The Packerscreed, by David Benjamin
Trick or treat, Beavis
MADISON, Wis. — My favorite part of Halloween, after prowling the streets of Tomah from 6 pm ’til after 9, was getting home, stripping off my dumb costume and dumping a bulging pillowcase full of trick-or-treat goodies onto my bed, just to survey — greedily — the bounty of my haunted evening’s expedition.
All this treasure — Milky Ways and Baby Ruths, M&M’s and Almond Joys, apples, oranges and home-made brownies — was mine, mine, all mine. Food, nutrition, sustenance and sensual pleasure that would last me four days, five, maybe even a week! I reeled with gluttony.
I imagine that this is how Packers general manager Ted Thompson must feel on NFL Draft weekend, after his last Sunday night call to his last Undrafted Free Agent. Finally, he can sit down and study his harvest of new players — meat, muscle and speed on the hoof — who are his, all his, untouchable by any other GM in the league.
Eventually, like Halloween handouts, NFL rookies are consumed by the game, devoured and digested ’til they’re little more than a pile of candy wrappers on the floor. Indeed, some of them (Justin Harrell, Jerel Worthy, Derek Sherrod) turn out to be more trick than than treat. But for that moment, piled on the bedspread, they are fresh, gooey and bursting with flavor.
This year, the freshest and gooeyest is Kevin King, cornerback from Washington who slipped just far enough that Thompson was able to grab him after trading out of Round One. Around January, most scouts rated King as likely to go as late as Round Three. He seemed just a speck too tall (6-3) to play NFL cornerback. The problem is not that coaches object to taller CBs, But when a kid is more than 6-1, they worry that he can’t backpedal and “flip his hips” quickly enough to maintain press coverage on a shifty receiver.
But then, at the NFL Combine, King tested at the top of the all-time charts. He hit a blazing 4.43 in the 40-yard dash and showed extraordinary agility in the shuttle run and three-cone drill. Suddenly, he found himself projected as a Top Fifteen pick. The League invited him to the infamous Green Room, where once — long ago — Aaron Rodgers, a surefire Number One Choice, languished for hours in front of ESPN’s cameras, ’til Thompson rescued him at No. 24.
King’s First Round status was a little tenuous because this year’s Draft was unusually rich in defensive backs. In the end, despite testing numbers better than most of the DBs in the Draft, King was the seventh DB chosen.
Nonetheless, it looks like Ted bagged a treat. Picked 33rd, King immediately became the fastest player on Green Bay’s defense. This distinction only lasted an hour or so, ’til Thompson drafted Josh Jones, a safety from N.C. State who clocked a 4.41 at the Combine.
Neither of these guys, however, can currently claim to be the Packers’ Fastest Human. That title unofficially belongs to Montay Crockett, a free-agent receiver from Georgia Southern, who reportedly ran a blinding 4.25 at a regional NFL combine in New Orleans. Curiously, Crockett only caught 32 passes for 535 yards in four years. Even more curiously, he bills himself as a a precise route-runner rather than a downfield streak.
All this makes him one of those no-name, underachieving underdog mystery men whom I love to follow through training camp.
Since Draft weekend, I’ve been sifting through Ted’s pillowcase to see which goodies look most tempting. Of course, I was thrilled about Vince Biegel in the Fourth Round. This is partly because, weeks ago, I identified Biegel as one of my “born to be a Packer” guys. More important, Biegel is a pass-rushing linebacker who’s still developing. His best football might be yet to come.
By the way, some draftniks describe Biegel as “stiff.” This is one of their favorite words, and one with very little predictive power. I recall that J.J. Watt was, also, “stiff.” And Jerry Rice? “Slow.” A truer description for Biegel, who’ll do just about anything to stay on the field and help his team, is just plain “football player.”
I was surprised when Thompson spent three of his ten choices (plus a free agent contract) on tailbacks. But, just as his early choices focused — thank God — on speed, this influx of runners responded to a serious need. Even without just-released spare parts Christine Michael and Don Jackson, coach Mike McCarthy suddenly has an embarrassment of tailbacks to share the ball-carrying duties with the last standing incumbent, Ty Montgomery.
Among the new backs, the front-runner is Jamaal Williams, a non-Mormon from BYU. In photos, he looks slightly like Eddie Lacy, but without the beer-belly hanging over his belt. During a year when he was out of school (for disciplinary reasons), Williams developed a workout routine that resulted in one of the best years of any back in Cougar history. A physically fit workhorse in the Packers backfield? Wouldn’t that be a treat?
One of my fascinations in the Draft comes afterwards, because Thompson has a special knack for finding value among the undrafteds— e.g., Sam Shields. Just on the current roster, the Packers’ list of quality UDAs includes Ladarius Gunter, Geronimo Allison, Joe Callahan, Mason Crosby, Jayrone Elliott and Kentrell Brice.
I’ve already mentioned Montay Crockett as a possible nugget among the 2017 UDA class. Two others I’ll be watching are offensive lineman Geoff Gray and linebacker/fullback Cody Heiman.
Gray (6-6, 315 pounds) is only the third player — and the first native Canadian — from the University of Manitoba, to get a shot at the NFL. Before he went to the East-West Shrine game, he had never before played “four-down football.” Canadian rules allow only three plays to gain a first down. And Gray had never lined up with the defense right in his face. In Canada, defenders set up one yard back from the line of scrimmage.
These adjustments will complicate Gray’s adjustment to the NFL, but the Packers obviously think he has a chance. They invited him for a pre-Draft tryout and kept in touch with him afterwards. If he had attended a U.S. school, it’s likely — based on talent and performance — that he would have been drafted.
Cody Heiman played eight-man football at a rural Kansas High School called Baileyville B&B. (It’s a wonderful life). He then became one of the best players in the history of Washburn U. in Topeka. His testing numbers match nicely with some of the stars who got invited to the Combine. His 4.58 time in the 40 would make him one of the NFL’s faster linebackers. He won a Kansas state high-school high jump title, clearing 6-8. He’s a stud, but he’s from, like nowheresville, man.
By the way, Baileyville B&B closed a few years ago, sending all the Baileyville kids to a consolidated high school. And, though I googled the issue heavily, I have no idea what B&B stands for. My best guess is Baccalaureate & Beyond. But there are, according to the Web, at least 78 other options, including “bed & breakfast,” “Beavis & Butthead,” “bronchoscopy & biopsy,” “bunnies & burrows,” “Benedictine & brandy,” “bust & butt,” “books & business,” “balled & burlapped,” or — my favorite — “blind & buried.”
One other UDA I’m going to watch with affection — because I love his name — is Lenzy Pipkins, a cornerback from Louisiana-Monroe by way of Oklahoma State. UDA or not, it’s best not to underestimate this kid. Originally a basketball player, Lenzy has the sort of multi-sport background that the Packers tend to favor.
Lenzy, proud son of Bernard & Barbara, could turn out to be one of Ted’s treats.