He was far from the most coveted undrafted free agent the Packers signed after the draft, but up to this point, there hasn’t been an undrafted free agent who has made more of an impression than Jayrone Elliot.
At Toledo, where he played defensive end, Elliott had 16 sacks, including 9 his senior season. He earned first team 2013 All-MAC honors, along with Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who was the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft.
From a physical standpoint, Elliott looks the part of a 3-4 outside linebacker, standing 6’3” and weighing in at 255 pounds. And he has been impressive throughout training camp, routinely winning his one on one battles, often against more experienced offensive linemen.
But it was supposed to be Adrian Hubbard, not Elliott, who would rise from the ranks of undrafted free agent to securing a roster spot. Few undrafted rookies created as much buzz among Packers fans as Hubbard. The 6’6”, 257 pound, outside linebacker out of Alabama was expected to be a mid-round pick, but it was thought a heart issue might have caused him to go undrafted.
But after almost 2 weeks of training camp, Hubbard hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself. In fact, the first time I heard his name mentioned during training camp reports was Tuesday when his bullrush resulted in Don Barclay’s season ending knee injury.
Its possible Hubbard will perform better in games, and he will have 3 preseason games to show he deserves a roster spot, but so far Elliot has looked like the superior player.
The Packers have a history of keeping undrafted free agent outside linebackers, having kept one on the final 53 man roster every year since moving to a 3-4 defense.
In 2009 it was Cyril Obizor out of Texas A&M. Obizor played in 5 games for the Packers in 2009 before being released the following season.
Frank Zombo started 9 games for the Packers in 2010, including Super Bowl XLV, but because of his inability to stay healthy, he was allowed to leave in free agency last season.
Vic So’oto was a force in the 2011 preseason for the Packers, notching 2.5 sacks, forcing 2 fumbles, and intercepting a pass for a touchdown. Unfortunately, So’oto was never able match his preseason productivity and was released after the 2011 season.
In 2012 it was Dezman Moses out of Tulane who impressed in the preseason. Moses started 6 games for the Packers before being released during final cut downs prior to the 2013 season.
And last year Andy Mulumba made the final roster after a solid training camp. Mulumba started 3 games for the Packers in 2013, recording just 1 sack, and will be fighting for a roster spot again this year.
Those players all contributed to the Packers success to varying degrees, but none of them have been able sustain their success longer than a year or two.
As impressive as Elliot has been, he has one hurdle to overcome that these other players did not…the depth the Packers have at outside linebacker.
The Packers are as deep as they have ever been at the position, and with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, and Nick Perry roster locks, and 4th round pick Carl Bradford a good bet to make the roster, it would likely leave only one spot for either Elliott, Mulumba, Hubbard or second year man Nate Palmer.
If Elliott hopes to make the Packer’s final roster he will need to impress come game time and not just in practice, but if history is any indication, preseason productivity will not necessarily translate to regular season success.