The Green Bay Packers initial 53-man roster for the 2023 season is all set—for now, anyways. There were a few moves that could be categorized as moderate surprises, but for the most part, the roster was put together as expected, with the Packers making a concerted effort to get younger.
The next step for the Packers and the rest of the NFL, before teams fully turn their focus to the regular season, is to construct their practice squad, which will take place over the next day.
However, before all that commences, here is my position-by-position analysis of the decisions that were made and how the Packers went about putting together their initial 53.
Quarterback (2): Jordan Love and Sean Clifford
As expected here. Matt LaFleur told the media last week that Sean Clifford had earned the backup quarterback role on this team with his play during the preseason and in practices. After the draft, arm talent, athleticism, college experience, and Clifford’s fit in the locker room were all mentioned as reasons why the Packers selected him, and we saw many of these traits on display while he was on the field.
Running back (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Emanuel Wilson
Green Bay going with Emanuel Wilson over Patrick Taylor was the biggest roster surprise for me. As I’ve said before, it felt like LaFleur was giving us the answers to the test by saying that the third running back had to contribute on special teams and be able to impact the game as a blocker and pass catcher. All signs pointed to that being Patrick Taylor, with him taking the second most starting special teams snaps on the team this preseason. He was also targeted more in the passing game than Wilson and has more blocking experience. Throughout training camp, LaFleur would even say that Wilson has to show more consistency in those areas.
However, Wilson must have shown enough improvement over the last few weeks in those aspects to give the Packers the confidence that he can continue to develop. From a pure ball carrier perspective, Wilson was by far the more impressive player, displaying very good vision and a natural running ability, which created some big play potential, totaling five rushes of 10-plus yards, the most out of all running backs this preseason.
Wide receiver (6): Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Samori Toure, and Malik Heath
I never truly thought that Samori Toure’s roster spot was in jeopardy. No, he hasn’t made a ton of splash plays, but he’s been reliable and in such a young room, there is value in that along with his year of experience in the LaFleur offense. With Malik Heath, meanwhile, it was obvious that he was going to make the team during the Seattle game when he was on the field with the starters. Heath making the roster also isn’t because of a strong two or three week push to end the preseason. Instead, he’s been making plays since he arrived in Green Bay back in May. He may not have blazing speed like Christian Watson or Jayden Reed, but Heath can make contested catches and knows how to create separation, along with being a willing blocker.
In Grant DuBose’s case, the time he missed due to injury was too much for him to overcome in the small amount of practice time he had. Not only was he navigating the jump to the NFL, but he also had far less time on the practice field than his counterparts. As LaFleur said during OTAs, he’s going to be playing catch up. Ultimately, even with strong study habits, there is no replacing the on field reps that come in practice. DuBose was able to make a few plays in practice and is also a capable blocker. I imagine he will be back on the practice squad.
Tight end (3): Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft, and Josiah Deguara
Austin Allen will probably be brought back to the practice squad. He has the skill set to fill that traditional Y-tight end role, who is often tasked with blocking in-line. The Packers will also keep their eyes on the waiver wire following league-wide roster cuts to see if there is a possible addition there. However, if one is made, a corresponding cut will follow. My guess is that Brian Gutekunst is going to be very fluid with this situation, and making an addition isn’t a must for them. LaFleur said last week that he would be comfortable going into the season with three tight ends, given the receiver depth and their willingness to use a sixth offensive lineman at times to help with blocking–something we saw Green Bay do a few seasons ago when Marcedes Lewis was sidelined.
Offensive line (11): David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan, Zach Tom, Yosh Nijman, Rasheed Walker, Caleb Jones, Sean Rhyan, Royce Newman, and Luke Tenuta
Everyone listed, from David Bakhtiari to Rasheed Walker above, we knew were going to be on this team. Caleb Jones didn’t quite fall into the roster lock category, but he was close to it. The team really likes him; as recently as the last training camp practice, I saw him taking some snaps with the starters at left tackle, and he has another year to develop as we look ahead to 2024, where there could be questions around the offensive tackle position with Bakhtiari potentially in his final season and Nijman is a free agent.
Outside of a few pressures allowed in the Cincinnati game, Sean Rhyan has been pretty consistent this summer. As a former third-round pick only in his second season, although it was a rough rookie year, there is still some untapped potential as we saw him make a big jump from 2022 to 2023. Given his play at times, keeping Royce Newman may seem like a head-scratcher, but he checks a lot of the boxes that the Packers look for along the offensive line. Newman can play both guard positions, and if you were ever in a pinch, he could get you through a game at tackle. He’s experienced, and it’s also not as if there is a ton of interior depth on this unit despite keeping 11 offensive linemen. Newman and Rhyan are the only backups in that regard.
Rostering Luke Tenuta was a procedural move, but it also goes to show how much they really like him. By placing Tenuta on the roster and then eventually moving him to IR, which the team will do, he will be eligible to return this season. Tenuta was having a solid training camp prior to his injury, often playing with the third-team offense. Again, with unknowns at tackle in 2024, he potentially provides the Packers with another option.
Interior Defensive Line (6): Kenny Clark, TJ Slaton, Devonte Wyatt, Colby Wooden, Karl Brooks, and Jonathan Ford
The only question mark here was whether the Packers were going to keep Ford as a sixth interior defender. For one, his skill set is a bit redundant with TJ Slaton already on the roster, and two, you don’t see many six-man rotations. However, credit to Ford, who played well this summer and was able to generate a consistent push in the run game, where, ultimately, Green Bay needs the most help. As Gutekunst said this summer, they have plenty of pass-rush options, but it all starts with slowing the run. Ford’s role may be small, but I’m guessing he carves out some snaps in some obvious running situations.
Edge Rusher (6): Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, JJ Enagbare, Brenton Cox, Lukas Van Ness, and Justin Hollins
At the end of the day, Brenton Cox has too much potential to keep off this roster. If there was one player to worry about being released and claimed by another team, it was him. Cox packs a ton of upside, was productive playing in the SEC, led the team in pressures this preseason, and plays a premier position, all reasons to roster him.
Justin Hollins may not have been an absolute roster lock, considering he is a veteran on a team that is actively trying to get younger. He’s playing on an inexpensive one-year deal and at a position of depth for Green Bay. However, you didn’t have to watch many practices to realize that Hollins was going to have a role on this team. He spent a large portion of training camp taking snaps with the starters with Rashan Gary out and made an impact against both the pass and the run–an area where this group as a whole really has to be better. With Gary potentially on a snap count early on, along with Lukas Van Ness still developing, Hollins is going to see his share of snaps, at least early on, this season.
Linebacker (5): De’Vondre Campbell, Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie, Eric Wilson, and Tariq Carpenter
Maybe I was overthinking things – I most likely was – but I wasn’t convinced that Tariq Carpenter was going to be on this final roster. From a defensive standpoint, he looked like the sixth linebacker option at times, playing behind the four players listed above, as well as undrafted rookie Jimmy Phillips. While his role is going to be on special teams, he took his lumps this summer transitioning to linebacker. But with that said, he ended up being a core special teams player last season and is only in the second season of an inexpensive rookie deal. Compared to a player like Tarvarius Moore, another special teams contributor but who is also a veteran on a one-year deal, Carpenter likely always had the edge.
Eric Wilson could have been another veteran cut as someone on a one-year deal with his primary responsibilities coming on special teams. But his value to this team may have grown in the absence of Tyler Davis, with his ability to play a variety of roles and do so at a high level.
Cornerback (4): Rasul Douglas, Jaire Alexander, Keisean Nixon, and Carrington Valentine
I was somewhat surprised that neither Innis Gaines nor Corey Ballentine was kept as the fifth cornerback, with Eric Stokes on the PUP list to begin the year. Both were key members of the special teams unit during the second half of 2022 and, when available this summer saw snaps with some of the starting units again. Both also spent most of their time on defense with the second units with Ballentine out wide and Gaines in the slot.
However, I’m sure the practice squad elevation rules make it easier to go lighter at some position groups. A player can be elevated to the game-day roster up to three times before the team has to either sign them to the 53-man or release them. I’m guessing the Packers will use this strategy until Stokes returns to make sure they have enough depth on Sundays in case an injury strikes. With Stokes on the PUP list, he has to miss at least the first four games of the season.
Safety (5): Darnell Savage, Rudy Ford, Jonathan Owens, Anthony Johnson, and Dallin Leavitt
With a number of players rotating into that starting spot next to Darnell Savage, along with, as Gutekunst said, no one really standing out either, it was tough to gauge what the Packers were going to do at this position. After being buried on the depth chart for the first half of training camp, we saw Anthony Johnson’s speed on display at the position with his ability to get to balls for pass breakups. His role on special teams expanded as well. My guess is that as he makes the jump to the NFL, along with this still being a relatively new position for him, he plays a smaller defensive role as a rookie, but will have to help on special teams.
I really did think Tarvarius Moore was going to be on the roster. I thought he held up well at the position, and shined specifically as a tackler, especially in that Cincinnati game, where LaFleur praised him afterwards for his physicality. Moore also has ample special teams experience from his time in San Francisco. He was released with an injury settlement, so the potential unknown around his knee injury may have played a factor in the decision.
Jonathan Owens saw the third most snaps as a starting safety in practice, behind Savage and Rudy Ford. While he brings sound tackling to the position, although he missed an open field tackle against the Bengals that led to a big play, coverage is not his strong suit. Owens saw an increase in special teams snaps during that final preseason game, which I’m guessing played a factor in the team hangin on to him.
With Dallin Leavitt, although he’s a veteran who will only contribute on special teams, releasing him never really seemed like an option either. He was a core contributor last season and has spent his entire career playing under Rich Bisaccia. Las at season, Aaron Rodgers also mentioned on a few occasions Leavitt’s leadership presence in the locker room.
Specialitsts (2): Anders Carlson and Daniel Whelan
Pat O’Donnell brought stability to the punter position last season—there really weren’t any egregious errors, which was a win for the Packers. However, there was room for an upgrade with O’Donnell ranking in the bottom half of the league in several key categories such as punts inside the 20-yard line, average hang time and yards per punt. Daniel Whelan, meanwhile, packs a ton of power, which was on display all summer. There is some risks that come with relying on a rookie kicker and a first year holder, but Bisaccia did say that Whelan had improved throughout camp in that regard, and as the Packers are willing to do at other positions, they’re ready to weather the storm on special teams that comes with relying on rookies. One more thing, by releasing O’Donnell, the Packers created $1.5 million in cap space for this season.
Lastly, long-snapper Matt Orzech did not make the initial roster, but the plan is to sign him on Wednesday, once a roster spot opens up after the Packers place Luke Tenuta on IR. The Packers also had long-snapper Broughton Hatcher on the 90-man, but this was always Orzech’s role, with his Super Bowl experience from his time with the Los Angeles Rams.