The Green Bay Packers probably aren’t looking for an interior defensive lineman early on in the 2022 NFL Draft. The team already has a stud nose tackle in Kenny Clark, a second-year backup in T.J. Slaton who showed some flashes as a rookie, and a steady veteran starter in Dean Lowry. But if the Packers are looking to bolster the line on days two or three of the 2022 NFL Draft, Stanford’s Thomas Booker IV might be a perfect candidate.
Booker’s sack numbers don’t jump off the page, but since he primarily played the 4-technique defensive end spot in Stanford’s 3-4 defense, that wasn’t really his role. Of his 9.5 career sacks, just two came in the last two years, with only one in 2021. Instead, Booker has been a tackle machine, recording 50 tackles in 12 games in 2019 and expanding that number to 59 in 2021. He credits much of that success to his quickness, an unusual quality for a 6-foot-3, 310-pound end.
“Slow feet don’t eat,” Booker said at the 2022 NFL Combine on Friday, quoting his father Tom. A former University of Wisconsin linebacker, the elder Booker is responsible for much of his son’s early development and work ethic as a football player. He is also known in the family for “Tom Booker-isms,” clever one-liners or quips that have stuck with his son over the years.
“One of the biggest quotes he’s given me is ‘keep your powder dry.’ For a while, I didn’t know what it meant, and he taught (it to) me when I was eight years old,” Booker reminisced. “It’s kind of just keeping that even keel, that even composure, not getting too high, not getting too low so you can have consistent performance.”
Thomas also credited Tom for helping him navigate much of his college career, from recruiting to the preparation for the NFL Draft. “He’s gone through so much of this process before. It’s so nice to have that right in the house.”
The two Bookers both play(ed) defense, but Thomas is much bigger than his father was, and is therefore a natural fit as a 3-4 end. He said he has played all over that front, from his natural 4-technique position to 3-technique and 2i in the Cardinal’s nickel package. For a team like the Packers, who place a high value on positional versatility, that experience may make Booker stand out.
Also impressive is Booker’s contributions on special teams. He blocked multiple kicks for Stanford, with the biggest sealing a victory in one of college football’s most bitter rivalries. In one of the the final games of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Stanford faced the University of California, who scored a touchdown to cut Stanford’s lead to 24-23. But on the extra point attempt, Booker (#34) split through the line and blocked the kick, effectively clinching Stanford’s win:
While Booker’s impact on the field has been substantial at Stanford, he is an even more impressive student and individual off of it. He chose to return to college for the 2021 season rather than leave early for the NFL, and doing so allowed him to finish an economics degree in 3.5 years. He also was a finalist for the 2021 William Campbell Trophy, given to the top scholar-athlete in college football.
The Booker family’s focus on academics is evident, as both Thomas’ mother and one of his sisters are attorneys. I asked him if he had any plans to go to law school after his football career is over, but he just laughed.
“My mom is extremely happy to hear you ask that question,” he said. “She lobbies for it every day. I think I talked to her yesterday, she was talking about it. I think I’d probably be more of a business guy, but once the NFL, once that’s over for me, we’ll figure that out.”
For now, of course, Booker’s focus is squarely on football. He expects to perform well in drills and testing on Saturday in Indianapolis and should hear his name called sometime on draft weekend. 3-4 teams like the Packers are a perfect fit given his experience in odd fronts, and with Green Bay surprisingly parting ways with Kingsley Keke in January, they have a need for additional depth up front.
That might just make Booker a perfect fit.