The Green Bay Packers utilize the signing of undrafted free agents like no other in the NFL. The emphasis started under former general manager Ted Thompson. While current general manager Brian Gutekunst doesn’t go to the extreme Thompson did, he still utilizes it to the fullest. The process of signing undrafted free agents isn’t an easy one. But the process shows how good of a scouting staff an NFL team has. It’s the excitement of uncovering a hidden gem that can contribute to an NFL team. For the Packers, they are hoping safety Christian Uphoff is one of those gems.
Packers are Hoping Christian Uphoff Joins a Long Long List of Contributing Undrafted Free Agents
When in charge, Thompson found some very good players who went undrafted. Because Thompson rarely utilized free agency, he instead utilized the draft and undrafted free agent signings to bolster the Packers roster.
While other general managers brought in top draft prospects for pre-draft visits, Thompson took another approach. Thompson instead chose to bring in prospects who many believed wouldn’t be drafted. The idea was that it would give the Packers one up on other teams when it came to signing undrafted free agents. In most cases, it worked. Thompson was able to get priority undrafted free agents to sign with the Packers.
Gutekunst hasn’t gone to the extreme Thompson did. However, like his former boss, he does put an emphasis on finding undrafted free agents who can help the Packers.
Shortly after the draft concluded, reports came out that the Packers had agreed to terms with seven undrafted free agents. At the top of that list is safety Christian Uphoff.
Current Packers Who were Undrafted Free Agents Who Contributed in 2020
Last season, Krys Barnes became a starter at inside linebacker for the Packers defense. An undrafted free agent out of UCLA, Barnes illustrated that you can find a starter who is an undrafted free agent.
Barnes wasn’t the only undrafted free agent who contributed for the Packers in 2020. Tight end/h-back Dominque Dafney, a fellow undrafted free agent, contributed on offense and special teams down the stretch last season. Defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster, a veteran who was once an undrafted free agent, was part of the Packers interior defensive line rotation.
When it comes to scouting undrafted free agents, there are several things scouts look for. The first being does the player fill a need for the team. The second, does the undrafted free agent have attributes that a coaching staff can get the most of.
Christian Uphoff fits into both of those categories. He plays a position, safety, that is in need of depth. He also has the type of athletic ability that a team, with the right coaching staff, can get the most out of. He also brings with him experience in contributing to a football team.
A Standout at Illinois State
Christian Uphoff played four years at the FCS level for Illinois State. Like a lot of undrafted free agents, he needed time to develop as a player.
During his four-year career, Uphoff played in 37 games. He didn’t become a contributor on Illinois State’s defense until his junior season. That season, he played in 11 games, registering 18 total tackles, one interception, and one sack.
Uphoff made his mark in 2019, his last at Illinois State. In that season, he started 15 games. He registered 70 total tackles, 42 of them being solo. He also contributed two interceptions during the season.
The fact that his best season was his last is a major plus for the Packers. It illustrates that his best play could still be in front of him. Some college football players peak in their third or fourth year in college. However, with Uphoff, it appears that he just starting to play his best football.
He has some decent tools to work with. He has good size for a safety. He stands 6’2″ and weighs 210 lbs. Compared to Packers starting safeties Adrian Amos, 6’0″ 214 lbs., and Darnell Savage Jr., 5’11 198 lbs., his height and weight is pretty comparable.
His speed doesn’t touch Savage’s speed, Uphoff ran a 4.63 in the forty-yard dash. However, his speed isn’t extremely slow for the safety position. He has skills that an NFL team can work with. The Packers have one of the best defensive backs coaches in the NFL in Jerry Gray. If he has something to bring to an NFL team, Gray can pull it out of him.
Ability on Special Teams
For an undrafted free agent to make an NFL roster, the best way to do so is by playing on special teams. For Christian Uphoff, he has experience as a special teams contributor.
In 2018, he was named honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference as a kickoff returner. That season, he returned 18 kicks for 470 yards with a 26.1 yards per return average.
New Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton has a very tough job ahead of him. The first-time coordinator is taking over one of the worst special teams units in the NFL. He will need as many good special teams players as he can get. Uphoff could be the type of player that can help turn around that unit.
Not only does Uphoff project as a kickoff returner, but he has the attributes that can help on coverage teams. That will help the Packers but also increase Uphoff’s chances of making the Packers roster.
A Possible “Steal”
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein’s NFL Draft report of Uphoff, he projected him as a possible fifth-round pick. In our Packers draft review, we graded the Packers draft picks with the grades, expected slot, reach, and steal. For the signing of Uphoff, it would be considered a “steal”.
The Packers are in need of help at safety. This off-season, they parted ways with safety Raven Greene. As of right now, the only backups to Amos and Savage Jr. are Will Redmond and Henry Black, another undrafted free agent.
Uphoff will need to prove he is capable of playing at the next level. But he has the tools to do so, now he just needs to prove that he can do it.
The competition isn’t too tough. Redmond seems the most vulnerable. He has a lot of flaws. While one publication claimed he was a special teams ace, we didn’t see anything close to proving that. His play on special teams last season was nothing close to being “ace” like. He is more proven on defense than Uphoff. But with some experience, we believe that he could jump ahead of Redmond. If that happens, it would also save some salary cap space for the Packers.
Uphoff has the look of a possible gem for the Packers. Uphoff will be one to watch in this year’s training camp.
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