Formally adding size, speed and explosion to their passing game, the Green Bay Packers today signed their first round draft choice - wide receiver Javon Walker of Florida State - to a multiyear contract on the eve of training camp, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced Tuesday.
Walker, an imposing 6-3 and 215 pounds and the possessor of burning 4.32 speed in the '40, is a key element in Sherman's bid to upgrade the aerial attack, as demonstrated when he traded up with Seattle in the draft to select Walker, dealing the Packers' first- and second-rounder to the Seahawks for the 20th pick overall and Seattle's fifth-round choice (156th overall).
The 23-year-old Lafayette, La., native is being counted upon to join the multi-talented Terry Glenn, acquired in an offseason trade with New England, and highly-regarded second-year wideout Robert Ferguson in stretching opposing defenses with considerably more frequency than was the Green and Gold's experience in 2001.
"He's a prototype receiver in this offense (West Coast)," Sherman says of Walker. 'He's 6-foot-2-plus. He is massive across the top. And he has tremendous leaping ability. He's a guy that we targeted and we got him."
Sherman also announced the signing of the Packers' sixth-round draft selection, offensive guard Mike Houghton of UCLA. Both Walker and Houghton will be joining fellow Packers rookies and first-year players as the team officially opens its 2002 training camp Wednesday, Tuesday having been a travel day for the newcomers.
Walker, hobbled by an ankle injury as a junior, blossomed as a legitimate deep threat last season, imperiling the school single-season record (21.7) with a 21.0-yard average per reception, snaring a team-leading 45 passes for 944 yards. His average of 85.8 yards per
game receiving ranked second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and he gained over 100 yards in five games along the way, including a 162-yard effort against Clemson.
Walker subsequently closed out his career in explosive fashion, pulling in 4 passes for 195 yards and touchdowns of 77 and 23 yards against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl to capture game 'Most Valuable Player' honors. His 195 yards broke FSU's bowl-game record of 192 by Fred Biletnikoff, set against Oklahoma in the 1965 Gator Bowl.
Hampered by the ankle problem, Walker had to be content with 20 receptions for 313 yards (15.6 avg.) and three touchdowns as a junior, following his transfer to FSU from Jones County (Miss.) Junior College.
The first receiver selected by Green Bay in the first round since Sterling Sharpe was drafted with the seventh overall pick in 1988, Walker at one point was intent upon carving out a career in major league baseball. Selected out of high school in the eighth round of the Major League baseball draft, he played three seasons of professional baseball (one full season in 1997 and two summer seasons in 1998-99) in the Florida Marlins' farm system before giving up on the idea.
It was, however, a maturing experience for the ex-Seminole, Sherman noted, observing, "This is not a 22-year-old kid coming out of college. He has a lot more maturity. He's been on the bus, going on minor league baseball trips around the country. He knows what the big game is all about, what it takes to be a champion, to be a professional. The fact that he's already been in professional sports has given him a little head up as far as coming into this league."
Houghton, 6-5 and 313 pounds, is a versatile athlete who has played all five positions in the offensive line. In training camp, however, he will be asked to narrow his focus somewhat initially and compete for a utility position on the left side of the line, working at both tackle and guard.
"He is without question the most versatile of all the guys I saw this year," offensive line coach Larry Beightol says of Houghton, "and we evaluated some 39 players."
The 22-year-old San Diegan not only played all five positions in the offensive line as a collegian but started at each during the course of his San Diego State career, making 31 starts over his last three years.
With the signings of Walker and Houghton, only two of the Packers' 2002 draft choices remain unsigned - running back Najeh Davenport of Miami (fourth round) and defensive end Aaron Kampman of Iowa (fifth round).
In another Tuesday transaction, the Packers placed tight end Rufus French on waivers, Sherman announced.