The dog days of summer are coming to a close. Training camp is only 5 days away. At this point, the Packers have 82 players on their roster. The limit is 80, but the draft picks don’t count until they’re signed. With the Packers officially at 80 players, the team will have to make a corresponding roster move when linebacker Clay Matthews III and defensive lineman B.J. Raji are under contract.
With that said, we continue to rank the players from No. 1 to No. 83 (a figure that includes Carson Butler, who was released last week). This list doesn’t necessarily list the players from best to worst, but we take into account the players’ importance on the roster and other factors such as contracts and potential.
Packer Report Ranking: 4
— B.J. Raji, DL: Why is Raji, who has not played a professional down, so high on this list? It’s simple, really.
He’ll start at left defensive end. The Packers’ defensive line was horrendous last season after Cullen Jenkins went down in Week 4. Add in Raji to a healthy Jenkins and the mammoth Pickett, and the Packers’ starters appear to be a formidable group.
At 340-alleged pounds and with his body showing signs of age, Pickett can’t play 30 snaps a game. Enter the 337-pound Raji as the backup at nose tackle.
On passing downs, Raji will move inside to rush the passer. With Aaron Kampman at linebacker, the Packers’ returning defensive linemen netted just 7.5 sacks last season. Raji had eight as a senior at Boston College.
All of this as the No. 9 pick in the draft. Last year’s No. 9 pick, Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, received $15.6 million in guaranteed money. Top-10 picks need to be difference-makers. With what’s expected of him — command a double team against the run and harass the quarterback against the pass — there will be no grace period for Raji. Either he plays well and the defense follows suit. Or he doesn’t play well and the defense struggles for mediocrity.
Packer Report Ranking: 5
— Ryan Grant, RB: If this were Mike Shanahan’s vintage Broncos teams, Grant would be just another guy in the 20s in these rankings. But while Shanahan churned through 1,000-yard rushers as if he had some sort of secret factory tucked away in his basement, the Packers have Grant and little else in the backfield.
How important is Grant? Discard Aaron Rodgers’ scrambles and an occasional end-around to Donald Driver, and Grant received a ridiculous 83.4 percent of the rushing attempts last season. Grant’s 312 attempts ranked fifth in the NFL. Second in carries among the Packers’ backs was Brandon Jackson with 45.
At least Atlanta, with Michael Turner’s league-high 376 rushes, got 95 carries from Jerious Norwood. Minnesota, with Adrian Peterson’s 363 rushes, got 101 carries from Chester Taylor. Even Washington’s one-man gang, Clinton Portis (80.4 percent), got some help from Ladell Betts and Shaun Alexander.
Certainly, Grant has his limitations. He’s a below-average receiver out of the backfield. He fumbled too often last season. He doesn’t have much make-you-miss in his hips, preferring to mete out punishment at the end of his carries. His vision is probably slightly above average.
But Grant works his butt off and is a team player. A big back at 222 pounds, he can outrun most defenders. Maybe without the injured hamstring that took some of the starch out of his game last season, he’ll become a home-run hitter again.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.