The Green Bay Packers didn’t select a cornerback or running back in this year’s NFL draft.
That alone had to make them attractive to undrafted players at those positions. And after I talked to a couple of scouts for other NFL teams about the Packers’ undrafted rookie class, it’s no coincidence that two of their most well-thought-of undrafted rookies play running back and cornerback.
The Packers just completed their rookie orientation camp this weekend, and now their rookies will join the rest of the team beginning Monday for the remainder of the offseason workout program. Here are three of their undrafted rookies to keep an eye on come training camp:
Related: Complete Packers draft coverage
Don Jackson, RB, 5-10, 205, Nevada: Last year John Crockett made this short list, started the regular season on the Packers’ practice squad and was promoted to the 53-man roster in December. Now he and Jackson are the top candidates for the No. 3 running back job this season.
In his last two years at Nevada, Jackson rushed for 2,036 yards and a 4.6-yard average. At his campus pro day he ran the 40 in 4.50 seconds and had a 38 ½-inch vertical jump. Crockett is a little bigger (5-11 ¾, 217), not quite as fast (4.57 40) and had a slightly better vertical (40 inches).
Jackson was an every-down back at Nevada but didn’t catch the ball much — 20 receptions in two seasons as the starter. At the one rookie-camp practice open to reporters over the weekend, he effortlessly caught the one pass I saw thrown to him, but that's not much to go on.
Regardless, his primary trait is his aggressive approach to running.
“I think I can bring a violent run style,” he said, “and I think I can handle myself in pass protection and just in the run game pretty well.”
Jackson also has developed character qualities of resilience and perseverance that could help him in the NFL. He comes from impoverished south Sacramento in California, and after spending much of his youth getting in and out of trouble and being forced from one school to the next, he found himself, dedicated his life to football and made it to an NFL camp.
While growing up he had four family members serve jail or prison time. He belonged to a gang, sought out trouble and flunked out of two schools before his sophomore year in high school. After he turned to football, he had to do extra school work to get eligible to play, and then after becoming a top player in Sacramento he had to attend a junior college in Iowa for one year to become eligible for Division I. As he embarks on his career in the NFL, he already has his degree in communications from Nevada.
“I have that edge over the guy that had it handed it to him, for sure,” he said. “I’ve been through some stuff, and I use it all as motivation. When I go to work every day those things flash through my head.
“…I feel like I’ve got a chance here. It’s all on me. It’s what I do with this opportunity. It wasn’t handed to me. I’m just happy I got the opportunity.”
Brian Price, NT, 6-3, 322, Texas-San Antonio: The Packers don’t have as clear an opening on the defensive line as at running back. They lost nose tackle B.J. Raji to retirement in the offseason but drafted another in the first round (Kenny Clark) and added a defensive end in the fourth round (Dean Lowry). With Josh Boyd back from an ankle injury that landed him on IR last year, and Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel and Datone Jones back, Price faces stiff competition. But Pennel will be suspended for the first four games; Jones is splitting time at outside linebacker and it's still unclear what the Packers have or don't in Boyd.
Price is a big run stopper who plays more powerfully than his 20 bench reps at his pro day workout would suggest (the average for defensive tackles over the past 10 NFL scouting combines is 28, according to Tony Villiotti of the National Football Post).
Price wasn’t among the Packers’ 30 pre-draft visits but chose them over teams he did visit — Kansas City, San Diego and Cincinnati.
“I just heard the reputation Green Bay had with free-agent guys as far as developing them,” Price said. “I thought I’d give it a chance to see if it could make me that type of player.”
Price went undrafted in part because of his uneven play, but he showed well against the better competition. He also had shoulder surgery in January 2015 and was suspended for a game last year for pushing a referee while getting into it with a player from Western Kentucky.
“I’m a very simple guy,” he said. “This whole NFL thing hasn’t hit me. I’m just here on the job, that’s how it is for me. Of course I’m grateful. I’m appreciative of what I have here. I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
Makinton Dorleant, CB, 5-10 ¾, 177, Northern Iowa: Though the Packers have quality depth at cornerback, they have an opening on the roster. Casey Hayward departed in free agency, and general manager Ted Thompson didn’t draft anyone at the position. Also, backup and special teams player Demetrius Goodson is suspended for the first four games because of a PED violation.
Dorleant began his college career at Maryland but transferred after his redshirt freshman season because of a lack of playing time – he felt he should have been the team’s nickel cornerback but was primarily a special teams player. He transferred to FCS-level Northern Iowa because he’d already used his redshirt season and wanted to be eligible to play right away.
Dorleant surprised NFL scouts with his impressive campus workout (4.40-second 40, 39-inch vertical), though it wasn’t enough to get him drafted. He barely cleared the Packers 5-10 ½ height minimum for cornerbacks, and at 177 pounds (at his campus Pro Day) he’s slightly built.
“(Speed) is something I feel like God blessed me with,” Dorleant said. “Weight, it may take some time to put on weight. But just from being from Florida, playing football, doing track, it’s something I do. I ran 4.3s since I was a junior in high school.”
Dorleant, who had two interceptions in three seasons as a starter at Northern Iowa, visited the Packers this spring. He said he chose them over Philadelphia and Houston because of cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and the team’s recent history of developing undrafted cornerbacks (Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and LaDarius Gunter), as well as the recommendation of Bryce Paup, the former Packers outside pass rusher who now is an assistant coach at Northern Iowa.
“I feel (Whitt) is one of the great coaches in the game right now as far as defensive back and making guys great,” Dorleant said. “Not getting great guys from college but making guys great.”