Quite possibly no general manager in the NFL is as willing to take on undrafted free agents as Packers decision maker Ted Thompson.
Consider that following Green Bay’s Super Bowl winning season of 2010-11, Thompson decided three players who went without their name called in the 2011 draft—Vic So’oto, Jamari Lattimore and M.D. Jennings—were good enough to crack his 53-man roster to start 2011. Eventually, running back Brandon Saine joined the three when Alex Green was lost to a season-ending knee injury.
The rest of the Packers roster is littered with undrafted free agents.
Evan Dietrich-Smith, Anthony Levine, Sam Shields and Frank Zombo are examples of undrafted free agents signed by Thompson from the Packers’ current roster. Tramon Williams, Tom Crabtree, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode, Graham Harrell and Robert Francois each went undrafted and signed with another team before Thompson eventually got them to Green Bay.
Receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel—both 2011 undrafted free agents—have golden opportunities this summer to grab a roster spot in 2012.
While there may not be a star in the group outside Williams, it’s clear that Thompson is plenty comfortable filling out his 53-man roster with undrafted players.
A year after the Packers went 15-1 but were bounced in the NFC Divisional Round, why would anything change? If there’s anything we can count on in this world, it’s death, taxes and Ted Thompson picking an undrafted free agent or two to make his final roster.
Below is a quick run-down of the undrafted free agents from 2012 that have a chance at cracking Thompson’s roster to start 2012:
OLB Dezman Moses
There should be caution in taking too much out of padless OTAs and one three-day minicamp, but it was clear that Moses (6-2, 249 lbs.) was the darling of Green Bay’s spring practices. In fact, Moses impressed the Packers’ staff enough that he was actually taking first-team reps while Clay Matthews sat out minicamp.
Moses played fast and seemingly made a head-turning play each day this spring. There was a reason for that.
While a defensive end at Tulane, Moses began his career at Iowa as an outside linebacker. His experience standing up and playing in space gives him a real opportunity to win a roster spot in training camp.
Also, keep in mind: Thompson selected 10 linebackers to start 2011. With names such as So’oto, Lattimore, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden rounding out that 10, there’s little reason to think Moses can’t win himself one of those jobs. Along with being able to rush the passer, however, Moses has to prove he can play special teams if he wants one of those roster spots.
At the end of June, Moses may be the front-runner to crack Green Bay’s roster among the UDFAs.
C Tommie Draheim
Originally a left tackle at San Diego State, Draheim was immediately moved inside by the Packers’ staff. And of the UDFA offensive linemen brought in this offseason, Draheim likely saw the most reps during OTAs and minicamp.
He was still behind Evan Dietrich-Smith as the second string center, but there could be a place for him if Thompson decides to go with nine offensive linemen. He took just eight to begin last season.
S Sean Richardson
There may be no position on the Packers roster as unsettled as safety. Nick Collins is gone, and the only “lock” at the position might be Morgan Burnett. Fourth-round rookie Jerron McMillian is very probable to make the final 53. But after those two, this position is wide open.
Would it be so hard to imagine Richardson, a tall, athletic safety who excelled on special teams while at Vanderbilt, stealing away a job from veteran Charlie Peprah, who started 25 games the last two seasons but regressed steeply in 2011? Richardson (6-2, 220) received reps at safety during both the OTAs and minicamp. Keep an eye on him when training camp starts in late July.
FB Nic Cooper
Rarely do you see an UDFA taking a majority of the snaps at any one position during the spring, but Cooper was given that chance at fullback while John Kuhn continued to rehab the knee injury he suffered in the Packers’ playoff loss. A former running back in college, Cooper (5-11, 249) could be called upon if there’s any lingering worry about Kuhn’s knee.
And let’s not forget, Thompson once kept three fullbacks on his 53-man roster. Keeping two would be difficult with the way Green Bay’s offense is currently shaped, but we’ve seen crazier things from the Packers GM.
RB Marc Tyler
The Packers kept just three running backs on their roster throughout 2011, and it appears as if the trio of James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine are enough to continue that run into 2012. But let’s not completely rule out an UDFA such as Tyler or Duane Bennett making this roster.
Green is still recovering from ACL reconstruction, and Starks hasn’t exactly been a picture of health during his short NFL career. Saine showed flashes during his limited appearances in 2011 but is still an unproven commodity. If Tyler or Bennett—I name Tyler here because he received more reps during minicamp—show something in training camp, and there’s an injury or two above them, either or could crack the roster. We won’t know how good either player is until the pads come on in training camp, however.
Longshots with a chance:
WR Dale Moss
At 6-3, 213 lbs. with a 41.5″ vertical leap, Moss is an athlete without rival on the Packers’ receiving depth chart. His lack of experience playing the position hurts his chances. He’s an ideal practice squad candidate.
CB/S Micah Pellerin
The Packers pounced on the opportunity to add Pellerin—a versatile secondary player who can line up at corner and safety—once the Indianapolis passed him through waivers. He’ll get a crack at playing safety early on. Like Richardson, Pellerin has the opportunity to take advantage of an unsettled position.
G Jaymes Brooks
Evan Dietrich-Smith gives the Packers great versatility inside, but Brooks can also play both guard spots and center. He’ll be a candidate to crack the 8-man practice squad.