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Packers’ “Success” with Undrafted Free Agents Nothing to Brag About

Time and again, it has been pointed out how successful the Green Bay Packers and general manager Ted Thompson have been with undrafted free agents.

At least one undrafted rookie has made the roster in all 12 of Thompson’s seasons as GM. Just last year, six undrafted rookies made the final roster.

Although not immediately, the Packers also have a lot of undrafted free agents who end up playing. Some even end up making contributions. Wes Hodkiewicz dropped some numbers today. In 2016, 17 undrafted free agents got playing time for the Packers. They combined for 3,657 snaps during the regular season, more than 2015 (2,766) and 2014 (3,290).

Here’s the thing about that, you see.

That’s not a good thing. These guys weren’t drafted for a reason. Perhaps they lack athleticism, speed or there’s some other glaring hole in their games. You could literally go down the list and point out what’s wrong with each one of these players.

  • G Lane Taylor
  • CB LaDarius Gunter
  • LB Joe Thomas
  • S Kentrell Brice
  • WR Geronimo Allison
  • OL Don Barclay
  • LB Jayrone Elliott
  • TE Justin Perillo
  • DT Mike Pennel
  • CB Sam Shields
  • RB Don Jackson
  • S Marwin Evans
  • FB Joe Kerridge
  • DT Brian Price
  • CB Josh Hawkins
  • CB Makinton Dorleant
  • S Chris Banjo

Quick quiz. What else do you see there?

If you said several guys who aren’t even on the team anymore, you’re correct.

Perillo, Pennel, Shields, Price and Banjo were all released during or after the season, which tells you something about what the Packers thought of their skills after further scrutiny. With Shields, it was injury-related, but he’s the outlier.

He’s not only the outlier because of that. Shields is the only guy who’s made (or even come close to) a Pro Bowl on the list. And you might say, well, you can find great players among the undrafted free agents, just look at Sam Shields!

Shields went undrafted because he was a receiver who only played a single season of cornerback at the University of Miami. He was raw as hell. Sam Shields was the exception, not the rule.

That isn’t to say some of these players can’t continue to develop and have nice careers. Taylor was solid enough in starting all 16 games at guard. We all like Brice’s potential. Gunter was asked to do too much as a No. 1 corner, but seems to have the makings of a solid No. 2.

Still, I would argue that you don’t want almost of a third of your roster made up of undrafted free agents. The weaknesses of one player needs to be made up by another player or players or your team isn’t going to function very well.

This is especially true for a team like the Packers. And by that, I mean a team that suffers a parade of catastrophic injuries year after year after year. It’s great to keep guys like this around if you think you can develop them, but the Packers end up throwing them onto the field because they have to — because that’s their roster construct. They often aren’t ready and in many instances, their weaknesses are easily exposed.

Look at a player like Joe Thomas. Like Taylor, he played the most snaps on the Packers at his position. That was not good news for the Packers. While Thomas is often excellent in coverage, he is a total liability everywhere else. He’s awful at getting off blocks and a poor tackler.

Yet the Packers were forced to keep sending him out there because the guy they drafted — Blake Martinez — wasn’t quite good enough and they had no other option.

What do the Packers need to do to improve their lot? It’s simple.

Stop filling out the roster with so many guys with glaring holes in their games, draft better and sign some damn veteran free agents already.

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Joseph Bonham

Joseph is a fiction writer when he isn't doing this. In his spare time he likes to do manly things like drink beer and procreate.

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10 Comments

  1. Kato February 22, 2017

    I am not one to go out and try and sign a dream team like the eagles did in 2011. Or go try and win FA every year like the redskins tried. However, there are bargains to be had. Last year, they could have had Jerrel Freeman, one of the top ILB for the low price of $4 million per. He was the top rated linebacker in coverage last year. In the entire league. He is also above average in the run game as a 3/4 ILB. There are bargains to be had out there if you look for them.

  2. PF4L February 22, 2017

    I agree, nicely written. although you left out Tramon Williams, the best of the bunch IMO.

    TW was a slightly above average cornerback who could bring it when healthy and focused, which wasn’t always the case, but the man made some key plays.

    Teds “reputation” for finding UDFA gems, was built on TW, and him only. You don’t hear that anymore. Matter of fact, we hardly ever hear praise around the League for TT anymore about anything. The Packers have embarrassed themselves too many times in post season games that everyone was watching. Plus when he speaks, people end up thinking to themselves “wtf?”..is wrong with this guy.

    As i’ve said before, when you sign hundreds of UDFA’s over the course of 10 + years, the law of averages dictates you run into a couple guys who can play, Those guys were Shields, and TW.

    Here’s what else happens when you are a General Manager in the NFL for 10 + years. You are either thought highly of, or the luster has completely worn off and you are just hanging on, and on, and on, and on…without anyone to answer too.

    1. Gil Thorp February 28, 2017

      Tramon was originally signed by the Texans and released in the final cuts so I wouldn’t even consider him a Thompson find.

  3. Ace February 22, 2017

    Amen.

  4. Savage57 February 23, 2017

    If you do the math, UDFA’s are the only way you can possibly fill out a roster to 53 players.

    Consider the average career being 4-5 years (generous), the churn that creates and having +/- 7 picks per season. Assume you’re like any other GM and you hit on half of those to make the team. That’s going to give you a core of players you have to augment somehow and that somehow is coaching up the guys you don’t draft. 6 or 7 guys, 15% of your roster, eat up half of your cap, so there goes the ‘go out and sign a bunch of veteran free agents at premium cost’ mewl

    Other than the usual pissing and moaning, I’d like to understand what the point of the article was.

    I must just be dumb.

    1. PF4L February 23, 2017

      You are correct, every team uses UDFA’s to fill out their roster.

      But apparently Ted isn’t like any other GM, keeping half his draft picks.

      From 3 drafts 2011-13. Ted has kept 8 of the players he drafted out of 30 players.
      * Three of those eight are currently UFA’s, who may, or may not be back.

      So technically, Ted has kept 5 draft picks out of 30 drafted from this era. Which is about a 17% player retention rate.

      I used these 2011-13 drafts because of course, players you recently drafted will be on the roster. But drafts that are 3-5 years old, reveal the success or failure of those drafts.

      So….what does this all mean?

      1) Ted’s drafting has been sub-standard.

      2) In a draft and develop philosophy, you will fail at building a winning team through the draft, relying on these draft results.

      3) This information easily explains why the Packers have so many UDFA’s on their roster.

      I believe Joseph is making very valid and concerning observations regarding how the structure of this team is built and how it relates to various adversities experienced during the course of an NFL season.

      As i’ve said, we had a ton of injuries back in 2010, but still won a Super Bowl.
      the difference was, that team was built to overcome it. This team? Not so much.

    2. MJ February 23, 2017

      Good points, Savage. Around 25-30% of the NFL players were UDFAs. So yes, you are going to have some of those guys in your team, and as you point out , 7 new guys a year is not enough to have an “all drafted” team.
      The thing is, the UDFAs to drafted ratio in a team can be read any way you want.

      Does the team have many UDFAs? “Yes, we are a team that believes in fair opportunities for talented guys, regardless of draft status”. “Yes, our scouting department does a great job finding diamonds in the rough”. “We totally suck at drafting, so we had to hire all these scabs”. So on its own is conveys little meaning.

      Let’s see the opposite case. Your team has less than the usual UDFs. “See? Our personnel department has been on point at building through the draft”. Or “we give our draft picks more opportunities, so we end up keeping them even when an unknown UDFA is clearly outperforming them, therefore we don’t look foolish at pre draft talent evaluation”.

      Wrapping it up, the team record will tell you more about their talent evaluation and coaching abilities than the drafted/undrafted composition.

  5. PF4L February 23, 2017

    WOW!!…….OR…….The team record will tell you that you have a great QB that can provide you a winning season, despite of all of the ineptness building the team.

    1. MJ February 23, 2017

      That’s right, but not the point. This post is not about Rodgers. The idea is that whether you have so many or so few UDFAs does not correlate to success or failure per se.

  6. PF4L February 23, 2017

    You may not be able to directly correlate winning or losing using UFDA’s as a metric. But i can tell you this, given a choice, i’d rather my draft picks worked out vs using UDFA’s to fill the void of failed drafts.