The Green Bay Packers’ first 53-man roster of the 2021 season is finally here, and while there were not too many surprises from them at the NFL’s cutdown deadline, a number of their former draft picks were shown the door.
In all, the Packers have moved on from seven of their former drafted players since training camp began on July 27. Four of them — including 2021 sixth-round offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen — were waived ahead of the league’s final deadline of the summer on August 31, while 2020 fifth-round inside linebacker Kamal Martin was among the second round of cuts one week earlier.
The Packers also traded away a pair of drafted cornerbacks during camp, including 2018 second-round pick Josh Jackson (who made the New York Giants’ initial roster) and 2019 sixth-rounder Ka’dar Hollman (who was left off the Houston Texans’ 53-man roster but could return to their practice squad).
Here’s a complete look at the Packers’ initial 53-man roster:
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Quarterbacks (2): Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
Cut: Kurt Benkert
Just one quarterback question lingered at the deadline: Would Benkert stay or go? Ultimately, the Packers decided a pair of first-round quarterbacks would be enough for them to safely head into the 2021 season, which makes sense when you consider one of them is the league’s reigning MVP. It does remain possible, though, that the Packers will bring back Benkert for their practice squad and put him on a longer-term development track. In the meantime, the Packers will forge on with Rodgers at the helm and Love in position as his primary backup.
Running Backs (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill
Cut: Dexter Williams, Patrick Taylor
At the beginning of camp, nobody wanted to declare Hill the frontrunner for the RB3 spot behind Jones and Dillon. Williams was a 2019 sixth-round pick who had spent the past two years with the Packers and Taylor was looking to rediscover his big-play potential from his days at Memphis after spending his rookie year recovering from an injury. Once Hill saw action in the first preseason game, though, the seventh-round rookie’s abilities were pretty undeniable. He scored two of the Packers’ three preseason touchdowns and added 64 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards while splitting reps with Williams and Taylor. Between his production and his utility as a kick returner, the Packers’ roster decision was practically made for them.
Wide Receivers (6): Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
Cut: Equanimeous St. Brown, Juwann Winfree, Reggie Begelton, Damon Hazelton
After the Packers traded to acquire Cobb from the Texans, there wasn’t much question about which receivers topped their depth chart. Adams, Valdes-Scantling and Lazard were all expected back as key contributors for the offense once again in 2021, while Cobb’s contract and Rodgers’ status as a third-round rookie granted them both near-immunity as well. The toughest decision was the sixth spot in the rotation, which Taylor won after leading all NFL receivers in the preseason with 14 catches for 185 yards. Special teams may still be the spot where Taylor can make the biggest impact, but he has now made the initial active roster for two consecutive seasons and could carve out a surprise role in the offense this season.
Tight Ends (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney
Cut: Bronson Kaufusi
Other Designation: Jace Sternberger (reserve/suspended list until Week 2)
While the Packers could have made a decision now about Sternberger, there isn’t much advantage in doing so when he can stick around until Week 3 without roster penalty. Instead, they will have the opportunity to mull it over until the final week in September and keep him close in the event that injuries or other issues strike their ranks between now and then. Sternberger aside, this could be one of the most exciting groups to watch this season for the Packers. If Deguara returns to form from his ACL tear early last season, the Packers could have a dynamic new weapon in their arsenal. The same goes for Dafney now that he has had a full offseason with the team to thoroughly learn the playbook and to figure out the best way to contribute to the offense.
Offensive Linemen (9): Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner, Lucas Patrick, Josh Myers, Royce Newman, Denny Kelly, Jon Runyan Jr., Yosh Nijman, Jake Hanson
Cut: Ben Braden, Cole Van Lanen, Coy Cronk, Jacob Capra
Other Designation: David Bakhtiari (physically unable to perform list until at least Week 7)
Admittedly, this turned out to be one of the hardest positions to predict. The Packers had been vague about their expectations for David Bakhtiari’s return, so it was tough to say whether he would be taking up a roster spot when the season opened. It was also unclear which interior pieces the Packers favored more between Runyan, Braden and Van Lanen. The biggest surprise of the group, though, was Hanson. The 2020 sixth-round pick out of Oregon didn’t make the roster last season and spent most of it on the practice squad’s injured reserve list, but his utility as a center appears to have won him a valuable spot behind the second-round rookie Myers.
Defensive Linemen (6): Kenny Clark, Kingsley Keke, Dean Lowry, T.J. Slaton, Tyler Lancaster, Jack Heflin
Cut: Willington Previlon, Carlo Kemp, Abdullah Anderson
Little surprises about the Packers’ defensive line group, but it is noteworthy that Heflin is the only 2021 UDFA signing to make the initial 53-man roster, continuing a streak of 17 straight years for Green Bay having an undrafted rookie make its roster. He recorded nine tackles, six pressures and five stops during his first NFL preseason and showed the potential of becoming an eventual contributor for the Packers. Otherwise, it will be interesting to see how quickly Slaton sees playing time for the Packers behind a core of starters who all return from a year ago.
Outside Linebackers (5): Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, Chauncey Rivers
Cut: Tipa Galeai, Delontae Scott
The Packers might have carried one fewer pass rusher if it weren’t for their concerns about Za’Darius Smith’s back injury, but Garvin and Rivers now both have a chance to contribute for the team, even if only to replace the special teams value that was lost when Randy Ramsey suffered a season-ending injury. Of course, Smith’s health will be critical to the effectiveness of the Packers defense. Preston Smith and Gary can presumably hold things down if he is forced to miss time in the regular season, but the All-Pro pass rusher has gotten the job done at an impressive rate over the past two seasons (26 combined sacks). Put simply, the Packers are a better defense when he is on the field.
Inside Linebackers (5): Krys Barnes, De’Vondre Campbell, Oren Burks, Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie
Cut: Ray Wilborn, De’Jon Harris
McDuffie saved himself from the bubble with a strong preseason debut against the Buffalo Bills last weekend, leading the Packers with nine tackles and chipping in for his first NFL sack. His route to the active roster might not have been so direct had Kamal Martin not been expelled during the second round of cuts, but he overcame an early-camp injury and did his part in reminding the Packers why they drafted him. Now, he has to keep earning it in the third phase alongside Summers and Burks, who are also core special teamers.
Cornerbacks (6): Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan, Eric Stokes, Isaac Yiadom, Shemar Jean-Charles
Cut: Kabion Ento, Stephen Denmark, Rojesterman Farris II
Five of these spots were easy; Alexander, King and Sullivan are core veterans of the group while Stokes and Jean-Charles are both rookie draft picks. The sixth spot, however, took some maneuvering from the Packers to figure out. Ultimately, it was Yiadom — who had been acquired from the New York Giants on August 18 in a cornerback swap involving Josh Jackson — who beat out Ento for the right to stick with the Packers. He did start 10 games for the Giants in 2020 and record 46 tackles and five pass deflections; though, he’ll need to channel that energy into special teams contributions if he wants a meaningful role with the team.
Safeties (4): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Henry Black, Vernon Scott
Cut: Christian Uphoff, Innis Gaines
Will Redmond landing on injured reserve didn’t immediately compel the Packers to keep a fifth safety for the roster, but don’t be surprised if they end up bringing back either Uphoff or Gaines in the event they designate a few players for injured reserve. Both players were solid in their first preseasons with the Packers and could easily find a way to contribute in some capacity on special teams. Black and Scott were just better and more familiar options, a product of them having NFL experience. Right now, the only red flag with the group is veteran experience, as an injury to either Amos or Savage could significantly hamper the Packers’ ability to play at a high level.
Specialists (3): Mason Crosby, Corey Bojorquez*, Hunter Bradley
Cut: JK Scott, JJ Molson
*Bojorquez still needs to pass his physical before officially joining the Packers’ roster, leaving the total player count at 52 for the time being.
If there were going to be any changes made to the Packers’ three specialist positions on Tuesday, it was going to need to be by way of trade or signing. And trade they did, as Scott (somewhat) surprisingly had the rug pulled out from underneath him when the Packers completed a deal to acquire Bojorquez from the Los Angeles Rams. Scott, a 2018 fifth-round pick, was largely inconsistent for the Packers during their 2020 run to the NFC Championship Game, particularly down the stretch as his punting numbers declined. Rather than risk their all-in run on giving him another chance, the Packers let him go and found a more consistent replacement.