Nearly 40 players took part in the just completed rookie orientation camp. Of the 29 undrafted free agents who took the field, a handful actually have a legitimate chance to compete for a spot on the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster. Here’s a look at five long shots to keep an eye on in the weeks and months to come:
PARRIS BENNETT (ILB/Syracuse)
Bennett might not have prototypical size (6-0, 233) or speed (4.8), but he sure looks like an NFL player on tape. While I probably watched a dozen of his games at Syracuse, it wasn’t until I saw him line up against LSU last fall that I became sold on his ability to play at the next level. He was all over the field that afternoon, and never once looked physically overmatched against some of the best athletes in the country. He was a big reason why star running back Derrius Guice was held to 14 yards on 8 carries. If the Packers keep a fourth inside linebacker in 2018, I like Bennett’s chances of claiming that spot. As of now, he’d be competing with Ahmad Thomas and fellow undrafted free agents C.J. Johnson and Marcus Porter.
Here’s just one of many impressive plays Bennett (#30) made in that game from last season against LSU and Guice.
NAASHON HUGHES (OLB/Texas)
Hughes looked a lot better than he played in college, and that’s why he went undrafted despite having ideal size (6-4, 260) and speed (4.7). He flashed just enough on tape to be intriguing. He plays hard and is able to set the edge against the run. What he doesn’t do – at least consistently – is beat offensive tackles off the edge. And while this might sound like an excuse, Hughes’ development certainly wasn’t helped by having to learn three different schemes while in college. He’ll have plenty of competition (Vince Biegel, Kyler Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert and Chris Odom) for what figures to be two or three spots behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, but less talented outside linebackers have made the 53-man roster in recent seasons.
Here’s a play against Iowa State from last season where Hughes (#40) shows his instincts in coverage by deflecting a pass over the middle. He may not excel in any one area, but he does a lot of things pretty well.
TYLER LANCASTER (DT/Northwestern)
Lancaster had a solid college career and ran 4.96 at 313 pounds at his pro day. That usually gets the attention of scouts, so it was a bit surprising to see him go undrafted. He reminds me quite a bit of Brian Price, another long shot defensive tackle who performed well enough in training camp for Green Bay in 2016 and 2017 to earn a roster spot and playing time for the Cowboys last season. Lancaster is very difficult to move at the point of attack and he’s more useful against the pass than veteran Quinton Dial, who played over 300 snaps for the Packers a year ago. As of now, he’ll be competing with Montravious Adams, sixth-round pick James Looney and a few other undrafted free agents for what figures to be one or two jobs.
Here’s a play from last season against Wisconsin that epitomizes Lancaster (#1) as a run stopper. While he didn’t get credit for the tackle, it was his dogged work at the point of attack that resulted in a 1-yard gain.
ALEX LIGHT (OL/Richmond)
Light is a better prospect than former college teammate Thomas Evans, who spent last summer with the Packers. He started his first three seasons at left tackle before moving to guard as a senior. That’s where he projects at the next level. He already has NFL size (6-6, 310) and it looks like he can easily carry another 10 to 15 pounds. He’s one of those guys who plays a lot better than he tests. For example, he ran a slow 40 (5.5) at his pro day but was seldom beaten by speed or quickness in college – even while lining up at tackle. That’s because he has good hand placement and works hard to gain positioning. As of now, Light will be competing with Lucas Patrick, Kofi Amichia, fifth-round pick Cole Madison and a few other undrafted free agents for what figures to be two or three openings behind Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor and Justin McCray.
Here’s a trick play from 2016 against James Madison that highlights some of Light’s underrated athleticism.
RYAN SMITH (TE/Miami-Ohio)
Smith was signed by the Packers on Saturday after spending the recent rookie orientation as a tryout player. This move came as no surprise. The Packers are extremely thin at tight end, and this young man is a pretty darn good football player. While he won’t wow anyone with his athleticism (4.84), he runs good routes and uses his size (6-4, 257) effectively to shield defenders from the ball. More importantly – at least when it comes to his chances of making the 53 – he’s a very good blocker, and that’s important when the top two tight ends on the roster are Jimmy Graham and Lance Kendricks. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Packers add a veteran at some point, but as of now, Smith would be competing with Emanuel Byrd, Robert Tonyan and fellow undrafted rookie Kevin Rader for the No. 3 job. That’s a battle he can win.
Here are consecutive plays against Ohio from last season that epitomize Smith (#82) as a blocker and a receiver.