A few weeks ago, you’d have been forgiven if the name Juwann Winfree didn’t ring a bell. The 24-year-old Green Bay Packers wide receiver born in Manhattan, NY played his college ball at Colorado and was drafted 187th overall by the Denver Broncos in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Buried in the Broncos’ depth chart, Winfree played just three games in his rookie season, and failed to make the final 53-man roster after cut-downs at the start of the 2020 season. Winfree signed with the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad soon after, and was activated to the gameday squad on two separate occasions last year, registering only four offensive snaps.
With the Packers maintaining their entire receiving corps from last season, along with the return (or debut) of COVID opt-out Devin Funchess, it looked like any hopes for Winfree to make the Packers’ final roster were dead and buried before he even got the chance to show his ability.
While the Aaron Rodgers saga dominated OTAs and minicamp in late May and early June, it was Winfree who was quietly making plays at practice. The absence of the entirety of last season’s main-roster receivers at OTAs opened up a great opportunity for Winfree to get all the first-team reps and prove his worth to the coaches.
Still, while some sung his praises, the majority where quick to note the insignificance of performing well in June. The next time we’d see Winfree was at the beginning of training camp where, yet again, the news of Aaron Rodgers took all the headlines. This time, the Rodgers news actually hurt Winfree, when the acquisition of Randall Cobb via trade, a move that had #12’s fingerprints all over it, looked to be the final nail in the coffin for Winfree’s main-roster dreams. It may still be.
However even though there appears to be five receivers that are locks to make the 53-man roster, and two or three pretty tough-outs aside from Winfree, he hasn’t let it break his stride even for a second. He’s been one of the brightest sparks of Packers training camp through seven practices.
Winfree’s lightning quick release off the line has been what’s made him stand out at camp. That separation off the line is critical for success on the perimeter in the NFL, and with slot receivers Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers already sure-fire picks for the final roster, a 6-2 guy who can win on the outside might be exactly what Matt LaFleur wants in his final receiver.
A strong preseason performance will be crucial for Winfree
As much as Juwann has impressed through his first week of training camp, there’s still five more weeks to go, including three preseason games and a joint practice week with the New York Jets.
It will be Jordan Love throwing the ball in those three games, and you can imagine we’ll be seeing a lot more of Winfree and other fringe roster guys than we will of Davante Adams or Marquez Valdes-Scantling through preseason.
Where do Winfree’s chances stand right now?
Whether or not Winfree makes the roster may come down to how many receivers the Packers want to carry in the first place. Last year they carried five receivers, and as I stated earlier, there are already five locks to make this year’s roster.
I think considering the depth they have at the position, I could see the Packers adding one more guy into the fold. If that is the case, the question becomes who do they choose?
Of the three primary candidates, Equanimeous St. Brown has been around the team the longest, Devin Funchess brings the most experience, while Juwann Winfree has been the most impressive of the three in the small sample size that we’ve seen.
WR6 on the depth chart usually serves to be a crucial special teams contributor. Malik Taylor was exactly that for the 2020 Packers, so don’t count him out either. As a ‘good not great’ athlete, we’re not really sure if special teams is Winfree’s forte, but he’s jumped a lot of hurdles to get to the position he’s in right now. I’m sure he’ll do whatever it takes on special teams in a bid to secure a job.
We’ve still got a long way to go before final roster cut-downs and this will be an intriguing story to follow each day until it’s time for the Packers to decide. We all love an underdog; let’s hope Juwann makes the final cut! Either way, Winfree has done enough to secure at least a practice-squad job at this point.