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2018 NFL Draft: Which undrafted free agents are best positioned to stick with the Packers?

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Which UDFAs could end up with a spot on the Packers’ 53-man roster or practice squad in 2018?

Kansas State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

While all NFL teams enjoy some modicum of success with undrafted free agents, few franchises have retained 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. 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.

Last year’s attempt to highlight the best-positioned undrafted free agents failed to produce a single player who ended up on the Packers, though that comes with a sizable asterisk. The team hoped to retain Geoff Gray on the practice squad, but the offensive lineman chose instead to sign with the New York Jets. Another rookie, quarterback Taysom Hill, had outright won the third quarterback job and would have remained in Green Bay had the New Orleans Saints not claimed him off waivers. Had either one slipped through final cuts, it would have marked the fourth time this annual post would have correctly identified at last one UDFA to stick with the Packers.

Still, 2017 ultimately fell short of its goal. Furthermore, with Brian Gutekunst taking replacing Ted Thompson as general manager under a reconfigured organizational structure, perhaps undrafted free agents receive less of a chance to make the team as in previous years. An 11-man draft class places additional strain on the job availability in Green Bay.

Even so, undrafted free agents will earn work with the Packers in some capacity, and some might eventually become major pieces of the team. For that reason, evaluating their prospects remains a worthwhile endeavor. You can view the previous attempts for 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

So with the qualifiers out of the way, here are the undrafted free agents best positioned to stick around in 2018.

Tim Boyle, QB, Eastern Kentucky

An undrafted quarterback has little to no chance of landing a roster spot with the Packers this season. Aaron Rodgers remains atop the depth chart with fourth-year man Brett Hundley and the recently acquired DeShone Kizer competing for the No. 2 job. Unless the Packers decide to keep three signal-callers on the 53, either Hundley or Kizer will receive a visit from the “Turk” during final cuts.

With Hundley ineligible for the practice squad and Kizer unlikely to pass through waivers, the Packers will need another quarterback to fill the emergency No. 3 role and work on the scout team. That honor could go to Tim Boyle, an undrafted free agent from Eastern Kentucky.

Measuring in at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, Boyle has the size NFL teams covet at quarterback. He also saw plenty of action in college, appearing in 38 total games over his career. Before starting at Eastern Kentucky, Boyle played three seasons at Connecticut, becoming the first true freshman to start at quarterback in program history.

At least statistically, Boyle has plenty of room for improvement. His career 6:13 touchdown-to-interception ratio looks alarming, though eight of those came as a freshman starting for a putrid Connecticut team. Even so, he threw two more picks than scores during his final college season, suggesting that he needs plenty of work in the turnover department.

Boyle enters the NFL as a project, but the Packers have kept developmental QBs before. Joe Callahan spent the better part of two seasons in Green Bay despite lacking ideal arm strength, size, or positive outcomes during the preseason. Boyle appears to have more to work with, which explains why the team cut Callahan on Monday to make room.

Austin Davis and Alex Light, OL, Duke and Richmond

While an offensive line crisis mires most of the NFL, the Packers have mostly fielded quality units build on late-round picks and undrafted free agents. After going unselected coming out of Idaho State, Evan Dietrich-Smith took over as Green Bay’s starting center in 2012 and held the job through the 2013 season. Fellow undrafted lineman Don Barclay never held down a single spot in the trenches, but he made 24 starts at both tackle spots and inside at guard. More impressively, Lane Taylor arrived in Green Bay as a priority free agent in 2014 and replaced Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton in the 2016 season opener.

Austin Davis has a shot to become the next UDFA success story in Green Bay. At 6-foot-4, 301 pounds, Davis has the size the Packers increasingly favor for interior offensive linemen. He also moves well for a player his size, running the 40 in 5.25 seconds, the short shuttle in 4.65, and the 3-cone in 7.58, all among the best marks for a center. Davis also has plenty of pelts on the wall. He started for the Blue Devils the past two seasons and played in 38 total games.

The Packers have dabbled in Duke O-linemen before, signing current guard/center backup Lucas Patrick as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Davis has spent most of his time at center, but he has the size to play guard down the line. Versatility will make or break his roster push in Green Bay.

A similar opportunity awaits Alex Light, a versatile offensive lineman with three years of starting experience. Like most teams, the Packers activate only seven offensive linemen on game days, a practice which favors those who can line up in more than one spot. Light, who did not miss a start over his final 38 games, has decent size (6-foot-5, 309 pounds) and enough functional athleticism to develop as a multi-position backup.

Naashon Hughes, OLB, Texas

Every season since 2010, the Packers have retained one undrafted rookie edge rusher on their 53-man roster or practice squad. 2010 brought Central Michigan’s Frank Zombo. BYU’s Vic So’oto earned a spot on the 53 the following season, followed by Dezman Moses, Andy Mulumba, Jayrone Elliott, Jermauria Rasco, Reggie Gilbert, and Chris Odom. That trend looks reasonably likely to continue this year given the lack of proven depth behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry and the team passing on edge rushers until the seventh round.

Unlike during the draft, where the Packers heavily factor size and athleticism in their decisions, the team has a more relaxed approach for undrafted edge rushers. Texas’ Naashon Hughes offers decent size (6-foot-3, 259 pounds) but doesn’t bring the surplus athleticism the team usually targets for the position. He scored in the ninth percentile for edge rushers by SPARQ due in large part to a subpar 40-yard dash (4.76 seconds) and poor jumps (30.5-inch vertical, 9-4 broad).

While lacking in measurables, Hughes comes with plenty of experience. He started 34 games during his time in Austin who has played both defensive end and linebacker roles. He registered 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss over the course of his career. Hughes’ best campaign came in 2015 when he played primarily as a pass-rushing defensive end, producing 5.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Hughes will need to tap into those skills and contributes on special teams to carve out a spot in Green Bay.

Kevin Rader, TE, Youngstown State

The Packers entered the draft with only three tight ends on the roster. Seven rounds later, that figure still hadn’t changed. While the lack of drafted tight ends leaves little depth behind newly acquired starter Jimmy Graham, it could open the door for an unheralded prospect such as Youngstown State’s Kevin Rader.

The Packers love tight ends converted from other positions, though they usually look for wide receivers with the appropriate frame. Rader played most of his college career at tight end, though he began on the defensive line where he spent his first two years (including his redshirt season) in Youngstown’s program. As such, Rader offers plenty of size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and has spent meaningful time blocking prior to his arrival in the NFL. Green Bay doesn’t currently have much in the way of blocking tight ends, with Graham barely serving in that capacity during his eight-year career.

Like other undrafted free agents featured here, Gibson’s best path to a job with the Packers goes through the practice squad. The developmental arc for a player coming from FCS generally requires patience, but Rader’s potential could net him an extended look.

[Ed. note: This selection originally went to Damon Gibson, who subsequently failed his physical with the team, according to BobMcGinnFootball.com. As such, the article has changed to reflect that development.]