As we approach Tuesday’s deadline for final cuts, the Packers’ 2022 roster is definitively taking shape. I don’t think anyone is expecting surprises in the OL, LB, or CB rooms, and most certainly not with the QBs, but there is still some ambiguity surrounding the team’s young receiving corps.
Wideouts have been a source of discussion, dread, and intrigue ever since the announcement that the league’s most talented one wouldn’t be returning to Green Bay. The Packers made no splash-play deals to attempt to recoup Davante Adams’ 1,500-plus yards of production last season, although no such move was really possible. Coming out of the draft, general manager Brian Gutekunst had armed Rodgers and Matt LaFleur with a trio of rookies, a second-year player hoping to find his stride, a pair of veterans, and last year’s No. 2, Allen Lazard.
Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are pretty much locks to make the final 53. Amari Rodgers, who’s showed increased versatility and general physical improvement throughout the preseason, is the favorite to be No. 6. Now for the interesting part: Since LaFleur arrived in Green Bay in 2019, he’s never carried seven receivers out of final cuts. However, with the departure of the only sure thing the Packers had on the outside, it may make sense to take a kitchen sink approach with that unit. Assuming Jason Vrable really does wind up with seven players in his group, it’s a heated battle for the final spot between 2019 sixth-rounder Juwann Winfree and the rookie seventh-rounder out of Nebraska, Samori Toure.
Toure showed out in the team’s three exhibition games, logging nine catches for 125 yards. Most of that came in the Thursday night showdown with Kansas City, where he caught six passes for 83 yards. Winfree came in a bit behind, leading the team in Game 2 with three receptions for 41 yards but ending the preseason at seven for 75, overall. However, Winfree was also on the field for kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns. Maybe that wouldn’t be a massive deal on most teams, but I think we all remember what happened last January, and you better believe LaFleur and Gutekunst do too.
Toure’s exciting early development has many scrambling to piece together scenarios to keep him on the final 53. There’s a serious concern that he’s got a higher risk of being claimed off waivers than most seventh-round rookies. He showed out on as big of a stage as there is in August, and every team probably still remembers his grandmother’s middle name from draft season. While Toure has the edge in terms of potential and production at this point, Winfree’s versatility as a special teamer and his blocking ability make this a tough decision – so tough that it’s hard to imagine them not taking a seventh receiver at all.
But there’s one more angle we haven’t discussed. During Aaron Rodgers’ rift with the front office last offseason, one of his big gripes was that the front office did not take his input into account with regard to personnel. The most notable recent instance came when Rodgers hyped up under-the-radar wideout Jake Kumerow, who was traded to Buffalo shortly thereafter. Both sides have talked about being in a better place since those troubled days, and Rodgers has frequently noted that he feels his input is valued more now. That makes it all the more intriguing when Rodgers floats praise like “between [Winfree] and [Doubs], there’s been a lot of positive things that makes you feel good about the depth we can have in that room.”
Rodgers hasn’t been shy about gassing up Winfree all summer, which has raised eyebrows since we haven’t really gotten to know him well just yet – more than half his career yards came in one game last year in Arizona, when Adams, Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were all ruled out. To me, this is the difference. Given the expected contributions of a No. 7 wideout, things like blocking and special teams ability are going to be heavily weighted. Toure is flashier, but I’d also imagine that Green Bay’s front office is even more excited by the potential of never having to deal with another fiasco with the face of their franchise.
All things considered, it’s going to be tough to see either of these guys leave the organization. Ideally, whoever is left off the 53 can be brought back via the practice squad, which Gutekunst has emphasized he views as a fluid roster of 69 – a take backed up by his utilization of the practice squad, forced or otherwise, last season. Winfree seems to have the edge, but Toure has done everything possible to make this final choice as hotly contested as possible. Good thing we only have a couple more days of waiting.