GREEN BAY – For as much publicity as Darrius Shepherd drew a year ago, the former undrafted free agent was relatively unheralded during his second training camp with the Packers.
It wasn't for a lack of effort or production, though.
The 5-foot-11, 186-pound receiver continued to catch the ball at the same frequency he did during his improbable rise from a tryout player at Green Bay's rookie minicamp to becoming the only rookie free agent to make the Packers' initial 53 in 2019.
Shepherd's rigorous study habits didn't change, either. The guy who once mastered the Packers' playbook all the way down to the offensive line calls still was attached at the hip of three-time Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams throughout the summer.
"Damn near every time I come in the Hutson Center … I walk in and do the same thing, put my helmet down. And 'Shep' is picking Davante's brain about releases and certain things," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "That sticks with you. That impacts you. You're seeing just that desire to improve and get better. And then you see it on the field."
After starting the 2020 season on the practice squad, Shepherd was promoted to the active roster in time for last Sunday's 37-30 win over the New Orleans Saints, playing 23 snaps.
The second-year receiver could factor even more heavily into the Packers' offense moving forward with Adams dealing with a hamstring tweak that sidelined him against the Saints and Allen Lazard now on the mend with a core muscle injury.
Shepherd didn't receive a single contract offer as a college free agent despite winning four NCAA Division I FCS titles at North Dakota State and leaving as the school's second all-time leading receiver.
He led Green Bay with eight receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns in the 2019 preseason and was the featured kickoff and punt returner for the first two months of the regular season.
Shepherd encountered some adversity during that eight-game stretch, particularly against Detroit in Week 6 when he dropped a pass on the goal line that led to an interception and muffed a punt. He was released on Oct. 29, 2019, but signed to Green Bay's practice squad two days later.
Adams commends Shepherd for not allowing those rookie setbacks to "rattle" him and points to the young receiver's football IQ as an invaluable resource that's helped everyone in the receiver room, the three-time Pro Bowler included.
"I mean, he's blown me away more this year than he did last year, honestly," Adams said. "People kind of assumed he was whatever type of player just based off a couple plays that didn't go his way. The dude is so smart just naturally, and then what he does with it – his focus, the way he helps out other guys on the field – and this is only his second year in the league."
Like Adams, Rodgers lauded Shepherd this week for the attention to detail and the work ethic that's earned him a place back on the active 53.
Shepherd can't point to an exact moment when he began picking Adams' brain but feels those talks – and hours of studying Adams' film – have sharpened both his knowledge of the offense and his overall skills as a receiver.
"It's crazy, I can go back to college and I remember watching Davante Adams highlights and trying to figure out how he was killing these guys in the league," Shepherd said. "And then I got an opportunity to be in the room with him and I wasn't trying to bug him or anything crazy, but we kind of hit it off.
"Something about him just wanted to help me out and we've kind of just grown from there and became friends."
This has been an undeniably tough stretch for Green Bay's receiving corps, which lost Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) to injured reserve two weeks ago. The former sixth-round pick will be eligible to return to practice after the bye week.
Lazard's injury leaves Shepherd and first-year receiver Malik Taylor as the only other receivers currently on the active roster behind Adams and third-year veteran Marquez Valdes-Scantling, though running back Tyler Ervin also has been working in the receiver room this year.
Now back on the active roster and wearing No. 82, the number his father wore in college, Shepherd wants to step up and show how far he's come over the past 11 months.
"I think last year there was a lot of highs and lows with the season and a lot of growth that had to be done to get to this point," Shepherd said. "I always believed in myself but having to go through last year really kicked in, 'Hey, this is what I want to do,' and (I) worked to get better.
"I'm excited to be in this position right now, back with the team."