Roughly two weeks of practice and three preseason games is all the time left before the Green Bay Packers, along with every other NFL team, trim their numbers down to an ideal 53-man roster heading into the regular season.
Before Aug. 31, a scramble of players will strive to leave strong enough impressions with their respective teams to avoid cuts — or at least prove a worthy of practice-squad inclusion. The Packers are no different and have both competition and complication at a number of positions.
A road game Thursday night against the Ravens offers a great live setting for some of those battles to unfold, but the picture is ever-changing in the preseason. Take a look at final roster projections for the Packers as they prepare for their night in Baltimore.
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QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer
No offense to Tim Boyle, who we will certainly see again under center in the preseason. Or to rookie Manny Watkins, who would be a worth practice-team talent to develop as a more developed challenge to the No. 2 down the road. But nobody is dethroning a healthy Rodgers in Green Bay anytime soon. The Packers have also shown commitment to Kizer, who is playing well in the shadow of greatness.
RB/FB (4): Aaron Jones, Dexter Williams, Jamaal Williams, Danny Vitale
No, Dexter isn’t ahead of Jamaal by mistake. The former Notre Dame rookie might not see regular snaps with a healthy Jones the unquestioned No. 1 in the Green Bay backfield, but he is more reliable in terms of health and seems to have the greater potential for growth.
The last spot is reserved for the fullback — which could very easily become the fullbacks given LaFleur’s affinity for them in his new-to-Green Bay offensive scheme — and Vitale is the man, as long as he can quickly return to practice. He sits out with a calf injury, while the other options are injured Malcolm Johnson (groin) and newcomer Tommy Bohanon.
WR (7): Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis, Darrius Shepherd
Most of these selections have been sure things since a few practices into training camp for one reason or another, but the final two spots are where things get interesting here. Davis starred on Packers Family Night, while Shepherd has been an inescapable name around the practice fields in Lambeau. The latter also caught a touchdown pass from DeShone Kizer in the preseason opener.
A notable cut from this list is J’Mon Moore, a second-year guy whose hands have betrayed him his entire career. After struggling in 2018 and offseason practices with dropped passes, Moore dropped two more — including a likely touchdown — against the Texans.
TE (4): Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Not too much to discuss at the top, as the options are pretty clear. At 32, Graham is determined to “shut a lot of people up” about his age in 2019, while Lewis adds another veteran, even if he might not have many more seasons left in him.
The questions about the third and fourth options are whether the Packers’ new offense will make use of double-tight sets enough to justify keeping four backs. If a cut down to three is made, Tonyan — who has drawn praise from Rodgers — edges out Sternberger, who remains out with a jaw injury.
OL (9): David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Corey Linsley, Billy Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Lane Taylor, Alex Light, Lucas Patrick, Justin McCray
Cole Madison was the last contender for this list, but the preseason game showed us more — of the right things, too — from Patrick and McCray. There is still time to change minds, but the window is closing.
The other notable on this list is Jenkins’ competition with Taylor, who is under contract through 2020 on a three-year extension deal he signed in 2017 worth $16.5 million — plus a $5 million signing bonus. And yet, LaFleur made it clear that Taylor took snaps in the first preseason game because he was competing for his job, a competition he is currently losing to the rookie out of Mississippi State.
DL (6): Montravius Adams, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, Fadol Brown
Brown is good enough to give one more week to get his calf healthy. One more week. But if he isn’t able to do it, the ideal sixth spot falls to a competition between James Looney and Deon Smith, who each had two solo tackles and fair performances otherwise against in the preseason opener. Lancaster, meanwhile, holds an edge over all three in question.
OLB (5): Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Kyler Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert
If the Packers keep at least five outside linebackers, Gilbert is consistent on the edge and an asset on special teams. He could still benefit from giving the Packers a few more reasons to opt for a five-man group, though.
The rest of the names on the list come with lofty expectations, on which Packers fans hope they will quickly — explosively — deliver in the regular season.
ILB (4): Blake Martinez, Ty Summers, Oren Burks, James Crawford
The news sounds good on Burks’ injury, which he said won’t require surgery, but the timetable is still unknown. The list adapts if he ends up going on the IR, but only to include the only other emerging option for the list: Curtis Bolton.
Right now, Crawford’s standout year on special teams still prevails over Bolton’s quick impressions, but that could change really fast if Bolton continues to outshine the former Illini in the preseason games. Otherwise, Summers seems the most worthy complement to the consistent vet Martinez.
CB (6): Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams, Josh Jackson, Kevin King, Tony Brown, Ka’dar Hollman
Brown drew massive praise from Aaron Rodgers earlier this week, which is only one of the reasons why he has become a lock for the roster. Jackson will work back at a slow pace, but passing his physical Wednesday put him on the right track to recovery. King’s hamstring, on the other hand, is more troubling and making less progress. The time isn’t now to move on from the injury-plagued third-year, but it might be soon.
Also notable here is the heat behind Hollman from Chandon Sullivan. Each cornerback picked off Texans backup Joe Webb III during the preseason opener, and while Hollman seems the preferred option Sullivan could still influence the final ruling.
S (3): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Raven Greene
The safety position could easily trade a number with two other positions: the six-deep defensive line and the five-deep outside linebackers. Cutting either Fadol Brown or Reggie Gilbert would open up another space for the Packers to retain Ibraheim Campbell. The fifth-year tore his ACL last December and was resigned a week ago with hopes set on a comeback.
The situation speaks to the likelihood that he will deliver, but he needs to show — even just a glimmer — in a live situation that he will be able to move at game speed before a final ruling on him can even be conceived. As for Josh Jones, the Packers stand to gain giving in to his wishes and trading him away, but he’ll likely be cut if a deal isn’t struck.
Specialists (3): Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley
Sorry, Sam Ficken fans. Green Bay might be the fifth stop for the talented former Penn State kicker, but Crosby existing pretty much assures he’ll be searching for No. 6 in no time. Scott remains solid in his punting duties, as does Bradley as a long snapper.