In 2006, the Houston Texans invited a cornerback from Louisiana Tech to preseason camp. After failing to distinguish himself among a group that included Dunta Robinson and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ceandris Brown, he was released in the final preseason roster cuts.
On November 29, 2006, Tramon Williams signed with the Green Bay Packers. In 2007, Williams secured a roster spot and took his place as a starter opposite Charles Woodson in 2009, getting his first NFL starts following an injury to Al Harris.
This was his first year under defensive coordinator Dom Capers and secondary coach Joe Whitt, who remain in those positions today.
Position Battles: How to solve the Bears’ brewing QB controversy
In 2010, Williams broke out with 57 tackles, six interceptions, and a sack, but it was his playoff performance that led the Packers to the Super Bowl.
With 30 seconds left in the Divisional Round, Michael Vick and the Eagles were driving for a potential game-winning score. Williams intercepted Vick in the end zone to seal the win.
One week later, the Falcons stormed out to a 14-0 lead. Williams prevented another score with an end-zone interception.
Just before halftime, as the Falcons drove down the field to get into field goal range, Williams boxed out Roddy White like the basketball star he was in high school and raced 70 yards for his first career pick-6 to put the Packers ahead 28-14.
After beating the Bears in the NFC Championship game, the Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Tramon Williams, overlooked in high school because of his standout teammate Brandon Jacobs, undrafted despite his obvious physical gifts, signed a contract worth over $33 million to go with his shiny new championship ring.
The NFC Championship Game against the Bears was also the introduction of a new face for the Packers.
One of the few Miami Hurricanes to go undrafted, especially one with 4.3 speed, Sam Shields would put a stamp on the road victory for the Packers by providing the game-sealing interception of Caleb Hanie, his second pick of the day.
Shields added a sack and a forced fumble. A remarkable day for a veteran professional, unbelievable for a player who was “undersized” and projected to make the team as a special teams player.
Shields would go on to intercept 23 passes, five in the postseason, in his career as a Packer before post-concussion symptoms would lead to his release.
Shields and Williams followed in the footsteps of the best undrafted defensive back of all time, Hall of Famer and five-time NFL Champion Willie Wood.
Wood went undrafted in 1960, after missing time with injuries as a senior quarterback at USC. His letter to Vince Lombardi led to a successful tryout.
After switching to safety, Wood became a starter in the 1960 season and continued until his retirement in 1971.
He went on to become the first African-American head coach in modern professional football with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.
As the season approaches, the Packers are looking for depth at cornerback. Two of the standouts of training camp have been UDFAs Josh Hawkins and Lenzy Pipkins.
Hawkins, in his second year out of East Carolina, is used to having to prove himself; his college career began as a walk-on at ECU.
So far in 2017, he has 10 tackles, eight of them solo, and three passes defended.
Lenzy Pipkins, from Oklahoma State, has seven solo tackles, displaying the open-field tackling the Packers were missing during the injury-plagued 2016 season.
In the first preseason game against Philadelphia, Pipkins gave up just two catches in his 32 coverage snaps, a Charles-Woodson-like performance.
Both players must continue to shine in the remaining preseason games to unseat the returning veterans.
The “meaningless” preseason games are going to be a Darwinian struggle for Packers cornerbacks.
Every snap counts when you’re on the roster bubble. Green Bay has shown that the unknowns can become household names, given the opportunity.