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Worthy Still Thinking

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
August 19, 2012


Last April, Ted Thompson traded up into the mid-second round to draft a defensive lineman. There were three highly rated players at that position, none of whom had been chosen by the midway point in the second round. Each of these players was projected by many to be late first round picks, and the fact that all three of them were still available at this point had the Packers on high alert in their war room.

The first domino to fall was Kendall Reyes, who was chosen by the Chargers with the 49th pick. At that point, the Packers knew they were going to have to be aggressive if they wanted one of the remaining two players. Thompson traded up to the 51st pick, and chose Jerel Worthy. Devon Still, the third of the three highly rated linemen, was quickly snatched up two spots later by the Bengals.

"You had Reyes, Still and Worthy lumped together, and soon as the first one went you knew the other ones were going to go," said Mike Trgovac, the defensive line coach. "Obviously Ted made a trade, so he wanted to make sure that he got one of those."

We will never know if Thompson had Reyes rated more highly than Worthy or Still. We do know, however, that the Packers had the opportunity to draft either Jerel Worthy or Devon Still, and they chose Worthy. This week may prove interesting, as the Packers will play the Bengals and get their first chance to see the player they passed up.

In some respects, it could be considered a surprise that the Packers went with Worthy over Still. At 6'5", Still has the long frame normally associated with a 3-4 defensive end and seemed like he may be a better fit for the Packers scheme. But ultimately the Packers were enamored with Worthy's explosiveness, despite the fact that many felt he was more ideally suited for a 4-3 front.

“It was very close between those two,” Trgovac said of Worthy and Still. “We just thought at the end that Jerel had a little bit more wiggle and get-off than Still. That one was debated very long and hard. That wasn’t a slam dunk. We liked both of those kids.”

While Worthy has showed explosion at times this summer, he appears to still have some growing pains ahead of him. As Bob McGinn noted, Worthy has played 49 snaps during the first two preseason games, mostly against starters, and hasn't had a single pressure. McGinn asked the opinion of one of his sources in the scouting community about Worthy's performance so far.

"He's rushing too much down the middle," the scout said. "He has to get to an edge. He gets two or three steps and shuts down. Right now he's an average pass rusher. At best."

Devon Still, on the other hand, has made a strong impression in Bengals camp. According to CBS Sports, he has been pushing offensive linemen into the backfield regularly, and has looked impressive in both preseason games to date. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has said that the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has been everything they expected and more.

Being a rookie defensive lineman is not an easy task, and historically it often takes a while for players at that position to make an impact. The offensive linemen they face are so much better than in college, and there are elements of handfighting and leverage that take time for many young players to master. Worthy may have been a little less polished than Still coming out of college, but also may have a higher upside if he can reach his potential. Worthy chose to declare for the draft a year early and still has plenty of room to grow, as evidenced by his penchant for jumping offsides. It may draw the ire of Mike McCarthy, but Worthy's multiple offsides penalties throughout camp should come as no surprise to his position coach. He even commented about that back on draft day.

"Sometimes he gets offsides," said Trgovac. "I realize that and we’ll work on that. But some coaches say if you’re not offsides a couple times, you’re not getting off the ball quick enough."

Having just turned 22 years old the day after he was drafted, Worthy may also need more time just to learn how to be a professional.

"He's a young kid and, naturally, he'll mature when he gets around mature men," said former Packers scout Shaun Herock, who joined Reggie McKenzie in Oakland shortly after the draft. "I'm not going to say he's immature or anything like that...all his teammates like him, and he's just got an upbeat sense about him."

Worthy may have elicited the most excitement from Packers fans after the draft, but he may also have suffered from unrealistic expectations. There were many comments about how he could be the much-needed replacement for Cullen Jenkins, and many of those who watched his impressive YouTube highlights (that show only the best plays) can lose sight of the fact that those eye-catching moments are often against far inferior opponents. As Bob McGinn even noted in his aforementioned article, you never know at what rate rookies will develop. Worthy may catch on soon and become a difference maker by mid-season, and his slow start in the preseason games would be long forgotten.

As the Packers go up against the Bengals this week, it will be interesting to keep an eye on both Worthy and the other man the Packers could have drafted, Devon Still. It goes without saying that it is only right to wait to compare the two players until after their second or third seasons, and we can often learn little from preseason games anyway. But with a team like the Packers that could be on the cusp of another championship season if only a couple of their rookie defensive players contribute right away, it will be hard not to notice if Still develops more quickly and has a better rookie season than Worthy.

Whether it is fair or not, the two players will always be linked. Ted Thompson has had mixed results when it comes to drafting defensive linemen, and there is no doubt he hopes Worthy will turn out more like B.J. Raji than Justin Harrell. If Still turns out to be markedly better than Worthy in the long run, Thompson's choice will be remembered for a long time.


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