By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, we will know exactly who made the initial 53-man roster of the 2021 Green Bay Packers. While the roster will almost certainly see some adjustments within the next couple days, it will give us the clearest picture yet of who this team is going to be this season, and where the Packers’ strengths and weaknesses lie.
The focus for many people at this point of the preseason is who doesn’t make the team. It’s understandable–it’s hard to see your camp crushes get cut, and it’s especially hard to think about the guys who have dreamed of playing football at this level for their entire lives see that dream potentially come to an end.
But this day always produces one of my favorite things about pro football–seeing the guys who played their way on to the roster when they probably weren’t expected to make it to begin with.
So who are the players this year who accomplished that? In my opinion, these guys certainly qualify. We’ll see if the Packers feel the same.
Jack Heflin: Heflin has put together a very steady preseason, and could well be the only undrafted rookie to make the roster this year. He played particularly well against Buffalo, which may have sealed up his roster spot. If it’s between Heflin and Tyler Lancaster, Heflin certainly seems like the option with more upside. And frankly, I’ve seen more than enough of Lancaster getting embarrassed by opposing offenses in the last couple years.
Yosh Nijman: Nijman has strung together a couple good camps in a row, and this year graded out extremely well among offensive linemen per Pro Football Focus and other such graders. With David Bakhtiari unavailable for at least the first few weeks of the season, Nijman has a better chance of making the roster. He’s even outplayed veteran Dennis Kelly in fighting for a roster spot.
Malik Taylor: Taylor led the NFL in receiving during the preseason, thanks in large part to the Packers’ top four receivers sitting out every game. Taylor made the roster in 2020, but was absolutely not a sure thing coming into this offseason, buried below five roster locks and a good bet in Devin Funchess, plus a former draft pick in Equanimeous St. Brown and a camp standout in Juwann Winfree. But Taylor has played quite well as a receiver and is a key special teams contributor, which will get him on to the roster.
Kylin Hill: Seventh round draft picks are never a guarantee to make a roster, but with Hill, he’s clearly the Packers’ third running back, beating out Patrick Taylor and Dexter Williams. Watching the man play this preseason, I kept wondering how other teams let him fall to the seventh round. This could end up being the best-value pick of the draft for the Packers.
To me, these are the four players who clearly staked their claim to a roster spot. There are some other players on the bubble who may have earned a spot with the Packers, but there are none to me who did to the same extent as these guys, all four of whom entered camp needing to prove themselves.
I’ll be interested to see how the roster shakes out and who else manages to grab hold of a roster spot.
Where will week one be played?
The Packers are still on to travel to play the New Orleans Saints in week one. The question is, where will they be traveling to?
With Hurricane Ida’s devastation still fresh, it’s not a sure thing the Packers will be playing the Saints in New Orleans and the Superdome. New Orleans proper managed to avoid the worst of the storm, and the Superdome came away without any real damage to report.
But southern Louisiana in general is going to be in recovery mode for a bit. There’s a very real possibility the NFL and the Saints could decide to move the game.
There are still almost two weeks to go before the game is played, but any decision will have to be made fairly quickly here for the logistics to be worked out.
In addition, it sounds like the only options will be NFL stadiums so there is already an established direct connection between the stadium and the NFL’s offices in New York. This rules out a lot of college stadiums in the region that may have functioned. Including the Alamodome, where the Saints played in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The best options right now based on the week one schedule would seem to be Dallas, Arizona and Jacksonville. All three of these teams open on the road, and they’re probably the three closest available stadiums as a result. I could also see Tennessee as a possibility.
To me, Dallas seems like the most natural choice. Jerry Jones seems like he’d jump at the extra publicity and potential revenue, and it’s not as far for the Saints to have to travel.
But regardless of what happens, it’s going to be a significant competitive disadvantage for the Saints. They’re going to have to travel for a home game, they won’t have the same raucous atmosphere they’d have in the Superdome, and they still have to deal with the emotional toll of their region being severely damaged by the storms.
Ultimately, football is not even close to the most important thing in this situation. Louisiana’s power grid suffered extensive damage, the coastline saw massive wreckage and some lost their lives.
Here’s hoping the recovery goes quickly and smoothly.
Wisconsin Beer of the Week
To me, O’so Brewing Company in Plover, WI is one of the more underrated breweries in the state. They’ve got distribution all over Wisconsin, so you’ve probably seen some of their more popular offerings, like Night Rain porter, Infectious Groove berliner weiss or Hopdinger pale ale.
Outside of their flagships, they have a pretty solid rotating cast of beers, and I came across a new one at Woodman’s liquor store the other day: Here’s the Thing.
This wheat beer was apparently made in partnership with Gabe & Homer of ESPN Radio. Now, “here’s the thing,” Homer’s kind of an insufferable blowhard, but this beer is pretty solid.
It’s a fairly standard wheat beer, but with a little extra crispness, and just a hint of fruit thanks to the blood orange that was added into the base.
Perfectly refreshing beer for the summer weather, while it’s still here with us.
This is apparently a one-off brew, but it has distribution all over the state, so if you’re interested I’d recommend heading out to your liquor store of choice to pick it up. Like I said, it’s at Woodman’s for sure.
And while you’re at it, check out the other O’so selections. They do some really great stuff, but don’t get talked about nearly to the extent of other statewide favorites like New Glarus, Central Waters, Hinterland etc.
My alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, was recently ranked by Washington Monthly as the number one public university in the nation. One more thing to brag about for Badgers everywhere!
This extra boost to school spirit comes just in time for the Badgers’ first game of the season, an 11 a.m. date against Penn State this Saturday at Camp Randall.
I can’t remember the last time the Badgers opened the season against a Big 10 opponent. Typically they crank through the non-conference matchups first before getting into the conference schedule.
I’m excited to see some college football with fans back in the stadiums. As weird as NFL football was without fans, it was far weirder for college, where fans are even more a part of the atmosphere and experience.
That first Jump Around of the season is gonna hit different, that’s for sure.
Around the NFC North
With the preseason over, it’s time for us to return to our weekly ritual at looking around the NFC North. Here are my predictions of what to expect from each of the Packers’ divisional foes thai year.
The Chicago Bears might (finally) have a quarterback, but for whatever reason they insist on starting Andy Dalton instead. Which, whatever, have at it dudes. Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, I don’t see this team making a big push to rival the Packers in the NFC North. Their ceiling once again is probably wild card team. The defense isn’t getting any younger, the offensive line is still a weakness, and Andy Dalton isn’t exactly an inspiring player at quarterback. Plus, Matt Nagy is still the head coach. I’ll give em a shot at a 10-7 season, but not much better.
The Detroit Lions are not going to be good. There are still a ton of holes in this roster, and they downgraded at quarterback in the Matthew Stafford/Jared Goff swap. Their new coach, Dan Campbell, seems like a certifiably insane individual. I don’t know what his competence level is, but I guess it can’t be that much worse than Matt Patricia. The Lions will go 6-11 this year and continue building for the future, in which they will also suck.
The Minnesota Vikings have made headlines for all the wrong reasons this year, with numerous high-profile players still declining to get vaccinated, which could possibly prove to be a big deal if an outbreak occurs. The team has acquired a good bit of talent, and probably would have made the playoffs last season if not for their inexplicably slow start. I could see them giving the Packers all they can handle in their matchups this season. But they still have some weak spots: cornerback immediately comes to mind, but offensive line could still potentially be an issue as well. I’d put the Vikings anywhere in the eight to 11-win range for this season.
Impressions of Jordan Love after one preseason
Overall, I think the Packers have to be fairly pleased with what they saw out of Jordan Love this preseason.
He came in without any live game action since 2019 and without any offseason work in 2020 to prepare himself for the NFL.
Despite that, he played decent football and looks like he belongs in the league.
He was certainly not outstanding–there were some boneheaded mistakes and some other learning opportunities that showed up. But that’s exactly what preseason is for.
In other moments, Love flashed an excellent arm and great potential. You can see why he was an intriguing option for teams in the first round of the 2020 draft, and also why the Packers took him with the idea of letting him sit for a couple years to learn the ropes.
Love certainly appears to be closer to being ready to play full-time in this league than Rodgers did after his first real preseason in the NFL, or even his second. Not that that means anything necessarily, but anyone who came into this preseason fearing Love would be an absolute disaster certainly can at least calm down and take a step off the ledge.
Would I want Love to be the Packers’ starter this season? No. But I think there’s at least reason to believe he can be an adequate starter in 2022, and a very good one afterward.
I don’t want to make any predictions for what Love will bring to the Packers in the future. It’s always more likely than not a quarterback will fail to develop into a 15-year franchise starter.
But if the Packers were going to take Love, they certainly did the right thing in giving him a bit of time to develop.
It will be a long time before we know whether that was worth possibly parting ways with Aaron Rodgers a couple years early.
On to September
It’s hard to believe, but the summer is just about over.
September 1 marks the first day of school in my home district, which is essentially the real beginning of fall.
The days are beginning to get shorter, and while the summer weather is still around, soon we’ll start feeling that autumn crispness in the air, and the leaves will begin changing colors.
It’s always a bittersweet time of year for me. Summer is far and away my favorite season, and I try to take full advantage of it in Wisconsin, knowing how fleeting the warm weather is.
But boy, have I missed football. September always has a hopeful feel to it, as the Packers start up a brand new year and the possibilities are endless.
This year is particularly unique. It’s almost certainly the last season Aaron Rodgers will play for the Green Bay Packers. The team has a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl, and it could be the last time for a while that they enter the season among the favorites to win it all.
We’ve grown accustomed to getting to the playoffs and being contenders over the last couple decades. So I’m going to make sure I enjoy this one every step of the way, because who knows what the future of this team looks like.
Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.