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7 biggest takeaways from Packers’ first 53-man roster of 2021

7 biggest takeaways from Packers’ first 53-man roster of 2021

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After a month of training camp and three preseason games, the Green Bay Packers made the hardest decisions of the summer and cut the roster down to 53 players. While having a 16-player practice squad eases some of the pain of losing players, the process is still a difficult one.

While the surprises were few, the first roster still provided plenty of clues about Matt LaFleur’s football team.

Here are all the biggest takeaways from the Packers’ initial roster of 2021:

Playing it safe with the All-Pro LT

Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

The Packers, a team famously conservative when it comes to approaching injuries, will keep All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari on the PUP list to start the season, meaning he’ll miss the first six games. This will hurt the offensive line for the better part of two months, obviously. But two factors to consider: the Packers have no concerns about Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins playing left tackle, and the team was never going to rush back such an important (and expensive) player, especially after signing him to a record-breaking contract last November. Also, activating Bakhtiari from the PUP list – by having him pass a physical – and then immediately placing him on injured reserve with the same injury after making the 53-man roster was not an option. Bakhtiari will be about 10 months clear of his injury by the time he returns to the lineup.

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Concerns over Z?

Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) is shown during the second day of organized team activities Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.

The Packers kept five outside linebackers, including Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers. Keeping five players at edge rusher isn’t out of the ordinary, but neither Garvin nor Rivers was all that impressive this summer despite extensive playing time during the preseason. The fact the Packers felt the need to keep this collection of five might signal real concern about Za’Darius Smith, who is dealing with a lingering back injury and could miss Week 1. You have to wonder if the Packers will be hunting for an experienced edge rusher on waivers on Wednesday.

Could Braden return?

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The initial 53-man roster had one relatively surprising decision: keeping second-year center Jake Hanson over guard-tackle Ben Braden. The Packers must have felt the need for more depth at center, especially with Elgton Jenkins expected to play left tackle for the first two months of the season and Lucas Patrick likely penciled in at left guard. There’s still a chance Braden could return, and soon. Veteran right tackle Dennis Kelly made the team, but he’s dealing with an injury and could go on injured reserve. (Tyler Lancaster is another player with IR potential.) If Kelly goes on IR and is down for three weeks or more, the Packers could bring back Braden to take his roster spot. The team likes his versatility, and he held up fine at right tackle during the preseason.

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Punting change

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The Packers are making a change at punter. Out is JK Scott, who was cut, and in is Corey Bojorquez, who was acquired via trade with the Rams. It’s hard to blame the Packers for going in a new direction. Scott, while talented former draft pick, was too inconsistent. The inconsistency made him an average NFL punter, and the Packers want to do better than average. In Bojorquez, the Packers are getting one of the strongest punting legs in the league, and the potential for having a true field-flipper at punter. Bojorquez led the league in yards per punt for the Bills last year, and he was incredible during the preseason for the Rams. He averaged 51.9 net yards and led the NFL in average hangtime. The cost of the upgrade was nothing more than a swap of late-round picks in 2023. This is a big win for the Packers.

Banking on Benkert

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

The Packers have confidence Kurt Benkert will clear waivers and return on the practice squad. And even if he doesn’t, the team still made the right choice. With the NFL’s MVP and a promising first-round pick at quarterback, there was no need to waste a roster spot on a 26-year-old quarterback who didn’t have a team in May and isn’t dripping in talent or potential. Benkert is a nice story, and he flashed passing ability over three preseason games. But just know this: whether or not he makes it through to the practice squad will have no bearing on the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl chances in 2021.

Cornerback decision

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Interestingly enough, the Packers kept Isaac Yiadom, who arrived in Green Bay about two weeks ago via trade, over Kabion Ento, who just finished his third summer in Green Bay. Clearly, the Packers wanted to see more of Yiadom, and Ento didn’t do enough with his opportunity. Yiadom is more experienced, more physical and probably more trustworthy at this point. The Packers want to be playing important games deep into the season. It’s clear the team felt more comfortable with the idea of Yiadom being on the field for special teams and as a backup cornerback. Ento can cover, but potential only goes so far. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Packers keep looking for depth at cornerback, because Yiadom’s track record so far in the NFL isn’t great, even for a projected No. 5 corner.

Long snapper not long for Green Bay?

Aug 9, 2018; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers center Hunter Bradley (43) looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Hunter Bradley survived final cuts, but it won’t be shocking if the Packers try to acquire his replacement on waivers. A number of long snappers were cut around the NFL on Tuesday (five, by my count). Like punter JK Scott, Bradley has been frustratingly inconsistent. And the Packers proved Tuesday that they won’t hesitate to make a move if an improvement is available on special teams. Replacing two-thirds of the specialist group right before the season would provide a challenge for veteran kicker Mason Crosby, but the guess here is that the Packers are ready to turn the page at long snapper.

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