Part 5 of Packer Report’s annual roster countdown continues with No. 31, receiver Ty Montgomery, and includes three key reserves on the offensive line.
Our rankings aren’t solely based on talent, as we also take into account salary and the state of the depth chart in trying to determine the importance of each player on the roster. More than anything in this incredibly unscientific process, perhaps you’ll learn a little something about each member of the roster.
No. 31: Wide receiver Ty Montgomery
Jordy Nelson’s preseason knee injury doomed the offense to mediocrity. Without Montgomery for the final 10 regular-season games, the offense couldn’t even reach that level most weeks.
During the first six games, Montgomery caught 15 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, carried the ball three times for 14 yards and was brilliant as a kickoff returner with a 31.1-yard average. Green Bay averaged 27.3 points per game. Without Montgomery for the final 10 games, the average fell to just 20.4 per game. Other than Randall Cobb, Montgomery was the one receiver capable of turning something small into something more. Of his 9.1 yards per reception, 6.6 came after the catch.
The ankle injury that Montgomery sustained in Week 6 vs. San Diego eventually sent him to injured reserve, and he sat out the offseason practices as a precaution. Assuming he can get healthy and stay healthy, he’ll be in the mix as the No. 3 receiver.
No. 32: Defensive tackle Mike Pennel
Pennel will open the season with a four-game suspension. That’s a major blow to the defense for two reasons. One, with B.J. Raji’s decision to sit out at least the upcoming season, defensive line is the weakest position group on the team. Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion and Pennel are the only defensive linemen on the roster to have even suited up for a regular-season game. Two, Pennel has developed into a heck of a good player since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
Last season, Pennel started five games and tallied 35 tackles, including one sack and two tackles for losses. His rate of one tackle for every 8.40 snaps paced the unit. Plus, he chipped in seven pressures, more than all but Daniels among the defensive line corps, and opponents averaged 0.11 yards less per carry with Pennel in the game.
“No question,” he let the team down, he said. “Every year and every game, I feel like I’ve been getting better and better. There were things discussed where my role was going to be even more than it was the year before. Now, it’s just like, getting the young guys ready so there’s not much a drop-off once we enter the season.”
No. 33: Defensive end Dean Lowry
Without Pennel, there will be no breaking-in period for Lowry, the second of the team’s fourth-round draft picks. Lowry will enter training camp as the team’s No. 4 defensive lineman, and he’s going to have to play and play well from the get-go. That puts pressure on Lowry, right?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We’re just looking at it one day at a time. Right now, we’re focused on getting the mental stuff down. We’ll see what happens in preseason. I think that we know we have to step up because a big part of the defense is having defensive lineman play at a high level.”
Lowry had a tremendous senior season at Northwestern, with three sacks, 13.5 tackles for losses and seven passes defensed. However, as was the case with Daniels, who had a big senior season at Iowa in 2011, he was dinged over measurables. For Daniels, it was height. For Lowry, it was length. Daniels obviously overcame his shortcoming — though he didn’t play much as a rookie. Can Lowry be a similar success story but on a faster timetable?
“I think Dean gets overlooked quite a bit, as most of us mid-rounders do,” Daniels said, “and I’m going to keep letting him know that ‘Nobody’s talking about you so that should make you really upset.’”
No. 34: Punter Tim Masthay
Masthay’s punts didn’t win many style points last season. But what’s more important, style points or changing field position?
For the fifth time in his six years as the team’s punter, Masthay broke the franchise record for net punting average. He’s raised the bar from a 37.6-yard net average to 40.2 yards. The lasting memory from last season was his terrible night in the playoff loss at Arizona. However, a week before that at Washington, Masthay averaged 45.3 yards per punt with a net average of 44.0 yards — second-best in team playoff history. Despite his stranglehold on the team record book, Masthay will have to hold off a challenger for the second consecutive year, this time Green Bay native Peter Mortell.
“It’s the same thing (as Mortell): consistency,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “Tim’s really had a really good offseason. Tim has a tendency to punt too much. You can always tell, early in the week he’s fresh and he’s knocking the snot out of the ball. I saw the same thing that I saw two years ago in Tim. I think Tim’s been a lot better this offseason than he was last offseason. I told him the same thing I told Pete: ‘You can’t punt too much. Do what you’ve got to do but you’ve got to make sure you come back fresh and ready to go.’”
No. 35: Fullback Aaron Ripkowski
How’s this for a vote of confidence: The Packers chose Ripkowski, a second-year player who played just 10 snaps on offense as a rookie, over John Kuhn, the beloved veteran, leader and three-time Pro Bowler.
Ripkowski, however, wouldn’t look at it that way. Not after what he called a “decent” rookie season.
“I don’t think about all the outside stuff,” he said. “I approach every day the same way. I’m not going to think about, ‘Oh, there’s nobody here.’ As soon as I don’t perform, they’ll get somebody else in here. It doesn’t matter if it’s John or somebody else. I approach every day the same way.”
Ripkowski, a sixth-round pick last year, and Alstevis Squirewell, an undrafted rookie who played defensive tackle at Division II Newberry, are the only fullbacks on the roster. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers considered Kuhn one of the smartest players on the team, which allowed him to play fullback, running back, third-down back and special teams. Ripkowski, however, has the potential to be the team’s best blocker at the position since Packers Hall of Famer William Henderson.
Potential, however, is the key word. Kuhn is only a phone call away.
“It’s the NFL, there’s pressure everywhere,” Ripkowski said, “but I’m not going to add any pressure to it.”
No. 36: Offensive lineman J.C. Tretter
Tretter’s spot in these rankings would be much higher if he challenges Corey Linsley as the team’s starting center. Tretter replaced an injured Linsley for three full games and most of two others last season and arguably outperformed Linsley in those games. He also saved the Packers’ season by playing left tackle at Washington. Nonetheless, barring injury, the center job probably will remain in Linsley’s possession, meaning Tretter enters his final season under contract as a valuable and capable utilityman. Assuming Linsley retains the center job, Tretter will be the backup at that spot. Depending on second-round pick Jason Spriggs’ development, he could be the No. 1 backup at both tackle spots, too.
“He’ll be ready,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “He’s one of those guys, when his name is called, it doesn’t matter where it is. You can count on him.”
No. 37: Offensive tackle Jason Spriggs
Other than the starting five, there might not be a more important lineman on the roster than Spriggs when the short and long term are taken into account. When left tackle David Bakhtiari missed two late-season games with an ankle injury, the Packers got ransacked by the Cardinals and Vikings and lost possession of the NFC North title. The Packers won all four games that right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed but it wasn’t always pretty. Last year’s backup tackle was Don Barclay, who gave up an astounding 10.5 sacks. Having Barclay in that important role was incredibly shortsighted by general manager Ted Thompson, with Barclay coming off a torn ACL and, even on his best days, ill-equipped to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.
Enter Spriggs, who the Packers moved up in the second round to select. By the measurables, he was the best offensive tackle prospect in the draft. As Thompson would say, the Good Lord doesn’t make many people with the combination of Spriggs’ size, athleticism and strength.
“My response would be, ‘Amen,’” Campen said.
At this point, Spriggs is a mountain of potential. According to STATS, Spriggs gave up 4.5 sacks and 25 run disruptions last season. The other top tackles in the draft, Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley, Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker, gave up a combined 5.5 sacks and an average of 15 run disruptions. A left tackle at Indiana, he’s been asked to bounce back and forth between both tackle spots for the Packers. He, not surprisingly, struggled a bit with the transition during the offseason practices. Five preseason games should be a big benefit in determining whether Spriggs can be the backup plan this season and potentially move into the starting lineup next season.
“I liked his potential when they jumped up and picked him. That was a very exciting day,” Campen said. “To trade up and get somebody? You run down the hall to see if they’re pulling your tail or not. Yeah, it’s always fun to get players. He’s a good football player. He was a good football player when he was picked. I’m pleased with the progress.”
No. 38: Tight end Richard Rodgers
It’s easy to focus on what Rodgers doesn’t do well. One look at that 8.8 yards per catch and 3.8 YAC per catch tells you all you need to know about his lack of athleticism. And he’s not a good enough blocker for a player listed at 257 pounds. It’s little wonder why the Packers signed Jared Cook, an explosive threat who was cut by the Rams.
But Rodgers caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns. That production shouldn’t be swept under the rug. In fact, it was one of the best statistical seasons by a tight end in Packers history, with Rodgers ranking second in catches (Jermichael Finley, 61, 2012) and fifth in touchdowns. Moreover, his catch rate of 68.2 percent ranked 10th among tight ends and he dropped only two passes. He caught the biggest pass of his life, a 61-yard, Hail Mary touchdown to beat the Lions.
“He’s done some good things in here,” Angelichio said. “You go back to the Detroit game. That’s not easy what he did, to go up and high-point that football when the game’s on the line. That’s everything. He’s proven he can make plays when the game’s on the line.”
No. 39: Cornerback LaDarius Gunter
Gunter enters camp as a solid favorite to be the fourth cornerback behind Sam Shields, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Considering Shields never has played a full season, the No. 4 corner is one injury away from playing 50-plus snaps per game.
Gunter, who went undrafted because of a terrible Scouting Combine despite being a three-year starter at Miami, was a healthy inactive in eight of 16 regular-season games. But when Rollins joined Shields on the sideline for the playoff game at Washington, Gunter rose to the occasion. He played 31 snaps and broke up a pass.
“I had 100 percent confidence that he was going to go in there and do what he was going to do,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “I’m not going to put him on speed guys. But you have to elite speed to beat him because he understands how to play, he’s very powerful with his hands. There’s only very few guys – DeSean Jackson, (Mike) Wallace – that I wouldn’t want to match him up on. But everybody else, I really don’t care. The kid can play. He can legit play.”
Said Gunter: “That was big. That was big for my confidence. That was big for the coaches to know that no moment is too big for me, that they can call my number and I’ll be able to execute.”
Rollins missed the offseason practices with a badly dislocated finger, and Gunter took advantage of the extra reps. A natural outside cornerback, he also took reps at the slot positions.
“Getting better every day. Simple as that,” Gunter said. “I take every rep as a chance to prove myself and show what I can do and what I can add to the team.”
No. 40: Guard Lane Taylor
With standout guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang slated to become free agents, the Packers re-signed Taylor, a restricted free agent, with a two-year, $4.15 million contract. He played well in starts at right guard at Detroit and left guard at home vs. Minnesota, with a half-sack and no penalties in those games. With a strong preseason, he could be starting in 2017.
“What makes you feel good about him is professionalism,” Campen said. “He increased his professionalism, his work ethic. Not that he was poor, but he took it up a notch to where it needs to be all the time. He’s learned that through maturity. He’s a smart player, understands his assignments. His work ethic, the work he puts in in the offseason and behind the scenes has been very, very good. He’s just continued to grow as a player. I feel confident with Lane.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.