By 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers, along with the rest of the league must have reduced their rosters down to 53 players.
Teams have been practicing for a little over a month now and with training camp and preseason games in the books, it’s time for football to get serious.
Fringe roster players had their final chance to showcase their ability on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo, and now their fate is left in the hands of Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur.
We have a fairly good idea of the top 40-45 players who should be set in stone to make the roster, and another group of players who we know will likely get cut.
As we gear up to see the final decisions which will form the 2021 roster, I’ve pondered three hypothetical curveballs that could be thrown at us in the next 24 hours.
Who is WR6? Nobody!
The Packers have had five locks at the wide receiver position ever since they traded for Randall Cobb at the beginning of training camp.
For the last month, fans have tracked the race for the sixth and final receiver spot on the roster.
It’s been a battle that has had different leaders at different times. Juwann Winfree started off with a bang, before Devin Funchess impressed in the preseason opener.
After both of those guys got injured, Malik Taylor was the opportunist who entered the fray and played really well to finish out the preseason.
Many have since penciled in Malik’s name to make the roster. Being a significant special teams contributor also helps Taylor’s case.
However, I believe there is a wildcard scenario to look out for in which the Packers simply don’t take anyone to fill the WR6 role.
It makes a bit of sense when you think about it. They’re only really going to need five wide receivers considering everyone’s healthy. Even Amari Rodgers at WR5 could be fighting for sufficient snaps.
If they do happen to get stuck with a few injuries in one game, Aaron Jones is more than capable in the passing game and can easily split out wide.
AJ Dillon and Kylin Hill form one of the deeper backfield stables in the league so even with Jones fulfilling duties elsewhere, the running game is mostly unaffected.
This move would give the Packers the option to load up on defensive depth, perhaps at safety, if that’s what they want to do.
For those worried about special teams play, don’t be. I highly doubt losing Malik Taylor will make the Packers’ punt and kick coverage units any worse than they already are.
In an interview last week, LaFleur referenced the battle for the “last receiver spot”, surely referring to WR6 and not WR5.
So if this scenario were to play out, it would be a last-second change of mind, but maybe increased confidence in Kylin Hill could provoke this domino effect into actually happening.
Packers opt for youth over experience on the offensive line
I would say this is the most plausible of the three surprises I’ve listed, but it’s still something I wouldn’t expect to happen.
Lucas Patrick and Dennis Kelly both played full NFL seasons last year and both held up pretty well overall.
Patrick is 28 years old, while Kelly is 31.
With proven NFL experience comes an increased price tag. Kelly and Patrick account for a total of $3.4 million against the salary cap, per Over The Cap.
The cap-restricted Packers could instead opt to go with younger, more unproven guys and free up some much-needed cap space for in-season roster acquisitions.
Take Ben Braden and Jon Runyan Jr. for example. These two only consume $1.7 million in cap space, half of the price tag for Patrick and Kelly.
The Packers could go with the younger, cheaper option, and trust talented offensive line coach Adam Stenavich to get these guys ready to play.
A last-minute overhaul of specialists
We’ve been saying it for quite some time now, the Packers special teams unit is abysmal aside from Mason Crosby.
It was one of the worst in football last year, and through preseason, new ST coach Maurice Drayton hasn’t shown any beacons of hope on the horizon.
I am absolutely shocked that the Packers have yet to show any interest in other options at punter besides JK Scott.
Entering his fourth year in the league, Scott has done nothing but take steps backward from his rookie season.
Scott’s inconsistency remains his biggest issue. A 21-yard shank sandwiched between two 50-yard bombs on Saturday tells you all you need to know about him.
It’s time for the Packers to find someone else. Unlike kickers, reliable punters are not a rare commodity in today’s NFL.
Fellow specialist, long snapper Hunter Bradley, has been completely fine through the first few years of his career, but struggled greatly in the final week of 2021 training camp.
While he didn’t make any mistakes in the game against Buffalo, his lackluster performance in practice may have the Packers willing to move on, and give his roster spot to someone else.
The idea of an entire roster spot being dedicated to a long snapper is becoming rarer and rarer in the NFL, and it’s pretty common to just train up an offensive lineman to do the job.
Interestingly, Packers edge rusher Tipa Galeai is a fringe roster player who is also a talented long snapper. Galeai took some reps on punt attempts during training camp.
Maybe the Packers would prefer the additional defensive depth of Galeai, which Bradley cannot offer.