For the Green Bay Packers and Jhurell Pressley, this past weekend had no shortage of thrills, spills and the usual series of roster cuts we see in the days leading up to opening week of the NFL’s regular season.
While the parting of ways between the Packers and Josh Sitton ranks as the most unexpected move of the weekend, it was another transaction that should have Cheeseheads brimming with excitement.
Ted Thompson wasn’t done tweaking the final 53 when he decided to sign undrafted rookie free agent Jhurell Pressley, who had previously spent the entire offseason trying to make the rival Minnesota Vikings.
While the five-foot-ten, 206-pound running back thought he had done enough to be worthy of a roster spot – including scoring two touchdowns in Thursday’s preseason win over the Rams – Vikings’ decision-makers reportedly informed the small-school revelation that they were looking to groom a bigger runner.
In a case of one’s man’s trash being another’s treasure, the Packers moved on from Brandon Burks to make room for his fellow rookie replacement.
Burks demonstrates the sobering effect of being rewarded with a roster spot one day only to be discarded like a withered old sock the next.
The diminutive scat back proved to be everything thing the Packers could have hoped for in the preseason by averaging a gaudy 4.68 yards per carry on his 19 rushing attempts, which included a spectacular 19-yard play in which he shook the entire 49ers front seven before hitting pay dirt.
Yet Burks found out the hard way that many running backs at the pro level are only as good as their last carry, as the undrafted Troy product produced an underwhelming 31 yards on 12 carries in his final preseason tilt versus Kansas City. Even more noteworthy was his fumble late in the third quarter.
That one play arguably did more to make Thompson and company reconsider sticking with Burks as their RB3 especially when you factor in the speedster’s ball-security issues in college.
Pressley, on the other hand, had no such issues handling the ball at the University of New Mexico, where he recorded only two fumbles in his 394 career carries.
And while Pressley was generally viewed as someone who couldn’t be counted on as a pass catcher going into last April’s draft with four drops and just 18 receptions on his ledger, Burks is far from being a natural hands catcher himself given his penchant for fighting balls thrown is his direction.
The Delaware native, however, showed signs of being an effective third-down weapon by catching five passes for 57 yards for the Vikings.
As a pure runner, Pressley combines 4.38 speed with the ability to make a quick cut and instantly accelerate outside the tackles as a perimeter threat. The former Lobo has the vision to be productive on inside runs as well.
What he doesn’t offer is the type of size or natural power to push the pile despite occasionally flashing a mighty stiff arm.
Another intriguing characteristic that made this shifty runner the object of Thompson’s desires is his prowess as a special-teams contributor both as a return man (see Pressley’s 106-yard kickoff return versus Los Angeles) and in coverage teams, as evidenced by the 24-year-old’s 15 tackles on punts and kickoffs as a collegian.
Prospects entering the pros are always told that the more they can do, the better their chances are of sticking around.
In Pressley’s case, his skill set and physical characteristics can open up a new set of options for Mike McCarthy, who may, for instance, decide to save receivers Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery from the wear and tear of returning kicks by utilizing his newest offensive weapon in that capacity.
There’s a reason why Pressley was projected by many as a fifth- or sixth-round pick entering the draft season. Similarly, one may argue that there’s also a reason why he went undrafted.
I’d like to think that playing in the off-the radar Mountain West Conference might have been a pivotal element in prompting NFL general managers to shy away from investing a draft pick on highly-productive running back who scored 36 total touchdowns and registered a 6.9 yards-per-carry average in his four years in Albuquerque.
Thompson’s 25th hour acquisition may wind up being much more than an ancillary end-of-the roster throw-in; he could develop into a true missing link.