Ricky Elmore put up 21½ sacks for the University of Arizona in the last two seasons combined but wasn’t considered as much of an NFL prospect as teammate Brooks Reed was in this year’s draft.
As the starting defensive ends for Arizona the past three seasons, Reed didn’t have anything like Elmore’s statistics — he had 8½ sacks the past two years and 16½ in three years — but scouts considered him the more explosive athlete.
Reed, in fact, was on the Green Bay Packers’ radar as a possible pick at No. 32 overall in the first round, or early in the second if they traded down. He was drafted by the Houston Texans as the 10th pick in the second round, No. 42 overall.
But the Packers also liked Elmore, especially after putting the two through a private workout together on the Tucson campus. They selected Elmore in the sixth round as an outside linebacker, where he will fight for a roster spot and perhaps a starting job with Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Brad Jones, the three players who shared the right outside linebacker job opposite Clay Matthews last year.
“When Green Bay came in and worked us out, they only worked us out for maybe 30 minutes, 45 minutes,” Elmore said after the Packers drafted him. “They basically wanted to see if we could rush standing up. They said don’t really worry about dropping back right now, we’ll work with you on that, they wanted to see if we could still be explosive standing up out of a two-point stance. Obviously, they liked what they saw.”
Though the 6-foot-4½, 255-pound Elmore put up superior sack numbers, Reed had the better NFL grade based on the combination of power and speed he showed as a pass rusher and holding the edge in the run game in college. Physical testing at the NFL scouting combine confirmed that.
The 6-2½, 263-pound Reed ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds with a 1.54-second 10-yard split, compared with Elmore’s 4.88 seconds and 1.64 seconds, respectively. Reed also had a notably better broad jump (9-foot-5 to Elmore’s 8-10), and they were similar in the other main tests of athleticism: vertical jump (30½ inches for Reed, 31½ inches for Elmore), short shuttle (Reed 4.28 seconds, Elmore 4.32) and three-cone drill (Reed 7.11 seconds, Elmore 7.25 seconds).
At Arizona’s pro day in mid-March, though, Elmore improved his tests. His 40 time went down to 4.79 seconds to 4.83 seconds, depending on the report; his broad jump went up by a full 9 inches, to 9-7; and he increased his vertical jump to 34½ inches.
Elmore knew about scouts’ questions and tried to prove his athleticism to NFL teams by posting a couple of physical feats on YouTube. On one, he did a one-step, two-footed jump into the back of a truck over the back gate, which was about 55 inches high. In the other, he stood in the 4-foot end of a swimming pool and did a standing jump onto the deck.
Elmore jumps into the bed of a pickup truck
Elmore jumps out of a 4-foot-deep pool
“Those are just funny things me and my friends found (others doing) online, and we thought we’d want to do that, show people I’m an athlete, I’m explosive,” Elmore said.
Physical testing is only one part of NFL evaluations, though. Generally speaking, outside linebackers in 3-4 defenses run the 40 in the range from 4.55 seconds to 4.75 seconds or maybe 4.80 seconds, but that’s a guideline. The Packers considered Elmore’s 4.88-second 40 time at the combine good enough because of what they also saw on film and in their interviews with him.
“That (40) time is absolutely fine with the things we do,” said Kevin Greene, the Packers’ outside linebackers coach. “When we require our outside backers to run vertical, carrying people, we always have overthrow help over the top. That (40 time) didn’t bother me at all.”
The Packers liked Elmore’s intangibles.
“Motor, effort, heart, passion,” Greene said in describing him.
So by not using a premium pick on an outside linebacker, the Packers are looking at a third consecutive season in which either a low-round draft pick or street free agent will be their starter opposite Matthews. Jones, the starter last season until a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve, was a seventh-round pick in 2009; Zombo was an undrafted rookie last season; and Walden was signed off the streets in the middle of last season after Jones’ injury.
All three have a big edge on Elmore because they’ve worked in the Packers’ defensive scheme, but Elmore figures to get a hard look just in case he adapts quickly and shows some abilities to rush the passer and hold the point of attack.
“I look at his physicality, I look at his ability to run and move and to hunt. That’s what I want,” Greene said. “I like to see a guy go from sideline to sideline hunting the ball. Runs directly at him, I like to see what that looks like. Is he playing hard at the point of attack or is he soft? Is he giving ground?”