Ranking Ted Thompson’s Best Undrafted Rookie Free Agents

The 8th in a series of articles ranking Ted Thompson’s draft picks by round… we’ll call this round X.

 

Just because all  seven rounds have passed doesn’t mean all the fun is over, especially if your favorite team is GM’d by Ted Thompson! After Mr. Irrelevant is announced, it’s undrafted free agent time – it’s a free for all! Gotta fill a couple dozen roster spots after the draft? Sign some UDFAs.

They cost basically nothing, and they usually amount to nothing, but back in the day, Hall of Famer John Randle was an undrafted free agent, even though the draft was 12 rounds back then (the Packers decided to take punter Kirk Maggio in the 12th instead of John Randle – the good old Pre-Wolf days when the Packers needed to approve every move with their 45-man executive committee).

Ted Thompson has a hard-earned reputation as a guy who loved UDFAs and he should, he’s done better than most with them. For the purposes of this exercise, I included guys initially signed with other clubs, but didn’t make the team, meaning that Ted’s UDFA scouting is still what got them in the door.

 

8. Geronimo Allison – What a great name to shout! Joined the team last year and turned a lot of heads in camp. Couldn’t be denied and earned playing time as the season went on, catching a touchdown against Atlanta in his first action of the season and another one against Detroit in the season finale. Chipped in 5 catches for 65 yards in the playoffs. With wide receiver contracts expiring in the next couple of years, he could figure into the picture and has the tools to be a poor man’s Hakeem Nicks.

7. Kentrell Brice – A youngster from last year, he showed blazing speed, a willingness to hit, and enough awareness in the scheme to get on the field and allow Morgan Burnett to roam up in the box and slot a lot. It’s early, and he’s at a tough position to earn snaps, but he appears to have a lot of potential.

6. Samkon Gado – In 2005, the Packers line was reeling from losing a pair of Pro Bowler guards (sound familiar?) and early in the year they lost superstar running back Ahman Green, followed shortly by his backup Najeh Davenport. With his top two backs on IR, Ted picked up little known Samkon Gado, who was signed by the Chiefs after the draft, but didn’t make the team. In his first start, he had over 100 yards rushing. More notably, he scored 3 touchdowns on his 23rd birthday – he’s the only guy that ever did that. He had 6 starts that year with 513 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing. He didn’t have that many yards for the rest of his career (on three other teams) combined.

5. Don Barclay – Right now, I think Don Barclay is terrible and should be cut. However, prior to his knee injury (which I blame almost solely for his descent), he was a feel good story for scrappy, hard effort UDFAs and started 14 games in 2013 when Bryan Bulaga missed the season due to injury. Barclay was far less effective after returning from his own injury, but getting a whole year of solid starter play when your first round o-lineman tears his ACL is a good enough return on investment for an UDFA.

4. Atari Bigby – A great special teamer for his whole tenure, Bigby turned it on when he got a chance to start in his 3rd season, grabbing 5 interceptions and forcing 3 fumbles. A couple years after that, he had a 4 pick season and even played some linebacker, a man ahead of the current hybrid trend. After 6 years in Green Bay, he spent a season each in Seattle and San Diego. Big special teams contributions and good production as an occasional starter set the bar for very good UDFA pickups.

3. Evan Dietrich Smith – When he wasn’t getting crotch-stomped by Ndamukong Suh (which has a funny story behind it), he was actually a pretty good center who earned the respect and admiration of Aaron Rodgers after taking the starting job from way-past-his-prime-Pro-Bowl-joke Jeff Saturday at the end of 2012 and starting for all of 2013. Went on to play a few years in Tampa, starting 22 games in 45 appearances.

2. Tramon Williams – Here’s an absolutely primo UDFA find. Broke into the game as a returner, taking a punt back 94 yards for a score his rookie year while averaging 22.8 yards per kickoff return. From there, he developed into a top-flight corner, starting for seven seasons and earning a Pro Bowl berth. In the Super Bowl run, he had 3 interceptions in the playoffs, including a pick six as time expired in the half at Atlanta in the division round, a play which broke the Falcons’s spirit and amped up the Packers confidence. He was great and when his best days were behind him, he went to Cleveland and netted a comp pick. That’s a pretty good return on investment.

1. Sam Shields – Exploded onto the scene as a starting nickel corner in 2010, after playing less than a year of DB in college. He was a huge part of the Super Bowl run, as well, grabbing two key picks in the NFC Championship Game. With his elite speed and absolutely crazy athleticism, he learned from Joe Whitt Jr how to be a dominant corner, developing into a Pro Bowler and a top 10 talent who made huge plays like the pick six to start the infamous 2012 playoff game against San Francisco. His impact was more apparent when he was out of the game – the pass coverage typically crumbled. It’s hard to remember a player on defense whose absence was felt so strongly. Concussions ended his career way too early, but he finished with 18 picks in 6 seasons and 5 more in the playoffs. To make him even more likeable, his smile always beamed through his facemask and he seemed to play like someone who genuinely loved to be out there. He seems to miss is, but should feel good about his career. He was Ted’s best UDFA find to date and the reason this one was so brilliant was because multiple teams were in play for Shields when he came out. Ted secured him by upping the ante to get him – a $5,000 signing bonus on top of the undrafted rookie minimum salary was the difference in getting him. Who says Ted is cheap!?

 

 

Every year, there are hundreds of these guys floating around. Very few make it onto a roster and the ones that do rarely have an impact. Becoming a starter is a rarity and becoming a Pro Bowler is a pipe dream, but Ted has on this more than one. He’s been called a glorified scout rather than a GM, but when it comes to unearthing finds like these, that comes in handy. You can hate Ted for a lot of reasons, but he’s been a winner in the undrafted free agent game.

 

Other parts in this series
Ranking Ted’s Seventh Round Picks
Ranking Ted’s Sixth Round Picks
Ranking Ted’s Fifth Round Picks
Ranking Ted’s Fourth Round Picks
Ranking Ted’s Third Round Picks
Ranking Ted’s Second Round Picks
Ranking Ted’s First Round Picks

 

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