Vince Lombardi had 30 picks in his first draft. The next year the AFL had its first draft of 33 rounds. Competition for picks was an all out war. In today’s draft when the final pick is made, it becomes the Wild Wild West for GM’s working to sign the best of the UDFA’s. With 32 teams drafting, and 7 rounds of picks, getting those picks right can cure or kill a team. Signing the lesser-known players you have scouted is just as important as getting those draft picks right.
(This article is by Lifetime Packer fan Don Christensen, a frequent contibutor as “Yoop” on the TalkinPackers Message Board, who weighs in today with his choices for the UDFAs with the best chances to stick with the team.)
NFL General Managers build teams from the top down with the draft, then from the bottom up developing young players. Many expect their top picks to start right away. Last year, Clay Matthews made it to the Pro Bowl his rookie year. But many high draft picks end up playing limited roles in their early years. I believe the expectations the fans have of higher draft picks is unrealistic and the development of late round picks and undrafted players is greatly overlooked.
Before free agency, NFL GMs drafted players to develop, knowing it takes years to do so. They knew it took time for players to make that jump from college prospect to NFL player. Free agency sees players moving from team to team and that mindset hinders the development of players.
UDFA’s are fighting for a chance, with little or no signing bonus, and no guaranteed contract money. They are players doing whatever they can just to earn a spot on the roster. I have always followed late round picks and undrafted free agent players. The struggle is intriguing and these players are critical for team depth.
Undrafted players play a larger role in the NFL than most people realize. Two years ago, the 12 playoff teams carried 167 undrafted players on their rosters. Every year teams sign more undrafted players than they draft. This year the Giants signed eleven undrafted players with an additional twenty-four for try outs. The Broncos signed twenty undrafted players.
Just take a look at the Packers, then and now. Some of these players would not have been drafted today:
Bart Starr was drafted in the 17th round of the 1956 draft. Willie Wood was a UDFA in 1960 when the team had 30 draft picks. Tony Canadeo was a 9th round pick. Jim Ringo was a 7th round pick.
What do these Packer players have in common? Their busts are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In the NFL today, undrafted players include Tony Romo (Cowboys), Jason Peters (Eagles), Pat Williams (Vikings), Jeff Saturday (Colts), Wes Welker (Patriots), James Harrison (Steelers), and Antonio Gates (Chargers).
The 2009 Packers team had 8 undrafted players on the roster. Of those eight, four are starting players, plus an additional six starters were seventh round picks. This year the Packers signed fourteen undrafted players. Do any of these players have a chance to make the team? Well, we’re down to 12, as two were cut on June 18th, not even making it through the OTA’s and Minicamps.
So, who has a real chance to make the team, and/or the practice squad? Here are a few I believe have a real shot:
Frank Zombo played DE, Central Michigan At 6-4, 254lbs., he has the size to play OLB in the Packers’ 3-4. He’s an above average athlete: 4.75 40 time, a very good 1.61 ten yard time, 23 reps @ 225lbs., 35” vertical and 10’2” broad jump. Where he really shines is his agility, with a 4.34 sec. short shuttle and 7.07 3 cone drill. How do Zombo’s testing numbers compare to the TOP 10 OLB’s in the 2010 draft? Better agility numbers than Kindle in the short shuttle and 3 cone drill, with a better broad jump, and better quickness. His ten yard times are quicker than Kindle and Hughes, and the same as Graham, and these guys were considered “blue chip” draft picks!
It is a big change going from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB, but Zombo has the physical tools to make that change. As a Packer he’ll have a very good position coach to make that adjustment to the pros. Kevin Greene is to be commended for the performances of Clay Matthews and Brad Jones last year.
Nick McDonald, (6-4, 316ls.) Grand Valley State McDonald started at both RG and LT, but will be starting off as an OG, while also working at center for the Packers. He also has some impressive numbers: 5.21 40 time, 27 vertical, 27 reps@225lbs, good quickness at 1.85 seconds, and a 8’6” broad jump.
How does Nick McDonald compare to the TOP OG prospects? Better 40 time then Iupati, Petrus, Johnson, Beadles. Only Iupati had a better 10 yard time at 1.84 seconds. Petrus had more reps than everyone in the draft with 45@225lbs. Only Iupati had a better vertical, beating McDonald by ½ inch. And McDonald had a better broad jump than all of them.
Here is a link to some video of Nick McDonald working at both RG and LT.
Alex Joseph, (6-2, 240lbs ) ILB, Temple Joseph’s stats include a 4.62 40 time, good 1.63 ten yard time, 33” vertical, and 9’11” broad jump. Where he excels is his agility numbers : 4.09 short shuttle and 6.69 3 cone drill. Those agility numbers are quicker than all ILB prospects and OLB prospects. In fact, Joseph’s three cone drill is quicker than every FS and CB in the 2010 draft, and only two of the top CB’s had better short shuttle times! Considering his size, that is an amazing change of direction ability!
Anthony Levine, (5-11 3/4, 199lbs) Safety, CB/KR, Tennessee State Levine posted a 4.45 40 time, 1.53 ten yard time, 35” vertical, 9’06” broad jump, 20 reps @225lbs, and again, very good agility numbers, 4.05 short shuttle and 6.75 three cone drill.
Sam Shields, (5-11, 184lbs) CB/KR/PR, Miami Shields ran a 4.30 and 4.33 40-yard-dash, 4.19 short shuttle and 6.79 three-cone drill, and also posted a 39.0 vertical jump, 11-1 broad jump and 15 reps on the bench. He played his senior season at CB and started at WR before that. Shields has amazing athletic ability with SPEED. The question will be: Is he a good enough special team’s player to overlook his inexperience at CB?
All of these players have a shot to make the team, either the 53 man roster or practice squad. As you can see, they are all above average athletes at their position. Perhaps you noticed that all of the players the Packers have drafted and/or signed have exceptional agility. This seems to be a benchmark for TT/MM and the systems they utilize.
You never know where the next star is going to come from. Just look at our current roster: Driver, Bigby, Williams, Wells, Tauscher and Grant. All were either undrafted or 7th round draft choices. I can’t wait to see these new undrafted players in training camp!
Maybe the Packers have found one or two of those “against all odds” players that will make it and become a REAL Packer. I know I’ll be pulling for them!
While there are many excellent Packer forums, you should check out the TalkinPackers Message Board, where a good collection of knowledgeable Packer fans check in regularly.
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.