In the nine seasons I've been covering the Green Bay Packers, this year is tough as any to predict the team's final 53-man roster.
The last spot at almost every position group is up for grabs, and it literally could come down to how the players further down the depth chart perform in the preseason finale on Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs and who stays healthy.
Here's a look at the jobs still up for grabs at each position in Titletown...
Before it was learned that DuJuan Harris would be lost for the season, I thought there was a chance that neither James Starks nor Alex Green make the Packers' roster. Now it appears all but certain that at least one and perhaps both make the team, although I'm still not sold on both of them making the team.
The Packers seem set with Eddie Lacy as their starter and will at least carry Johnathan Franklin on the roster even if he's not ready to contribute right away. As much as some people would like to see the organization part ways with John Kuhn, his job is safe. The Packers, for example, could get by with just Lacy, Green and Kuhn active on game days if need be.
The top four receivers are pretty much set in stone with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin. Jeremy Ross seems like a good bet as the fifth wide receiver because he may also take over return duties.
Some people may have penciled in Tyrone Walker for a sixth wide receiver, but he's not a lock. The Packers aren't likely to keep six wideouts active on game days, and if they're going to carry a wide receiver just to be inactive, it could be seventh round draft choice Charles Johnson, who might have a higher ceiling. Walker could always be invited to the practice squad.
The tight end position is harder to handicap than any other position on the roster, further complicated by reports that the Packers are trying to trade a tight end. Finley's job, of course, is safe. And if you ask me, Matthew Mulligan is a lock as player who will be a key piece in trying to get the run game kick started.
Beyond those two, anything is possible. Andrew Quarless might be on the outside looking in if he's not the same player coming off of injury. Ryan Taylor might have the inside track on a job because of his special teams experience. And Brandon Bostick may have a loads of potential, but he also might be the target of another team looking for tight end help.
Six jobs are safe: the five presumptive starters plus Marshall Newhouse as the swing tackle. For a second consecutive year, the Packers may carry only seven offensive linemen on their roster coming out of training camp with an emergency eighth on the practice squad.
Greg Van Roten has the inside track on the seventh job, but he can't be a liability if forced into action. He'll receive competition from Patrick Lewis as a backup interior lineman. Perhaps the Packers could even look for a center who's cut from another team, which is probably the only way they would possibly keep eight linemen on their roster. Lane Taylor seems like a nice developmental prospect, but is a better bet on the practice squad for now.
With Johnny Jolly looking like he's earned a roster spot, it appears as if the Packers will keep six defensive linemen on their roster, seven if you count Mike Neal who will be both a defensive lineman and an outside linebacker.
The only question is, can the Packers afford to keep rookie Josh Boyd at an already crowded position? He looks like the odd man out at this point, but could be an injury away from making his way onto the roster. The Packers would probably keep him on the practice squad if he's not claimed on waivers.
Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Mike Neal are three guys who aren't going anywhere. Beyond them, there's probably two roster spots available between three players––Dezman Moses, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.
The case can be made for any of the three, and once again, it really could come down to who plays the best on Thursday night and who stays healthy. Moses has the experience, Palmer is making a late push and Mulumba must show he can be available after missing last week's game against the Seahawks.
There was a chance the Packers kept only three true safeties on the roster, but that was before Morgan Burnett got injured. If there's any chance Burnett misses the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers will absolutely have to keep four.
Chris Banjo's chances of making the team increased ten-fold when Burnett pulled his hamstring last week. At the very least, Banjo should be a special teams demon, but finding a safety cut from another team can't be ruled out.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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