The numbers define Aaron Kampman.
First, there’s his sack total. With 23.5 sacks since the start of the 2006 season — including eight this season — Kampman leads the NFL. More than Shawne Merriman. More than Michael Strahan. More than Jason Taylor. More than anyone.
Then, there’s his draft status, a mere fifth-rounder in 2002 out of Iowa who wasn’t an attractive enough prospect to even get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Finally, there’s his jersey number. It’s 74, and was randomly assigned by the Packers because of his draft status. It’s a number more apt to be worn by an offensive linemen, not someone who was going to develop into an offensive lineman’s worst nightmare.
“My college number was 54, so I guess they figured we’ll give him a (number end in) 4,” Kampman said.
Kampman was named the NFC’s defensive player of the month after recording 5.5 sacks in October, including three last week at Denver and two the week before against Washington.
The numbers similarly define Kansas City's Jared Allen. Like Kampman, he’s one of the NFL’s most unappreciated sackmasters. In his first three years, Allen piled up 27.5 sacks. This season, he’s already got eight — including six in the last three games — which is tied with Kampman for the second in the league, one behind Philadelphia’s Trent Cole.
Like Kampman, Allen was a second-day draft pick, in this case, a fourth-round selection.
DE Jared Allen
And like Kampman, his No. 69 is a jersey typically given to offensive linemen.
The similarities go beyond the numbers. While Kampman and Allen have emerged as two of the NFL’s top pass-rushers, neither are wanting for motivation.
Speaking about his jersey number, Kampman said: “I had a chance to change my number awhile back … to a 90s number. I thought about it. Why would I want to do that? That’s not how I came here. It still reminds me of the fact of how I started, how I progressed. That’s my number. That’s who I am.”
Allen, who is continually pushed and prodded by defensive coordinator Gunther Cunninham, said: “That kind of attention or that kind of publicity won’t affect me. I don’t have that sense that I’ve arrived or that this is my year and all I have to do is show up and I’ll get a couple of sacks. This is a result of my hard work. I realize that. I’m not going to let this thing slip. I’m not going to be satisfied.”
The phrase “hard worker” typically is a compliment, and that’s certainly true for Kampman, who has only gotten better after signing a lucrative four-year, $21 million contract before the 2006 season. It also is a bit of a backhanded compliment. Kampman didn’t get 15.5 sacks last season just because he works hard. Maybe it’s because he’s white. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t talk smack or celebrate every sack like he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Maybe it’s because of his draft status. Maybe it’s because he didn’t just burst onto the scene as a rookie. Whatever the reason, Kampman is a Pro Bowl player because he’s an athletic player with polished skills.
“When you’re not a No. 1 pick, maybe that’s how they identify you because of where he started,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But anybody that’s played against him, or anybody that’s been around him, I’ve been around him now for a year and a half, he’s a Pro Bowl football player. He’s very consistent. He brings the same energy every day, and he doesn’t really have a weakness in his game.”
The stories of Kampman and Allen are what separates merely good teams from the great ones. You can’t stock a whole roster with first-round picks. Teams need to hit on the middle- and late-round ones.
The Packers’ roster is telling. Of the 53-man roster, 32 of them were selected in the fifth round or later, or weren’t drafted at all. With players like Kampman and seventh-rounders like Scott Wells and Donald Driver, maybe it’s no wonder why this team has done so well in the face of adversity. After all, most of these guys weren’t expected to be in the NFL. So, what’s the big deal about a tie game late against San Diego or being forced to overtime at Denver?
“The one thing that I’ve seen is we have a lot of late-round picks in this locker room, guys that have kind of come up and had to earn it,” Kampman said. “There’s something to that.”
Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.