While all NFL teams have some modicum of success with undrafted free agents, few franchises retain as many as the Green Bay Packers on an annual basis. If history provides any indication, one or two prospects that didn't hear their name called during the draft will find themselves on Green Bay's 53-man roster or practice squad.
Predicting which players ultimately earn that status presents a more challenging task, however. Multiple factors come into play when projecting UDFA success, with considerations besides playing ability making a more significant impact. Certainly, the prospect must possess talent, but if he finds himself buried too far down the depth chart, the coaches might not provide him enough opportunities to demonstrate his skill set.
In each previous attempt at this -- 2013, '15, and '16 -- the majority of the undrafted free agents profiled eventually made the Packers in some capacity. That doesn't guarantee success for this year's class. Still, looking at which players face the fewest obstacles to a job has a respectable track record when it comes to this type of projection.
So with the qualifiers out of the way, here are the undrafted free agents best positioned to stick around this year.
Johnathan Calvin, OLB, Mississippi State
Under Ted Thompson, perhaps no undrafted free agents have faired better in Green Bay than edge rushers. The abridged list includes Frank Zombo, Andy Mulumba, and Jayrone Elliott, the latter of which re-signed with the team this offseason.
Mississippi State's Johnathan Calvin's lack of standout traits might have kept him from hearing his name called this past week, but the 6-foot-3, 272-pound pass-rusher offers a well-rounded skill set. He scored below average athletically (22nd percentile by SPARQ), but he does possess good short-area quickness (7.08 seconds in the 3-cone drill). During his senior year at Mississippi State, he registered 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception.
The Packers have kept outside linebackers with less athleticism (Reggie Gilbert in 2016) or less college production (Vic So'Oto in '11), so the precedent for retaining a player like Calvin exists. Furthermore, with the departures of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones thinning out the position group and only fourth-round pick Vince Biegel arriving to replace them, Calvin has a relatively clean path to the 53-man roster or practice squad.
Thomas Evans, OL, Richmond
The Packers appear to have depth at offensive tackle, where 2016 second-round pick Jason Spriggs backs up starters David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. Second-year man Kyle Murphy could also factor into the discussion if he doesn't win the starting job at right guard. However, the team could still use additional depth along the interior, where only Lane Taylor and Corey Linsley have taken significant snaps in a Green Bay uniform.
Richmond's Thomas Evans might not arrive in the NFL with the finest pedigree, but he does possess elite-level athleticism for an offensive lineman. Only six offensive linemen in his draft class scored better in overall athleticism -- though that list includes Kofi Amichia, the Packers' sixth-round pick -- suggesting that Evans has more potential for growth than most. At 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, his build compares favorably to Linsley. So does his upper and lower body strength.
Geoff Gray, OL, Manitoba
Geoff Gray's profile doesn't differ all that much from Evans'. Like his soon-to-be teammate, Gray scored well athletically (63rd percentile by SPARQ) and comes from a small program (Manitoba). Both also project better along the interior of the offensive line and could potentially develop into quality reserves or more.
However, Gray did play in the East-West Shrine Game, one of the most prestigious post-collegiate all-star games. He also has superior size (6-foot-5, 315 pounds), allowing him to potentially play at tackle as well. That additional position flexibility could help win a job on the 53 or practice squad over a less versatile blocker.
Cody Heiman, ILB, Washburn
The Packers have poured mid-round resources into their inside linebacker group over the previous two drafts, adding Michigan's Jake Ryan in 2015 and Stanford's Blake Martinez a year ago. However, both possess around league-average athleticism for the position, something that has hurt the defense when matched up against spread-influenced offenses. Even Joe Thomas, the team's de facto coverage linebacker last season, has severe limitations.
Cody Heiman might have only played at the Division II level, but he would immediately become the Green Bay's most athletic off-ball linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 229-pound Heiman tested in the 87th percentile by SPARQ. He also demonstrated solid production in college, recording 101 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 3 ½ sacks, and two interceptions as a senior.
For Heiman to stick in Green Bay, he must become a fixture on special teams while also displaying coverage skills. The latter could become his ticket to playing time, as both Ryan and Martinez struggled to varying degrees in that area in 2016.
Taysom Hill, QB, Brigham Young
Like many BYU products, Taysom Hill doesn't resemble a typical rookie. The signal-caller turns 27 in August, making him one of the oldest players on the Packers' roster. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds with 4.46 speed, Hill also doesn't have the typical build or athleticism for his position. His uniqueness makes him an intriguing undrafted prospect.
Hill's delivery doesn't look pretty, resembling more of a javelin throwing motion rather than a smooth over-the-top mechanism. The elongation of his windup limits his upside as a passer. However, Hill mitigates those issues to some degree with his ability to challenge defenses with his legs. He produced running back numbers during his sophomore season, rushing 246 times for 1,344 yards (5.5 average) and 10 touchdowns. If Hill can reclaim that edge -- he has suffered multiple season-ending injuries in the time since -- he should have a shot at sticking in Green Bay.
In most years, the Packers have carried only two quarterbacks on the roster with a third on the practice squad. Though Joe Callahan holds the pole position for that third job, Hill's superior athleticism could narrow the gap.