Arguably the most impressive play in the Packers’ 28-26 victory over the Texans last week came from Darrius Shepherd (above), who reeled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from No. 2 quarterback DeShone Kizer with an acrobatic, body-contorting catch after Kizer’s throw sailed high. He not only made the grab, but he absorbed a hard hit by Houston cornerback Johnson Bademosi in the head and left shoulder and held on.
In preseason, that’s what it’s all about: Making plays that earn you more opportunities to make more plays. And that’s precisely what the undersized 5-foot-11, 186-pound Shepherd, an undrafted rookie from North Dakota State, has done.
“He’s done a nice job,” Gutekunst said. “He had a pretty productive year at a pretty good program — but a smaller program — (in NDSU). Obviously, he’s not the biggest player out there. His measurements aren’t typically 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.
“He’s really been a nice surprise for us so far. Again, a long way to go but he’s earned more opportunities.”
Shepherd knows all about earning his keep. While the Packers signed a host of undrafted rookies right after the draft, Shepherd had to come to their post-draft rookie minicamp as a tryout player and earn a spot on the 90-man roster with a strong showing during those two practices. Had he not gotten the scouting staff’s attention, who knows where he’d be.
“He certainly was one we were going to keep an eye on,” explained Gutekunst, whose scouts take a deep dive into the college film of every tryout player they invite before they arrive for the rookie camp — just to have an idea of which tryout guys have the best shot at earning the right to stay. “He had some productivity at North Dakota State. He’s versatile enough to be a receiver and play a slot receiver Matt wants to play with a little, but he was a pretty solid punt returner, too. He’s one of those more-you-can-do guys. They have a little more of advantage when it comes to that.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.