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Packers rookie cornerback Kalen King moving on from draft disappointment

Maybe there are good reasons seventh-rounder wound up in Green Bay

CB Kalen King
CB Kalen King

GREEN BAY – Kalen King went from possibly not being drafted at all to winding up in maybe the perfect place for him.

The seventh-round Penn State cornerback whom the Packers chose with their 11th and final draft selection – and the third-to-last pick in the entire draft at No. 255 overall – has come to Green Bay with something to prove, after an excruciatingly long and emotional wait for his phone to ring on draft weekend.

But all he has to do is look across the Packers' locker room at another seventh-round cornerback taken a year ago, Carrington Valentine, to see what can happen for a low-key rookie at his position who goes about his business the right way.

Valentine was the No. 232 overall pick in 2023 and the 10th of the Packers' 13 selections who was originally thought to be a depth piece, special-teamer and developmental corner. He quickly progressed, though, into a defensive starter and invaluable piece to Green Bay's secondary, as Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes dealt with injuries throughout the season and Rasul Douglas was traded on Oct. 31.

Valentine played in every game, starting 12 in the regular season and both playoff contests, and led the defense with nine passes defensed. He had his share of ups and downs, but about all that was missing from his impressive debut season was his first NFL interception, which seems just a matter of time as 2024 gets underway.

King mentioned during rookie minicamp he hadn't met Valentine yet but they've connected via text, and they've known about each other through a mutual friend.

"That just shows how the round you get picked up in doesn't matter," King said during the weekend minicamp. "It matters what you do when you get here. So that's what I'm focused on."

Which is important, because as much as he's emphasized how his draft status has put a "permanent chip" on his shoulder, the last thing the 5-11, 191-pound King needs to dwell on is how a guy in the All-America discussions after a standout 2022 season (three INTs, 18 additional PBUs) fell almost completely out of the draft after a nondescript 2023 (zero INTs, two PBUs) that still earned him second-team All-Big Ten honors.

Even he's not entirely sure, which is in part why draft weekend was so emotionally exhausting. But it's clean slate time now.

"I'm glad they took a chance on me and I'm happy to be here," King said of the Packers, going on to explain his plans to make the right impression on the coaching staff.

"I'm just approaching every day like a pro, taking coaching, asking as many questions as possible, learning from the veterans and when I get my opportunity, just maximizing it. Just being accountable and being dependable, really. That's it."

So far so good after rookie minicamp, as King took snaps at both boundary and nickel corner and new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley lauded his instincts and physical style.

Last week, Hafley also mentioned an overlooked corner prospect he'd worked with previously, K'Waun Williams, who went undrafted back in 2014 but made Cleveland's roster as a tryout player when Hafley was the DBs coach there. Williams, whom Hafley had helped recruit to Pitt and coached him his freshman year, ended up playing as many defensive snaps as Browns first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert during their rookie seasons.

Williams then played eight years in the league to Gilbert's three.

"It doesn't matter where you were drafted, it's what you're going to do now going forward," Hafley said of King. "He's got an opportunity now to do that. Eventually you're here. Get over the fact of where you were drafted and go make the most of what's ahead."

Just as Valentine did when his Packers career began. But there's even more serendipity involved than the seventh-round Valentine angle to King landing in Green Bay.

For one, through youth and high school football, King wore No. 2 because his favorite cornerback was Charles Woodson, who played seven years of his Hall of Fame career in Green Bay.

King calls it a "full-circle moment" to now be in the same locker room Woodson once led. But on top of that, Big Ten rival Jayden Reed, the Michigan State receiver who had a couple of high-profile college battles with King before the Packers drafted Reed in the second round last year, sort of predicted King's destination a couple months before the draft.

"I remember he had dropped a highlight video (on social media), and I commented on it, and then he said something about, 'We're going to get you, watch,' and I was like, 'Just tell them come get me,'" King said. "It's crazy how that all unfolded and happened. I feel like everything happens for a reason, though."

He'll have a good in-person laugh with Reed soon enough, but he's even more eager to connect with guys in the cornerback room like Valentine and Alexander, the latter a top film-study choice of King's in college, as he tried to incorporate helpful pieces of the two-time, second-team All-Pro's game into his own.

At 5-11, 191, King sees his physical stature, as well as his mental makeup, as similar to Alexander's.

"He's just like me," King said. "We're not the biggest corners, but we play much bigger than what we appear, and he's just got that killer mindset, tenacity. He just approaches everything like a dog, really. I like dogs, and he's a dog, so that's it."

Absorbing himself in his new surroundings as well as the playbook is a good forward-thinking way for King to put the frustrations of draft weekend in the rear-view mirror.

For three days, the broadcast was never shut off, and he admitted to stepping away from the TV a couple of times to regain his composure, presumably when he saw cornerbacks he never imagined would get drafted ahead of him were chosen.

The goal now is for that to become just a part of his story, not the one that defines him.

"The draft, that was the longest three days of my life, the most stressful three days of my life, the most emotional three days of my life," King said. "I'd been through every emotion throughout draft weekend.

"So now, I'm good. I know where I'm at. I know where I'm gonna be at. I'm level-headed now and I'm just ready to work."