The Green Bay Packers under general manager Ted Thompson have made a habit of using late-round draft picks on defensive linemen.
In his eight drafts, Thompson has selected Michael Montgomery (2005), Johnny Jolly (2006) and Jarius Wynn (2009) in the sixth round and Dave Tollefson (2006), C.J. Wilson (2010) and Lawrence Guy (2011) in the seventh round. That’s six players selected 180th or later.
So, keep in mind Maryland’s A.J. Francis, either late or as a free agent.
Francis (6-5, 309) has the size the Packers covet. Francis, who wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine, ran the 40 in 5.19 with 24 reps on the bench and a 29-inch vertical at his pro day. He talked to Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith at his pro day and has been a man in demand with several other heavyweights, including the Patriots (two workouts), Ravens (visit and workout), Texans (visit) and Giants (visit).
“I’m a physical player,” Francis said. “I like to play hard-nosed football. Just me lined up in front of you and whoever is the tougher guy, whoever is the better guy, is going to win more times than not. There’s not going to be any gimmicks, there’s not going to be any charades. It’s going to be man-on-man football. That’s how I’ve always played. In college, there’s not a lot of offenses you can play like that against. In the NFL, you get to see that more often that not.
“So, I think my game translates very well to the NFL. Ultimately, that’s up for teams to decide when they pick me and for me to prove them right or wrong.”
After starting 23 of 37 games during his first three seasons, Francis earned honorable mention all-ACC as a senior. Playing end in a 3-4 scheme, he had 43 tackles, including four sacks and nine tackles for losses. Plus, he batted down five passes, recovered three fumbles and blocked three kicks.
And if football doesn’t work out, there’s always his modest Plan B: Becoming governor of Maryland. Francis earned his degree in government and politics and has 24 of the necessary 48 hours to get his master’s in social policy.
“It’s been a goal of mine since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I’ve always loved politics and I’ve always wanted to help people. I’ve always noticed that there’s so many people that could use help in this world and I feel like we’re put on this earth to help your fellow man. If you didn’t make the world a better place than when you found it, then you’ve done a disservice. When you’re in the state of Maryland, no one can help more people at once than the governor.”
Francis was a three-time academic all-ACC selection.
“Time management — you’ve got to be good at it,” he explained. “When I first got to Maryland, my high school football coach told me, ‘In college football, there’s a successful career, there’s successful academics and there’s a social life, and you can have two of three.’ Every day, you go out and you have to set your priorities. I’m not going to say I didn’t have a social life but a lot of my focus was football and academics.”
Before taking the oath of office, his shot at the NFL beckons. On Saturday, whether he’s drafted or part of the free-agent frenzy, he’ll be getting the call of a lifetime from his new employer.
“It’s been a dream of mine,” Francis said. “There’s been plenty of times where I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think I could do it, and there’s been plenty of times when I knew I could do it. I honestly have no idea how I’m going to react. I’m going to be one of those corny guys that goes out and buys the hat of the team that just signed him and wear that hat for 48 straight hours.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.