GREEN BAY – The Packers made a rare move late in the fifth round before doubling down at wide receiver.
Choosing twice in a span of three picks, at Nos. 172 and 174 overall, Green Bay chose punter JK Scott from Alabama and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling from South Florida.
It’s the first time the Packers have drafted a punter since 2004, but it was Scott’s pedigree as a record-holder for the nation’s premier college program that prompted them to spend a draft pick on a specialist. His career average of 45.6 yards is best in school history.
“He played at the highest level under the hottest spotlight week in, week out and performed well,” said Packers scout Matt Malaspina.
If the pressure of the pros won’t be an issue after playing in three national championship games, the late-season weather in Green Bay and the NFC North might be. But the Packers will count on the 6-5, 208-pounder’s leg to be able to handle it.
“I can’t predict all that, but the pressure, the performance in playoff-like NFL games, and he’s produced, that’s the impressive thing,” Malaspina said.
Scott actually has connections to Wisconsin. Growing up in Colorado, his family had a summer place on Wisconsin’s Lake Owen, and his grandmother lives in Madison.
That’s where his father Kenny grew up. The elder Scott was a pole vaulter at the University of Wisconsin amidst a family full of Packers fans. JK said he came to one game at Lambeau Field as a kid to see Brett Favre play.
“We have probably 10 cheeseheads at home,” he noted.
Statistically, Scott’s 43.0-yard gross average as a senior at Alabama was the worst of his college career, but don’t be fooled. Overall, it was arguably his best season, as exactly half his punts (27 of 54) were fair-caught, he had just four touchbacks, and only five punts were returned.
“This year we focused so much on hang time,” Scott said. “Our coverage guys were able to get down there so quick.”
As a result, Scott’s net average of 42.3 in 2017 was barely less than his gross mark. The two numbers were much farther apart in his earlier seasons.
Scott will be competing with incumbent Justin Vogel for the punting job in Green Bay after Vogel turned in a solid season last year as an undrafted rookie from Miami.
“By no means is this an indictment on anybody else,” Malaspina said. “It’s what this business is all about – competition.”
The Packers added more to their receiver room as well with Valdes-Scantling, who possesses an intriguing combination of size and speed at 6-4, 206 with a sub-4.4 time in the 40.
After starting his college career at North Carolina State, Valdes-Scantling transferred to South Florida after two years and became a big-play guy. He averaged 17.3 yards per catch over his two seasons with the Bulls and scored 11 touchdowns, including one from 77 yards out and another from 95 when he ran away from UConn’s entire defense.
“He’s smooth, he’s got elite speed,” Malaspina said. “Anytime you’re talking about anybody who holds the ball, you want him to be able to go the distance. It doesn’t hurt.”
He emerged as a primary target for the first time last season, catching 53 passes for 879 yards (16.6 avg.) and six scores under the tutelage of new USF receivers coach Charlie Williams. Previously a receivers coach for two NFL teams, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, Williams gets a lot of credit from Valdes-Scantling for getting on the draft radar.
“He brought a lot of different tricks of the trade I hadn’t had before,” Valdes-Scantling said. “Having a coach at the highest level, he can tell you exactly what those (NFL) guys want.”
Valdes-Scantling also made the most of the year he sat out in 2015 as a transfer. He left N.C. State, where he was a teammate of 2017 Green Bay draft pick Josh Jones, because he felt limited in the wrong offensive system. Sitting out his first year at USF, only being able to practice but not play in games, renewed his focus.
“It really taught me how to practice,” he said. He also became friends with another Packers draft pick from last year, offensive lineman Kofi Amichia, a sixth-round selection from South Florida.
He’s learned what he can from Amichia about the rigors and competition of the NFL, and Valdes-Scantling will be amidst a host of young players – including fourth-round draft pick J’Mon Moore, plus Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey and others – fighting for a position on the depth chart behind Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
“To get all those guys in there with our revamped offensive staff, it’s a positive,” Malaspina said. “You hope the guys embrace it, and the whole group gets better as each guy gets better.”