First of all, after this post, in the future, Mike McCarthy will be referred to as "the Irishman." Love the nickname. Thanks to Aaron Nagler, of Bleacher Report, for introducing this via Twitter.
In today's NFL, there is a small window to compile Championship runs. For the Green Bay Packers, the window is wide open right now. After this April's NFL Draft, it became clear that Ted Thompson is determined to seize the day. Blessed with the NFL's MVP, last years 15-1 season that ended in a Divisional Playoff loss at Lambeau Field simply isn't good enough. With the present cast of players, anything less than a Super Bowl title is considered a disappointment. As training camp fast approaches, I've never seen a Packers roster that's been this rich in talent. Two years ago, James Jones was a starter throughout the XLV title season. Today, it's likely that he's on the fence to make the team. Two years ago, Frank Zombo was a starter in the XLV victory. This year, it'll be tough for him to make the roster. Here's a breakdown of each position along with my prediction of who will make the 2012 team:
QB: (3) The Packers will enter camp with three QB's. I believe that all 3 will be on the active roster. Clearly, the Packers believe Graham Harrell has the talent to be an emergency QB behind Rodgers. It's also my belief that BJ Coleman will play at a high level during the preseason. Therefore, they won't be able to sneak him onto the practice squad.
RB: (4) With the abundance of talent on this roster, it'll be extremely difficult to cut down to 53 players. At some positions, you have to keep one less player than normal. This year, I see that happening at RB. At this point, it appears as though the Packers have moved on from Ryan Grant. Starks and Kuhn enter camp as the starters. Saine showed enough towards the end of last year to prove that he's worthy of a spot on the squad. If he's healthy, Alex Green will play a large role in the offense this year. Presently, it's fair to assume that Nic Cooper, Jon Hoese, Marc Tyler and Duane Bennett will all be training camp bodies. I'd guess that Hoese, Cooper and Tyler might push for spots on the practice squad.
WR:(6) For now, I see the Packers keeping 6 WR's. After Jennings, Jordy and Cobb; at this point, it's anyone's guess. I can't imagine the Packers cutting Driver this late in the offseason, especially after renegotiating his contract. He's been too vital to the organization. 2012 will be his farewell tour. Right or wrong, unless he is excessively outplayed during camp, Driver makes the team. Thus far, I am guessing that Gurley makes the team. I'd imagine the Packers could save a couple of million dollars off of the cap by releasing Jones. Plus, Gurley offers a special teams dimension that no one on the roster can provide. He could become a weapon with respect to blocking punts. Borel is in a unique spot. The Packers paid to keep him around last year. He also has unique special teams talents. He can return kicks. Further with the loss of P-Lee during Free Agency, the Packers have an open competition at the gunner spot opposite J-Bush. In previous years, Ruvell Martin and Terry Mickens have both played this role well for the Packers. It's not far fetched to think that Borel might have the same ability. Shaky Smithson is a fun name. He has a fun persona. But, he's not making this roster. He's a gifted returner, but Cobb showed tremendous ability at the role last year. It'll be interesting to see if Jones, Gurley, Smithson or Borel have any trade value towards the end of training camp. Dale Moss looks like a prime candidate for the practice squad. Jarrett Boykin and Curenski Gilleylen are training camp bodies.
TE: (4) What to do with the TE position? Can we possibly keep 5 again this year? I'm going to guess that AQ81 starts on the PUP list and thus, we only have 4 TE's on the Week 1 roster. J-Mike is a lock. I expect more out of DJ Williams in 2012. It wouldn't surprise me if he makes the biggest year-over-year jump over anyone on the roster. Tom Crabtree is a solid blocking TE. Our best blocker. He's also a solid special teams player. Ryan Taylor showed glimpses of talent during the preseason last year. The guess is that he makes the roster again this year. Eric Lair is a training camp body.
OL: (9) It is possible that the Packers keep 10 OL, but I'm predicting 9. Newhouse, Lang, Saturday, Sitton, and Bulaga are locks for the Week 1 team. If healthy, so is Sherrod. My guess is that Sherrod will be healthy. Expect Ray Dominguez to be our best backup OL in 2012. Dietrich-Smith filled in admirably last year when he was forced into action. It's hard for me to envision a scenario in which the Packers don't keep those 8 players. Thankfully, those 8 players offer great versatility. Sherrod can play either tackle position. So can Newhouse. Dietrich-Smith can play guard or center. Dominguez can play either guard position. Lang can play any position other than Center. With that said, it's up to the OL in camp to justify keeping more than 8 OL. Andrew Datko might end up being a steal in the draft. He should be kept around. Sampson Genus is the question mark. Do the Packers try to keep him on the practice squad again? Is he trade bait prior to the end of training camp? Do they keep him as a potential backup Center for the future? Genus will be a guy to watch in training camp. Herb Taylor was on the team at the end of the 2011 campaign. He, too, will compete for a roster spot in '12. Mike McCabe, Jaymes Brooks, Tommie Draheim, Don Barclay, Shea Allard and Grant Cook have a lot to prove if they expect to make this team. All are likely vying for a spot on the practice squad. In the end, my guess is that the Packers keep Newhouse, Lang, Saturday, Sitton, Bulaga, Sherrod, Dominguez, Dietrich-Smith, and Datko.
DL: (6) Last year, the Packers had the worst DL in the league. This year, it's possible that it'll be a position of strength. Typically, I'd predict the Packers to keep 6 DL, but one of the intentions of this roster has to be to keep BJ Raji fresh. Raji and Pickett will be the veteran leaders. Worthy will add an influx of flavor to the DL. I have high hopes for Mike Daniels. With Hargrove missing the first 8 games and Neal out for the first 4; Philip Merling, Jarius Wynn, CJ Wilson, Daniel Muir, Lawrence Guy and Johnny Jones will be battling for 3 spots. Merling has a beastly figure. He's a solid run stuffer. Though the Merling signing has not garnered a lot of national attention, the pickup shouldn't be overlooked. Merling hasn't developed into the player that Bill Parcells thought he'd become when he selected him with the 32nd pick of the '08 draft. If he's in shape and he's serious about rejuvenating his career, at worst, Merling should be an upgrade over Wilson and Wynn from a run stopping perspective. Wynn had his chance last year and he failed. Wynn is gone. Wilson isn't going to be the pass rusher we wanted him to become. However, Wilson is an average run stopper. Muir isn't a gifted pass pass rusher either, but he is a good run defender. Johnny Jones is another big body, but he has extreme limitations. I don't see Jones becoming disruptive in the preseason. Guy is a high effort performer. He is youthful with a spirited motor. Guy also has the most upside of anyone on the list. With that, it's my guess that Merling and Guy win the final two DL roster spots. The Packers will have an exciting rotation along the DL in 2012. We will see a well rested, more productive BJ Raji. Look for Guy, Merling and Pickett to grab some run down snaps. Meanwhile, Worthy and Daniels were drafted for their pass rushing ability. In all, expect to see Raji produce at higher levels because of it. It will be tough for Thompson and McCarthy to narrow down the last spot at the DL position.
LB: (8) LB will also be an interesting positional battle. It could be argued that the Packers will keep as few as 8 LB's or as many as 10. It's logical to think that Lattimore and Brad Jones were moved to ILB to offer versatility and to free up a roster spot elsewhere. Francois can offer similar versatility. Clay Matthews finally has someone across from him. Now, it's up to Kevin Greene to get Nick Perry ready to play OLB. Perry was a DE in college. He was a hand in the dirt kind of guy. He's an intense pass rusher. He will have to adjust and it won't be easy. But, he's athletic enough to make the transition. The question will be whether he has the mental capacity to grasp the concepts. Additionally, he will have to keep his confidence. Desmond Bishop will lead the ILB unit and Packers fans will probably have to suffer through another year of AJ Hawk, unless DJ Smith can beat him out. Smith is a lock for the roster. I couldn't be more excited to see Terrell Manning. I'm curious as to how he's used. Largely, I'd fancy that he will be at ILB, however he does possess the instincts to occasionally be used at OLB. After Matthews, Perry, Bishop, Smith, Hawk and Manning; it'll be a heated contest for the remaining roster spots at LB. Special teams will be a determining factor. That doesn't bode well for Frank Zombo and Vic So'oto. So'oto will need a preseason similar to last year in order to make a run at the roster this year. I would have imagined that Walden will make the roster again this year, but, from the sounds of it Dezman Moses was a star in the OTA's. Originally, I'd have thought Moses was a prime candidate for the practice squad, but it's conceivable that he'll push for the roster. It's well known that Thompson & McCarthy are not afraid of keeping undrafted FA's. Moses, Walden Francois, Jones, and Lattimore will be battling for a couple of roster spots and it'll be an open competition. Francois played well in spot duty last year. Jones has been the most productive, but he's also been the most unreliable. Lattimore has the most upside. Lattimore has also been extremely vocal about embracing the move to ILB. He has said all of the right things. McCarthy values reliability and versatility. Therefore, for now, Lattimore gets the nod even though I believe Jones is a more natural fit at ILB. In fact, Jones might be better suited for ILB than OLB. As of now, my prediction is the Packers only keep 8 LB's. It was the hardest of the positions to pull the trigger on. I'd love to keep 9 or 10. I don't have room, but as camp progresses this will be an area I'll have to review. The 8: CM3, Perry, Smith, Bishop, Hawk, Manning, Moses, and Lattimore.
DB: (10) The secondary projects as the easiest position to predict. Not that there aren't question marks, but the top 10 appear to be fairly obvious. Woodson, T-Mon and Burnett are starters. Look for MD Jennings to make a run at the starting safety spot. Peprah is a lock. So is Shields. Casey "Show Case" Heyward will compete for a role in the nickel. It's too early to give up on Davon House. From what I've read, Jerron McMillan looked the part in the rookie orientation and in OTA's, for what it's worth. J-Bush is a lock. With that said, Dion Turner, Otis Merrill, and Sean Richardson will compete for practice squad spots. Richardson has ability and could push for a spot on the 53 man roster. Anthony Levine will likely be on the outside looking in.
Specialists: (3) Tim Masthay, Mason Crosby, Brett Goode.
Toughest cuts: James Jones, CJ Wilson, Jarius Wynn, Erik Walden, Brad Jones, Robert Francois, and Sampson Genus.
Top 5 Practice Squad guesses: Genus, Dale Moss, Nic Cooper, Dezman Moses, Sean Richardson.
Finally, you'll have to pardon me for this portion, but I had to give a mock draft for 2013. I read something from Chad Reuter last weekend that struck a chord with me - and I paraphrase - "when the draft is over, you don't feel disappointment that your work studying those players for 365 days is behind you rather you watch the same games, but look at different prospects." Again, I'm not a draftnik. I just like the NFL, College Football and the NFL Draft. And, in some cases, before the draft, I discuss my liking for guys such as Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Heyward, and BJ Coleman before the draft and they all become draft picks by the Green Bay Packers. With that, I bring to you the initial 2013 Mock Draft.
Round 1: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. He's Clay's cousin. I haven't given up on Sherrod yet, but Matthews would be too good to pass up on. Depending on the developments along the DL, a guy to watch is Kawaan Short, Purdue. My good mate, Stack, is all over Short's game.
Round 2: Kenny Stills, WR, OK. Love the name and the bloodlines! Stills gets the ball in traffic. He has attitude and makes plays after the catch. With Jennings being a FA and Driver likely in his last year, WR becomes a potential need position. I like the safety position in the 2013 Draft. Ray Ray Armstrong, _, has all the tools to be a Pro Bowl player, but his off the field antics can be tiring. Robert Lester, Alabama, is a legit prospect. At ILB, Nico Johnson, Alabama, is a guy to watch.
Round 3: Cierre Wood, RB, ND. Wood is a tough, instinctive runner who cuts well and has great vision. Sheldon Richardson, DL, Mizzou, is an absolute beast of a man, but has struggled to keep himself on the field.
Round 4: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington. At times, I absolutely love his game. But, consistency and effort are concerns. He can play the ball in the air and occasionally, he's an absolute stud against the run. But, he will also shy away from contact. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. If this guy stays healthy, watch out. But, he's recovering from a major knee injury.
Round 5: Vaughn Telemaque, S, _. Telemaque plays the ball well in the air. Isn't necessarily littered with speed, but he has great hands. He can get lost and misses assignments. Doesn't always take a great angle towards the ball carrier. Nonetheless, he'd be a good value pick.
Round 6: Anthony Rashad White, DL, Michigan State. He was Worthy's running mate last year. I look for him to have a big year and to jump up draft boards, if his height isn't too much of an issue. He's athletic. Gets a good push. Solid effort. Active. Understands leverage. Hasn't been overly productive, but a good rotational DL. Underrated prospect.
Round 7: Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida. He's the emotional leader of the Gator defense. Slightly undersized. Great activity. Sideline to sideline patroller of the field. Does get suffocated. Jordan Rodgers, QB, Vandy would be a fun pick as he's the MVP's lil' bro, but it's not happening. Stephan Taylor, RB, Stanford is a guy to watch. I'll be curious to see how he performs without all of the studs that left Stanford last year. If he plays well, he could end up being a mid-round prospect.
Go Pack Go!