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The Five Best Undrafted Finds in the Ted Thompson era

The Five Best Undrafted Finds in the Ted Thompson era

In continuation of the "Five Biggest Busts in the Ted Thompson era" piece published on Cheesehead TV earlier in the week, it's only right that the Packers general manager is justified with other areas he excels in.

Thompson has drafted well throughout his tenure in Green Bay, and just like any general manager for any of the other 31 teams, he has also drafted busts.

But one area that Thompson makes his bread and butter is the undrafted pool of players at the conclusion of the NFL Draft. Just last offseason, the Packers hauled in 19 undrafted free agents, as well as 17 the year before. Every so often, a playmaker will emerge and Thompson will find a way in giving his coaching staff the best opportunity at utilizing that player. Whoever fits the respective schemes that head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers like to run and whoever can open eyes on the practice field.

The following list is for players who were undrafted but signed by the Packers during the Thompson era, which commenced in 2005. For example, former defensive end Cullen Jenkins wouldn't qualify because he was signed by the team in 2003, however, served as a major contributor on the defensive line for the next seven seasons.

 

5. SS Atari Bigby - 2005

Atari Bigby took over the job that safety Marquand Manuel once held in Green Bay, and as the team's new strong safety, he and Nick Collins showed flashes of what was a dynamic duo at the back-end of former defensive coordinator Bob Sanders' group. After swapping between the Dolphins and the Jets, he was finally signed to the Packers practice squad during the middle of the 2005 season, and eventually to the active roster to make his debut later that year. Bigby started all 16 games for the Packers in 2007 and recorded a team-high five interceptions, putting together his best year at the professional level. 

Over his final three seasons (2008-2010) in Green Bay, Bigby recorded five interceptions and a combined 58 tackles with 17 starts. His play during the 2010 campaign deteriorated and he began seeing less and less of the field, ultimately leading to the emergence of the team's current strong safety and hybrid linebacker, Morgan Burnett.

 

4. RB Ryan Grant - 2007

A sixth-round draft pick is all it cost the Packers in 2007 to find one of the more explosive running backs they've had since Ahman Green left town — and then returned, but that's a different story. Ryan Grant was undrafted in 2005 and served a brief stint with the Giants, only to be traded to the Packers in early September of the aforementioned 2007 season. For reserve purposes, he played back-up to Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn until Wynn injured his shoulder in week eight against the Broncos. What followed was Grant etching his name into the Packers record books.

While his career with the Packers began with steam and back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2008 and 2009, a critical ankle injury ruled him out for the entire 2010 season. It would be what many speculated was the prime factor in slowing Grant down, as he saw just 166 carries through the next two years. On a high note for Grant, his name is associated with the likes of Green, Jim Taylor and John Brockington in the team record book. While he doesn't own any individual records, Grant was the identifiable face in Green Bay's backfield for several years and proves as a top-notch find from Thompson.

 

3. FB John Kuhn - 2007

Perhaps, someone who can arguably be ranked higher on this list, John Kuhn came to Green Bay after serving two seasons with the Steelers, including winning a Super Bowl ring in 2005 as a member of the team. Kuhn came to the Packers in 2007 along with Grant, however, his role was far less prominent. An understated part of Kuhn's skill set during his career is his uncanny blocking ability, which is what his primary job was in 2007. Aside from that, he served as a special teams gunner where he recorded 11 tackles throughout the season. 

He began seeing real work in 2010, likely attributed to the loss of Grant at running back. His 281 yards rushing is a career high to this day for Kuhn, and his four touchdowns tie his personal best in a season. He also caught two touchdown passes, and it was his third season in a string of four where he had caught at least two touchdown passes in a season. 

Kuhn became a folk hero in Green Bay, and with each carry, catch, or glance at the ball, Lambeau Field's inhabitants would bellow a booming, drawn-out rendition of Kuhn's last name. He served with the Packers for nine seasons and is almost a locked candidate for the Packers Hall of Fame when his career is over.

 

2. CB Tramon Williams - 2006 

Thanks to Capers and newly-appointed cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., 2009 was the year in which Williams had begun to shine in his own role. Prior to that, he was a mere undrafted cornerback out of Louisiana Tech who was released by the Texans prior to the 2006 season. In late November, he found his way to the Packers — or Thompson found his way to Williams — and began his rapid ascendance. He soon replaced cornerback Al Harris, who was lost for a majority of the season. With future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and Williams manning down the boundary receivers, the Packers had found their perfect balance between mentor and student. 

In the 2010 playoffs, Williams was one of the Packers' playoff heroes. He recorded one game-ending interception in the Wild Card round to secure a win against the Eagles, and two more the following week in Atlanta to help swat down the soaring Falcons. Including, but not limited to, a 70-yard pick-six that gave the Packers a 14-point lead going into halftime. Williams would provide the Packers with superb corner play up until the end of his stint with the team in 2014, tallying 28 interceptions in 99 starts during his Packers career 

 

1. CB Sam Shields - 2010

The more recent of the aforementioned undrafted free agents, and also the most notable. Shields emerged onto the scene in 2010 but exploded into view during the playoffs that year. Much like Williams, he served as one of the team's postseason heroes en route to their appearance and win in Super Bowl XLV. During that playoff run, Shields grabbed two interceptions in the NFC Championship game, including one to end it as Bears emergency quarterback Caleb Hanie was leading Chicago down the field in the final seconds. In that game, his two interceptions, a sack and forced fumble made Shields the only rookie in NFL history to create such noise in the playoffs.

While Shields' impact with the Packers is well-documented and commendable, his career was shortened after five reported concussions, including one in the season opener against the Jaguars in 2016 that kept him sidelined and eventually placed on injured reserve before his release from the team earlier this month. It's unknown whether or not Shields will return to football. His career with the Packers tallied 18 interceptions in 62 starts, including being the lone Packers cornerback in team history with the most interceptions in the playoffs.

His immediate impact with the Packers including playing in 14 of 16 games during his rookie season as well as the success Shields has shared with the team during his seven years with them makes him the top undrafted free agent signing in the Thompson era. 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (14) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

croatpackfan's picture

Nice. Well I thik you should prepare another 2 articles - "The Best Five Draft Picks Made by TT" and "Five Biggest UDFA Busts in the Ted Thompson era"
EDIT: I found 2 other articles - "The Best Five FA Signings of TT" and "The Five Busts FA Signings by TT"

And time for FA will come...

No joke. I think you did very good job!

zoellner25's picture

maybe stevehj will approve of this one

dobber's picture

The only issue I have with this list is that 4 of the 5 put time in elsewhere before they came to GB. I don't disagree that they were quality finds who happened to be UDFAs, but someone else started on them. I recognize that if we restrict the list to those who have only put in NFL time in green and gold, we degenerate down to the Frank Zombo's and Vic S'oto's of the world pretty quickly...

Zachary Jacobson's picture

In my mind, that only makes Thompson's insistence to target those UDFAs that much more impressive. It's one thing to go after a guy who just wasn't drafted after seven rounds. It's a totally other feat to go after a guy who wasn't drafted after seven rounds, then cut from another team's practice squad after two weeks. More raised questions, more of a risk.

stevehj's picture

Sure. Although I don't really think Zach gives two sh_ts about my approval. You got to agree though, the thrust of this article fosters hope vs despair.

Zachary Jacobson's picture

You're absolutely right about that one. However, I do give two shits on whether or not you enjoy what you read, and one of my duties here that I do my very best to carry out is to make sure my work is in fact enjoyable, thought-provoking and informative.

RCPackerFan's picture

I agree with this list...

Speaking of UDFA's I really do like last years group. I think they found a few good players that will become really good contributors for a while.

Kentrell Brice - I think is going to take a big step in year 2. As the season wore on he earned more playing time and started becoming a really, really good player.

Geronimo Allison - Another one of those guys that runs a slow 40 and is dropped off everyone's draft boards. Their mistakes is our gain. For a slow guy averaging 16.8 yards per catch is pretty good. What I really like about him is his concentration to catch virtually everything. He has a big target because he catches extremely well with is hands. He can go high, reach out or go low for passes.
He may never be more then a #3 or 4 WR but with the way GB uses their WR's, that doesn't really matter. He will get his opportunities.

Joe Callahan was tremendous during the preseason. An offseason in GB's system should do him wonders.

A couple of other guys to keep an eye on are Makington Dorleant and Josh Hawkins. Both earned roster spots. I was excited to see Dorleant play but unfortunately he got hurt late in the year. I think both players could develop though.

dobber's picture

I'm more dubious on most of these guys than you seem to be, but we can always hope...

JacFrost's picture

I have no issue with free agents if they are brought on as insurance back ups.
Look the guys who play div I are there for a reason. Usually size, speed and abilities shine on these people compared to their counterparts in Div IA and II.
Div I guys are schooled by the best coaches as well and fact the toughest competition, all factors that make them ideal to enter the NFL, for the most part.
Ted drafts these guys to pretty much start or see a lot of playing time. He passes on free agents with skills and abilities because he is a tight ass with the money belt. That's why they keep him around.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I feel like this article confuses Undrafted Rookie Free Agents and just Street Free Agents who were not drafted.

Only Bigby and Shields were a UDRFA for the Packers. The other guys where Street Free Agents when the Packers got them.

Why does this matter?
Why am I not just being pedantic?

Because those guys had NFL Tape.

EdsLaces's picture

Damn...I miss Sammy already.

gr7070's picture

Tramon Williams >> Sam Shields

As good as Shields was, Williams was still much better.

EdsLaces's picture

True dat

Alexandr1985's picture

Sad statistics, after all, everything could be different
http://missfrugalmommy.com/three-things-that-change-after-you-get-married/

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