A glance at the Packers' pre-draft visits

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty (14) runs the ball during the second half of the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. Michigan State won 42-41. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The NFL draft is the lifeblood of the Green Bay Packers under general manager Ted Thompson, but what's often overlooked is the college free-agency period that begins soon after the cameras go off.

That's where the Packers uncover diamond-in-the-rough prospects like Toledo's Jayrone Elliott, who registered five sacks in the preseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster last offseason.

Unlike other NFL teams, the Packers use a good deal of their 30 official pre-draft visits to learn a little more about off-the-radar players who might not have received an invite to the NFL scouting combine in February.

It's not a guarantee those players will ever dress for the Packers, but it's possible they'll acquire a few. A year ago, the Packers didn't draft any of their pre-draft visits and only signed two afterwards: South Carolina State inside linebacker Joe Thomas and Washington State offensive lineman John Fullington.

They had quite the class the year before, however. In 2013, they used three of their last fourth draft choices on prior visits: Illinois state linebacker Nate Palmer (sixth round), Maryland receiver Kevin Dorsey (seventh) and Grand Valley State receiver Charles Johnson (seventh).

Oklahoma State guard Lane Taylor also received a $7,000 signing bonus to sign with the Packers as an undrafted free agent. He's stayed on the active roster in each of the past two seasons. Another visit, cornerback Jumal Rolle, first signed with Buffalo but eventually returned to Green Bay on the practice squad.

With 26 roster spots to fill before the start of organized team activities, here's a brief synopsis of the NFL prospects the Packers have scheduled for a pre-draft visit or already hosted, which have either been reported by Press-Gazette Media or sourced to another outlet.

A few names could become late-round picks or priority free agents. Others you might never hear about again:

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

The Packers seem to like bringing in at least one quarterback with a mid-round grade leading up to the NFL draft. Last year, they hosted Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, who was a favorite of many draft pundits. Green Bay had five chances to nab him before Houston finally selected him in the fourth round (135th overall). Maybe Petty's visit is just smoke and mirrors? Aaron Rodgers is 31 years old and coming off his second MVP award. The quest to find his heir apparent might not even be necessary until after Thompson hangs it up. Still, the Packers want to get back into the business of developing a young quarterback. Outside of 2012 seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman, all of the Packers' backup and practice-squad quarterbacks have been at least three-year veterans (Matt Flynn, Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien). At 6-3, 230 pounds, Petty has prototypical size with a lot of arm talent. In Art Briles' up-tempo offense, he threw for more than 8,000 yards in his two years as a starter with 61 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He played exclusively in the shotgun and some scouts believe he locks onto his first read too often. NFL Draft Scout's Dane Brugler compared his makeup to Brandon Weeden. Packers coach Mike McCarthy tried unsuccessfully to develop Graham Harrell out of Mike Leach's air-raid scheme, though Harrell lacked Petty's arm strength.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Third round.

QB Ryan Williams, Miami (Fla.)

According to multiple Miami-based reports, the Packers visited last week with the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Williams, who was battling for Miami's starting quarterback job before tearing his knee up last April. Williams made it back for the season, but Brad Kaayaa already was solidified in the job. Williams played sparingly for the Hurricanes after transferring from Memphis in 2011, attempting only 52 passes in three years. Williams recorded the bulk of his college statistics with the Tigers, throwing for 2,075 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during his freshman year in 2010. He gained some attention when he threw for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Medal of Honor Bowl in January. He was voted the National team's MVP in the 26-14 win. He ran a 4.97-second time in his 40-yard dash at the Miami Pro Day with a 30 1/2-inch vertical jump and 9-0 broad jump.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

FB Aaron Ripkowski, Oklahoma

The Packers re-signed John Kuhn to a one-year contract last week, but made very little commitment to him with only $50,000 in bonuses on top of a veteran-minimum salary. With Kuhn turning 33 in September, the Packers soon will need to decide what the future holds for the fullback position in Green Bay. Ripkowski (6-1, 238) is viewed by most scouts as one of the top at his position in this year's draft class. The Packers were interested enough to bring him in for a visit last week. He ran a 4.70-second time in the 40 at his Oklahoma Pro Day. Ripkowski played in all 26 games over the last two seasons with 16 starts. He had six carries for 13 yards and scored four touchdowns as a senior. Ripkowski also earned the team's Don Key Award, an honor given to Sooners who exemplify on- and off-field dedication.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Seventh round.

WR R.J. Harris, New Hampshire

The 6-foot, 201-pound receiver caught 310 passes for 4,328 yards and 36 touchdowns in four years, including three consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns. Harris led the Football Championship Subdivision last season with 1,551 receiving yards. His 100 receptions and 15 touchdowns ranked second and third in FCS, respectively. Harris registered a 4.52-second time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day last month with 18 bench reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. Click here to learn a little more about Harris.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

WR Ricky Collins, Texas A&M Commerce

Collins (6-0, 198) dominated at the NCAA Division II level last season, catching 71 passes for 1,187 yards and 14 touchdowns. A native of Tyler, Texas, Collins has piqued the interest of many NFL teams because he's still a relative unknown. Collins spent his first two years at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College before transferring to Midwestern State in 2012 where he caught seven passes for 98 yards in five games. He sat out the entire 2013 season after transferring to Texas A&M Commerce, which is also a member of the Lone Star Conference. Click here to learn more about Collins.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

WR Jordan Leslie, BYU

Leslie (6-2, 215 pounds) had 55 catches for 779 yards and six touchdowns during his lone season with the Cougars. Before transferring to BYU, he had three productive seasons at UTEP where he caught 125 passes for 2,015 yards and 15 touchdowns. Leslie said he decided to transfer to BYU based on changes made to the offense after Sean Kugler replaced Mike Price. He was able to play right away for the Cougars after graduating with his degree in electrical engineering last spring. He ran a 4.44 in the 40 at his pro day with a 36-inch vertical jump and 10-10 broad jump.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Seventh round/Free agent.

WR Adrian Coxson, Stony Brook

In addition to Harris, the Packers took a look at another Colonial Athletic Association receiver in the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Coxson, according to Packer Report. The Baltimore native started his college career at Florida, but transferred to Maryland to be closer to his father. He played sparingly after Randy Edsall took over in 2011 and transferred again to Stony Brook in 2012. A two-year starter, he caught 84 passes for 1,335 yards and 10 touchdowns in three seasons. He ran a 4.47 in the 40 at his Pro Day earlier this month with a 32-inch vertical, 9-3 broad jump and 15 bench reps.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free Agent.

TE Jesse James, Penn State

The's Tony Pauline included the Packers among a handful of teams that have either a visit or private workout scheduled with James, the monstrous 6-foot-7, 261-pound tight end out of Penn State. The Packers, who are in the market for a dynamic athlete at the position, got a chance to see James at the combine where he ran a 4.83 time in the 40 with 26 bench reps, 37½ inch vertical and 10-1 broad jump. He ran a better 4.69 at his Penn State Pro Day. A junior entry, his stats weren't gaudy with the Nittnany Lions. James had 78 catches for 1,005 yards in three seasons and owns the school record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 11. He has speed to threaten the seam, but also disappeared at times. If the Packers stick with defense in early rounds, James might be worth a look in the middle rounds. Like Maryland cornerback Darryl Roberts and Houston defensive lineman Joey Mbu, it's uncertain if the Packers are using a pre-draft visit on James or simply working him out.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Third or fourth round.

TE Matt LaCosse, Illinois

LaCosse recently told the Chicago Sun-Times that the Packers were on his list for pre-draft visits. He committed to the Illini when Packers special-teams coach Ron Zook was still running the show in Champaigne. At 6-foot-6, 257 pounds, LaCosse possesses game-changing size, but his skill set has limitations. LaCosse enjoyed his best season as a junior when he caught 20 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. Injuries on the offensive line required him to stay home more often. He also went through a slew of different offenses. He raised some eyebrows with his 40 time at his Illini Pro Day last month when he ran a 4.64. He also posted a 30-inch vertical, 9-8 broad jump and 20 bench reps at his pro day last month.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

OT Blaine Clausell, Mississippi State

The Packers didn't strike gold with first-round pick Derek Sherrod in 2011, but maybe they'll have better luck with his successor at Mississippi State? Clausell doesn't come with Sherrod's credentials, but he was a productive player. He played in 49 games with 38 starts at left tackle and was selected to the Senior Bowl. Clausell started his last three years for the Bulldogs, missing one game due to injury. He's a massive individual at 6-foot-6, 329 pounds. Clausell ran a 5.22 time in the 40 with 23 bench reps, a 27-inch vertical and 8-1 broad jump.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

DT Darius Kilgo, Maryland

The Packers recently visited with the 6-foot-2, 313-pound defensive lineman, according to the Baltimore Sun. Kilgo started three seasons at nose tackle in the Terrapins' 3-4 defense. He was productive, too. Kilgo had 31 tackles (eight for a loss) with two sacks and four fumble recoveries last seasons. He had 37 tackles and 2 ½ sacks as a junior and 40 tackles during his sophomore season. He ran a 5.17 time in the 40 at his pro day with 33 bench reps at 225 pounds. He has experience playing inside and outside, but seen as a one-gap nose tackle in the NFL. Kilgo certainly fits the bill physically, but can get too upright and relies on his natural ability too often to disengage blocks. That could be problematic at the next level.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

DL Rodney Gunter, Delaware State

The Packers recently visited with the 6-foot-4, 298-pound lineman, according to Draft Diamonds. Gunter was lightly recruited after only playing one year of high-school football, but wound up with 18 sacks in four years at Delaware State, a FCS school in Dover. He enjoyed his best season as a senior with 57 tackles and seven sacks. Gunter ran a 5.00 time in the 40 with 20 bench reps, 27-inch vertical leap and 9-7 broad jump at his pro day.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

Clemson's Tony Steward (7) during warm ups before an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Clemson, S.C., Saturday Sept. 27, 2014. Clemson won 50-35. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

LB Tony Steward, Clemson

The Packers hosted Steward earlier this month on a visit, according to Packer Report. Despite being hampered by a series of injuries, the 6-foot-1, 241-pound linebacker was one of Clemson's top defenders last season with 73 tackles (10 for a loss), 3½ sacks and 13 pressures in 12 starts. He played 771 snaps over 43 collegiate games, but all 12 of his starts came as a senior. He won the high school version of the Dick Butkus Award in 2010 for nation's best linebacker, but blew out both of his knees in the span of a year – his left during his senior year of high school and his right during his true freshman year with the Tigers. He ran a 4.64 time in the 40 at his Clemson Pro Day last month with 29 bench reps, 34 1/2-inch vertical and 9-7 broad jump. A weak-side linebacker at Clemson, he'd likely play inside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 defense.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Free agent.

CB Tray Walker, Texas Southern

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound cornerback has received a lot of attention during the draft process, though that's not a surprise given the NFL's recent interest in lengthy defensive backs. The Miami native had 41 tackles with three interceptions during his senior year at Texas Southern. He played a lot of press coverage and showed good ball skills during his collegiate career. Walker won't blow you away with his speed if he gets caught behind a receiver, but possesses the raw tools that will get him a look. The Packers and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt have a pretty good track record for getting the most out of those type of prospects. He ran a 4.54 time in the 40 at his Pro Day with 32 1/2-inch vertical and 10-2 broad jump.

NFL Draft Scout projection: Seventh round/Free agent.

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