Mississippi State's Josh Boyd sacks Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price during a Dec. 30, 2011, game in Nashville, Tenn. / File/Getty Images
The first time Mike Trgovac was introduced to Josh Boyd came prior to the 2012 NFL draft when the Green Bay Packers and their defensive line coach were looking at Mississippi State standout Fletcher Cox.
As the calendar turned to April, however, the chances of Cox falling to the Packers at the No. 28 spot in the first round became unlikely — he eventually went 12th overall to Philadelphia — but all was not lost.
While scouting the first-team all-SEC defensive lineman, Trgovac also began to notice Boyd, who registered 51 tackles (eight for a loss) and 41/2 sacks lining up next to Cox on the Bulldogs’ defensive line in 2011.
When Boyd returned last fall for his senior year, the Packers kept tabs on his progress. Although his numbers weren’t as gaudy without Cox (33 tackles, 1½ sacks), they saw something they liked in the 6-foot-2½, 300-pounder.
Enough it seems to draft Boyd with their fifth-round pick (No. 167 overall) last weekend, making him the ninth defensive lineman taken by general manager Ted Thompson since the Packers switched to the 3-4 defense in 2009.
After weighing in at 310 pounds at the NFL scouting combine, he’s also the heaviest defensive lineman the Packers have taken in the draft since B.J. Raji four years ago.
“I looked at tape this year, he’s obviously a big man,” Trgovac said. “He has some explosion to him. We think he has a little versatility to him as well. I’m going to see if I can get some nose (tackle) reps out of him. We’ll have to determine that when they get here.”
The Packers addressed arguably their biggest need with the selection of UCLA defensive end Datone Jones with the 26th pick in the first round but took an additional step two days later with the under-the-radar selection of Boyd.
A year ago, the Packers tried to revamp the defensive line with two energetic free-agent acquisitions, Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir, and the drafting of Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and Iowa’s Mike Daniels.
Neither Hargrove nor Muir made the 53-man roster while Worthy had a relatively quiet rookie season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the regular-season finale against Minnesota on Dec. 30.
With Worthy’s status for 2013 in limbo, the Packers’ need to address the defensive line sprouted with five players set to hit free agency after next season, including Raji and 13-year veteran Ryan Pickett.
Some draft experts, including Pro Football Weekly, raised the question of whether Boyd would be better suited in a 4-3 defense than a 3-4, but neither the Packers nor Boyd expect that to be an issue.
“I’m not too used to the 3-4, we ran a little bit of 3-4 in college but we were more of a four-down-(lineman) team,” Boyd said. “But I feel like it’s something I’m going to be real good with because I adapt real quick to things so I think once I get in and get the playbook and start going through it, I’ll adapt real quick.”
Boyd played two years at Mississippi State with Packers tackle Derek Sherrod and had a passing conversation with him about Green Bay shortly after Sherrod was taken 32nd overall in 2011.
At the time, Boyd didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until the Packers called Saturday to let him know they planned to draft him that it finally sank in.
“I think I’m a true D-tackle,” said Boyd about what he brings to the Packers. “I’m a very versatile player, I can play from end to the nose, so I’m a pretty hard worker. I pride myself on playing hard and trying to be as physical as possible when I’m on the field.”
In Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, physicality and versatility are requirements to succeed on a unit where eating up a double team or stuffing the run is as valuable as a sack or tackle for loss.
Trgovac cautioned there’s no guarantees when drafting linemen for Capers’ unique defense, but the Packers have had a knack under Thompson for cultivating lower-tier talent for their scheme, including 2006 sixth-round pick Johnny Jolly and 2010 seventh-rounder C.J. Wilson.
With the Packers facing critical decisions about Pickett, Raji, Wilson, Jolly and 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal after next season, Boyd adds another piece to a defensive line that’s getting progressively younger.
“The competition for opportunity has definitely increased on our team,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the draft. “If you look at the impact of our class last year had on the 2012 season, I look for all those guys to make a huge jump, as I’ve always challenged players going into their second and third year to make that jump. For as young as we are on paper, I like the experience of our football team and I think we have a chance to achieve our goals.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.