GREEN BAY—Wisconsin native and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis wasn’t the only Packers draft pick to be selected by his favorite boyhood team.
Count defensive lineman Khyri Thornton as a longtime Packers follower whose dream came true on draft weekend, too.
“It’s a blessing right now. I couldn’t have asked to come to a better team, the Green Bay Packers,” Thornton said during last week’s rookie orientation. “Who wouldn’t want to come to the Packers? This was my favorite team growing up, my best friend’s favorite team. I’m enjoying it right now.”
The affinity stems from Thornton’s alma mater, Southern Miss. That’s where Brett Favre played, of course, but a few years after Favre was drafted by Atlanta, Thornton’s uncle, Tyrone Bolware, played there as well. Bolware was a fullback for the Golden Eagles from 1994-97.
So, by the time Thornton was eight years old, his uncle was wrapping up his Southern Miss career with a big win over Pitt in the Liberty Bowl, and Favre was winning his third straight NFL MVP award.
No wonder the Panama City, Fla., native had no interest in the home-state Dolphins or Buccaneers. He did initially try to play college football in Florida, but his scholarship to Florida State was rescinded after he failed to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Then, a special committee at South Florida denied him entry to the school despite meeting NCAA qualifications.
So he took his game to – yup – Southern Miss, where he started on the defensive line the last three years before the Packers drafted him in the third round with the 85th overall pick.
The selection of Thornton continues the annual investment the Packers have been making in their defensive line. Noted by Director of College Scouting Brian Gutekunst for his “quick twitch,” he’s Green Bay’s fifth draft pick at the position in the last three years, joining Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels from 2012 and Datone Jones and Josh Boyd from 2013. Thornton is most familiar with Boyd, who played collegiately nearby at Mississippi State.
“I was always trying to compete with every defensive tackle in the state of Mississippi,” Thornton said. “I’m looking to learn from him and B.J. (Raji).”
Thornton probably fits best as a three- or five-technique, lining up on the outside shoulder of either the guard or tackle. But during the draft, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac didn’t rule out trying Thornton at the nose, as the Packers did with Boyd at times last year.
With Raji re-signing for just one year and Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly not currently on the roster, the Packers may soon need a long-term nose tackle. Thornton’s 304-pound frame would make him a longshot for that role but, in time, things could change.
As for right now, Thornton says he’ll play “anywhere I’m needed,” and if the numbers on the defensive line make for some tough roster decisions down the road, the Packers will be better for it.
“I’m just trying to catch up with the scheme and learn the plays to get where I want to be,” he said. “Playing time, it may depend on how fast I learn the scheme, how fast I learn the playbook.”