After none of their roster cuts were claimed off the waiver wire, the Green Bay Packers have officially pulled together their first practice squad of 2021 — with a couple of surprises sticking around for the new season.
On September 1, the Packers unveiled their 16-player practice squad with fan-favorites such as third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert and sixth-round rookie offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen among the players invited back after missing the initial 53-man roster cut.
Some of the names on (and off) the practice squad were a little more surprising, though. After many assumed the Packers were done with Equanimeous St. Brown, the 2018 sixth-round wide receiver was re-signed to the practice squad and will now have the opportunity to earn his way back onto the 53-man roster. St. Brown has caught 28 passes for 445 yards and a touchdown over 24 career games for the Packers, but he did not play in any of their three preseason games.
Fellow wideouts Juwann Winfree and Chris Blair were also retained to give the Packers a total of nine receivers between their two rosters; however, former CFL standout Reggie Begelton was not brought back for a second stint on the practice squad despite showing some noticeable improvement from last year. Begelton finished the 2021 preseason with seven receptions for 80 yards on 12 targets.
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Molson’s Return a Sign of Future Plans?
Another one of the more surprising additions to the Packers’ inaugural 2021 practice squad is backup kicker JJ Molson. He had spent several weeks toward the end of the 2020 season on Green Bay’s practice squad as an emergency-relief option at the position heading into the playoffs and could be in line for the same type of role with the Packers heading into his second NFL season.
But could there be a more long-term plan at work here?
The Packers are currently well endowed at the position with veteran kicker Mason Crosby coming off one of his finest seasons yet with the team. He was a perfect 16-for-16 on field-goal tries in 2020, including four makes from at least 50 yards away, and made 59 of his 63 extra-point kicks. Consistency like that can be difficult to find.
Crosby, however, only has two more years left on his contract and could offer the Packers a notable amount of savings next offseason if they decide to make a change. According to Over the Cap, the Packers would save somewhere between about $2.4 million and $3.4 million if they moved on from Crosby in 2022, depending on whether he was released before or after June 1. It may not seem like much savings on the surface, but it could mean a lot to a Packers team that is currently projected to be roughly $39 million over the cap next year — and that’s before considering any of the possible free agents they’d like to re-sign, such as Davante Adams.
Complete List of Packers’ Practice Squad
CB Kabion Ento: A top challenger for a roster spot during training camp, Ento supplies the Packers with some more depth at cornerback after steadily developing for the team over the past two seasons.
DL Abdullah Anderson: The former Chicago Bears frontline defender was added to the Packers’ camp roster just before their final preseason game and didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do before roster cuts. Now, he can develop further while also giving the Packers a safety net of someone who has taken actual regular-season snaps.
DL Willington Previlon: Another, more familiar depth piece for the Packers’ defensive line. If injuries strike, Previlon could be the first to answer the call.
G Ben Braden: Braden competed for a starting job throughout camp, and while he did not win one of the nine OL spots on the active roster (10 once David Bakhtiari comes off the PUP list), it isn’t difficult to imagine him making it to the 53 at some point, especially if injuries or other issues deplete their guard position.
G/T Jacob Capra: The Packers usually keep a handful of undrafted rookies for their practice squad. Capra may have an edge due to his ability to play multiple positions. Still, he will need to continue developing if he wants a chance at seeing playing time.
G/T Cole Van Lanen: Van Lanen flashed enough over the past several weeks to contend for a roster spot, so bringing him back to develop another year on the practice squad makes perfect sense. And for a Green Bay native, what’s not to love about that?
ILB Ray Wilborn: Wilborn quietly had a solid camp for the Packers and might have made the roster if Isaiah McDuffie hadn’t looked so good after returning from his injury. Unless an injury strikes or Wilborn shows some untapped potential as a special teams contributor, though, don’t expect to see him on the field in the near future.
K JJ Molson: Molson was steady in camp and the preseason. To stick around all year, the Packers will need him to continue practicing with the same degree of consistency.
OLB Tipa Galeai: Galeai struggled down the stretch of the preseason, but he has persisted since signing as a UDFA in 2020 and could earn an elevation opportunity if Za’Darius Smith misses any time with his back injury (even with five OLBs on the 53).
QB Kurt Benkert: After (some) suspense about whether another team would claim Benkert off the waivers, the Packers have re-acquired their QB3 for the practice squad. Now, the best-case for the Packers is still having no use for Benkert in 2021 (and seeing Aaron Rodgers pick up where he left off last year). But as far as long-term planning goes, there could be an eventual No. 2 role in Benkert’s future.
RB Patrick Taylor: Taylor was the younger, more dynamic of the two running backs left off the 53, and it is understandable for the Packers to want a full year to properly assess him after he spent his entire rookie season on an injury list in 2020. Taylor did rush for 2,884 yards and 36 touchdowns during his career at Memphis. That’s worth developing, even with Jones, Dillon and Hill all looking promising.
S Innis Gaines: The Packers have two reliable starters and a pair of up-and-coming backups behind them, but a fifth safety could be useful in the first year of Joe Barry’s defense. Nicknamed “Thump,” Gaines has worked hard to earn his opportunity after essentially needing to take off a year to recover from an ACL injury. Now, it will be about staying the course and being ready if his number is called.
TE Bronson Kaufusi: Aaron Rodgers name-dropped Kaufusi as one of the Packers who stood out to him this summer, prompting jokes that he would end up on Buffalo’s roster before the season arrived like former wideout Jake Kumerow. Instead, Kaufusi is back and could become the Packers’ fifth tight end as soon as Week 3 depending on how they handle Jace Sternberger and his suspension. It has been an interesting road for the former defensive end and third-round pick, but don’t discount the value of Rodgers’ praise (see: Allen Lazard).
WR Chris Blair: Blair latched on with the Packers in January along with Gaines and Wilborn on a reserve/future contract and comes from Alcorn State, the same alma mater as Packers Hall of Fame receiver Donald Driver. That doesn’t mean he will climb to the same heights, but at least he gets to try and earn his keep now.
WR Equanimeous St. Brown: Brown might be back, but he is also likely making his last stand with the Packers. The trick will be staying healthy. If he can do that, maybe the St. Brown fans once hoped they would see will emerge from his cocoon.
WR Juwann Winfree: Winfree stole fans’ attention during spring workouts with the team, but an injury just before the start of the preseason effectively removed him from the roster race. The good news is the Packers liked enough of what they saw to bring him back and give him the chance to get healthy on the practice squad. Should he get back to 100% and recapture some of his early-year spark, there could be a roster spot (or at least a game-day elevation) waiting for him.