In continuation of the "Five Biggest Busts in the Ted Thompson era" piece published on Cheesehead TV earlier in the week, it's only right that the Packers general manager is justified with other areas he excels in.
Thompson has drafted well throughout his tenure in Green Bay, and just like any general manager for any of the other 31 teams, he has also drafted busts.
But one area that Thompson makes his bread and butter is the undrafted pool of players at the conclusion of the NFL Draft. Just last offseason, the Packers hauled in 19 undrafted free agents, as well as 17 the year before. Every so often, a playmaker will emerge and Thompson will find a way in giving his coaching staff the best opportunity at utilizing that player. Whoever fits the respective schemes that head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers like to run and whoever can open eyes on the practice field.
The following list is for players who were undrafted but signed by the Packers during the Thompson era, which commenced in 2005. For example, former defensive end Cullen Jenkins wouldn't qualify because he was signed by the team in 2003, however, served as a major contributor on the defensive line for the next seven seasons.
5. SS Atari Bigby - 2005
Atari Bigby took over the job that safety Marquand Manuel once held in Green Bay, and as the team's new strong safety, he and Nick Collins showed flashes of what was a dynamic duo at the back-end of former defensive coordinator Bob Sanders' group. After swapping between the Dolphins and the Jets, he was finally signed to the Packers practice squad during the middle of the 2005 season, and eventually to the active roster to make his debut later that year. Bigby started all 16 games for the Packers in 2007 and recorded a team-high five interceptions, putting together his best year at the professional level.
Over his final three seasons (2008-2010) in Green Bay, Bigby recorded five interceptions and a combined 58 tackles with 17 starts. His play during the 2010 campaign deteriorated and he began seeing less and less of the field, ultimately leading to the emergence of the team's current strong safety and hybrid linebacker, Morgan Burnett.
4. RB Ryan Grant - 2007
A sixth-round draft pick is all it cost the Packers in 2007 to find one of the more explosive running backs they've had since Ahman Green left town — and then returned, but that's a different story. Ryan Grant was undrafted in 2005 and served a brief stint with the Giants, only to be traded to the Packers in early September of the aforementioned 2007 season. For reserve purposes, he played back-up to Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn until Wynn injured his shoulder in week eight against the Broncos. What followed was Grant etching his name into the Packers record books.
While his career with the Packers began with steam and back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2008 and 2009, a critical ankle injury ruled him out for the entire 2010 season. It would be what many speculated was the prime factor in slowing Grant down, as he saw just 166 carries through the next two years. On a high note for Grant, his name is associated with the likes of Green, Jim Taylor and John Brockington in the team record book. While he doesn't own any individual records, Grant was the identifiable face in Green Bay's backfield for several years and proves as a top-notch find from Thompson.
3. FB John Kuhn - 2007
Perhaps, someone who can arguably be ranked higher on this list, John Kuhn came to Green Bay after serving two seasons with the Steelers, including winning a Super Bowl ring in 2005 as a member of the team. Kuhn came to the Packers in 2007 along with Grant, however, his role was far less prominent. An understated part of Kuhn's skill set during his career is his uncanny blocking ability, which is what his primary job was in 2007. Aside from that, he served as a special teams gunner where he recorded 11 tackles throughout the season.
He began seeing real work in 2010, likely attributed to the loss of Grant at running back. His 281 yards rushing is a career high to this day for Kuhn, and his four touchdowns tie his personal best in a season. He also caught two touchdown passes, and it was his third season in a string of four where he had caught at least two touchdown passes in a season.
Kuhn became a folk hero in Green Bay, and with each carry, catch, or glance at the ball, Lambeau Field's inhabitants would bellow a booming, drawn-out rendition of Kuhn's last name. He served with the Packers for nine seasons and is almost a locked candidate for the Packers Hall of Fame when his career is over.
2. CB Tramon Williams - 2006
Thanks to Capers and newly-appointed cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., 2009 was the year in which Williams had begun to shine in his own role. Prior to that, he was a mere undrafted cornerback out of Louisiana Tech who was released by the Texans prior to the 2006 season. In late November, he found his way to the Packers — or Thompson found his way to Williams — and began his rapid ascendance. He soon replaced cornerback Al Harris, who was lost for a majority of the season. With future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and Williams manning down the boundary receivers, the Packers had found their perfect balance between mentor and student.
In the 2010 playoffs, Williams was one of the Packers' playoff heroes. He recorded one game-ending interception in the Wild Card round to secure a win against the Eagles, and two more the following week in Atlanta to help swat down the soaring Falcons. Including, but not limited to, a 70-yard pick-six that gave the Packers a 14-point lead going into halftime. Williams would provide the Packers with superb corner play up until the end of his stint with the team in 2014, tallying 28 interceptions in 99 starts during his Packers career
1. CB Sam Shields - 2010
The more recent of the aforementioned undrafted free agents, and also the most notable. Shields emerged onto the scene in 2010 but exploded into view during the playoffs that year. Much like Williams, he served as one of the team's postseason heroes en route to their appearance and win in Super Bowl XLV. During that playoff run, Shields grabbed two interceptions in the NFC Championship game, including one to end it as Bears emergency quarterback Caleb Hanie was leading Chicago down the field in the final seconds. In that game, his two interceptions, a sack and forced fumble made Shields the only rookie in NFL history to create such noise in the playoffs.
While Shields' impact with the Packers is well-documented and commendable, his career was shortened after five reported concussions, including one in the season opener against the Jaguars in 2016 that kept him sidelined and eventually placed on injured reserve before his release from the team earlier this month. It's unknown whether or not Shields will return to football. His career with the Packers tallied 18 interceptions in 62 starts, including being the lone Packers cornerback in team history with the most interceptions in the playoffs.
His immediate impact with the Packers including playing in 14 of 16 games during his rookie season as well as the success Shields has shared with the team during his seven years with them makes him the top undrafted free agent signing in the Thompson era.
- Like Like
- 1 points