Back in late June, when the Green Bay Packers were finishing organized team activities, fourth-round rookie linebacker Carl Bradford said he was aiming to make the teams who passed him up in the 2014 NFL draft regret the decision.
Now three weeks into August, Bradford's new aim should be to simply make the Packers' 53-man roster.
Draft picks from the fourth round almost always make Ted Thompson's Week 1 roster. Since Thompson took over in 2005, only a handful of picks from the fourth round or earlier have been cut before playing a regular season game in Green Bay.
Brian Brohm, a second-round pick in 2008, flamed out during his first camp and was released at final cuts. He re-signed to the practice squad a day later. The only other cut from the fourth round or earlier was receiver Cory Rodgers, a fourth-round pick in 2006 who was let go at final cut downs. He did not sign back to the practice squad.
Bradford may join them.
The Packers are as deep at outside linebacker as any position on the roster. And the reality of the situation is that Bradford hasn't done much of anything since camp opened, while others at the position have seized opportunities.
Certainly, no player should be wrote off after 20 snaps over two exhibition games. That is especially true for a fourth-round pick at a premium position. Bradford still has two more game appearances and several more camp practices to make an impression and stick with the club. But the clock is ticking.
Of the nine outside linebackers Thompson and the Packers brought to camp, Bradford has probably been the least impressive.
As of August 8th, Rob Demovsky's numbers on 1-on-1 pass-rushing drills have Bradford at just 1-4 overall, with a 29th ranking. Of the outside linebackers, only Nick Perry posted a worse block rating. The numbers haven't been updated in over 10 days, but nothing from camp over the last week and a half suggests Bradford has moved up the rankings.
As a result, his early game opportunities have been limited.
Bradford played just eight snaps against the Titans in the preseason opener. He didn't see the field until almost mid-way through the fourth quarter, and he played with mostly the fourth-string defense. In St. Louis, the rookie saw 12 snaps and registered one quarterback hurry, his first tangible impact on the pro game. However, Bradford's negative-1.1 preseason grade at Pro Football Focus is the worst among the outside linebackers.
Overall, his 20 snaps from scrimmage rank second to last among drafted rookies during the preseason. Only Jeff Janis, who missed the exhibition opener, has fewer (16). On defense, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has played 63 snaps, while Demetri Goodson and Khyri Thornton have 52.
The learning curve has been a steep one.
An undersized 4-3 end at Arizona State, Bradford was believed to be powerful, instinctive and intelligent enough to make a quick transition to outside linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4. But it's possible the position change has been as hard on Bradford as it once was on Ricky Elmore, a productive college defensive end who couldn't even make it out of training camp in Green Bay. Elmore was 6'5" and had 31" inch arms; Bradford is 6'1" with 30 1/4" arms.
Pass-rushers Bradford's size have survived in the NFL, but it's more rare than commonplace.
Other outside linebackers at Packers camp look better suited for Capers' defense.
Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Perry are locks at the position. Behind the top-four, two holdovers from 2013 and a couple of newcomers have outplayed Bradford.
Andy Mulumba (30 snaps, three stops this preseason) played 361 snaps for the Packers defense last season. Battle-tested, he would be a difficult cut. Nate Palmer (39 snaps) is a core special teams player. He has run with the first-team coverage units for most of camp, which is a good sign he'll make the final 53-man roster.
Undrafted rookie Adrian Hubbard has played just 17 snaps, but he has a sack and a quarterback hurry. He also has the prototypical size (6'6") for the position, and he played in a three-man front while at Alabama.
The darling of camp also hails from the linebacker position. Undrafted free agent Jayrone Elliott (13 snaps) has made flash plays during camp and in games. Against the Rams Saturday, Elliott tallied three sacks and a forced fumble—while playing just eight snaps.
"He's just a young man that's really taken advantage of pretty much every opportunity he’s been given," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "I was excited to see him have success."
Elliott, who stands 6'3" and has a wingspan of 82", spent his final collegiate season playing outside linebacker in the 3-4. If he makes a couple more plays in the final two preseason games, the Packers may have no other choice than to keep him.
Competing philosophies are at play. The Packers are a draft-and-develop operation, built on drafting good football players and then developing them in the Green Bay system. But Thompson is also as accommodating to undrafted free agents as any general manager in football, and those college free agents who have stood out during past Augusts have typically been rewarded with a spot on the 53-man roster.
This deep into training camp, it'd be impossible to argue Bradford has earned a spot on the roster over Mulumba, Palmer or Elliott, and Hubbard's size may be more appealing than Bradford's motor and instincts.
A team as deep as the Packers probably doesn't need to stash a project when others on the roster are more deserving of a place on the roster.
Bradford's saving grace might be a potential move to inside linebacker, where some believed he could be a better fit in the 3-4. But the Packers have made no indication that Bradford is anything but an edge player, and a position change this late in camp likely wouldn't help the rookie make the club. He'd be competing with intriguing backups Sam Barrington and Jamari Lattimore—plus productive undrafted free agent Joe Thomas—for even a brief sniff of the field.
The numbers just don't add up.
On Aug. 19, Bradford might be considered the No. 9 outside linebacker on the Packers depth chart. Thompson isn't going to keep nine outside linebackers. He might not keep any more than six.
The decision wouldn't be a fun one, but three weeks of camp and two preseason games has likely forced Thompson to entertain the idea of cutting a fourth-round draft pick later this month. He still has time, but Carl Bradford's case for making the Packers' opening roster isn't currently a strong one.
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