Rookie roll call: Higher hopes

Unlike last year, when the rookie class failed to make much of an impression, this year's group will hit the ground running with perhaps three starters in Week 1. We highlight all eight draft picks and tell you who will make the roster and who will make an impact.

Other than Jordy Nelson, the Packers' draft picks produced next to nothing during their rookie seasons.

While eight of nine of last year's pick made the roster — an impressive figure — this year's group is poised to be a much bigger immediate factor.

Part of that is because the Packers wound up with a pair of first-round draft picks this year but none in 2008. Another part of that comes from, whether it was by design or just good fortune, the Packers added more players at positions of need.

"They've done a very good job of really keeping up," coach Mike McCarthy said last month during organized team activities. "You've been here before in the past — we've gone to a number of situational circumstances earlier in OTAs than we've done in the past, and I thought our younger players have handled that very well, and that's a compliment to them. ... I feel good about where our rookie class is mentally, and I think it gives us the opportunity to get in here at the start of training camp and get right back after it."

Here's where the Packers' nine draft picks stand heading into training camp, with a prediction on who will make the roster.

B.J. Raji, first round, No. 9 overall: Raji's potential is obvious. There just aren't many people with his combination of size and quickness. How much of an impact he makes as a rookie remains to be seen, since he didn't face live blocking during offseason practices, making it hard to gauge how he'll hold up against top NFL blockers. The Packers, however, are expecting a lot. He's destined to start at left end, be the top backup at nose tackle and be an inside rusher on passing downs. Prediction: Starter.

Clay Matthews III, first round, No 26: A hamstring injury slowed Matthews' development during the offseason, but his athleticism is obvious. His battle against Jeremy Thompson at right outside linebacker will be the must-watch clash of training camp. Thompson is in the lead now, but the Packers didn't sacrifice a second-round pick and a pair of third-rounders to have Matthews on the sideline. Matthews' explosiveness will be hard to keep off the field. Prediction: Starter.

T.J. Lang
Bill Huber/Packer Report
T.J. Lang, fourth round, No. 109: For the linemen, not much can be gleaned from half-speed blocking. The 316-pounder is exceptionally strong and intelligent, and he could bully his way into contention for a starting assignment when the pads come on. With McCarthy seeking continuity up front, Lang's chance to start might have to wait until next year, but right guard Josh Sitton or right tackle Allen Barbre better not slip up. Prediction: Top backup at right guard and right tackle.

Quinn Johnson, fifth round, No. 145: Just like for the linemen, it's hard to judge a fullback in half-speed blocking sessions. Can he knock A.J. Hawk back a step to spring Ryan Grant? Can he stop Aaron Kampman in his tracks to give Aaron Rodgers time to hit Donald Driver up the seam? If so, he'll be the starter. Prediction: Starter.

Jamon Meredith, fifth round, No. 162: Most of the so-called draft experts predicted Meredith would be a second- or third-round pick. Instead, he slipped into the fifth. The reason is apparent. Meredith clearly has the athletic to play left tackle, but he needs to refine his technique and get stronger. He's a project but definitely worth keeping. Prediction: A gameday inactive.

Jarius Wynn, sixth round, No. 182: With Raji, Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins starting and, presumably, Justin Harrell and Johnny Jolly as backups, one spot remains on the defensive line depth chart. Wynn's chief competition is veteran Michael Montgomery and impressive undrafted rookie Ronald Talley. With his long arms, Wynn has an impressive ability to slip blocks, and he's already up to 285 pounds from his draft weigh of 277. Prediction: Backup though not a key reserve.

Brandon Underwood, sixth round, No. 187: Cornerbacks Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon are locks. The Packers kept six corners — including combo corner/safety Jarrett Bush — on a roster of 10 defensive backs last year. Bush spent most of the offseason practices playing safety. If the Packers think safety is Bush's spot, then there is room for the rangy and athletic Underwood. If the Packers prefer two true safeties as backups — say, Anthony Smith and Aaron Rouse — then Underwood will have to beat out Bush. The guess? Bush stays at safety and Underwood — who provides another much-needed young talent at corner — sticks. Prediction: A gameday inactive.

Brad Jones, seventh round, No. 218: Jones played 3-4 outside linebacker at Colorado, so the Packers knew what they were getting with their final draft pick. He's a natural in coverage and, at 6-foot-3, he's got the frame to add 10 pounds from his 239. The Packers will keep at least nine linebackers. Jones will be battling Spencer Havner, Cyril Obiozor and Danny Lansanah for the last spot (or spots, if they keep 10), with special teams being a wild card. With Aaron Kampman a free agent next year, the Packers would be wise to keep Jones. Prediction: Reserve and core special-teams player.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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