In the second part of this 2-part series, I am examining the Packer’s crop of undrafted free agents and predicting their chances of making the 53-man roster.
With fifteen new undrafted free agents (UFAs) signed in 2009, the Packers are once again spinning the Undrafted Free Agent Wheel of Fortune. Will the spin produce a winner or will we hit bankrupt and go away empty-handed? Recent history indicates we will walk away with at least a consolation prize.
Since 1992, 20 undrafted free agents who signed with the Packers immediately after the draft made the roster coming out of training camp. Currently, there are twenty players on the Packers current roster who entered the league as undrafted free agents.
In each of the last four years, at least one UFA has made the Packers 53-man roster. Will the trend continue in 2009? Lets take a quick look at the candidates on Offense.
TIGHT ENDS – Undrafted Free Agents
RECENTLY CUT: Carson Butler, Michigan. 6′ 4″, 255 lbs, 4.72 40yd time. Ranked 21 out of 89 tight ends by NFLDraftScout.com. Appeared in 29 games as a tight end during his first 2½ seasons on campus before a coaching & scheme change had him switched to defensive end midway through the 2008 season. Totaled 41 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns in his two-plus seasons on offense. Left Michigan with one year of eligibility left. Received a $6000 signing bonus from the Packers, second-highest of all the UFAs.
Devin Frischknecht, Washington State. 6′ 3″, 258 lbs, 4.83 40yd time. Ranked 25 out of 89 tight ends by NFLDraftScout.com. At Snow Junior college as a sophomore, had 54 catches for 763 yards and nine touchdowns. Transferred to WSU, and in two seasons, started 8 of 22 games, with 35 catches for 412 yards and four touchdowns. Considered an average blocker, and a good pass-catching tight end. Not what the Packers want from a 3rd-string TE.
The Packers have 6 TE on the roster (7 if you count Havner, trying to be a two-position player) – carried 3 last year.
Sure things: Lee, Finley. Probables: 5-way fight (including Havner) for the 3rd TE spot. Moore is mostly a pass-catcher, so he goes. Humphrey tries to hold off Butler and Havner from taking his spot.
Prediction: The Packers brought in 3 TE UDFs (two are gone already) because they are hoping to upgrade from Humphrey/Moore. Frischknecht has no shot here. He could be cut before camp to make room for one of the still un-signed draft picks. As for Butler, I was going to write that If the knee sprain suffered in OTAs is healed, he would have a fighting chance at beating out Tory Humphrey. Evidently, the injury was more serious then expected or the Packers just weren’t impressed. Butler has often landed in coaches’ doghouses and has had some anger issues. perhaps that was a factor. In any case, he is now gone. The wild card is Havner. If he can prove to be a good enough blocker, the Packers will be tempted to keep him as a LB & TE, saving a roster spot.
RUNNING BACK – Undrafted Free Agent
Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern. 5′ 8″, 213 lbs, 4.68 40yd time. Ranked 27 out of 146 running backs by NFLDraftScout.com. A four-time letterwinner that started 38 of 40 games over 4 years. Had 16 career 100-yard rushing games, scored 37 total touchdowns. Finished with over 5100 all-purpose yards, including 1200 yards on 149 receptions. A playmaker that has great vision and balance, knows how to maximize yards per carry. Had a horrible Pro day, came in 10lbs overweight, could only do 13 bench press reps and ran that “slow” 4.68 40 yard dash. A variety of injuries has him tagged with the “fragile” label.
The Packers have 5 RB on the roster. Carried 3 last year.
Sure things: Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson. Probable: Lumpkin (if he doesn’t get hurt).
Prediction: His greatest value to the Packers would be as a 3rd down back. Think screen passes. Has good, but not great hands. Made a good initial impression on the coaches at rookie camp, but what will happen when the pads come on? Will he have enough talent to overcome his size at the pro level? He has a shot, but not a good one.
WIDE RECEIVERS – Undrafted Free Agents
Kole Heckendorf, North Dakota State. 6′ 2″, 191 lbs, 4.44 40yd time. Ranked 86 out of 312 Wide receivers by NFLDraftScout.com. Started 42 of 43 career games, scored 17 touchdowns and finished as the all-time leading receiver in school history. At Mosinee, Wisconsin High School, set several Wisconsin State football records. Has worked in a Wisconsin cheese factory (intangibles)
Patrick Williams, Colorado. 6′ 2″, 204 lbs, 4.54 40yd time. Ranked 81 out of 312 Wide receivers by NFLDraftScout.com. Played in 50 games, starting 20. Best season was his senior season, with 30 catches, 322 yds and 2 touchdowns. (not impressive)
Jaron Harris, South Dakota State. 6′ 0″, 193 lbs, 4.46 40yd time. Ranked 76 out of 312 Wide receivers by NFLDraftScout.com. Extremely productive receiver. Three-year starter with 23 career touchdowns. Led league in all receiving categories his senior season while also returning 10 kickoffs for 333 yards, including an 86-yard touchdown. (kick returning could be his ticket). Cousin of Jerry Rice.
Jamarko Simmons, Western Michigan. 6′ 2″, 231 lbs, 4.50 40yd time. Ranked 32 out of 312 Wide receivers by NFLDraftScout.com. Started 35 of the 44 games in which he appeared. A converted running back, he broke Greg Jennings’ records to become the all-time leading receiver at Western Michigan. He scored 17 touchdowns during his college career. Physical, good against the bump and run, excellent hands. Doesn’t lack for confidence – has been quoted as saying he thinks he will prove out to be one of the top 5 receivers in the draft and that his hand’s are as good as Larry Fitzgerald’s.
The Packers have 11 WR on the roster – carried 5 last year.
Sure things: Jennings, Driver, Nelson, Jones. Probables: Martin, Swain battling for last spot. Jake Allen will be cut. Only chance for any of these free agents is if the Packers decide to keep 6 WR. Impetus would be if one of the FA WRs could be the kickoff returner they are desperately looking for.
Prediction: Can any of these guys beat out Ruvell Martin and Brett Swain? It would be tough, but there are some talented players here. We’ll start with the easy one – Williams has no-shot. Simmons got the most attention when he was signed, but Heckendorf and Harris are just as good. All three of these guys have been their team’s #1 receiver, have shown durability, have set school records and produced when it counted. Simmons is unusual because of his size. He actually finished his senior season at 240lbs. He is the most ready of the three UFAs. He has faced the better competition and excelled against the toughest opponents. His size should make him an asset on special teams. Heckendorf, the home-state Wisconsin boy, reminds me of Jordy Nelson, but not as strong. Being too similar to Nelson probably works against him, although he has been a pleasant surprise in OTAs. I think he is a mid-camp cut. To me, the sleeper here could be Jaron Harris. He has the speed bursts to separate from defenders, runs good routes and reminds me of a young Donald Driver. He was also a very productive kickoff returner his whole college career. Curiously, reports out of Packers mini-camp state that he was not given a chance at returning kicks. I hope that changes in training camp. The problem with Harris is that he is very raw. He only played one year of High School football and was redshirted his first year in college. He’s probably not ready for this level, but is a definite practice squad keeper.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Undrafted Free Agents
OG/C Evan Detrich-Smith, Idaho State. 6′ 2″, 305 lbs, 5.13 40 yd dash. Ranked 64 out of 183 Offensive tackles by NFLDraftScout.com. Started 44 games for Idaho State and played all 5 line positions. Named Team MVP his senior season. The Packers outbid the Jets to sign Detrich-Smith, topping the Jets offer several times. Lacks ideal height for a tackle, Packers are giving him a shot at guard and center.
OT Dane Randolph, Maryland. 6′ 5″, 300 lbs, 5.15 40 yd dash. Ranked 34 out of 183 Offensive tackles by NFLDraftScout.com. Played in 43 games and started 24 games at right tackle for the Terps. A weight room warrior, put on 40 lbs while at Maryland. Had 4th highest strength index on the team. Lost some playing time his senior season because of inconsistent play.Being looked at primarily as a tackle.
OG/OT Andrew Hartline, Central Michigan. 6′ 5″, 297 lbs, 5.02 40 yd dash. Ranked 24 out of 183 Offensive tackles by NFLDraftScout.com. Started all 52 games of his College Career, the second longest streak in NCAA history. Played 2 years at right tackle and switched to left tackle his junior year. Made first-team all-MAC at left tackle as a senior and a second-team choice as a junior. Very good straight-line speed, but lacks the foot speed for an NFL tackle – that’s why the Packers are looking at him at the guard spot. Strong arms, very good run blocker and should be good at pulling on the sweep.
The Packers have 14 OL on the roster – The Packers carried 9 last year.
Sure things: Colledge, Clifton, Sitton, Spitz. Probables: Moll, Preston, Barbre, Giacomini, Lang, Meredith. That’s 10 already, and it’s also assuming last year’s center, Scott Wells is out of a spot.
Prediction: This is a really interesting group of linemen. Randolph is not ready for this level, but his size, strength and athletic ability means he is a target for further development on the practice squad. Detrick-Smith has played every OL position, plays tough and will be a difficult cut, but he’s the victim of the numbers game at OL. I think Hartline could be the guy to make the roster outright. The Packers released Nevin McCaskill in June and put Hartline at second string left guard during mini camp. Presence of T.J. Lang is a possible road block, if the Packers move Lang back inside (right now, he’s getting a shot at RT).
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