For the second time in as many years, the Green Bay Packers will begin the season with three undrafted free agents on their 53-man roster. A year after undrafted rookies cornerback Sam Shields, outside linebacker Frank Zombo, and offensive lineman Nick McDonald found spots on the roster, safety M.D. Jennings and outside linebackers Vic So’oto and Jamari Lattimore made the 53-man roster after not being selected in April’s NFL draft.
So who exactly are these guys? Here’s a look.
M.D. Jennings, safety
What’s his story: The former Arkansas State safety chose the Red Wolves over the likes of Ole Miss and Mississippi State in order to see immediate playing time. After redshirting in 2006, he saw action in 12 games his freshman year, all as a reserve. He started his sophomore season and recorded a team-high three interceptions, five pass break-ups and 67 tackles. In 2009, he recorded 64 tackles, a team-high six pass break-ups and an interception. He was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference first team in 2010 when he recorded 84 tackles (second on the team), three interceptions, and a sack.
Why wasn’t he drafted: As it is for most undrafted rookies, especially the three who made the Packers’ 2011 roster, Jennings is undersized. Some scouts projected that Jennings would be a nickel corner at the next level due to his 187-pound frame, but for now the Packers project him as a safety. His ball skills were a plus but, despite 225 tackles over his last three years, his run support lacked. His 4.60 40-yard dash was just average.
What he does for the Packers: Other than Charlie Peprah, the Packers had little depth at the safety position entering 2011. Cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Brandon Underwood (cut) had the ability to play safety if needed, but Bush is much better as a cornerback and Underwood was let go. That left an opening for a reserve behind Collins, and Jennings was that man.
He will primarily act as a special teams ace but he showed promise during the preseason as a safety, totaling 11 tackles and an interception. He beat out Anthony Levine and Anthony Bratton for the final spot.
Vic So’oto, outside linebacker
What’s his story:
Quarterback (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Cut: Graham Harrell
Breakdown: So Aaron Rodgers survives another year of Saturday cuts. But seriously, Rodgers and Flynn were locked into their positions and the only real question was whether the Packers A) believed Harrell warranted a spot on the roster or B) would pass through waivers and be added to the practice squad. General Manager Ted Thompson went with the latter, cutting Harrell and hoping no team takes a flyer on him. There’s a small chance a team will grab Harrell and put him on their 53-man roster, but he didn’t show much in the preseason and is more of a system quarterback (the Packers’ system) than anything at this point. With Flynn set to test the free agent market in 2012, Harrell could be the top candidate to backup Rodgers next year.
Running back (3): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Alex Green
Cut: Dimitri Nance, Brandon Saine
Breakdown: Nance and Saine were two of the last cuts to be publicly announced, so there was optimism that one of the two would stick. However, the Packers instead decided to keep 10 linebackers. The decision to cut Saine and Nance should also dispel any rumors that the Packers will try to trade Ryan Grant, who is in the final year of his contract. Starks and Green provide excellent depth and Kuhn is able to run the ball as well, so there was really no need to keep either of the two cut.
Fullback (1): John Kuhn
Cut: Quinn Johnson (trade), Jon Hoese
Breakdown: The question of whether or not there was a roster spot for Johnson was answered when it was revealed the Packers were keeping five tight ends. However, it was announced that the Packers received an undisclosed draft pick for Johnson in a trade with Tennessee. The move coincides with Titans’ fullback Ahmad Hall being suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Since there really was no room for Johnson, it’s good to see him stick with another team and the Packers to get something back for him. Kuhn will enter 2011 as the Packers’ only fullback.
Wide Receiver (5): Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb
Cut: Diondre Borel, Chastin West, Tori Gurley, Kerry Taylor, Shaky Smithson (I.R.)
Breakdown: No cuts were easy on the ultra-talented and deep Packers’ roster, but letting Gurley and West go rank as two of the toughest. It was known going into camp that the five who were ultimately kept were locks and, with the depth at tight end, it was going to be difficult for a sixth wide receiver to hang on to a roster spot. West’s production and Gurley’s size were obvious throughout training camp and the preseason, but the fact was that they were disposable with the depth already at the position. The Packers would love for West and Gurley to sneak through waivers, but it seems unlikely that both will and it’s more unlikely that both do.
Tight End (5): Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor
The Green Bay Packers wasted no time getting busy on the first day of free agency Monday, agreeing to terms with eight undrafted free agents. Here is a list of the eight players, who can officially sign Tuesday morning, and their chances of making the team’s final roster.
Shaky Smithson, WR/KR, Utah: We profiled Smithson on his own tonight, and you can read all about the return specialist right here.
Tori Gurley, WR, South Carolina: At 6-feet, 5-inches, Gurley brings a dimension that no other Packers receiver can: size. His 4.56 forty-yard dash is quite impressive given that size, and the possession receiver could stick if James Jones leaves for greener pastures. Randall Cobb is a lock and free agent Brett Swain should get the first look in training camp, but Gurley has the size and speed to groom into a solid fourth receiver.
Sampson Genus, C, South Florida: Aside from having one of the cooler names of all undrafted free agents, Genus has produced in the Big East. A team captain and first team All-Big East selection, Genus started all 13 games his senior season and was a Wuerffel Trophy candidate, given to the best college football player who “best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.” The offensive line surprisingly has become a log jam, so Genus will have his hands full trying to make the roster. Aside from Scott Wells, the Packers do not have a true center (Even Deitrich-Smith and 2010 UDFA Nick McDonald both have the ability to play the position, while free agent Jason Spitz does as well).
Anthony Bratton, SS, Delaware: