Finding hidden gems in the undrafted free agent pool has become an annual practice of the Green Bay Packers.
For a greater part of the past decade, the Packers have not only found strong contributors in the hours after the draft’s final day, they’ve found starting-caliber talent. With the 2017 training camp looming in less than 60 days, Green Bay hopes it has landed another group of developmental players to fill situational and special teams roles this season and beyond.
As we near kickoff, it’s time to take a look at this writer’s take on the Packers’ five best undrafted signings from 2000 to present. Note that the players listed below were first-year undrafted players that spent their rookie seasons with Green Bay.
Honorable Mention: Lane Taylor
This pick is very much based on the former Oklahoma State Cowboy’s potential as he heads into his fifth season with Green Bay. A backup interior lineman playing sparingly in his first three years as a guard and extra lineman with the Pack, Taylor broke out by starting all 16 games a season ago. After Green Bay’s risky decision to part ways with Josh Sitton in training camp, Taylor more than held his own on a line that was among the league’s best.
Although Green Bay has found production in the undrafted ranks from linemen such as Kevin Barry, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and Don Barclay, Taylor has a chance to become its best and a staple of the Packers’ offensive line for the foreseeable future.
5. Atari Bigby
Yes, Atari Bigby.
Bigby was a preseason castoff by the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2005 before signing with Green Bay. The Central Florida product would spend the majority of 2005 and 2006 on the practice squad before earning a starting spot at strong safety in 2007 after the release of Marquand Manuel. Bigby would start 33 games over the next three seasons, enjoying a stellar first season. He posted 66 tackles and intercepting five passes in 2007, including four during the Packers’ December postseason push that garnered Defensive Player of the Month honors; he also put on a performance as an intimidator against Seattle in the playoffs with several big hits and a forced fumble. Injuries would doom Bigby’s next season, and ultimately his career, but he also wound up with four picks in 2009.
While shoulder and ankle injuries, as well as a training camp holdout in 2010, would dampen Bigby’s contributions to the Packers, he was more than a serviceable player when healthy.
4. Jarrett Bush
An extremely polarizing figure among Packers fans, there is no denying the longevity and special teams prowess Bush showed during his nine years in Titletown.
Green Bay signed Bush as an undrafted player out of Utah State in 2006 after being cut by Carolina in the preseason. Although he only tallied four career interceptions as a Packer, he made one of Green Bay’s most critical plays in Super Bowl XLV when he picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the first half to set up a touchdown drive. He also played significant defensive snaps in the game after Charles Woodson was injured. Although Bush certainly had his share of penalties in coverage, he played in 82-straight regular season games from 2007-2013 and even split time at safety at one point.
A core gunner on the special teams unit, Bush also served as Green Bay’s special teams captain numerous times throughout his career and was a team leader known for his toughness and superior work ethic. Penalties aside, Bush was one of the Packers’ better undrafted finds.
3. Cullen Jenkins
Signed as an undrafted free agent from Central Michigan in 2003, Jenkins’ early claim to fame was that he was the brother of four-time Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins of the Carolina Panthers. Over time, Cullen made his own mark on the league, with 29 sacks over seven seasons and 66 starts with Green Bay.
Jenkins spent one year in NFL Europe before proving in the 2004 training camp that he belonged on the Packers’ roster. He became a starting defensive end in 2006 as Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila transitioned from an everyday defensive end to pass rushing specialist late in his tenure with the Pack. Posting 6.5 sacks that season, Jenkins earned what was considered a hefty four-year, $16 million extension at the time. Although he batted down a team-leading six passes at the line of scrimmage in 2007, he only posted one sack and then was placed on injured reserve the following season after just four games. A very solid rotational player for the Packers over the next couple seasons, especially as Green Bay hired Dom Capers and switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense in 2009, Jenkins put on a show during the Super Bowl season in 2010. With seven sacks despite playing with a club on his hand for a chunk of the season, Jenkins earned a payday with the Giants that offseason.
Jenkins remains one of the better fits the Packers have had for the 3-4 defensive end position. His ability to stop the run, occasionally attack the quarterback and swat down balls at the line of scrimmage easily make him one of the top undrafted free agents Green Bay has signed.
2. Sam Shields
A player whose off-the-field issues cost him a shot at being drafted despite his elite measurables, Shields joined the Packers in 2010. A wide receiver most of his college career at Miami, Shields completed the transformation to cornerback quickly with Green Bay and became a heavy nickel contributor during his rookie season. His two interceptions against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game that season will especially be remembered in Packers lore.
While concussions unfairly cut Shields’ career short, he had a productive and memorable seven-year stint with the Packers, starting 62 games and becoming a shutdown, number one corner for Green Bay in the midst of his contract extension in 2014. A Pro Bowl selection that season, Shields intercepted 18 passes during his Packers career.
There was a clear void of consistent playmakers at the cornerback position a year ago in Green Bay, and those struggles only further support Shields’ importance to the Packers over the span of his career.
1. Tramon Williams
Starting 20 games over his first four seasons, he split time with Al Harris and intercepted 10 passes. Starting alongside Charles Woodson for all 16 games in 2010, Williams made a name for himself in the Super Bowl run with a final drive interception against the Philadelphia Eagles in the wildcard round of the playoffs and a pivotal pick-six in the waning moments of the first half against Atlanta the following week. Williams would go on to record 395 tackles and 28 interceptions during his Packers career, a number that placed him sixth in the NFL during that span.
Lost in the numbers was Williams’ durability, playing in less than 16 games only twice and becoming a mainstay of the Packers’ secondary. With 127 total appearances, 99 starts, and one Pro Bowl appearance over eight seasons with the Pack, Tramon Williams is the franchise’s top undrafted free agent of the 21st century.