Super Bowl 2011: Packers Unheralded Heroes—5 Undrafted Players Lead Way to XLV
A general manager can constantly get criticized for picking a bust with a top pick in the NFL Draft. But on the other side of the spectrum, you rarely hear praise when they find a diamond in the rough.
I'm not talking about the late-round picks like Tom Brady.
I'm talking about the guys picked up off the street and brought in for a tryout, the guys that are signed to the practice squad with barely any hope of seeing the field on Sunday—the undrafted players.
While some GMs are lucky to find one undrafted player to make an impact on their squad, Packers GM Ted Thompson has had five contribute in a big way in 2010.
Tramon Williams, CB
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The 5'11" cornerback turned heads at Louisiana Tech but didn't get the nod to participate in the NFL Combine. The Houston Texans invited him to training camp, but he was released on Sept. 3, 2006.
The Packers jumped on the opportunity.
They signed him to their practice squad in November and watched him rise all the way to being a Pro Bowl corner in Dom Caper's 3-4 defense in four years.
Unfortunately for Williams, he won't get to enjoy his well-deserved vacation in Hawaii—he has travel plans in Texas.
John Kuhn, RB/FB
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When you come from a college called Shippensburg, you aren't going to get many NFL scouts looking your way.
Despite setting 27 records at the Division II school, Kuhn was signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad coming out of college and jumped around from being cut to going back to the practice squad to getting some playing time in games.
Being a fullback, Kuhn never got much of a chance to impress anyone, and he was cut after the 2006 season.
Thompson saw something in the 6'0", 250-lb. fullback and quickly signed him to the team.
While he was initially just a consistent blocker in the backfield and showed some prowess near the goal line, Kuhn was given the chance to be the tailback in short yardage situations in 2010 when starter Ryan Grant went down in Week 1.
Fans in Green Bay fell in love with his blue-collar work ethic and ability to always get that tough yard when it was needed most, and Kuhn became the latest folk hero and success story in Green Bay.
Frank Zombo, OLB
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Okay, so maybe he didn't develop into a force to take the pressure off Clay Matthews as the other OLB, but that name should be enough to get him onto this list.
From a production standpoint, four sacks and two forced fumbles from an undrafted rookie in 14 games isn't that bad.
Zombo also added a strip sack of Peyton Manning in a preseason blowout, but getting to sack Manning in any game is a big deal for a rookie that was given no consideration in the draft.
A knee injury cost him the last three games of the season and has held him out of the entire playoffs thus far, but two weeks of rest could definitely get him ready for the big game.
Tim Masthay, P
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At the beginning of the season, it seemed like Thompson struck out again on trying to find a punter when Masthay, the second-year player out of Kentucky, struggled at the position.
But then he almost singlehandedly helped the Packers beat the Jets in Week 8; as the offense struggled, Masthay hit five of his eight punts inside the 20, frustrating the already struggling Jets offense even further.
Masthay was up and down from that point forward but found his groove the last four weeks of the season with 10 punts inside the 20, being an essential part of the Packers' Week 17 win against the Chicago Bears as the offense once again struggled.
Whenever Aaron Rodgers and the gang can't get the ball in the end zone, Masthay steps up and helps the defense have a lot of breathing room to suffocate the opposition's offense.
He had five of his eight punts in the NFC Championship Game against Chicago go inside the 20 and would've had one more if gunner Jarrett Bush had re-established himself after stepping in the end zone and downing a punt, but it resulted in a touchback instead.
Sam Shields, CB
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Ted Thompson is doing pretty well with his free agent cornerbacks, huh?
Sam Shields went to a big school in Miami (FL) but was a converted wide receiver with only one year of experience at the cornerback position. Many teams were interested in his blazing speed, but his cover skills made him settle for an undrafted contract with Green Bay.
From the start he was making plays.
He surprised some veterans and coaches in training camp, and Shields, who was signed to only return kicks, found himself as the team's nickel corner. He only had two picks in the regular season, but for as many plays where he looked like a rookie getting burned, he turned around and made a big play looking like a veteran later in the game.
Shields' biggest game to date came in Chicago during the NFC Championship Game, where he had two interceptions, one near the end zone and the other to seal the victory with 37 seconds remaining, to go along with a sack and forced fumble. He also provided the pressure on Bears third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie that led to B.J. Raji's 18-yard pick six.