"If you look at the history of our 53-man roster (and) the percentage of how many undrafted free agents that have played here, everybody knows we had two start in the Super Bowl," coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday. "Those are the kind of statistics that you put in front of these guys just to show them that they have such a unique opportunity to make our ball club."
In each of the last four years, the Packers have had at least three undrafted free agents make the roster. Last year, safety Chris Banjo, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba and guard Lane Taylor made the opening roster; running back Michael Hill, receiver Myles White and tight end Jake Stoneburner were undrafted rookies who opened the season on the practice squad and received in-season promotions.
That history is used in the Packers‘ undrafted recruiting.
"We're huge proponents of the college free agency thing," general manager Ted Thompson said. "We think that's a marvelous opportunity to help your team. We have certainly over the last five or six years probably had more of those than anybody else in the NFL. We use that as a selling point. I think it's a credit to our coaching staff for being able to take these guys get them ready to play and be able to function in the NFL. But it's also a credit to our scouts and the hard work they do."
This year's undrafted class includes quarterback Chase Rettig, running backs Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins, safety Tanner Miller, cornerback Ryan White, linebackers Jake Doughty, Jayrone Elliott, Joe Thomas and Adrian Hubbard, guard Jordan McCray, defensive linemen Mike Pennel and Carlos Gray, offensive tackle John Fullington and tight end Justin Perillo. Another couple figure to be added from this weekend's crop of tryout players; among them, according to a source, is Hawaii cornerback Charles Clay.
"Yeah, my agent went over some of the history," Neal said. "And my friends and family back home definitely have given me words of encouragement and let me know the statistics and how good this place is and how they work with undrafted free agents."
Opportunity has knocked — and is knocking again — at linebacker. Frank Zombo had a sack in the Super Bowl and started for about half the season. Mulumba was the latest undrafted outside linebacker to make the team, following in the footsteps of Zombo, Dezman Moses and Vic So'oto. Inside linebackers Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois have played key roles on special teams and as injury replacements on defense.
This year, the Packers didn't address inside linebacker, which was considered one of the prime positions of need in the draft. That provides an opening for Utah State's Doughty and South Carolina State's Thomas. Doughty was a two-time first-team all-conference selection who posted 148 tackles, including 12 for losses, as a senior. Thomas had 116 tackles as a senior as he finished fourth in the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defender in FCS.
"Yeah, definitely, I kind of thought there was more of an opportunity here to show what I can do on the field and have a better opportunity to make the squad," Doughty said.
At outside linebacker, Alabama's Adrian Hubbard and Toledo's Jayrone Elliott were added to the mix. Hubbard had seven sacks in 2012 and three in 2013; with degree in hand, he entered the draft a year early. Numerous teams were interested after the draft, and he close Green Bay over Miami. Elliott had a big senior sesoan with nine sacks and five forced fumbles.
"My agent looked into that," Elliott said of the Packers' undrafted history. "I thought that was a pretty outstanding fact. At the same time, I know their guys are stacked at outside linebacker so I'm here to compete, special teams and make a quality effort on this team."
All four linebackers received $5,000 signing bonuses — tops among Green Bay's undrafted crop.
In a league in which a higher percentage of team salary caps are being gobbled up by a small number of players, finding cheap talent is a necessity, whether it's an impact starter or someone to cover kicks. The Packers historically have fielded one of the league's youngest teams; Seattle won the Super Bowl with the league's fourth-youngest team.
"Really, this is a young man's league, and it has been for a number of years," McCarthy said. "It's the opportunity to take not only the drafted rookies, the ones that have signed free-agent contracts, but these tryout players. Like I told them, there's not a whole lot difference between some of these tryout players and the guys that are here and have been drafted or have already signed a free agent contract. Some guy may have run a bad 40, one guy may be a little bit shorter, but they're all very good football players that are here for a reason. There's no lottery tickets that were laid out and you happen to get lucky to get into the room. So, these guys have played college football, they've gone through the evaluation process, they've earned this opportunity, and it gives us the chance to continue the evaluation process and another swing at the plate in the arena of player acquisition to build the best 90-man roster going into training camp."
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