Big names grab the headlines, but it’ll be lesser-known players that fill out the roster. Who’s set to stand out in that group?
The focus is on Aaron Rodgers this week in Green Bay, and rightfully so. But there will be 52 other players on the Packers’ final roster, and many of them are still relative unknowns.
Here are our favorite sleeper prospects as the Packers open camp.
Tex Western: S Christian Uphoff
While the Packers’ safety group is exceptional up top, there are opportunities for a surprise towards the bottom of the roster. No player is guaranteed a roster spot besides the starting duo of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, so there should be a good shot for a young player to impress in the preseason and earn his way onto the 53.
Enter Uphoff, my favorite member of this year’s undrafted rookie class. First, Uphoff’s size literally stands out, with him measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds. He’s also got all the physical tools you would want in a safety, but he went undrafted in large part due to having no 2020 tape. Uphoff did show that he could hang with top talent at the Senior Bowl, where he was named the best safety on his team for the event.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Uphoff can beat the likes of Will Redmond, Vernon Scott, or Henry Black for a third or fourth safety job as a rookie. In fact, I bet he will do just that, and I’ll stake my claim on him as my “guy” in this year’s training camp.
Justis Mosqueda: DL Jack Heflin
In my opinion, the Packers’ two thinnest positions are the defensive line and the pass-rushing unit of the team, at least in terms of depth. Nose tackle Kenny Clark keeps people from noticing the lack of depth, but Green Bay currently only has four defensive linemen on the roster listed at 300 pounds or more: Clark, Tyler Lancaster, rookie draft pick T.J. Slaton and undrafted rookie Jack Heflin. Heflin was a three-year starter at Northern Illinois before transferring to Iowa for his final season of college football, where at times he outplayed end/tackle hybrid Chauncey Golston, a 2021 third-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys. With upside to rush the passer and play the run, specifically at a size that the Packers’ desperately need, Heflin could go from UDFA to rosterable very quickly. With an open roster spot, following the release of two quarterbacks, the team could consider bringing in a veteran lineman, though.
Shawn Wagner: DL Delontae Scott
The Packers may have found a diamond in the rough in undrafted rookie Carlo Kemp to fill a role at outside linebacker and defensive end in the near future, but he’s more likely destined for a developmental year on the practice squad this year. My sleeper for a while now, however, has been Delontae Scott and I’m sticking to the practice squad holdover for this sleeper pick.
Scott has as good a chance as any of the young edge rushers on the Packers’ roster to earn a fourth or fifth spot at the position. With a full offseason of work with Mike Smith and the outside linebackers, perhaps Scott will break through in training camp and the exhibition schedule with his length and athleticism. There are physical traits for Scott, who could rush the passer from a variety of positions, to develop into a rotational player already in year one and pass up the likes of Randy Ramsey and Jonathan Garvin for one of the team’s final roster spots.
Paul Noonan: CB Ka’dar Hollman
When I look for breakout candidates, the formula is simple. Are you still young? Are you athletic? And did you produce on the field, at least a bit, in a small sample size. Hollman checks all three boxes, and while it’s true that he’s fairly low on the depth chart at the moment, considerable upside should keep him around.
Hollman was a raw prospect, and after the Packer selected him in the sixth round out of Toledo, where he was originally a walk-on, it was always going to take some time. He’s as athletic as they come:
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 28, 2019
He’s fast and agile enough to stay with the small speedsters, but also big and strong enough to deal with outside monsters. Most importantly, he’s been quite good in limited snaps, as he allowed just 7 completions last season on 17 targets (41.2%) and just 3.7 yards per target.
All of that said, the team didn’t trust him enough to give him major snaps, and with raw prospects, the soft skills, and understanding of defensive concepts can take awhile. Fortunately, much of that can be learned, and a players’ third season is often when it all comes together. His floor is low, and if he doesn’t make the team it wouldn’t be that surprising, but similar profiles have paid major dividends in the past, and his ceiling is as high as any corner on the team.
Kris Burke: WR Devin Funchess
For the sake of transparency, I really like Christian Uphoff too but for the sake of variety I shall go with my second dark horse.
Everyone is wrapped up in the excitement of Randall Cobb’s imminent return to the Packers and I am definitely among them but don’t think that it spells certain doom for Funchess.
Logic would dictate that someone between Funchess, Equanimeous St. Brown, or Malik Taylor would lose their roster spot in light of the pending trade. St. Brown has had health issues and has barely seen the field even when available and Taylor has been very unspectacular in admittedly limited action.
That brings us to Funchess. He’s the veteran of the group and has shown he can make plays when needed. The Packers aren’t short on physical receivers but he’s simply the more known commodity at this point and that’s why reports of his imminent demise may be exaggerated.
Jon Meerdink: S Vernon Scott
Like Tex, I think there’s a good chance Uphoff makes a run at a roster spot, but I think Vernon Scott has a chance to be a bigger deal than most people think.
Scott may already have a roster spot locked up because of his special teams play last year; he was one of only six players on the Packers to play more than 40% of the team’s special teams snaps. But he should be in line for more than that.
At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, Scott has good size and appears fairly athletic. At the very least, he seems to offer a better physical profile than Will Redmond, and it’s hard to believe he could be much worse on the field. Given the state of the depth chart behind Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage Jr., Scott shouldn’t have to make much of a move to be in the mix for the third safety job.
Calling a former seventh-round pick a sleeper might be a bit of a stretch; the team did draft him, after all. But I think there are opportunities to be had at safety this year. Scott seems as well equipped as anyone to take advantage.