Standing at 6'3" and 219 pounds, it doesn't seem likely that anyone could overlook Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis. The rookie turned heads at the NFL combine in April, where he was a top performer in both the bench press (20 reps) and the 3-cone drill (6.64 seconds), per NFL.com.
Yet by the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, Janis, projected by NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki as a Round 3 or Round 4 prospect, was still on the board.
Three weeks into the preseason, other teams' loss has proven to be the Green Bay Packers' gain.
Janis entered the draft coming off a 2013 season at Saginaw Valley State that saw him post 1,572 yards over 83 receptions and 14 scores. He averaged 18.9 yards per reception—the same amount as the NFL's leading receiver in 2013, Josh Gordon.
Janis' 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds was the fourth-best among wide receivers at the combine; his measurables are off the charts. So how did it come to pass that Janis was available at 236 overall for the Packers?
The mainly Division II competition Janis faced playing in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference very likely pushed him down some teams' draft boards, as scouts and general managers weren't sure he could match up against top NFL cornerbacks. And draft analysts, like Nawrocki, cautioned against Janis' small hands and pedestrian route-running.
After what he's shown in training camp and in preseason action for Green Bay, it seems the Packers remembered something other teams apparently did not: Route-running can be taught, but speed and athleticism are innate.
Those qualities are what the Packers have found in their seventh-round gem.
On Friday, prior to Green Bay's matchup versus the Oakland Raiders, ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky said that Janis was "a lock for the roster." Now that the secret is out about what he can do, as he showcased against the Rams in Week 2 of the preseason, there's no way the Packers could stash him on the practice squad:
After what Jeff Janis put on film in St. Louis, there's no way the Packers can cut him and hope to slide him through to the practice squad. He'd get snatched up on waivers in a heartbeat. The one thing you can't teach is speed, and the rookie seventh-round pick has it. He's a lock for the roster after that 34-yard touchdown catch and run against the Rams.
But Janis is making an impression on a group more important than the local beat writers—his teammates. Jordy Nelson, who wrote the book on the back-shoulder sideline catch, was impressed with Janis' similar playmaking ability.
"Janis obviously showed his speed tonight," Nelson said after the Packers' victory over the Rams, via Demovsky. "I was very impressed. He got up the sideline."
Listening to what Aaron Rodgers had to say about Janis' debut, you'd never know that draft analysts were troubled by Janis' route-running ability.
"He's athletic. He's fast," Rodgers said, per Demovsky. "He ran his route, caught a ball and outran everybody today. When you're playing against the first string, you have to run crisp routes and make the plays that are there, so plays like today help him out confidence-wise for sure."
The play that put Janis on the map came late in the third quarter against St. Louis. Out of the no-huddle, Matt Flynn connected with Janis, who took the catch-and-run 34 yards for the score.
The win over St. Louis was Janis' first preseason action, after coach Mike McCarthy held him out against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.
Janis missed the first seven practices of training camp with shingles. In competition for the fifth wide receiver spot behind Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and the rookie second-round pick Davante Adams, Janis had to stand out immediately to make up ground he may have lost to 2013 holdovers Chris Harper (who was cut on Sunday), Myles White, Kevin Dorsey and Alex Gillett.
He went to work immediately. On his first day back at practice on August 6, Janis brought in a one-handed touchdown catch over Sam Shields on a Scott Tolzien pass.
A week after he returned to practice, McCarthy said "he's made a play every day he's been out there," per Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
All the physical tools required to succeed at the NFL level are there for the rookie: size, tracking ability, big-play potential and acceleration. In a system that can tout its quarterback development under Ted Thompson—Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were all cultivated in-house—the more finesse skills will come for Janis in time.
Janis saw limited action against Oakland, as the third preseason game is when the first-string offense gets the most snaps—a "dress rehearsal" for the season opener. He did continue to get some punt return action, an area in which he can make a case as a non-starting receiver on the 53-man roster if he can prove his speed is an asset, while continuing to improve his hands.
Expect Janis to make a big impact in the final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, as he looks to lock down that fifth wide receiver spot.
If what he's shown to date is any indication, it may already be his.