The Countdown: Roster Rankings

We enter the heart of the roster with our second-annual roster rankings. In Part 9, we start with second-round pick Mike Neal (No. 26) and conclude with two inside linebackers.

With training camp 10 days away, we're starting to close in on the start of football season. The Packers have 82 players on their roster, not including the suspended Johnny Jolly. The limit is 80, but the two unsigned draft picks don't count until they're officially under contract, and restricted free agent safety Atari Bigby doesn't count until he signs his tender.

Like we did last year, we're ranking the players from No. 1 to No. 83. This list doesn't necessarily list the players from best to worst, but we take into account the players' importance on the roster and other factors such as contracts and potential.

Packer Report Ranking: 26

Mike Neal: With Jolly's suspension (and assuming Justin Harrell doesn't start playing like a first-round pick), there will be no easing-in process for Neal. The much-debated second-round pick figures to be the primary backup to both of the starting defensive ends, Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins. He also will be used frequently in the nickel packages to provide an interior pass rush. That's a lot on his plate, but he was productive at Purdue with back-to-back seasons of 5.5 sacks and has one of the best position coaches in the business in Mike Trgovac. He'll need to play well to keep the starters fresh over the long haul.

Packer Report Ranking: 27

In case you missed ...

Part 9 (26 through 30)

Part 8 (31 through 40)

Part 7 (41 through 45)

Part 6 (46 through 50)

Part 5 (51 through 55)

Part 4 (56 through 60)

Part 3 (61 through 65)

Part 2 (66 through 71)

Part 1 (long shots) .

Jordy Nelson: Dogged by a knee injury that held him out for three games, Nelson lost snaps to James Jones and caught 22 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. That following a rookie season of 33 catches, 366 yards and two touchdowns. A big, sure-handed target who caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the playoff game, Nelson might never be a starting-caliber receiver. He's got good long-distance speed but just doesn't have that short-range burst. But he remains an effective role player and surprisingly effective kickoff returner (25.4-yard average last season).

Packer Report Ranking: 28

Scott Wells: Some of the best roster moves are the ones that are never made. Last year, Wells battled Jason Spitz for the starting job at center. Spitz won the job, but rather than deal Wells, the Packers hung onto him. That proved to be crucial after injuries put Wells back in the lineup in Week 2. For all of the Packers' blocking problems in the first half of last season, Wells was rarely an issue, with two sacks allowed and four penalties. He had some of his best games against stalwart defensive tackles Jay Ratliff of Dallas, Pat Williams of Minnesota and Shaun Rogers of Cleveland.

Packer Report Ranking: 29

A.J. Hawk: It's no secret that the fifth overall selection of the 2006 draft has not been the big-play machine the Packers hoped they were getting. While his two interceptions last season were an improvement over 2008, when he wasn't involved in any turnovers, Hawk's tackles total has plunged from 155 as a rookie to 87 last season, and he got home for a sack just once as a blitzer. He was replaced in passing situations — and barely played against pass-first teams. With all of that said, the Packers led the NFL in run defense, so Hawk must have been doing something right.

Packer Report Ranking: 30

Brandon Chillar: Chillar is a prized chess piece for coordinator Dom Capers, which is why he was rewarded with a four-year extension. Chillar replaces Hawk in passing situations, and even played safety when Atari Bigby was out and Derrick Martin was ineffective. Even as a backup, Chillar played at least half of the defensive snaps in nine of his 13 games. He allowed two touchdown receptions while playing safety against St. Louis but was mostly solid in coverage the rest of the season, though a broken hand didn't help. Chillar finished with two sacks — including a highlight-reel sack against Chicago in Week 1 — but wasn't an effective blitzer. He's a better athlete than Hawk and a key player on special teams.

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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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