Green Bay Packers new dynamic duo of rookie free agents in the secondary look to be the real deal
By: Mark Prott
The NFL rookie free agent talent pipeline to 1265 Lombardi Avenue has a chance in 2016 to be as rich as it has ever been in recent history. Packers GM Ted Thompson, along with his personnel staff, have made it a yearly ritual to search every nook and cranny for the overlooked college prospect with NFL talent who happened to slip through the scouting cracks for one reason or another. Look no further than safety Kentrell Brice out of Louisiana Tech and cornerback Josh Hawkins out of East Carolina for likely the two newest members, in a long line of rookie free agents, to become meaningful contributors for the Green Bay Packers.
A quick analysis of the Packers 2016 opening 53 man roster tells you Thompson values rookie free agents and counts on them while building his roster. The Packers currently have 14 players, who entered the league without being drafted. It seems to be a growing trend in the NFL today.
Hope for underdogs: There are more undrafted free agents on NFL rosters today (481) than 1st- and 2nd-round picks combined (480), per Elias.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 5, 2016
Now in a majority of cases rookie free agent are not talented enough to become full time starters and instead are used to fill out rosters and carve out roles as reserves or special teams players. But there are always exceptions to every rule, as was the case with Packers top cornerback Sam Shields who entered the league as a rookie free agent in 2010. However, the difference in a case like Shields was he was bursting with talent highlighted by his 40-yard dash time of 4.30, making him as physically gifted as the top corners in the 2010 NFL draft. Fast forward to 2016 and the same line of thinking can be used when we analyze the physical tools of Brice and Hawkins in comparison to the other top prospects at their respective positions.
The numbers don’t lie. It’s even likely Sam Shields name came up when the Packers were scouting and evaluating Josh Hawkins in the first place. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote an interesting piece comparing the measurables of Hawkins with Shields and the similarities were shocking. At his pro day the 5-10 189 pound Hawkins ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and completed a 40.5 inch vertical jump, both impressive results which would have given him a top 5 finish in those categories among all cornerbacks participating at the annual NFL scouting combine. Not to be outdone, Hawkins’ new teammate Kentrell Brice put up equally if not even more impressive physical testing numbers at his pro day given that he plays the safety position.
In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to assume Kentrell Brice would have blown up the NFL scouting combine with his results had he been invited. It happens almost every year when a lesser known prospect tests out of this world and begins to shoot up draft boards due to more exposure. The Green Bay Packers are probably secretly relieved that Brice and Hawkins for that matter weren’t invited. To put Brice’s remarkable physical testing numbers in perspective, the 5-11 200 pound safety would have ranked first among all safeties participating at the combine in both his vertical jump of 42 inches and broad jump of 11-1. While both his 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds and 21 bench press reps would have placed him second in those categories.
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, the fifth pick in the draft, might have been the only defensive back at the combine to test better than Brice.”
Now I don’t want to suggest here that testing numbers and measurables should be the main focus of building a championship roster. If that were the case, the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis would have been fielding powerhouse football teams every year during his tenure, given his love for acquiring great athletes with big time speed. A great athlete is of little value if he is unable to apply instincts and skills on the football field. Production on the field still is the ultimate deciding factor of player evaluation, which is another reason for Packers fans to be excited about Hawkins and Brice.
With 2 picks in the preseason and a confident presence on the field, Josh Hawkins looked like a potential playmaker on the outside. And the range, closing speed, and physicality displayed by Kentrell Brice while he roamed the middle of the field was reminiscent at times of another great athlete and former Packers safety Nick Collins.
Yes, it was just preseason football and the competition in the regular season is a whole new ball game but the results so far for both Brice and Hawkins are encouraging nonetheless. Lots of development and coaching will still be needed to find out a final verdict on the potential impact either player can make down the road. But as of today, the evidence is there that the electric physical tools of both players are translating into production on the field, making me believe both players could have very bright futures in Titletown.