UDFAs Have Been Crucial to Packers’ Success

Undrafted free agents have played a key role in Green Bay's 4-0 start. 

The Green Bay Packers are one of the most successful teams in the league at finding talent once the draft is over. While it’s rare that undrafted players go on to have hall of fame careers, they still serve a vital purpose on every NFL team. In fact, nearly one-quarter of the league is made up of UDFAs. However, what separates Green Bay’s from the rest of the pack is that they do a much better job of finding hidden gems who have helped get this team to 4-0.  

Currently, the Packers have 12 UDFAs on the active roster, not including Allen Lazard, Lane Taylor, and Kabion Ento who are on the reserve/injured list. Therefore, almost 23 percent of their active roster went undrafted. Of course, not all of these guys play meaningful snaps on game day, however, many can attest to just how good Green Bay is at finding talent after the draft.

Krys Barnes

Barnes was a three-year starter at UCLA before going undrafted in 2020. He had solid production while playing for the Bruins, but because he was undersized with average measurables, he never received much recognition. The Packers actually cut Barnes before signing him to the active roster the day before the season opener. Barnes made the most of that opportunity and has emerged as one of the more promising young players on the defense. He is second on the team in tackles despite playing just 35 percent of the snaps, but it’s his sneaky athleticism that makes him special. Barnes’ ability to play sideline to sideline and drop into coverage makes him a rare find in today’s NFL. Especially for someone who didn’t hear their name called on draft day.

Robert Tonyan

Tonyan is in his third year with the Packers, so he's a familiar face. Still, that doesn’t make his breakout in 2020 less miraculous following two very quiet years to start his NFL career. The former college receiver converted to a tight end is tied for second in the NFL in touchdown catches, and that is having played one less game because of a bye week. Through the first quarter of the season, Tonyan has arguably been the biggest surprise on Green Bay’s offense. Without Tonyan’s impact, the Packers might not be enjoying the success they are right now. If Tonyan keeps it up for the rest of the year, he will be one of the best up and coming tight ends in the league if he isn’t already.

Lucas Patrick

Green Bay’s offensive line is also one of the main reasons why they have had so much success this year. Patrick just so happens to be one of the starters, and he was signed after the NFL draft as a UDFA back in 2016. Since then, Patrick has had quite the NFL journey. During his first three seasons, Patrick never saw much of the field. Instead, he was regarded as a solid depth piece that could be an emergency stop-gap at just about any position. Then, surprisingly the team signed him to a two-year extension at the end of last year. Patrick showed that it was a good investment by winning the starting right guard job during this past training camp and has started all four games so far. His ability to play every position on the line is extremely valuable, and the Packers made a great call hanging onto him.

Chandon Sullivan

Sullivan has done a relatively seamless job replacing another former UDFA, Tramon Williams, as the slot corner. Williams is one of Green Bay’s best post-draft signings of all time, but so far, Sullivan has shown that the team made the right decision to move on from the aging veteran. Through four games, Sullivan has been a consistent performer. He has one of the team's two picks and even ran it back for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in week two. Since being waived by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019, Sullivan has found a home with the Packers and has brought stability to a crucial part of the secondary.

Allen Lazard

The success story of Lazard is something to behold. Had Green Bay not signed him off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad back in 2018, who knows where he might be. Nonetheless, the Packers are happy to call him their no.2 receiver. Lazard came on strong in 2019 after a vote of confidence from Aaron Rodgers against the Lions on Monday Night Football. Lazard has continued to get better since that night, and if not for a core injury in week three against the New Orleans Saints, he’d still be an integral part of Green Bay’s flourishing offense. In one offseason, the Packers went from needing to sure up their wide receiver position to having one of the best passing attacks in the league. In some part, it’s because Lazard has been so reliable and continues to get better.

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (23)

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

October 14, 2020 at 12:30 pm

Barnes has really been the big surprise, as even though we've gotten used to seeing UDFAs make the roster in GB, they don't usually make much impact as rookies (as the rest of the list seems to establish). With all the judgements against Thompson and Gutey for who they chose at the top of the draft, it is often ignored that GB builds depth with UDFAs better than most teams, and sometimes unearths an impact player. Both Tramon and Sam Shields played key roles in bringing the Title back to Titletown. Getting an impact player at such an important position without using up draft capital goes a long way to make up for any mistakes made earlier in the draft, IMO.

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2020 at 05:38 pm

Lane Taylor was also a UDFA. Shepherd and Malik Taylor could also contribute this year among those currently on the active roster. To me it’s not just the fact that they are UDFAs but Gute’s ability to pick up contributors from other teams PS types. Sullivan and Lazard for example. My recollection is that Ted typically looked after the draft and then focused on who he had in GB. Definitely some good scouting.

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ricky's picture

October 14, 2020 at 12:43 pm

As always, it's not where a guy is drafted; it's how well he plays and develops once he makes the team. Bakhtiari in the fourth and Linsley in the fifth round are excellent examples. Aaron Jones? Round 5. Jamaal Williams, Round 4. The obsession with early round picks is understandable, but it's in the later rounds and UDFA's where you fill out your roster, and hopefully pick up some guys who exceed expectations.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 14, 2020 at 01:15 pm

Sadly, Brandon, numerous posters here have already told me that the players you’ve mentioned are not playmakers, not difference makers, just-a-guy, inferior, garbage.

So who am I supposed to believe, you or the self-appointed cognoscenti?

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2020 at 05:39 pm

We said that about Adams and Janis. Don’t listen to us unless we are right!

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dobber's picture

October 15, 2020 at 08:53 am

"So who am I supposed to believe, you or the self-appointed cognoscenti?"

Welcome to the self-appointed cognoscenti club. There's Zima in the fridge...

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ImaPayne's picture

October 14, 2020 at 01:20 pm

I'll take first round draft picks who can play one position, not several so so positions like Gutt wants, over UDFF anytime.
Question, which first round pick on this team is making big plays and is a game changer?
Weve done poorly on that in GB. Poorly.
Still waiting for the great pick Gary to have a break out game. Not just a break out play but an entire game. Its been a season and a half now and he was a low pick everyone bu me liked.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 14, 2020 at 01:52 pm

I’ll take that question.

Rodgers, Clark, and Alexander are all blue chips. The other first rounders....Savage, Gary, and Love...are very early in their career.

You get one first round pick . Given the short careers of players, and free agency, it’s hard to have more than a half dozen first rounders on your roster. Some will be injured, some will be busts. It simply not possible to outdraft the other 31 teams.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

October 14, 2020 at 04:17 pm

We're also in a salary cap era. UDFAs cost a fraction of what a first rounder does. Love is going to be paid $3 mil this year to not be activated. Easier to try out churn and burn UDFAs on the roster and cap.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 15, 2020 at 03:42 am

So they pay bonuses to high picks that sit like Jackson and Burks and smaller outlays for the UDFAs which helps the accounting dept, but the point some are making is you have to hit on these 1-2-3 picks to justify their pay.

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Lphill's picture

October 14, 2020 at 01:53 pm

I agree but maybe when he plays more snaps , so far he looks like he was coming on before his injury .

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dblbogey's picture

October 14, 2020 at 04:46 pm

Well, if drafting Love had anything to do with lighting the fire under Arod, that was a good pick. Oh, and there were plenty who opposed the Gary pick. Unlike you, we wait 2-3 years before jumping to conclusions.

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2020 at 05:46 pm

Want that kind of team? Cut Rodgers. That way we can be like the Bears and pay other people’s first rounders. If we rank for enough years we can do that and get lots of top 10 picked and afford to keep them.

(Yes, I know cutting Rodgers would not save us money this year. Nor is it remotely sensible, so not only is it true in generic terms for teams with any very high paid QB, it is also apt in the context of the statement to which it responds and the lack of a sarcasm font).

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Spock's picture

October 15, 2020 at 10:34 am

Sarcasm font would be awesome! However, some sites have used the "~~~~~~~" symbol (s) to indicate a comment is sarcastic. Some here were doing it for awhile but it seems to have disappeared from CHTV's comment section in recent times. Just FYI.

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Duneslick's picture

October 14, 2020 at 03:22 pm

Lucas patrick did not win the starting RG position in training camp Lane Taylor did. Patrick is playing because Taylor is out for the season with an injury early in the season

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Bearmeat's picture

October 14, 2020 at 05:59 pm

If 25% of the NFL is comprised by UDFAs and 23% of the Packers roster is UDFAs, how are the Packers better at finding UDFAs than other teams again?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 15, 2020 at 04:05 am

Because the UDFAs stick for years in GB? It seems to me it is often based on merit, rather than having one UDFA who can't actually perform replaced by another. I did not check the longevity of UFDAs on GB, so if someone does that work and disagrees, so be it.

GB is tied for first with the highest percentage (55%) of players who make $910K or less, per OTC. The medium is 39%. Percentages can be misleading. 55% = a whopping 33 players while 39% = 23 players. Note OTC counts just the 53, the IR, PUP and NFI (players the team probably wants to keep for the most part).

Moreover, about 24 teams have 22, 23, or 24 guys under $910K. This doesn't measure strictly UDFAs, but it does exclude all first and second round picks, and about half of third round picks. Since the Packers pick late usually, their 3rd rounders have APYs under $910K.

On D, Lancaster, Barnes, Sullivan, and Greene/Redmond are starters or strong rotational players. In the snap counts, usually about 22 players are active, so GB gets a good percentage from UDFAs. And that's after drafting heavily on the defense for half a decade.

On O, Taylor, Patrick, Lazard, Tonyan all were starters or play quite a bit. 4 of 22 is hefty, I would guess.

Moreover, all of these UDFAs have PFF ratings that easily exceed 60. We're going to play TB and Devin White, a big name. He stunk up the joint in 2019 (35 PFF grade) and currently is at only a 50 grade but he still plays 100% of all snaps.

Sullivan, tonyan, Greene and Lancaster (plus Redmond and Boyle) will all be RFAs next year. Interesting to see what GB does with them.

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CheesyTex's picture

October 15, 2020 at 10:40 am

Great info. Thanks, TGR.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 15, 2020 at 10:09 am

Because not all UDFAs are equal.

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MITM's picture

October 14, 2020 at 06:58 pm

Its a double edged sword. Its great when it works out but when it doesnt it hurt PLENTY of MM/TT era teams on defense. They relied WAAAAAY too much on UDFAs just because guys like Sam Shields worked out. Then of course there were guys like MD Jennings and Dezman Moses and Andy Mulumba the list goes on and on of guys who played meaningful snaps on PRIME Aaron Rodgers led teams that never played another snap in the NFL outside of STARTING for the Packers.

So this is all great to see now, but there were plenty of years where it absolutely killed us also, mostly on the defensive side.

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Stroh's picture

October 14, 2020 at 09:27 pm

Thry didn't want to rely on the likes of Moses, Mulumba and jennings! They were forced into action due to injuries. They were supposed to be career backup types who had to play earlier than ANYONE wanted them on the field. Being that 25% of the NFL is unfa and another 25% or more are late round picks, they constitute the majority of backup players around the league!

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dobber's picture

October 15, 2020 at 09:01 am

I agree with the consternation over early picks: those picks should be giving you a high rate of finding key contributors and red/blue chip players. When those picks don't pan out, it puts a lot of pressure on teams to make it work with guys who either lack an athletic pedigree or come into the league with less development.

While there aren't any all-pros (right now) in that list of UDFAs at the top of the page, they do a great job of raising the talent floor on the roster, and--most importantly--they have performed when called upon. Note also, though, that of the 5 listed, only 2 (Barnes and Patrick) have been solely with the Packers. Lazard, Sullivan, and Tonyan all had time in other NFL camps (so there was preseason film against NFL competition) and (in the case of Sullivan) on 53-man rosters before coming to GB.

The bottom line is: find players. Don't care how. Just find guys who make you better.

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

October 15, 2020 at 10:22 am

It’s a head scratcher that not only did Barnes go undrafted but the Packers actually cut him before resigning him just prior to the first game. Did they not see any of that talent in practice, especially at a position they are so thin at? Perhaps the shortened COVID camp had something to do with it. I’m just glad he resigned and is on the active roster!

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