Dan Fodrocy never has spoken directly to Ted Thompson about Jeff Janis, but agrees with the Packers general manager in his assessment of this year's seventh-round pick.
Those measureables everyone mentions when talking about Saginaw Valley State’s most decorated receiver? They are the same ones that caught Fodrocy’s attention when he returned to his alma mater three years ago as receivers coach.
“He has to be one of the best athletes – maybe in the country,” Fodrocy said. “That’s some pretty crazy stuff to talk about but there’s still so much more room for him to grow. If he can corral that, I think he could be a special player, I really do.”
When speaking to the media after Janis’ selection earlier this month, Thompson said the Packers’ personnel department graded the 6-foot-3, 217-pound native of Tawas City, Mich., as the second-best athlete among this year’s deep class of receivers.
Along with registering 189 catches for 3,272 yards over his final two seasons, Janis led the team with his vertical jump and was routinely one of the fastest players on Saginaw Valley State’s roster. He even out-benched some of the Cardinals’ defensive linemen.
Place Janis in a bigger program and Fodrocy believes he might have been enough to make a third- or fourth-round pick, but his performance at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine still showed he could hang with the best.
It reminds Fodrocy of his former Cardinals teammate, Ruvell Martin, whose seven-year NFL career began with the Green Bay Packers in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. He’s used Martin as an example in many conversations with Janis, illustrating a jump from the NCAA Division II school to a prosperous NFL career is possible.
“They’re built the same but he’s faster than Ruvell was,” Fodrocy said. “Ruvell was incredibly fast on the field but he didn’t run the 40 the way Jeff did. I’d like to see Jeff get to that kind of level.
“That’s something I’ve always pushed with him when I realized he was going to be that caliber of a player, at least. That’s the kind of career he should have and hopefully even more. I think Ruvell would tell him the same thing.”
Here are some additional thoughts from Fodrocy on Janis, including why he believes he could be a dynamic returner in the NFL despite only fielding a handful of them at SVSU:
When you returned as receivers coach, did you know what kind of athlete you were inheriting?
“He had very, very little film. He only had – I think I’ve seen the number somewhere, he had like 10 catches. I think he did have a touchdown or something like that. He ran the ball a couple times on a few jet sweeps. I’ll tell you what, Coach Collins, who brought me in, told me we think this kid is going to be pretty good. I saw him at a few workouts and he obviously had the physical frame and all those things, but I just didn’t quite see it on film and I was like we’ll see. That spring, it was like he was a different player from what I’d seen in his freshman year going into his redshirt sophomore year."
What set him apart?
“He’s a giant who runs really fast. ... You’re in our league and our level and you see him running around, you think this kid is a special talent but I’ll tell you what I don’t know if he would’ve not fit in any programs outside of Alabama, Michigan State has some big body receivers, but he’s so big and his ability to take a pounding. Then his speed will overwhelm people. I don’t know if people realize how fast he was because I’m sure on film he looked big and we got him so open, and maybe people are thinking ‘Boy, maybe those DBs aren’t very good.’ I think it took a while for people to realize he has some great speed and can really get up and go. I think that was obviously one of his biggest attributes. He’s just so big and dominating, and then his speed just gets off the charts on you. I’d love to say it was my great coaching and all these great drills I had but he’s just so big and fast – it makes a great football player at the end of the day.”
Where did you play him at SVSU?
“Everywhere, especially his sophomore and junior year. This past year, we used him primarily on the outside. But as a junior, he played almost everywhere. We threw bubbles to him. He had a game early in the season where he had 300 yards receiving and one of them was about an 80 yard bubble. We realized that was early in the season but around Game 3 we realized this was a kid who needs to get the ball more, quick passes and just let him get out there and run. We did that at the end of the year, as well. He had another good game against one of the top teams in our league. We really moved him around a lot and his senior year, we just utilized him on the outside primarily, maybe moved him inside every once in a while to keep people off balance and get the ball in his hands but he was primary an outside receiver for us as a senior. As a young player, a kid we were kind of developing what we had, he played everywhere. I hope he can do that again because I think that’s where he’s the most dynamic. If he has the ability to move around.”
Did defenses switch to double coverage to slow him down?
“During his senior year, people started playing double-coverage over the top of him but there would be a lot of people who tried to press him man. I think that’s something he’s going to have to work on at the next level and we don’t see a ton of it. But I think you saw it growing a little bit his senior year of people trying to get in his face, try to get him contact or throw him off, but at the same time I think teams realized we’re not going to let his 220-pound kid catch a six-yard hitch and take it for 20 yards. You’re better off doing the feast or famine theory and trying to get the ball back to your office and score. I think he saw a little bit of everything to try to stop him. We had a really good quarterback. We were able to run the ball well enough that we could keep people off balance but people would try to double-cover him every once in a while. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think people did that enough in a way. I don’t know why they didn’t try that more but even all the way through his senior year people didn’t give him a ton of respect. A couple of his bigger games, he had two 300 yard receiving games during his career, and I can’t remember a lot of deep coverage where those safeties were 20, 25-yards off where they really should have been.”
Could you have used him on returns?
“He should. He really should. We talk about all the areas he can grow and I think he can be an elite receiver in time but I think right off the bat, he could be a dominant returner. I’m not saying he can or can’t, we chose not to use him but we put him back there a couple times; we always wanted more from him and he should be. He’s got the size, the speed. He really has to embrace that area. I remember another one of our receivers who played for the Packers, Ruvell Martin. I always remember him being so good on special teams. He wasn’t a return-type guy but Ruvell was a grinder and a scrapper and a fighter on all those other teams. I think Jeff needs to be that way and make his presence known that way because he should be really, really good in that category.
What kind of individual are the Packers getting?
“I would like to think they’re going to get somebody who’s prepared to understand expectations. Whether he can live up to it or he can go out and have the kind of career I think he can, only time will tell. He’s obviously in control of that now but I think they’re getting a young man and an adult now who’s been through a lot of things in his life and can handle what they’re going to throw at him. If he’s able to go out there and be the next Greg Jennings, who knows? Those guys are all rare anyways but at the same time they’re going to get somebody who is prepared and ready to rock and roll, and put his best foot forward for the Green Bay Packers and help those guys win a Super Bowl. That’s what you’re going to get. Now whether those things happen, we’ll be pulling for him. I think he’s prepared. I think he’s ready to go. I’ll be very interested to see him this year because a lot things could happen. He has to fight his way in. we’ll see if he can go out and show those things.”