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Undrafted Success Stories in Green Bay and Potential 2019 Candidates

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Undrafted Success Stories in Green Bay and Potential 2019 Candidates

The Packers have a long, successful history when it comes to undrafted rookies making the 53-man roster. Sometimes they start out on the practice squad, but when they get their chance to shine they make the most of it. Perhaps one of the most impactful undrafted stories ever is that of Tramon Williams, who was undrafted out of Louisiana Tech in 2007.

Williams made it onto the 53-man roster and started one game for the team in 2007. That first season he had one interception and four passes defensed. His best season, however, came during the team’s 2010 Super Bowl run. Fans will remember Williams’ big-time plays in the playoffs. That was Williams’ first season starting all 16 games for the Packers, and he had six interceptions with a whopping 20 passes defensed. 

Over his 12-year career, he’s played in Green Bay (9 years), Cleveland (2 years), and Arizona (1 year). During that span, he played in 143 games with 115 starts. He’s totaled 28 interceptions returned for 423 yards with one touchdown, 117 passes defensed, and 524 total tackles. 

Williams will enter the 2019 season at 36-years-old, and he’s still a mainstay in the Packers’ secondary. It doesn’t get much more impressive than that. 

Geronimo Allison is a more-recent example of an undrafted player finding success in Green Bay. Allison was undrafted out of Illinois in 2016 and was added to the 53-man roster in October of that same season from the practice squad. 

Allison’s breakout performance perhaps came in 2017 against the Cincinnati Bengals, once he returned from his one-game suspension and was added back to the 53-man roster for his second season. Against the Bengals, Allison had six receptions for 122 yards, including a monster completion in overtime that put the Packers inside field goal range. 

Allison will enter the 2019 season firmly planted in the starting lineup. Whether he’s listed as wide receiver two or wide receiver three is uncertain, but he’s likely a favorite for the starting slot role. Before an unfortunate string of injuries landed Allison on injured reserve to finish out the 2018 season, he had totaled 20 receptions for 303 yards with a 15.2 yards per catch average and two touchdowns. Those are promising numbers for a receiver sharing a room with three second-year draft picks. Had Allison been able to play a full season, he was on pace for over 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. 

The Packers have high expectations for both Williams and Allison heading into 2019. A few other notable names include Raven Greene and Lane Taylor. 

Raven Greene, undrafted out of James Madison in 2018, made the initial 53-man roster right out of training camp, and while he didn’t start in any games, he played in eight for Green Bay, primarily on special teams. In fact, Greene was responsible for a fake punt conversion against the Miami Dolphins midway through the season. As the season progressed, Greene’s snaps increased due to injuries at the safety position. 

This year, Greene is poised for a big year in the rotation behind starting safeties Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos. In his first year with Green Bay, Greene broke up one pass, forced one fumble, and recorded one sack. He enters training camp pretty comfortably as a rotational player both on defense and on special teams. (Tony Brown of Alabama also gets an honorable mention as an undrafted rookie in Greene’s same class. He played in 11 games, starting three of them, and had five passes defensed with two forced fumbles and 34 total tackles). 

Finally, Lane Taylor earns his place on this list as a mainstay on the team’s offensive line. Undrafted out of Oklahoma State in 2013, Taylor performed in a variety of backup roles along the line before the Packers shockingly released starter Josh Sitton in 2016. Taylor filled in at left guard in his place and has been ever since, even battling through injuries to do so. 

That brings us to the current group of undrafted rookies that will find themselves at training camp within a few weeks’ time. It’s not uncommon for undrafted players to come to Green Bay solely for the team’s reputation as being a successful landing spot for undrafted rookies. Here are a few names to keep an eye on as training camp and the preseason approach.

Yosh Nijman has to top this list. The undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech measures in at 6-7, 314lbs. Nijman boasts an incredible relative athletic score (RAS) of 9.8 with elite measurements in every category except weight and the three-cone drill. Picture a 6-7 offensive tackle running a 4.88 40-yard dash. That’s Yosh Nijman. Nijman finds himself in a favorable position this offseason, as the Packers lack real depth at the tackle positions. While Jason Spriggs is the likely candidate initially, he hasn’t had much success in his extended looks. Aside from Alex Light (who was an undrafted player to make the 53 last season), there aren’t many other true tackles in camp that will push Nijman for a roster spot. Assuming he stays healthy and his athleticism shines through during the preseason, Nijman has a good shot at the roster. 

Another name to keep an eye on is Curtis Bolton, inside linebacker out of Oklahoma. Bolton was selected honorable mention All-Big 12 his senior year, his only season as a starter. He averaged 9.9 tackles per game and recorded a career high 139 tackles with 4.5 sacks in 2018.

Like Nijman, Bolton finds himself in a position without much depth. The Packers have Blake Martinez and Oren Burks as the surefire starters at the inside linebacker position, but besides seventh-round draft pick Ty Summers and returning second-year player James Crawford, who also made a name for himself as a special teamer, there isn’t a ton of competition at ILB. 

While Bolton does have the disadvantage of competing against a draft pick, which may give Summers priority if the two perform similarly, Bolton’s stats are impressive in their own right, and if he shows up during the preseason, it’s fully possible the Packers will give him a spot on the 53, whether he’s starting on special teams or in rotational packages on defense. 

Next is skill player Darrius Shepherd who has a shot at the 53-man roster through a couple of different avenues. Shepherd played for North Dakota State and is an intriguing option both at wide receiver and as a returner on special teams. Shepherd recorded 188 receptions for 2,841 yards during his Bison career, along with 20 touchdowns. In addition to his pass-catching prowess, he also rushed for 219 yards with a 7.1 yard average. 

Shepherd is the shortest receiver on the roster and the only one under 6-0. While Head Coach Matt LaFleur has already said he’ll utilize all of his receivers in a variety of ways, Shepherd does have a more traditional slot receiver frame. 

If Shepherd doesn’t crack the 53-man roster based on his receiving abilities alone, his special teams skills could be enough to get him a spot. Should the team decide to move on from Trevor Davis, Shepherd gives them nice insurance given the punt returner role he played in college. For the Bison, Shepherd returned 44 punts for 578 yards and one touchdown, giving him a 13.1 yard average. 

Finally, as per tradition, the Packers have added a fourth quarterback to the roster to bolster competition during training camp and the preseason. The Packers traded for DeShone Kizer and liked undrafted rookie Tim Boyle enough to keep him locked on the 53-man roster all season, so Manny Wilkins out of Arizona State likely has the steepest hill to climb if he wants a shot at the final roster. 

In Wilkins’ career at Arizona State, he threw for 8,624 yards with a completion percentage of 63.2. He totalled 52 touchdowns and 23 interceptions with a QB rating of 139.5. He’s also rushed for over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Wilkins has a lot to prove if he wants a shot at the roster, even with the Packers’ tendency to keep three QBs on the roster in recent seasons. With that said, his collegiate stats make him a fun prospect to keep an eye on once the preseason rolls around in under a month. 

Every year, undrafted rookies make a name for themselves in training camp and during the preseason. With a great pool of undrafted talent coming to Green Bay in a few weeks to kick off camp, it’s likely the same will be true again this season, too. 


Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and a podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieLawler.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (41) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

MarkinMadison's picture

Nijman is just not a very good college RT. He is a measurables draft pick only. I would be scared to death if he played a snap at LT. Suggesting that he could supplant Spriggs is a bit beyond the pale. Spriggs has not lived up to his draft slot, and has looked awful at the NFL level sometimes, but he has a shot at putting it together this year. I'm not sure if Nijman is PS material.

Coldworld's picture

Nijman actually rated pretty highly, it wasn’t his results that scared teams but the fact that he got them based on pure physical dominance without honing his technique. The question was whether he us coachable (did his college coaches just let a good thing for them alone?) and the assumption is that his approach won’t work in the NFL.

Perhaps Nijman will surprise on both fronts. If he does it’s a bonanza pick up. More likely he is a developmental prospect with a very high upside. That always comes with a risk that it will never materialize.

The only way to see is to put the pads on and get him playing. De Beer is a similarly athletic freak with similarly steep learning curve based upon late arrival in football. Those two, or one of them, could prove very interesting watching in camp. It could be for good or bad reasons but both have future potential and one is likely practice squad if not on team I suspect.

I am looking forward to seeing these UDFAs and some of the in season pick ups when camp begins and they start being given a chance to compete and show what they have.

Which if any will emerge it is too early to tell since we have only seen them in shorts and then briefly. I’m still looking at one from last year: can Crawford really bring something to the mix at ILB.

MarkinMadison's picture

Highly rated and undrafted?

Coldworld's picture

For the reasons stated. View was he would need technique at nfl level. View may be correct or may be wrong. If it’s wrong, big win for us.

greengold's picture

Based on what, exactly, Mark? You don't know what you are talking about here.

In 2018 playing RT he earned a 75.7 pass blocking grade, allowing just 12 total pressures (10 hurries, one hit, one sack) in 639 pass blocking snaps at VT. Previous 3 years he had 22 consecutive starts at LT, 1844 pass blocking snaps with similar results. Plenty of experience against top talent. 6-7 324 with 43" arms, as well as "Elite" RAS scores for his athleticism.

Do you know how many top EDGE/DL Nijman faced in the ACC from this last draft? He completely destroyed Clelin Ferrell (#4 overall), Christian Wilkins (#13 overall) and Dexter Lawrence (#17 overall) from Clemson, Josh Allen (#7 overall) from Kentucky, Brian Burns (#16 overall)...

He did all of this on a bad Hokies team that utilized an unconventional 2 pt. stance. Now, he'll be working from the more traditional 3 pt. stance in GB, and he's pretty excited about being able to power up into defenders. His agility is superb. His feet are good. 34" arms. Really just needs development in his footwork and hand placement at the Pro level.

MarkinMadison's picture

The tape I found was unimpressive. A few plays where he killed guys with his physical tools. A few plays I wondered if he knew what the call was. His technique was middling.

Coldworld's picture

His technique is less than middling unfortunately. He just succeeded based on raw ability. That’s the conundrum with Nijman.

Freezn's picture

Nijman is already a better player than Spriggs he has a lot more physical tools and size than Spriggs and you could end up very wrong on this one I believe we have an unpolished gem in Nijman

Freezn's picture

He will be a lot better than you think with speed power size and strength he will become a good offensive lineman

TheBigCheeze's picture grandmother could supplant Spriggs.....and she's been dead for years....

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Dzehren's picture

+ DB Tony Brown. Guy can play.

PackerAaron's picture

Very much agreed.

flackcatcher's picture

Yeah right/ His inability to control his emotions led to major penalties that cost this team in two winnable games last season. (lions and NE) This lack of control left him off the draft board in a league that covets defense backs, even though his physical skills are impressive. To put bluntly guys, Tony Brown is a Head Case. For his sake, I hope the young man is getting the help he needs not only to play the sports he loves, but to be successful and happy in life.

Nick Perry's picture

Those two penalties were maddening but his play AFTER those penalties was pretty damn good the rest of the way. The Packers have another UDFA CB who can ball.

Coldworld's picture

Personally I thought at least one was extremely tacky anyway. I liked seeing a little fire from a DB personally, if not the penalty. Harness that attitude and the team will benefit.

KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

Most of these players seem to exude one thing, which is pure raw physical talent and athletism. Most of these undrafted players require lots of practice time to work on fundamentals, one on one coaching, and most of all TIME. It is the latter many do not have as the Packers only have so many available spots.

Those who are cerebral processing information fairly quickly combined with motivation and heart are the ones who will make it.

For me none of them is more intriguing than Nijman. If he can show enough improvement this year and eventually evolves into starter material think of the impact it will have on Gutey's draft decision making heading into 2020? Not having to dedicate a 1st round draft choice to an OL would really allow the Pack after this last years offseason haul to draft BPA, which hopefully would finally be an offensive talent at a position like WR, TE, or RB.

greengold's picture

I agree completely. Gutekunst and his scouting staff did a great job adding exceptional character, athleticism, speed, talent and football smarts with nearly every UDFA signing and draft selection.

This Packers coaching staff has a lot to work with, and I find this really encouraging looking ahead to this 2019 season.

Lare's picture

The Packers will need to have Burks, Summers, Crawford or Bolton to step up. Especially if they don't plan on re-signing Martinez at the end of the year. I agree on Tony Brown, he could turn out to be a real steal.

greengold's picture

I think you will be amazed at how great a player Ty Summers is at ILB. Another total steal by Gutekunst. I'll bet he winds up being a better NFL player than both Devin White and Devin Bush, and I'm not kidding.

Yeah, Tony Brown is going to be special in GB as well.

jannes bjornson's picture

If Martinez moves on , they will draft an ILB with a high pick in 2020. Probably two ILBs. Projecting guys that will be lucky to make it on the special teams into next year's starter seems a bit of a stretch. Burks is a projected starter this year. Crazy Tony will have to prove he can keep it together for a full 60 minutes.

greengold's picture

Yosh Nijman has 34" arms... wish I could edit that.

Regardless, Nijman will be considered one of the TOP steals of the entire 2019 UDFA class. I have zero doubts about that. This guy can play OT. Great signing by Gutekunst. He wouldn't last 10 minutes on the PS before being signed by another team to their 53.

Handsback's picture

Yosh, nickname Ninja-man, has great size and very fluid movements which I like and sure that scouts do as well. The other side of the coin is his pass protection is not good and even worst, its bad enough that scouts wonder if he can fix them. That is why he was a UDFA. Can he make it? Sure, but I wouldn't bet on it for at least another two years. He's a great story, but VT didn't do him any favors but not making him learn the basics of pass protection. See one sample of write-up below. There were others that said similar things:

Lance Zierlein - NFL Analyst
"One look at Nijman and it is easy to fall in love with the NFL frame and length. When he's on the move, he's fluid and can be effective on the second level. Upon further inspection, his body control is below average and his pass sets have major holes that could be challenging to correct. He's a developmental right tackle in need of extensive coaching for improved pass sets and greater consistency of aim with his run-blocking landmarks. If the coaching lands, he could become a Day 3 value draft pick if medicals check out."

I'm not sure that Bolton won't also need a few years of growth as well. This may be a year that Green Bay doesn't have any UDFAs make the team, because they have built a better roster than in years past.

Since '61's picture

This is another example of how the current CBA hurts the players and the level of play for the entire league. With more practice time these UDFAs might develop more quickly and teams would have a better opportunity to accurately evaluate their talent.

It is good to see that Gute uses every available approach to try to add quality depth to the team. Only time will tell if some of these UDFAs will emerge into contributing NFL players. Thanks, Since ‘61

RWood832's picture

I was thinking the same thing Since '61. I guess we are showing our age.

I really would like to see the new CBA allow young players to have more time to work with their coaches during the off season refining their skills and learning the playbook.

Remember when GB used to be a great training ground for QBs? With the compressed off season, the HC and OC really have no time for anyone except the starter and possibly the top back up.

BTW, when you compile the list of all time great Packers UDFA, my #1 spot will always be Willie Wood. Not many UDFAs make it to Canton.

Since '63

Since '61's picture

Agree completely. Willie Wood is my #1 All-Time UDFA and #1 Packer safety as well. I hope they give Savage plenty of time to watch tapes of Willie Wood. He won’t find a better example of how to play FS. Thanks, Since ‘61

Guam's picture

Wouldn't mind seeing an off-season developmental league for PS players along the lines of what the NBA does. It would give these guys the time and coaching they need to develop.

Since '61's picture

Agree, but I doubt that the owners would go for it. Thanks, Since ‘61

RWood832's picture

NFL Europe served in this capacity not only for players but for coaches, training staff and media personnel too. It was simply too expensive for the owners. Their bottom line doesn't always allow for a better game for the fans and paying public.

jannes bjornson's picture

That's why Belichick will try to secure as many veterans on his squad as he can assemble. Keeps the learning curve low. Plug and play.

RCPackerFan's picture

One of the training camp/preseason storylines I love watching is who is that under dog that went undrafted to come in and make the 53. Every year there is one player that no one really expects before camp starts to earn a spot. But there are others that earn there way up to the 53 as well.

Last year we had for Undrafted Free agents we had Tim Boyle, Tony Brown, James Crawford, Raven Greene, Tyler Lancaster, Alex Light. This was a really good group actually.

I am looking forward to seeing who shines in this group of UDFA's.

56 Packfan's picture

I'm not sure if Tramon or Tony should be counted in an article like this, which is supposed to highlight why UDFA's sign with GB. As I remember, they were both picked up after the season started. One UDFA star who signed right after the draft is Sam Shields. When Thompson was asked how he finds such UDFA gems like Shields, his reply is that if he knew Sam would be great, he would have drafted him. It's really a hit and miss proposition. McGinn had an article about why recent GB UDFA classes were considered subpar. Basically, a lot of teams guarantee at least partial salary for the best prospects. GB does not. So players go for where the bucks are more certain.

holmesmd's picture

How can this be? Wouldn’t all teams have to treat UDFA’s I’m the same manner regarding compensation? Doesn’t seem very fair otherwise and if what you say is true, it sounds like the Packers are creating a self-inflicted barrier against UDFA’s?

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Teams have a limit on how much total bonus money they can shell out to UDFAs. Last year it was about $98K in total for all UDFAs. GB never came close to using their entire limit. This year, GB forked out $57K in signing bonuses to 11 UDFAs.

Teams have found a loophole in the rules limiting money to UDFAs. Since teams have to sign UDFAs to contracts, teams can guarantee some or all of a UDFA's base salary. The 6'5", 260 pound LB Greg Roberts got a $7K signing bonus, but GB guaranteed $65K of his $495K base salary.

Roberts was a DE at Baylor, where he was suspended twice and also threw a punch at an Iowa State player. He probably was draftable on mid-day three but for the disciplinary issues.

It is the first time GB has used the loophole to acquire a UDFA. Kudos to Gute for using EVERY avenue.

Funny, Roberts got 10 times the money that Nijman or Bolton got, but no one mentions him.

Coldworld's picture

Nijman is just someone I’m aware of as having potential. The rest are largely an unknown until we see them on the field. That will all change if Roberts makes some splash plays. I still don’t know if Nijman will surprise or disappoint, only that it could go to extremes in either direction. That’s said, fair point on Roberts.

KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

Great info! Thanks!

Coldworld's picture

‘56, I don’t think it’s meant to highlight that but to point out that we have had some success with UDFAs (whether immediately post draft or otherwise) and to speculate which ones might emerge as the bonus finds this season.

Overall, if any team knows a Shields would be a Shields of course they would draft a future starting cb. The skill, if it exists lies in scouting and identifying the ones who fall through the cracks, usually to a positional change or other atypical set of circumstances.

The packers have had some gems amongst plenty who fell by the wayside. It looks like we may have picked up some promising candidates after the draft and in season last year. Fingers crossed, but one of the joys of camp is looking for the hidden gem. At this level, sensible players often choose teams not by guarantee, usually small, but by perceived opportunity/fit. The odds are low but so are the rewards unless one makes a roster.

flackcatcher's picture

Two points bear repeating. One: Every player who gets into a NFL training camp is a elite player all the way up the chain, from high school to college. Physically, all these guys are special. Two: It takes a major flaw in the eyes of NFL scouts, to push a player into undrafted status. Sometimes, it is not the player's fault. More players at a position will downgrade a player. The curse of the small school and so on. But the big one is the ability to mentally understand what is going on, and the emotional stability to play under control. Most players who are undrafted get dinged by scouts for lack of emotional control. The Packers, unlike other NFL teams, are willing to risk more in the front end in signing undrafted free agents. But as '61 has pointed out, the CBA has crippled the Packers and other teams in making proper evaluations of UNDFA talent. Long term, unless this aspect of the CBA is corrected, the quality of play will continue to go down, and UNDFA players chance to get into the NFL will drop too.

Coldworld's picture

Flaw or oversight. Sometimes it’s character, sometimes it’s lack of perceived receptiveness to technique and some times it’s positional or college changes or the like. Players do slip through.

hobowilly's picture

"Those who are cerebral processing information fairly quickly combined with motivation and heart are the ones who will make it", fine statement. But for those who are talking not bringing back Martinez baffle me--i believe Blake has been very good based on where he was drafted and frankly the expectations. It seems the only knock on him are his hooks for hands--and don't be surprised if he picks off a couple this year. I like Blake as he is a leader and good locker room guy. Also, based on my memory, he probably has played better his first two years than Hawk did and Hawk was selected way too high @ #5. IMHO, Burks is the guy that has to prove himself. Perhaps the ILB corp will be the surprise group that delivers this year, but perhaps i'm being too optimistic.

Lare's picture

Although everyone criticized AJ Hawk, he did have 947 total tackles, 20 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 9 interceptions during his 10 year career.

By comparison, Blake Martinez has had 361 total tackles, 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 2 interceptions during his 3 year career.

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