL game, which is why he’s likely to get the nod ahead of the more seasoned Matt Blanchard. “The bigger question to me,” said former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, who worked with Hundley before the draft, “is not so much talent but the mental side of it and being able to adjust to a pro-style system and reading through progressions and reading defenses and all of that in a few seconds. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge but I think he’s in a great situation to learn from a great one and to be able to sit and learn for some time before he’s going to be thrust into it and have to play.”

Running backs (4): Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Rajion Neal, John Kuhn. Noteworthy: The key battle is at fullback, with Kuhn trying to hold off sixth-round rookie Aaron Ripkowski. OTA-style practices weren’t created with fullbacks in mind, so who knows if the former Oklahoma fullback can challenge the All-Pro veteran. The Packers, of course, could keep both, especially if Ripkowski shows up on special teams. Earlier in McCarthy’s tenure, he kept three on the roster. Otherwise, with a limited number of teams using a fullback, perhaps the Packers could stash Ripkowski on the practice squad if they need his roster spot for another position. With his time in training camp and the practice squad last year, Neal seems far ahead of undrafted rookies John Crockett and Alonzo Harris as the No. 3 running back. Neal is a gifted receiver, a fact he showed at each of the open practices. The wild card will be pass protection. A running back can’t play for the Packers if he isn’t smart enough and stout enough to block for Rodgers.

Wide receivers (6): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery. Noteworthy: The wild card will be Abbrederis’ knee. If he’s as good as new after missing his rookie season due to a torn ACL, then he’s going to push hard for a roster spot. None of the undrafted rookies — Adrian Coxson, Javess Blue, Larry Pinkard, Ricky Collins or Jimmie Hunt — delivered with any consistency during the offseason practices. Hunt had a rough start with several drops but made more plays than the others down the stretch.

Tight ends (3): Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Kennard Backman. Noteworthy: Starting at the top of the depth chart, can Rodgers block well enough to unseat Quarless as the primary tight end? Beyond Quarless and Rodgers, this is a wide-open battle. There’s a chance the No. 3 tight end isn’t on the roster. Blocking, obviously, will be critical. We’ll give Backman the nod over second-year player Justin Perillo and undrafted rookies Mitchell Henry and Harold Spears — Spears was signed in time for Thursday’s final minicamp practice — because general manager Ted Thompson tends to keep his draft picks. Perillo, however, impressed last summer as an undrafted rookie out of Maine. He missed most of the offseason practices with an undisclosed injury. Otherwise, he might have been the favorite.

Offensive line (8): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Don Barclay, J.C. Tretter, Lane Taylor. Noteworthy: The first seven spots are pretty well locked in. Who would be No. 8 — if they keep that many? Taylor played in all 16 games last season and Garth Gerhart was on the roster, too. Undrafted rookies Matt Rotheram and Fabbians Ebbele received $5,000 signing bonuses. A wild card could be Jeremy Vujnovich, a former Division III standout who spent all of last season on the practice squad. He’d give the Packers a true left tackle behind Bakhtiari.

Defensive line (7): B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Mike Pennel, Josh Boyd, Christian Ringo. Noteworthy: There is strength in numbers with Raji and 2014 third-rounder Khyri Thornton back after spending last season on injured reserve and Ringo added in the sixth round. Pennel, Boyd, Thornton, Ringo, Bruce Gaston and undrafted rookie Lavon Hooks will battle for two or three spots. Boyd, who unseated Jones in the starting lineup last season, is the one proven player in the mix. Pennel, if he takes a Year 2 jump, could be the team’s long-term answer at nose tackle. The wild card will be Thornton, who didn’t do a thing last summer until a hamstring injury gave the Packers the get-out-of-jail-free card called injured reserve. He “started slow” this offseason, McCarthy said, but “picked it up here of late.”

Outside linebackers (5): Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott, Adrian Hubbard. Noteworthy: The Packers blew up the special teams during the offseason. That makes Elliott a key piece after he finished second on the team with 15 tackles last season. That came on the heels of him leading the NFL in sacks in the preseason. Elliott was the latest undrafted free agent to make an impact at outside linebacker, following in the footsteps of Andy Mulumba (2013), Dezman Moses (2012), Vic So’oto (2011) and Frank Zombo (2010). Hubbard, who went undrated last year and spent his rookie season on the practice squad, Mulumba, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, and this year’s rookie free agents, Jermauria Rasco and James Vaughters, will vie for a spot or two.

Inside linebackers (4): Clay Matthews, Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan, Nate Palmer. Noteworthy: The battle for a spot or two will be between returning players Palmer, Carl Bradford and Joe Thomas and newcomers Josh Francis and Tavarus Dantzler. With Matthews among the veteran players not participating in the final minicamp practice, the Packers lined up Barrington and Palmer with the No. 1 defense. When they used their dime packages for two-minute drills, Barrington worked with the ones and Palmer with the twos. Palmer and Bradford, a fourth-round pick last year, were moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker near the end of training camp last summer. Palmer sustained a knee injury and spent the season on injured reserve while Bradford didn’t play a single snap all season. Thomas also is back from a knee injury sustained last preseason. Thomas, who was pushing for a roster spot when he got hurt, spent time with the second unit during the offseason.

Safeties (5): Morgan Burnett, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo. Noteworthy: Hyde figures to start at the nickel cornerback but, should something happen to Burnett or Clinton-Dix, it would be Hyde moving into the starting lineup. Richardson led the team with 17 special-teams tackles last season and it’s paying him $2.55 million — all guaranteed. Banjo will try to hold off Jean Fanor for the final spot. Both players had interceptions on the final day of minicamp.

Cornerbacks (5): Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Ladarius Gunter. Noteworthy: Is Joe Whitt a position coach or day-care teacher? Of the nine full-time cornerbacks (not including Hyde), only Shields and Hayward have played a snap of defense in the NFL. Gunter was by far the best of the kiddie corps. Demetri Goodson, a sixth-round pick last year, opened the offseason by taking the injured Hayward’s spot in the starting lineup. By the end of the offseason, he had fallen behind Randall, Rollins and Gunter. He did close the minicamp with a bang with a tremendous interception on a deep pass from Hundley. Because of Hyde’s versatility, the Packers could go with nine defensive backs instead of 10 and add another linebacker.

Specialists (3): K Mason Crosby, P Tim Masthay, LS Brett Goode. Noteworthy: The only competition is at punter, with Masthay battling Cody Mandell. In our limited opportunities to watch them, neither jumped to the forefront. Masthay set team records for net punting from 2010 through 2013. Dumping him due to a poor second half to last season seems akin to getting rid of the baby with the bathwater.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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