Way Too Early Roster Prediction - 2021 Edition
A lot will change between now and the start of the regular season - mini-camp, training camp and the pre-season will influence the roster decisions the front office will make along the way and at the final roster cutdown in early September. There is also obviously a quarterback situation to get resolved – which surely it will be.
So who makes the team? That may be a bit of a crazy question to be asking in May, given we don’t know what will happen…nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped me from meandering through the roster and the provisional depth chart following the draft, and attempting to answer the question anyway.
It’s worth noting, that again in 2021, there will still be a “steady” 53 man roster - however teams are able to elevate players more freely from the practice squad (and back again) and can carry 55 players on the gameday roster (only 48 may be active). Also, The practice squad is slated to be 12 but could again be as high as 14 or 16 (as it was in 2020 under the agreed COVID protocol).
For the purposes of this article we’ve stayed with a roster of 53 and a practice squad of 14.
Ok, enough of the pre-amble, let’s get started with a ridiculously early look…
The Trend: The Packers have kept 3 quarterbacks in each of the 3 years in which Brian Gutekunst has been the GM, so we can probably expect that trend to continue.
Ok, we don’t know how the Aaron Rodgers situation will play out, but the best guess here is that the 3-time NFL MVP is back with the Packers in 2021. Not a certainty by any means, but probably more likely than not – in any case, for the purposes of this article, we’ve assumed that he’ll be back wearing the green and gold and throwing the ball all over Lambeau Field in the upcoming season.
Barring an unforeseen trade, then Jordan Love of course also makes the final roster. Interestingly, of course, any new long term deal that Aaron Rodgers may get from Green Bay would make it more likely that Love is traded at some point – but for now we’re saying that the second year man will be with the Packers in 2021.
Over the past decade, the Packers have sometimes kept just two quarterbacks and sometimes gone with three. This time around, the suspicion is that it will be three – because of a lack of camp and pre-season in 2020, Jordan Love may not be in an ideal spot to play early in 2021 (should that be necessary) and therefore an experienced third guy may be required, at least early in the season. Enter Blake Bortles, who we expect to make the team. Don’t read too much into this if it happens, remember Love is just 22 years old and even Aaron Rodgers was 24 before he became the starter.
Bortles making the team means that May signee Kurt Benkert misses out on making the final 53. He may make the Practice Squad.
Roster: Rodgers, Love, Bortles
Practice Squad: Benkert
The Trend: The Packers have kept an average of 3.33 running backs on the roster at the final cutdown in the 3 years in which Brian Gutekunst has been GM. The actual number has ranged from 2-4 – although the hybrid Tyler Ervin has been one of the 4 and he could just as easily have been counted amongst the wide receiver group. The best guess here is that the Packers keep 3 this time around.
The returning two-time 1,000 yard rusher Aaron Jones and 2020 rookie A.J. Dillon will obviously make the 2021 roster, barring injury, or some other unforeseen circumstance. With Jamaal Williams having moved on to Detroit in free agency and Tyler Ervin not returning either, the battle for a roster spot this year appears to be all around the no.3 spot.
2021 7th round draftee Kylin Hill was a bit of a steal where the Packers got him in the draft, and he appears to be in pole position for that no.3 spot on the depth chart. Challenging Hill will be the returning Patrick Taylor, Dexter Williams, and Mike Weber. The versatile and underrated Hill should make the final 53, with the talented Taylor and Weber finding spots on the Practice Squad. This may be the year that the Packers decide to finally move on from Williams – the Packers 6th round pick in 2019 has found himself well down the depth chart in his two years in Green Bay, flitting between the full roster and the Practice Squad.
Roster: Jones, Dillon, Hill
Practice Squad: Taylor, Weber
The Trend: In the 3 years that Brian Gutekunst has been GM, the Packers have kept an average of 6 wide receivers on the roster at the final cutdown – although the actual number has varied from as low as 5 (in both 2019 and 2020) to as high as 8 (in 2018). This time around, we’ll go with the average and assume that the final number will be 6.
Davante Adams is in the conversation for the best all-round wide receiver in football and obviously makes the roster – the bigger question will be whether the Packers can get a contract extension done with the All-Pro as he enters the last year of his current deal. That’s a conversation for another day – for now, he remains the undisputed pass catching king on the Packers roster.
Behind Adams, the competition for roster spots is likely to be fierce. Some of “who stays and who goes” will be determined by how many wide receivers that the Packers keep – in recent years that number has ranged from 5 to 7 but has most frequently been 6 and we’re assuming for now that 6 will be the number in 2021. Taking 3 of the remaining 5 spots alongside Adams would appear to be the returning Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and the dynamic and exciting multi-dimensional 2021 3rd round draft choice Amari Rodgers.
This leaves a whole group of players battling for the 2 remaining roster spots at wide receiver. A year on, it’s difficult to know both how the Packers see Devin Funchess and how ready he will be to go, so we’re guessing perhaps even more than usual here – but the guess right now is that Funchess makes the final 53. That probably leaves Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor and Reggie Begelton fighting for the final roster spot, with January signees Chris Blair and Juwann Winfree and undrafted free agent Bailey Gaither on the outside looking in.
Our early money is on St. Brown making the final 53 in what could be a make or break season for him, and Taylor and Begelton wind up on the Practice Squad. Gaither, Blair and Winfree unfortunately get waived.
Roster: Adams, Lazard, Rodgers, Funchess, Valdes-Scantling, St. Brown
Practice Squad: Taylor, Begelton
Waived: Gaither, Blair, Winfree
The Trend: In each of the last 3 years, the Packers have kept 4 tight ends at the final cutdown. We are going against the trend this time though and guessing that they keep 5. Matt LaFleur likes to use a multitude of tight ends in his offense and with each of this year’s prospective “roster makers” at this spot bringing different skills to the table, 5 initial tight ends seems very likely.
All-round tight end Robert Tonyan and excellent blocker Marcedes Lewis (complete with new contract) are certain to make the roster. 2019 draftee Jace Sternberger hasn’t yet lived up to expectations but he should also make the team.
Last year’s promising rookie H-Back Josiah Deguara should return from injury and make the final 53 and the player who took over from Deguara during 2020, Dominque Dafney, showed enough during last season to be make the team.
Both Sternberger and Dafney may come under a little pressure from Isaac Nauta and Bronson Kaufusi (who were both signed to futures contracts in January) in camp, but it’s likely that both Nauta and Kaufusi miss out altogether.
Roster: Tonyan, Lewis, Sternberger, Deguara, Dafney
Practice Squad: None
Waived: Nauta, Kaufusi
Interior Offensive Line
The Trend: The Packers have kept 5 interior offensive line players at the final cutdown in each of the past 3 years and we suspect that number will be the same again this year.
The Packers lost All Pro center Corey Linsley to free agency and this obviously influenced their move to draft Josh Myers in the 2nd round of the recent draft. It seems most likely that Myers will slot straight in as the starter at center, although he may also be a contender for the guard position if one of the two starting guards is moved inside to center.
The first of those guards, Elgton Jenkins, is so versatile that it may take a while before the position he settles at for the remainder of his career is determined. Entering 2021, he could remain at left guard, move to center or even to tackle (particularly if David Bakhtiari is injured). 2020 starting right guard Lucas Patrick will return and also has the potential to move inside to center.
With 3 spots secured, it’s likely that the Packers keep 2 more players here and with Lane Taylor moving on to the Texans in free agency, that probably opens up one of those for somebody who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have made it. Of those battling for a spot there appears to be one certainty to make the roster - last year’s rookie 6th round draft pick Jon Runyan. Runyan did a good job when called upon in 2020 and having shown what he can do on the field he has earned the primary back-up sport at guard.
That leaves 7 players fighting it out for the final spot – 2020 6th round draft picks Simon Stepaniak and Jake Hanson, 2021 6th round Cole Van Lanen, returnees Ben Braden and Zach Johnson and undrafted free agents Jon Dietzen and Jacob Capra.
As a center, Hanson has a shot at making the team but with Jenkins, Patrick, and Myers all able to play there, it seems that Hanson will most likely miss out. Stepaniak is the choice to make the 53, with Van Lanen slightly unlucky to miss out – he should head for the Practice Squad if he’s not picked up by another team. Braden, Johnson, Dietzen and Capra are all likely to miss out in a fierce battle.
Roster: Jenkins, Patrick, Myers, Runyan, Stepaniak
Practice Squad: Van Lanen
Waived: Hanson, Braden, Johnson, Dietzen, Capra
The Trend: The Packers have kept 4 offensive tackles at the final cutdown in each of the past 3 years and we suspect that number will be the same again this year.
It’s not clear what David Bakhtiari’s status will be when the 2021 season comes around as the All-Pro continues his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered late in 2020. Assuming that he’ll be ready to go at some point during 2021, the Packers will need to place Bakhtiari on the initial 53 man roster to ensure that he can be activated later on, even if he isn’t available from day 1.
Initially signed as both a guard and tackle, it looks like Billy Turner is secure in his spot at right tackle, particularly as Rick Wagner was released, and Turner also provides crucial cover at left tackle. The inexperienced Yosh Nijman is the only other returning full-time tackle and should make the final 53 again this year.
2021 4th round draft choice Royce Newman played both tackle (2020) and guard (2019) in college and appears to be a certainty to make the roster. We’ve listed him here in amongst the tackles but could just as easily be listed on the inside – he’ll provide cover in both roles. And of course, as previously mentioned, Elgton Jenkins will also provide cover at the tackle positions.
The Packers signed undrafted free agent Coy Cronk at the beginning of May. Unfortunately, he spent much of the 2019 and 2020 seasons injured (else he probably would have been drafted) and will have a really difficult time making the final 53. He has a chance of winding up on the Practice Squad.
Roster: Bakhtiari, Turner, Nijman, Newman
Practice Squad: Cronk
The Trend: In each year since Brian Gutekunst became the GM, the Packers have kept 5 defensive linemen at the final cutdown and we believe it will be the same again this year. If that’s the case, this may be the clearest cut position in terms of who makes the final 53 and who doesn’t.
Kenny Clark makes the roster (obviously) and he’ll be backed up on the depth chart by 2021 draftee T.J. Slaton. The starting defensive ends should be Kingsley Keke and Dean Lowry.
The fifth player to make the final 53 in our estimation is Tyler Lancaster. Lancaster was released and re-signed this off-season and his value as a swing player along the line, coupled with his experience, seems likely to secure him the final defensive line spot.
Those in camp but missing out on making the roster will be Anthony Rush, Willington Previlon, Delontae Scott and Jack Heflin. Previlon may well end up on the Practice Squad.
Roster: Clark, Lowry, Keke, Slaton, Lancaster
Practice Squad: Previlon
Waived: Rush, Scott, Heflin
The Trend: In the past 3 years, the Packers have kept an average of 4.67 players at the outside linebacker spot on their initial 53 man roster – 5 in each of 2019 and 2020 and 4 in 2018. Whilst the Packers would undoubtedly like to keep 5 players at the spot again this year, it’s possible because of the numbers kept elsewhere that there may only be room for 4 – that is what we are assuming for now.
Last year’s starters Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith will return, as will 2019 1st round draft choice Rashan Gary who will push for even more of an increase in playing time in 2021.
This means that a group of 4 players – 2020 draftee Jonathan Garvin, the returning Randy Ramsey and Tipa Galeai (Galeai spent most of 2020 on the Practice Squad) and undrafted free agent Carlo Kemp will compete for the remaining roster spot. I’m going the same way as last year and predicting that 2020 7th round pick Garvin wins out and nabs the no.4 spot with the unlucky Randy Ramsey missing out – if the Packers keep 5, then Ramsey will make it. Galeai looks like a good bet to make the Practice Squad again.
Roster: Z.Smith, P.Smith, Gary, Garvin
Practice Squad: Galeai
Waived: Ramsey, Kemp
The Trend: The Packers have been consistent in keep 4 inside linebackers at the final roster cutdown in each of the past 3 years. Given this, and the players who are contending, it seems extremely likely that Green Bay again keeps 4 players at this spot.
The Packers have moved on from last year’s free agent pick-up Christian Kirksey, largely because of the pleasantly surprising play of last year’s 4th round draftee Kamal Martin and undrafted Krys Barnes. Martin and Barnes appear to be shoo-ins to make the 2021 roster.
This then leaves 5 players – the returning Oren Burks and Ty Summers, 2021 draftee Isaiah McDuffie, De’Jon Harris, and Ray Wilborn competing for 2 roster spots. I think that the rookie McDuffie will surprise people in camp and will make the team and whilst the 4th spot is almost a 50-50 decision, I’m going to go with Oren Burks, who is really in the last chance saloon, because of his speed and potential to perhaps also provide cover on the outside (the Packers tried him a little there in 2020). This would be really unfortunate for Summers, who the Packers like as a solid player and special teams contributor. Harris and Wilborn both miss out as well.
Roster: Barnes, Martin, McDuffie, Burks
Practice Squad: None
Waived: Summer, Harris, Wilborn
The Trend: Since Brian Gutekunst became GM in 2018 the Packers have kept 6 corners at the final roster cutdown in each year. Therefore it seems pretty safe to assume that Green Bay will have 6 corners on the roster entering the regular season.
Jaire Alexander is now getting recognition as one of the top corners in the league and he obviously makes the final 53 along with 2021 1st round draftee Eric Stokes Jr. The Packers re-signed free agent Kevin King and he makes the team, probably as the starter opposite Alexander - at least for the first part of the season.
This is where it starts to get interesting and the Packers appear to have 6 players competing for 3 spots – the returnees Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson, Ka’dar Hollman, Kabion Ento and Stanford Samuels plus 2021 draftee Shemar Jean-Charles.
Despite not being as good in 2020 as he was in 2019, the specialist slot corner Sullivan should make the team, as will draftee Jean-Charles. I think that this is the year that the Packers give up on Josh Jackson and therefore one of Hollman, Ento or Samuels will earn the final spot at corner and in a very tight competition, the prediction here (with little confidence) is that Hollman takes the final spot.
Ento and Samuels both head for the Practice Squad. KeiVarae Russell who played in the 2020 playoffs for the Packers was released in May.
Roster: Alexander, King, Stokes Jr., Sullivan, Jean-Charles, Hollman
Practice Squad: Ento, Samuels
The Trend: In each of the past 3 years, the Packers have kept 5 players at the safety spot at the cutdown to 53 and this year probably won’t be any different – unless Green Bay needs to find an extra spot at another position (e.g. outside linebacker). For now, we’ll go with 5.
The Packers starting safety pairing of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage is one of the premier pairings in the entire league. Both men, obviously, make the final 53 man roster. With Raven Greene having left the team, the returning trio of Will Redmond, Vernon Scott, and Henry Black are in pole position to secure the remaining safety spots. If the Packers go with just 4 then Black may be in trouble.
The 2 other players fighting for roster spots are Christian Uphoff who signed as undrafted free agent after the draft and Innes Gaines who was signed to a futures contract in January. One of these two probably ends up on the Practice Squad, in all likelihood Uphoff.
Roster: Amos, Savage, Redmond, Scott, Black
Practice Squad: Uphoff
The Packers head into mini-camp with 2 players competing at each of the special teams specialist positions – kicker, punter,and long snapper.
At kicker, the evergreen Mason Crosby seems likely to continue in his role for the foreseeable future. J.J. Molson heads to the Practice Squad.
Despite coming under a little criticism during 2020, J.K. Scott should again be the team’s punter in 2021 with Ryan Winslow heading to the Practice Squad.
The most competition on special teams is likely to come at the long-snapper spot where the Packers signed street free agent Joe Fortunato earlier this year to compete with the inconsistent Hunter Bradley. This is a difficult spot to predict, and it may come down to the little bit of salary cap difference between them and therefore, with very little confidence, the prediction here is that Fortunato beats out Bradley for the job.
Roster: Crosby, Scott, Fortunato
Practice Squad: Molson, Winslow