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Ranking the Roster: Nos. 71-74 – Fifth QB And Safety Dance

Get to know Christian Uphoff, Henry Black and Innis Gaines, who could be vying for the safety spot left open by the departure of Raven Greene.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster ahead of the start of training camp on July 27. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.

No. 71: S Christian Uphoff (6-2, 209; 23; rookie; Illinois State)

Uphoff went into 2020 hoping to parlay a strong senior season into a Jeremy Chinn-style rise up NFL draft boards. Instead, COVID struck and the FCS fall football season was canceled. Thus, he was unable to build upon a strong sophomore (26.1-yard average as a kickoff returner) and junior season (two interceptions and 19 passes defensed as a first-time starter).

Despite the lengthy layoff, Uphoff had a strong week at the Senior Bowl, where he was voted the top safety. At pro day, he measured 6-foot-2. With an injured hamstring on a rainy, 39-degree day, Uphoff ran his 40 in 4.63 seconds. His draft hopes were shot. He went undrafted and the Packers nabbed him with a $7,000 bonus.

“It’s going to give me more motivation to come in there and kick somebody’s ass,” Uphoff told The Athletic. “I’m telling you, I’m fast. My hamstring is 100 percent now. I can’t wait to get there and show these guys.”

That he went undrafted was a surprise to one highly regarded scout.

“He’s a big safety that can run, he’s physical, he’s going to be an immediate special teams guy,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. “For an undrafted free agent, I think that he’s a make-it guy in the league. He’s going to make somebody’s club. There’s just not a lot of guys his size that will run and hit and can play on special teams. That was a heck of an undrafted free agent signing. I thought he would go in the middle half of Day 3.”

No. 72: S Henry Black (6-0, 204; 24; second year; Baylor)

Black goes by the nickname “Jackpot.”

“My parents gave me the nickname before I was even born,” he said after the Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent last year. “My mom hit the jackpot at the casino several times.”

Black didn’t quite hit the jackpot last year but he didn’t go bust, either. Having signed with a $7,000 signing bonus, he failed to make the roster but was added to the practice squad. He wound up playing in eight regular-season games (third on the team with seven tackles on special teams) and both playoff games (team-high four tackles on special teams).

“I’m a guy that’s real physical and tough,” he said. “You’re going to get the best out of me. I’m going to come in every day and work. I’m not going to cut you short. I’m going to give it all I have. I’m just a tough, physical, smart football player.”

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No. 73: S Innis Gaines (6-1, 202; 22; rookie; TCU)

Gaines recorded 104 tackles, including four sacks and 15 for losses, plus chipped in three interceptions, 13 passes defensed and three forced fumbles in 38 games at TCU. After missing the end of his junior and senior seasons due to injuries, Gaines went undrafted and unsigned in 2020. The Packers inked him to a futures contract in January.

Gaines made perhaps the best play on the final day of minicamp. Quarterback Jordan Love coaxed the defense offside and took advantage with a deep shot to Allen Lazard. The ball was well thrown but Gaines was in perfect position for a leaping breakup.

Before the 2020 draft, while coming off a partially torn ACL, he said he considered versatility as a calling card.

“I can make plays from anywhere,” Gaines told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I can play outside corner, nickel, strong safety, deep safety … I just like being by the ball. Wherever the ball is, I’m trying to get there.”

Gaines had plenty of motivation to keep going despite not being on a team last year.

“Having a son, seeing him every day look up to me and smile, I know whatever I do, he’s going to be watching, trying to be just like me,” Gaines told the Beaumont Enterprise before his senior season. “Yeah, not having a dad growing up, it taught me a lot about becoming a man, seeing my mom do it. She showed me a lot about what a man needs to be to take care of your family. Having that chance to actually be a father and do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid gives me joy every day.”

For the safeties, there’s a hole on the roster after the Packers did not replace injury-prone Raven Greene.

No. 74: QB Jake Dolegala (6-7, 242; 24; first year; Central Connecticut)

Following the minicamp, the Packers signed Dolegala as a fifth quarterback. One of those, of course, is Aaron Rodgers.

In four collegiate seasons at FCS-level Central Connecticut, Dolegala completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 8,129 yards with 48 touchdowns vs. 29 interceptions. He added 452 rushing yards. After going undrafted in 2019, he spent his rookie season on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster and most of 2020 on the New England Patriots’ practice squad.

“We didn't just drop him back in the pocket and let him throw it. He ran zone-read concepts; he ran option,” Central Connecticut coach Ryan McCarthy said before the 2019 draft. “He became a viable ball carrier for us. You wouldn't say he's fast, but it's amazing when we look back and see how many explosive runs he had — I'm talking runs over 12 yards — and he counted for a lot of those runs. The progression he made from junior year to senior year was very, very large.”

We’ll have a separate feature on Dolegala this weekend.