Roster Depth Will Matter More in 2020

While roster depth is always important, having trusted depth players on both the 53-man roster and the expanded practice squad will make a bigger difference this season. 

The 2020 NFL season will be unlike anything we’ve experienced before. Right now, whether a full season is played or not, it seems obvious that the healthiest teams will make the deepest push in the playoffs. Players and coaches alike have talked about accountability and personal responsibility when it comes to such an unprecedented season. But in addition to personal accountability and the health of players, roster depth is going to be extremely important in 2020. 

If we look back to the Super Bowl XLV season, the depth on the Packers roster was imperative to the team’s sustained success. When Ryan Grant went down, the world was introduced to Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, and James Starks. When Jermichael Finley got hurt, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree were called upon to play key roles. 

This discussion has already come up specifically in relation to the quarterback room. The Packers traded up to select Jordan Love in the first round of the draft, which is as sure a sign as any that he’s the team’s plan for the future. In most years, under “normal” circumstances, it’s likely the Packers only keep Aaron Rodgers and Love on the 53-man roster. This year, though, keeping Tim Boyle as a third quarterback makes a ton more sense. Not only does Boyle have a familiarity with the scheme already, but should anything happen in the quarterbacks room where someone ends up on the COVID-19/Reserve list, there’s already familiarity with the system on the roster in Boyle.

Having familiarity on the expanded 16-man practice squad will matter significantly more in 2020 than it likely would in most seasons. While the NFL has relaxed its restrictions on free agent visits, teams are still more inclined to develop players internally than look for outside help. With no preseason games to watch, scouts have an especially difficult job trying to figure out if there are players on any of the other 31 rosters or in free agency worth taking a gamble on. 

Even if players don’t necessarily stick on the 53-man roster right out of camp, it’s more than likely the guys on the practice squad will get an opportunity to play at some point during the season, and that’s where familiarity becomes especially important. Take tight end Evan Baylis for example. He’s currently buried on the depth chart between three surefire roster locks and one likely lock in Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, rookie Josiah Deguara, and Robert Tonyan. In a regular season, he might have a better shot on a different team’s practice squad if he wanted a genuine shot to make an active 53. In 2020, though, all it takes is one of the four players ahead of him ending up on the COVID-19/Reserve list, and he could be on the active roster for multiple weeks. 

What gives a guy like Baylis a specific advantage this season is that he’s already familiar with Green Bay’s offense. Baylis has been with Green Bay since the last week of the 2018 season, spending time both on the practice squad and active roster. He already has a leg up on any outside free agent or undrafted player the Packers might take a look at considering his knowledge of LaFleur’s system. 

On the defensive side of the ball, consider a player like Kabion Ento. If things got really wild, the receiver-turned-cornerback could even fill in at wide receiver in an emergency, but that’s an article for a different day. Ento spent the entire 2019 season on the Packers practice squad. While the cornerback room has plenty of depth behind Kevin King and Jaire Alexander in Chandon Sullivan, Ka’dar Hollman, and Josh Jackson, if something were to happen to that depth, Ento already has plenty of experience in Mike Pettine’s defense and on special teams. 

Edge rusher Tim Williams is another player that comes to mind. While the edge unit is perhaps Green Bay’s best with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith taking a bulk of the snaps, even depth-wise with second-year linebacker Rashan Gary ready to fill in at a moment’s notice, it’s possible certain positions could get hit harder by the virus based on the shared spaces for team meetings and small team gatherings. If something were to happen to the depth in the edge room, having a trusted player ready in the wings like Williams gives the Packers added insurance behind even the deepest units. 

In addition to players that already have experience on the practice squad in Green Bay, some of the new undrafted free agents could get plenty of opportunities on the expanded practice squad this season, too. Think about a player like Henry Black, a position-versatile safety who finds himself entering a loaded room that includes two full-time starters in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, two trusted rotational players in Raven Greene and Will Redmond, and rookie draft pick Vernon Scott. While it seems that Black’s chances of making the 53-man roster immediately out of training camp would be slim, given his versatility having played both linebacker and safety in college, he fits the mold as an ideal practice squad candidate who might get called upon to fill in opposite Christian Kirksey in the box or provide depth as a hybrid safety/linebacker in Pettine’s defense. 

Or, consider the skill players. If the Packers only keep five wide receivers on the active roster, they’ll at least have a few backup receivers on the practice squad. So while the Packers might only have five receivers on the 53, they may actually be getting eight or nine receivers ready to play each week. The opportunities will be there for practice squad players this season more than perhaps ever before. Even if the player isn’t called upon to play a role on offense or defense, having familiar bodies that can fill a number of roles on special teams will be vital to that unit’s continuity, too. 

While it’s true the teams that can stay the healthiest this season will have the best opportunities for a deep playoff push, having tried and true depth at each position stashed on the practice squad will also be imperative to sustained success in 2020. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (12)

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Spock's picture

August 14, 2020 at 07:20 am

Nice article, Maggie. Some names on there I wasn't familiar with. IF there is a season and it's of any length we may indeed see some of these guys on game day. Thanks for the info.

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nostradanus's picture

August 14, 2020 at 07:22 am

Well said Maggie, I agree with you that this season especially the Packers would be wise to protect themselves with practice squad guys that know the system.
We may even see QB Manny Wilkins back on the PS just to have a quarantine familiar QB in case COVID hits the QB room.
This strategy may mean letting a few guys with more “upside” go in favor of guys that know the playbook. The expanded PS is going to be a key piece to the Super Bowl puzzle for many teams this season.
Teams that use this tool wisely are likely to survive longer into the season and playoffs.

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gkarl's picture

August 14, 2020 at 07:42 am

Really good article, Being familiar with plays and scheme over potential could very well increase a players chance of making the 53 or PS, especially TY.

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Bure9620's picture

August 14, 2020 at 08:15 am

Yes, I am especially thinking of offensive line? Do they keep more than 9 or 10? How much position versatility? Frankly I do not want to see Billy Turner at RT anytime soon. Do they keep the 6th rounders? Maybe Stepeniak goes on IR. Is Hanson the backup center?

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PeteK's picture

August 14, 2020 at 08:44 am

Hanson's progress to that point would be fantastic because it could mean that he is ready to take over the position next year.

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CheesyTex's picture

August 14, 2020 at 11:49 am

"Is Hanson the backup center?" Doubtful he would be the primary backup this year with no preseason games.

If Linsley goes down, it's more likely that Jenkins slides to center and Taylor takes over at LG (Assuming that Taylor is not a starter on the Right side, but that's a whole different story).

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jannes bjornson's picture

August 14, 2020 at 04:21 pm

Lucas Patrick is the backup for now. Maybe Hanson shows something and they move Lindsley to free Cap for Bhaktiari. We'll see what happens??

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PeteK's picture

August 14, 2020 at 08:39 am

Another important facet to success will be practicing safety protocols while away from the team ( no Plesacs). Pack has an advantage because of the cozy confines of Green Bay.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

August 14, 2020 at 08:55 am

I believe that being creative/flexible on the coaching side could be huge this year. For example, if we are worried about 4 TEs contracting c19 in the tight end room thrusting Baylis into the starting lineup, I’d do away with the concept of positional rooms and meetings. Have team meetings where your tight ends are far away from each other inter dispersed among others. It seems that doing everything to keep a position group from getting decimated would be key.

Maybe split the roster in two (1-3-5 TE on one team and 2-4-6 TE on the other) and run two distinct practices a day. Would harm familiarity but you’d have a pretty good chance of getting starting caliber players on the field.

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Lphill's picture

August 14, 2020 at 10:39 am

Active roster and practice squad need to increased for this season , it should have been done already.

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PeteK's picture

August 14, 2020 at 11:55 am

I thought it was, from10 to16 on PS. However, I think both should have been increased a bit more.

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murf7777's picture

August 14, 2020 at 11:38 am

More so then any year I can remember the importance of making good management decisions have never been more relevant. Rookies and first year players are in for a very difficult year knowing the nuances of the play book and timing playing with others. Management will have a difficult time deciding who is on the 53 and PS and shuffling rosters as injuries and COVID-19 changes them throughout the year. Management decision and not players plays maybe the difference maker this year.

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