GREEN BAY – Most of the NFL scouts gathered at the McClain Center in Madison on March 11, 2015, were focused on the smooth movements of Melvin Gordon, the record-setting running back destined to be selected in the first-round of the draft.
After all the Division I players had finished, including Wisconsin’s star runner, a tall, long-armed receiver from UW-Whitewater took the field. It is tradition for Division III players from the state to play second fiddle to the Wisconsin players at their pro day, so often a good deal of the scouts and players have left by the time the D-3 guys are up.
Kumerow brought his college quarterback, Matt Behrendt, along to throw passes to him, figuring there wasn’t anyone who knew how the 6-4 ½, 209-pound Kumerow ran his routes like Behrendt
“That was my guy,” Kumerow recalled Tuesday. “I had fun with Matty B., throwing and catching. That’s what we do. We were roommates in college. He threw me a lot of touchdowns. It was great for us.”
It was good for Kumerow, too, because one of the people who stuck around to watch his workout was Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
The Packers didn’t sign Kumerow after he went undrafted, but Thompson or someone else in the personnel department apparently took notes on the workout because three years later, Kumerow is on the roster and has lit up the first 10 days of practice.
He looks to be making a legitimate run for a spot on the 53.
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He has performed so well in the first nine practices that he’s getting snaps with the No. 1 offense and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is actively looking for him. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he has been the fourth-best receiver in camp thus far, excelling both in team and one-on-one drills.
Every time Rodgers talks about the receivers, he seems to bring up Kumerow’s name. His release off the line and route-running have been excellent and he’s almost always in the right place at the right time.
“Jake has done a great job and had a great camp,” Rodgers said. “You start to think about guys you can trust on the field, how else can you see it, especially if I’m not playing a whole lot in the preseason than in those practice 1-on-1 reps against our defense.
“That’s where the ball’s going, that’s the guys making the plays right now and that’s the guys that I want out there with me.”
Why it took the Packers three years to finally acquire Kumerow is a mystery.
When asked how he first became acquainted with the young receiver, GM Brian Gutekunst, one of Thompson’s longtime scouts, said it was when he was coming off a big senior season at Whitewater in which he caught 66 passes for 1,116 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“The draft process a couple years ago when he came out,” Gutekunst said. “He was one of the guys that, obviously, we evaluated. He had a few injuries along the way, through college and then in his initial year into the pros.
“We always kind of kept track of him.”
Kumerow spent two seasons on Cincinnati’s practice squad, but in his third season suffered a left ankle sprain in training camp and the Bengals waived him Sept. 22. The New England Patriots signed him to their practice squad for a month but released him Nov. 9.
It was around then that the Packers called seeking a workout. Kumerow’s agent told him several teams wanted to work him out, but when he heard one of them was the Packers, he packed his bags in a hurry.
He doesn’t even know if he had received firm offers from the other teams.
“Even if I did, Green Bay calling, that was a priority,” Kumerow said.
The Packers brought Kumerow in for a workout and they liked what they saw. They didn’t sign him until the final week of the season, but their plan was to get him some work in practice before signing him to the off-season roster.
Kumerow soaked up as much as he could during the final week of the season and then had to wait four months for the off-season conditioning program to start before he could make his case to the team.
“I got to hang with a bunch of great receivers, learn how their week of the season works,” Kumerow said. “When I came back in the spring it was like I had been here before. It didn’t feel like it was brand new.
“It was nice to have that week big time.”
Kumerow began to make people notice him during OTAs. Some of the cornerbacks trying to cover him were gaining respect for his game.
As an athlete, Kumerow has the genes. His father, Eric, was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1988 and he is a cousin of San Diego defensive end Joey Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft.
At the pro day in Madison, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds, posted a 31-inch vertical jump, benched 225 pounds 15 times and had an impressive three-cone drill time of 6.9 seconds.
“Certainly, his combination of athleticism and size was something that we were intrigued by,” Gutekunst said. “I thought it was nice for us to get him on the practice squad. He’s taken the most of that opportunity through last year and into this year and really applied it. He’s had a nice camp so far.”
Gutekunst acknowledged that having Rodgers on Kumerow’s side makes a big difference and he hopes they continue to develop a relationship over the course of training camp. They won’t get to play in the preseason much together because Rodgers won’t play much.
But practice means a lot.
“I mean, that’s a positive thing,” Gutekunst said. “He’ll probably get more balls thrown his way. We’re going to evaluate the tape and we’ll evaluate every day: seeing when they’re out there, their professionalism, how they go about it, their consistency, their durability, all those things.
“I think usually the way it works when guys start making plays, they get more opportunities. And if they continue to make plays and they show consistency, then that’s when all of a sudden I think you start to consider them.”
Something the Packers did way back in ’15.