By Mark Daniels
Fans want flash, coaches want muscle.
The Packers addressed offensive line depth in a big way with the 44th overall selection tonight, taking Mississippi State center Elgton Jenkins.
The 6-4, 310 pound Jenkins (pronounced Elton), has experience all across the line of scrimmage, starting 26 games at center for the Bulldogs in his career. He’s also started five games at left tackle, two at left guard and one at left tackle. He’s been the starting center for the past two seasons and was considered one of the top-ranked snappers in the draft.
In his redshirt senior season last year, Jenkins played 773 total snaps, 369 in pass protection and didn’t allow a single quarterback hit from his position. He played sack free through the first nine games and committed only one penalty. Don’t forget, that’s playing in the Southeast Conference which produced most of the top flight front seven players selected in round one like Quinnen Williams of Alabama and Josh Allen of Kentucky.
Jenkins wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and redshirted his freshman year in Starkville but slowly worked himself into the starting lineup and eventually became the mainstay of one of the better lines in college football. By his junior season, Mississippi State ranked 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game while allowing the fewest sacks (13) in the SEC.
Last year, his offensive coordinator was Luke Getsy, the former Packers receivers coach who is returning to Matt LaFleur’s staff as quarterbacks coach this season.
Southeast scout Charles Walls says Jenkins will start as a guard but his power and athleticism should translate to any position across the front and he should provide excellent competition across the board if not compete for the starting right guard position his rookie year.
The Packers are moving toward the zone blocking scheme for the run game this year under LaFleur, something Jenkins says he’s familiar with having blocked in that system with the Bulldogs.
It’s not a flashy pick but building depth on both lines of scrimmage should help the entire team.
It was a banner year for tight ends in the NFL draft and the Packers won’t go away empty handed.
With the 75th overall pick in the third round, General Manager Brian Gutekunst selected Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M. He wasn’t the household names from Iowa like first rounders T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant but Gutekunst says Sternberger stacks up very well with the next tier of tight ends entering the league.
Sternberger is just under 6-5 and weighed in at 251 pounds at the combine in February. He caught 48 passes with 10 touchdowns and averaged over 17 yards a catch for the Aggies in his junior season. That brought his college career totals to 49 receptions.
Originally enrolling at Kansas and dealing a third offensive coordinator in three years that he felt didn’t match his talents, Sternberger started moving around, eventually attending three schools in four years. He went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M hoping the junior college route would get him re-recruited. That’s when coach Jimbo Fischer caught wind of him and invited to Texas A&M.
Given the starting job, Sternberger flourished and caught the eyes of Packer scouts.
Co-Director of Player Personnel Jon Eric-Sullivan admits Jace is a bit of a one year wonder but he has the skill set that should mesh well with Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense and he’ll bring young blood to the tight end room and learn behind veterans Jimmy Graham and Mercedes Lewis.
Sternberger admits he’s got a long ways to go with blocking requirements but can’t wait to get started.
The Packers met with Jace at the combine and brought him back for a second interview earlier this month. That convinced them he’s a willing and able player that will give Aaron Rodgers another young target.
Mark Daniels reporting from Lambeau Field