Packers Break 10-Year Streak on UDFA Running Backs
General manager Brian Gutekunst’s actions have spoken loud and clear: he is going to build the Packers roster differently than his predecessor.
For the first time in over a decade, the Packers have not signed a running back in undrafted free agency. From 2008 to 2017, general manager Ted Thompson brought in at least one undrafted free agent at the position, including a four-year stretch from 2014 to 2017 where he signed two each season.
Green Bay will head into training camp with five running backs on their roster – Joel Bouagnon, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams.
Why didn’t the Packers sign an undrafted free agent running back?
The decision to ignore the backfield both in the NFL Draft and in undrafted free agency is one part depth on the current roster and one part disinterest in the available prospects.
2018 marks the first time since 2015 the Packers enter training camp confident in the running backs they have on their roster. Green Bay used three draft picks in 2017 to bolster their running back corps – Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. All three made the initial 53-man roster and both Williams and Jones took turns as the team’s primary back after injuries to starter Ty Montgomery.
Gutekunst and the front office didn’t use any of their 30 private pre-draft visits to meet with a running back, either. How each team uses their private visits can give you insight into where the team may be heading in the draft. The Packers used five visits on wide receivers, the most of any position, and wound up selecting three.
The last time the Packers didn’t sign an undrafted running back
General manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy were entering their second season working together – and unbeknownst to them – their final season working with quarterback Brett Favre.
The Packers entered 2007’s training camp replacing star running back Ahman Green, who signed with the Houston Texans in the offseason. Thompson elected to address the position in the draft, spending a second-round pick on Brandon Jackson and a seventh-round pick on DeShawn Wynn.
Though Thompson didn’t sign a free agent running back immediately after the draft, he used other means to acquire talent at the position. Days before the regular season began, the Packers traded for running back Ryan Grant, sending the New York Giants a late round draft pick in exchange for the former Notre Dame running back.
Favre and the Packers got off to a great start, winning their first three games. It was not thanks to their running game. In Week 3, Green Bay ran just thirteen times in a 31-24 win over the San Diego Chargers. The trio of Ryan Grant and rookies Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn were averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
"I would prefer to be a heavy run team, but that's just not the way we're built right now,” McCarthy said following the win over San Diego. “And that's not the way that gives us the best chance to score a lot of points, in my opinion.”
Eventually Grant blossomed into a star at the position and the Packers wound up making a deep postseason run. But even with a now-established starter, Thompson was so hesitant to get into another sticky situation at the position. He consistently signed at least one running back directly after the NFL Draft for the duration of his tenure as general manager.