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In the land of tall Packers receivers, Darrius Shepherd makes a case for a spot in the slot

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The undrafted wide receiver is in the thick of a roster battle, but he differs from the Packers’ recent run on size-speed weapons.

NFL: AUG 15 Preseason - Packers at Ravens Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From Julian Edelman to Tyreek Hill, slot wide receivers have played a large role in changing the offensive strategies of today’s NFL. For the Green Bay Packers, Randall Cobb filled that role adequately when healthy over the past few seasons. But as Green Bay continues to wait for a slot receiver to emerge in 2019, there could be a developmental prospect firmly entering the roster bubble.

That would be Darrius Shepherd, an undrafted rookie from North Dakota State who has made his share of splash plays in training camp while hauling in a pair of touchdown passes through the first two exhibition games. Shepherd is a natural fit for the slot position in Green Bay and arguably is already the second-team option behind Geronimo Allison. Outside of his recorded 40-yard dash time at his pro day, which came in at 4.57 seconds, Shepherd actually posted similar measurables to his predecessor Cobb in vertical jump (Shepherd 35.5” to Cobb’s 33.5”), cone drill (7.13 to 7.08), and bench press (14 reps to 16).

Also like Cobb, Shepherd is just under six feet tall at 5-foot-11. That is unique to the 2019 Packers’ receiving corps, as he is the lone wideout of 11 on the current roster that meets that criteria. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Packers selected three wide receivers between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5, while adding taller options such as Jake Kumerow (6-foot-4) and Allen Lazard (6-foot-5) via free agency. Green Bay has shown a commitment to improving the size-speed combination of its pass catchers under second-year General Manager Brian Gutekunst. But perhaps Shepherd gives the team an alternative skillset without the same height and length of his counterparts.

While a “true” slot receiver may not be a necessity for Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense given the players that have filled that role with former teams, as APC detailed in April, Shepherd gains the separation required for the position. It started early in camp when the former Bison beat top corner Jaire Alexander and then Will Redmond for touchdowns in consecutive plays. And particularly impressive was Shepherd’s recent touchdown catch in which he improvised on a broken play. The action was Cobb-esque and the type of reaction that Aaron Rodgers values in his receivers.

Quickness has been an advantage for Shepherd, who has earned positive reviews from Rodgers and defensive players alike. It also does not hurt to show the toughness to work the middle of the field from the slot, as Shepherd did when he caught his first touchdown pass against Houston. And he still has the ability to line up outside if needed, not varying too much from the versatility the Packers require.

With Shepherd adding special teams assistance and outperforming former draft picks J’Mon Moore and Trevor Davis, slowed by drops and injuries respectively, he stands a good shot at making the Packers’ final squad. And while Green Bay surely will use larger options like Allison and tight ends Jimmy Graham, Robert Tonyan, and Jace Sternberger from the slot in certain packages, a player like Shepherd might be a strong stash-and-develop option to consider going forward.