Ranking the Packers (No. 64): WR Darrius Shepherd

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.

No. 64: WR Darrius Shepherd (5-11, 186, second year, North Dakota State)

Shepherd was one of the great stories of last year’s training camp. Shepherd wasn’t just undrafted, he was unsigned after the draft. He was invited to the Packers’ rookie camp as one of numerous tryout players and was the only one to get a contract. With a feel for the game and uncommon intelligence – former quarterback DeShone Kizer said Shepherd was the first player to learn coach Matt LaFleur’s offense – he showed up day after day at training camp to win a spot on the roster. What did everyone miss?

“It’s tough to say,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said last year. “He had a pretty productive year at a pretty good program but a smaller program. Obviously, he’s not the biggest player out there. His measurements are typically not what you’re looking for – didn’t run particularly fast at his pro day – but he’s a football player. He has that instinctual ability to find spots, get open and catch the ball.”

Added backup quarterback Tim Boyle: “I think the four of us (quarterbacks) knew in the spring he was going to be a talented guy. It was just a matter of kind of getting him some reps, getting his feet wet. But he’s just a smart instinctive player. He doesn’t make many mistakes. He has sure hands. When Shep’s out there, you know what he’s going to do. He’s going to do it right.”

Shepherd faded into the background once the calendar flipped from August to September. He saw action in six games, playing 53 snaps on offense but not catching the lone pass thrown his way. He was the returner almost by default. He averaged just 16.3 yards per kickoff return. He was worse on punt returns. Of his 13 opportunities on punts, he had 11 fair catches and two returns for minus-9 yards and one fumble. Shepherd was released at midseason and spent the second half of the year on the practice squad.

Why he’s got a chance: Shepherd clearly earned a roster spot last summer. Ultimately, he wasn’t ready for prime time. Still, with a strong summer last year, a feel for life in the slot and critical experience, he should be in the thick of the battle again.