Undrafted free agents a huge part of Packers success
Aaron Rodgers will forever be Ted Thompson's crowning draft day achievement as Green Bay Packers general manager; the 2010 Super Bowl his pièce de résistance as he acquired all but four players on that roster.
The core Thompson built has led to an impressive three-year run in which the Packers have won a championship, two NFC North titles and 75 percent (36-12) of their regular season games.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the teams Thompson and his personnel staff have constructed are the group of players pulled off car lots, construction sites and the practice squads of other teams. These players, all non-drafted free agents, have become more than just roster fillers.
In the Packers 24-10 victory Saturday night over the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, their impact was clear. DuJuan Harris scored the Packers first touchdown, John Kuhn the second and third.
Don Barclay was often left alone on an island at right tackle, neutralizing the Vikings' Brian Robinson. Dezman Moses helped the defense finally solve Adrian Peterson. Sam Shields had an interception.
It's easy to forget where fan favorites Tramon Williams, Tim Masthay, Bret Goode, Ryan Grant and Kuhn came from. All went undrafted and were signed, or traded for, by Thompson after unsuccessful tryouts with other teams.
Same goes for Tom Crabtree, Robert Francois, Graham Harrell, Frank Zombo and Evan Dietrich-Smith.
The last two years have been no different. M.D. Jennings and Jamari Lattimore, Brandon Saine (injured reserve) were signed after the draft in 2011. This year's crop includes Saturday night starters Harris, Moses and Barclay, along with kick returner Jeremy Ross, Greg van Roten, Jarrett Boykin (inactive), Jordan Miller (inactive) and Sean Richardson (IR).
"They can all play and contribute," linebacker Erik Walden said. "So you've got take your hat's off to Ted and the scouting directors and the whole personnel organization. It's just fun to watch."
While Thompson and the coaching staff deserve kudos for finding and cultivating the talent, credit must go to the talent itself. Their lack of pedigree might make their level of production surprising, but only to those on the outside looking in.
"Not getting drafted, it kind of puts a chip on your shoulder," Jennings admitted. "I think it makes you a little bit hungrier. Myself and Jamari, we talk about it from time to time. With us, we had the lockout so we were on the outside looking in for a while, wondering if it's over with for us. It makes you hungry and get to the point where you don't take anything for granted. We were on the outside looking in. It definitely, to me, it kind of gives you an advantage from a certain standpoint."
Even the veterans, years and millions of dollars removed from that uncertainty, hold on to those beginnings.
"That's always out there," said Goode, who was pouring concrete in his native Ft. Smith, Arkansas when the Packers called him four years ago. "It makes you remember where you came from and hopefully helps you to stick to that and to remain humble throughout the whole process because you know how quick that you came in and how hard it was coming in and you're out of it just as quick and just as easy."
It's not just lip service, either. You can see it in the way they play. The world saw it Saturday night when Harris took a handoff from Rodgers late in the first quarter, fighting for nine tough yards up the middle, wrenching his body, bowling over teammates and defenders for the Packers first score.
"You need it at all times," Jennings said of that chip. "In this business it's always someone trying to take your job. It's guys waiting for their shot in the league so you definitely have to keep that chip. It's nothing you can just have and make the roster and forget about it. You can't never forget where you came from."
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