Ted Thompson has given jobs to more unemployed young men over the past decade than Adecco, and that’s why so many of the top undrafted free agents choose to sign with Green Bay. Of the 15 such players who showed up for rookie minicamp on Friday, none has a better chance of beating the odds than Johnathan Calvin, who plays a position that’s been very kind to UDFAs in the past.
From 2009 to 2014, one undrafted free agent outside linebacker made the final 53-man roster. And while most didn’t last very long with the Packers, at least Cyril Obiozor, Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto, Dezman Moses, Andy Mulumba and Jayrone Elliott were given the opportunity to get their foot in the door. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Calvin join this list come early September.
The former Mississippi State star was a solid player in the best conference in college football, but he went undrafted largely because he doesn’t have a clearly defined position. He’s kind of a defensive end and he’s kind of an outside linebacker. And while that’s a negative in most places, it could actually be positive in Green Bay.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves versatility, so the idea of having someone who could play either with his hand in the dirt or standing up might be appealing. The 275-pound Calvin is strong enough in the lower body to hold up against the run at end, and he has just enough burst to be a useful pass rusher coming off the edge. And while he’s not overly fluid, he dropped enough in college to not look lost in space.
Thompson drafted only one outside linebacker (fourth-rounder Vince Biegel) last month, so there could be room at the position for another rookie – especially one who can also play end. Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, and Biegel are locks to part of the final 53, and Jayrone Elliott would have to play himself off the roster. But the Packers have kept six in the past, so a good summer could earn Calvin a job.
Here are three other undrafted free agents to keep a close eye on in the weeks and perhaps months to come:
OL ADAM PANKEY – The former West Virginia star has great size (6’4, 315), decent athleticism and the versatility to play either tackle or guard, although the latter is clearly his best position in the NFL. He has the strength to anchor against power but is susceptible to a quick inside move. Pankey also has a nasty habit of dropping his head on running plays, which leads to missed blocks. He’s similar in many ways to a young Lane Taylor – just not quite as good. That said, longtime offensive line coach James Campen has done more with less.
CB DAVID RIVERS – His game tape isn’t all that impressive, but the former Youngstown State star possesses the kind of size (6’2, 190) and fluid hips that all defensive coaches crave. He just needs to be a lot more consistent. He looked like a day 2 pick one week and an undrafted free agent the next. With only four jobs spoken for at cornerback, Rivers will be competing against Josh Hawkins, Herb Waters, maybe Demetri Goodson (torn ACL) and a few other less talented UDFAs for a spot or two on the final 53-man roster. That’s a battle he can win.
P JUSTIN VOGEL – Pretty much any punter would have a chance of supplanting journeyman Jake Schum, but this isn’t just any punter. The former Miami (FL) star was one fo the top specialists available in last month’s draft. He doesn’t have a great leg, but it’s above average. More importantly, his directional skills have improved each year. He’s also an excellent athlete who can kick off. Local boy Peter Mortell was the better story a year ago, but Vogel is the better punter.
The longest of the longshots are the undrafted free agents invited to rookie camp as tryout players. Among the most intriguing of that group are defensive Imarjaye Albury (Florida International), wide receiver Speedy Noil (Texas A&M), edge rushers Chris Hale (Middle Tennessee State) and Marquis Smith (Savannah State) and corner Raysean Pringle (Southern Utah).