When Ted Thompson was running the Green Bay Packers personnel department, undrafted free agent rookies were vital. Thompson never fully embraced NFL veteran free agency. Because of this, the Packers utilized the signing of undrafted free agent rookies just like most NFL teams utilize signing veteran free agents. The importance of this was illustrated by how the Packers utilized their visits for draft eligible players. While most NFL teams bring in players who are ranked as top draft prospects for visits prior to the draft, Thompson chose another path. Instead, Thompson and the Packers brought in players who many felt weren’t going to be drafted in the NFL draft.
Several Undrafted Free Agent Rookies Have a Shot at Making the Green Bay Packers Roster
Thompson’s approach helped the Packers land top priority undrafted free agents. But with Thompson now out of the general manager chair, new general manager Brian Gutekunst has installed his own approach. Gutekunst has been more open to signing veteran free agents. Although he did bring in several undrafted free agent prospects prior to the draft, he also brought in some of the higher ranked prospects as well. Still, Gutekunst learned under Thompson and there isn’t much doubt that he will look at some undrafted free agent rookies to help fill out the Packers roster. Several Green Bay Packers undrafted free agent rookies might get a look.
Under Gutekunst, the Packers roster is a little older than in past seasons leading up to training camp. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any openings that could be filled by an undrafted free agents. The quantity of undrafted free agents might not be the same, but there still are some prospects that have a chance of making the Packers 53 man roster. Here are three possible candidates who have a chance of making the Packers roster this season.
CJ Johnson, East Texas Baptist University, Linebacker
Making an NFL roster is difficult enough for an undrafted free agent rookie, but it is even more difficult for someone who played division III football. But that is the hand that Johnson was dealt. Johnson was an outside linebacker/pass rushing defensive end while at East Texas Baptist. This past season he registered eight and a half sacks and eleven tackles for loss. He earned all-conference honors twice during his college career.
Johnson is 24 years of age, which makes him older than most rookies. Still, that could work in his favor. With playing at a division III school, he will be playing catch up during training camp, adjusting to the speed of the game. But Johnson plays a position that the Packers need depth at, linebacker. He has the experience at outside linebacker, but has the build at 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds to play inside as well. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes players who can play multiple positions and Johnson could have the capability of doing just that. Johnson also has a motor that could be utilized on special teams. Although the Packers have open spots at inside and outside linebacker, the best way he could make the roster might come on special teams.
Offensive Line Prospect
Austin Davis, Duke, Center
When J.C. Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns last off-season, the Packers were left without a true backup center. Luckily for the Packers, starter Corey Linsley was able to play a full regular season in 2017. The Packers did pick up center Dillon Day from the Denver Broncos practice squad late last season. Just like with Davis, Day will have to battle to make this season’s roster.
This past season, Austin Davis served as a captain for the Blue Devils. His play on the field earned him third team All ACC honors. Davis has good size for a center, at 6-foot-4, 301 lbs., and high intelligence to make the blocking calls. Of course, Davis will need to show something in training camp, but him making the roster will also come down to how many offensive linemen the Packers carry into the regular season.
Tight End Prospect
Kevin Rader, Youngstown State, Tight End
The Packers have re-stocked the tight end position this off-season. They brought in veteran tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis as free agents. They also have hold over Lance Kendricks rounding out the position.
Graham and Kendricks are more receiving threats, while Lewis is the blocker out of the three. All three won’t be used on special teams, but the Packers will need one to participate on special teams. Kevin Rader could backup Lewis as the blocking tight end and also chip in on special teams.
Rader wasn’t much of a receiver at Youngstown State. Last season, he caught 22 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. But what he was able to do, was block. Just like with Davis and Johnson, it will come down to a numbers game for Rader. Head coach Mike McCarthy likes tight ends and if he wants a backup blocking tight end to Lewis, Rader might have a chance.
An Uphill Battle Awaits
All three of these undrafted free agent rookies face an uphill battle to make the Packers roster. If Thompson were still running the roster, their chances might be better. But Gutekunst is now in charge of the roster and he might not be done bringing in veteran help.
Still, these three undrafted free agent rookies play positions where the Packers need depth. If they have good camps and perform well in preseason action, they just might have a chance.