A quick overview of Ted Thompson's draft class coming out of the 2017 draft. (May 2, 2017) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Last year the Green Bay Packers had six undrafted rookies on their roster for their first game.
Nothing like that will be happening this year. General manager Ted Thompson had his first double-digit draft (10 players) since 2013. That alone reduces the roster spots that will go to undrafted rookies.
But history says at least one and probably a couple undrafted players from this year’s draft class will make the Packers’ final 53 or at least play at some point this season.
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So I talked to two NFL scouts about the Packers’ undrafted class, and here are three lesser-known players to keep an eye on this offseason and during training camp:
Adam Pankey, G, 6-4¾, 315, West Virginia: T.J. Lang’s departure in free agency made the Packers an attractive destination for guard prospects, and Pankey fits Thompson’s profile for that position.
Thompson prefers interior linemen who are big and athletic enough to play left tackle in college. That was the case with Lang, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang and Don Barclay. It’s also the case for Pankey. He’s a three-year starter who split his playing time between guard and left tackle for a major conference team.
Pankey, who was suspended for last season’s opener because of a DUI arrest, also has the measurable traits of an NFL guard.
According to NFL scouting combine data going back to 1999 compiled by Mockdraftable.com, he’s bigger and longer than the average interior lineman in the NFL. He’s about three-quarters of an inch taller, four pounds heavier, and his 34-inch arms are about three-quarters of an inch longer. We’ll see in training camp whether he’s athletic enough, too.
The job to replace Lang really isn’t open — the Packers signed 10-year pro Jahri Evans just before the draft to do that. But Evans is a stopgap, so Thompson still is looking for a longer-term solution from among several players.
The Packers are working tackle Kyle Murphy at guard this offseason, drafted Kofi Amichia as a guard/center in the sixth round and signed another undrafted guard prospect of note, Canadian Geoff Gray. They also return Barclay as a four-position backup and practice-squad holdover Lucas Patrick, and signed guard Justin McCray as a street free agent.
But this is a position where undrafted players can make good. Starting left guard Lane Taylor made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2013, and Barclay did it after going undrafted in 2012 from the same school as Pankey. If nothing else, Pankey should be in the running for a spot on the practice squad.
“Great opportunity here,” Pankey said at rookie minicamp over the weekend.
Cody Heiman, ILB, 6-1⅜, 229, Washburn: His background makes him a true underdog long shot. He played eight-man football in high school in Baileyville, Kansas, (population 181) and wasn’t recruited to the Division I level so played at Division II Washburn in Topeka.
But Heiman’s impressive testing at his pro day workout suggests he has a chance as an undersized linebacker and special-teams player.
Heiman, who in high school high-jumped 6-8, had a workout that would have been among the best of the inside linebackers if he’d been invited to the NFL scouting combine.
For instance, Florida’s Jarrad Davis was the first pure inside linebacker off the board at No. 21 overall to Detroit, and Heiman’s testing was comparable, though Davis is 10 pounds heavier and played at a much higher level of competition in the SEC.
Heiman had the better 40 (4.58 to Davis’ 4.62), three-cone (6.84 to 7.39) and short shuttle (4.18 to 4.29), whereas Davis had the better vertical (38½ inches to 36) and broad jump (10-9 to 10-2).
Some teams were looking at Heiman as a fullback — because of injuries to other players, he played running back as a redshirt freshman and averaged 4.7 yards a carry (426 yards rushing total). The last three seasons he played only defense and had a total of 16½ tackles for a loss, five interceptions and 6½ sacks.
We won’t know until training camp, but Heiman’s elite short-shuttle and three-cone times suggest he might have the coverage ability teams are looking for at inside linebacker in today’s NFL.
Lenzy Pipkins, CB, 5-11⅞, 202, Oklahoma State: Last year, two undrafted rookie cornerbacks saw playing time for the Packers — Josh Hawkins and Makinton Dorleant. Hawkins is back, but Dorleant was cut this offseason.
Pipkins was a graduate transfer last season from Louisiana-Monroe. His stats don’t jump out (one interception and one pass defended in 2016), but his combination of size and speed are good. He’s just a shade under 6-foot, and though NFLdraftscout.com reports his pro day 40 at a good 4.46 seconds, Pipkins said a Packers scout in attendance clocked him at 4.38 seconds. The average for the position is 4.50.
Pipkins’ lack of stats (three career interceptions) raises questions about his ball skills. But he has decent size and can run.
“I know I can come in here and fight and battle for a spot,” Pipkins said.