Filling Needs by Looking for Diamonds in Small Places

Packer Players from Division II and Division III CollegesTed Thompson is not afraid to scan the Division II and III ranks in search of hidden talent he can add to the Packers. And, he’s found some decent gems that made their names in a Division II or III school.

Some of these are names we’ve come to know well. They started in smaller colleges and found a home with the Packers. Names like Erik Walden, James Starks, Jamari Lattimore, and the fan-favorite John Kuhn are all from Division II or Division III schools.

So, I started to wonder what Division II and III players have been making a name for themselves. Here are some of the players that might be on Ted’s radar this year.

Thompson generally has a pretty simple strategy in the draft. Pick the best player on the board at the moment of the Packers’ next selection regardless of the Packers’ need. Only when he has two players of equal value does he consider what the Packers’ current needs are.

However, in later rounds and in the undrafted free agent market, he seems to be more interested in filling the needs the team has. That’s where these small school stand outs might hit Ted’s radar.

I think our primary need this coming season is at the core of both teams, the offensive and defensive line. And there are some interesting players that have made the division II All America team.

Offensive Linemen

Manase Foketi

Foketi is a big body and has good balance as indicated by the following clip…

The problem with Foketi is that he might not be what Thompson would consider “Packer People.” He started his career at Mt San Antonio College where he played his first couple of seasons, then he moved to Kansas State. That’s not a surprising move as K State would definitely give him more exposure to NFL scouts. However, he left Kansas State on bad terms and finished his career at West Texas A&M. I don’t know the details of that departure, but it makes me wonder.

The other question mark with Foketi is that he’s struggled with injury, particularly with an achilles injury.

Many players with both injury problems and character problems have been given a second chance and have been productive in the NFL. It’s just a matter of whether Thompson wants to take the chance with Foketi.

Garrett Gilkey

One of the biggest benefits Garrett has going for him is the fact that he has played both guard and tackle in college. We all know how much McCarthy loves the versatility of being able to move linemen around (and sometimes, with injuries, that becomes a necessity).

Garrett tends to play a little too straight up and down at times (pad level, pad level) but he buries most of his targets as you can see from the clips below…

Garth Heikkinen

Heikkenin played for Minnesota Duluth and won the Gene Upshaw award for lineman of the year in Division II. He was a four time NSIC honoree. He’s also pretty alert on the field. Alert enough to catch a deflected pass and advance it for a first down to keep a drive alive. Check it out…

Mark Jackson

Mark, again, is standing far too tall but he’s a strong player. He probably plays too tall because no opponent has been strong enough to force him to play lower. That’s a habit that can be fixed and might cause Thompson to give Jackson a look.

Here’s some film of Mark in action…

Ryan Schraeder

At 305 lbs, Ryan is a bit light for the NFL and he even gets pushed around by some smaller players in the clips below. However, he’s a workhorse that doesn’t quit until the whistle tells him to quit. He’s gets downfield frequently and continues knocking bodies around.

There’s no embed code for this so you’ll just have to click the link and watch…

Ryan Schrader highlights

Defensive Linemen

Let’s flip to the defensive side of the line now and talk about the small school All America players Ted might have his eye on.

Brandon Willims

Brandon sheds blocks and moves laterally fairly well against the run, but has trouble getting to the QB against the pass. He’s a three time All America.

Ridge Wilson

Again the question of “Packer People” comes up with Ridge Wilson. The guy is versatile having played DE at West Alabama and LB at Kentucky. The problem is he was suspended at Kentucky on a drug charge. Would Thompson think he’s worth the risk?

DJ Chappell

I’ve really had fun watching DJ’s highlights (check the link below). He doesn’t have tremendous speed but he pursues well on run plays and gets pressure on the QB in passing situations. When he isn’t able to get direct pressure on the passer, he shows ability to elevate and swat passes.

In some of these clips, DJ is moved inside. At 285 lbs, McCarthy wouldn’t be using him in that capacity. He would be converted to a OLB which would work fine because DJ appears to be a better edge rusher anyway.

DJ Chappell highlights


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