GREEN BAY – Beginning a career undrafted from an FCS school would normally equate to anonymity in the NFL.
Not so with John Crockett.
The North Dakota State running back has been the subject of an ESPN “Draft Academy” series, and he had a camera at his home throughout his excruciating, and ultimately fruitless, wait last Saturday during the final rounds of the draft.
He’s the most recognizable of the 17 undrafted free agents the Packers signed this week prior to rookie orientation. He enjoyed the publicity, sure, but he arrived in Green Bay on Thursday ready to turn his focus from the spotlight to the playbook.
“It’s definitely been surreal,” Crockett said of the last few months, shortly after he arrived in Green Bay to begin rookie orientation. “My experience was a little different. It came with a lot of glitz and glamor, I guess you could say. Being a small-school guy, it was kind of nice to get some of the big-time love like the big schools get.”
Crockett wasn’t feeling much love during the draft, but he didn’t have time to wallow in his disappointment. As soon as the draft ended, he was on the phone with multiple general managers and coaches interested in signing him, a process he likened to “high-school recruiting all over again.”
“I think it was one of the toughest moments of my life,” he said of not getting drafted. “But you have to immediately think, OK, what’s the next move?
“It was crazy because I didn’t really know where I was going to be, but in 15 minutes I knew where I was going to be.”
He’s thrilled to be in Green Bay, where walking in and seeing Super Bowl trophies in the players’ entrance gives him confidence he can feed his hunger for winning. Crockett won a Minnesota state high school title at Totino-Grace in Minneapolis and three FCS national championships at North Dakota St.
He also sees a prime opportunity at his position, where Eddie Lacy and James Starks are the only established running backs, with Starks in the final year of his current contract.
“They’re great vets, great players,” Crockett said of Lacy and Starks. “Eddie Lacy is probably one of the best backs in the league right now. To come in behind those guys, get tutored and hopefully one day be able to catch a ball from No. 12, that wouldn't be bad.”
Crockett said the Packers showed interest in drafting him with one of their sixth-round picks, and he believes had the Packers not traded their seventh-round pick earlier on Saturday, he might have ended up in Green Bay anyway.
It all worked out in the end, and riding the emotional roller coaster through the process was nothing new to Crockett. Five years ago, academic issues with the NCAA clearinghouse cost him a scholarship to Michigan State, but by the end of his three years at NDSU, he was setting the single-season school record with 1,994 rushing yards.
He performed well at the East-West Shrine Game, but originally didn’t get invited to the scouting combine. Then he did receive a last-minute combine invite, only to have the nation see him not get drafted after all.
“My whole career has been up and down, from sitting out two years and then being able to play and do what I did,” he said. “I’ve been able to go through the grind my whole career, and that’s something I do well. I’m not a person who cracks under pressure. I’ve dealt with it so much. It’s crazy how life is.
“I really don’t know why I didn’t get drafted, but at the end of the day, I have to stay hungry and show people why I feel like I’m supposed to be here.”