It was a formula that paid dividends for the Green Bay Packers the last time around so GM Ted Thompson figured it was worth trying again.
In his first draft as head of the Packers football operations in 2005, Thompson selected a player from a small school who in time had a big impact on the organization. In the second round of the 2005 draft, Thompson selected safety Nick Collins from small Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. At the time, it was viewed as a reach taking a player from such a small school so early in the draft. Many wondered what the then-rookie general manager was doing.
The “reach” paid off big time as Collins became the best safety the Packers have had since the retirement of Leroy Butler (no offense to Darren Sharper). Collins will forever immortalized in Packers lore for his highlight reel pick-six of Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLV and the celebration following that was the cover image for the Green Bay Press Gazette following the Packers’ victory.
Fast forward to this past spring. Thompson again found himself in need of safety, ironically because Collins suffered a likely career-ending neck injury in Week 2 last season. Thompson found a diamond In the rough in Collins, so Thompson may have thought he could do it again.
Enter Jerron McMillian, the Packers’ fourth round pick in the 2012 draft. Like Collins, McMillian hails from a small college—Maine. Perhaps a state university isn’t necessarily “small” but since it’s Maine I doubt many people will consider his university a powerhouse.
The tale of the tape on McMillian from video and the scouting combine is that he’s a very physical player, a shutdown safety if there ever was one. He plays the run well, but struggles with the pass. McMillian rarely misses a tackle (music to Packer fans’ ears after the debacle of the 2011 unit) and is an effective blitzer.
Sound familiar? While he may not be Pro Bowl-ready right out of the gate for the Packers, McMillian’s speed and physical play will fit in well on a Dom Capers-coached unit that prides itself on being aggressive and forcing turnovers. He may not beat out Charlie Peprah or M.D. Jennings in training camp but Capers and his staff can take McMillian’s current skillset and mold him into a decent safety that can push Peprah or Jennings should either of them struggle.