GREEN BAY – The Packers finished out their 2015 draft class by selecting a fullback, defensive lineman and tight end.
All three were chosen within a span of eight picks late in the sixth round on Saturday, at Nos. 206, 210 and 213 overall. The last two were free agency compensatory selections.
The fullback is Oklahoma’s Aaron Ripkowski, a bruising lead blocker who rarely touched the ball. At 6-1, 246, he did score three touchdowns near the goal line on six total carries in 2014. He also caught seven passes last season, the most he was used in that capacity in his career.
Ripkowski reportedly showed some pass-catching skills at Oklahoma’s pro day, and the Packers also brought him in for a pre-draft visit. Ripkowski said he’s confident in his hands, even if he didn’t get to show it much during games.
“He looks like he catches it pretty good,” Packers GM Ted Thompson said. “We had a brief look at it, but he did a good job that day.”
Ripkowski will begin his career behind veteran John Kuhn at fullback, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy sounded excited to have another Kuhn-type player in the pipeline.
“He’s a four-core player on special teams,” McCarthy said. “He pours it up in there.”
Down-and-dirty lead blocking is his favorite part of football. Ripkowski referred to it as “why I play,” a hard-working mentality that coincides with how he earned a scholarship as a walk-on originally at Oklahoma.
“Everybody had to earn their keep,” Ripkowski said, emphasizing he wasn’t treated any differently when he didn’t have a scholarship. “It’s not like I was an underdog or anything.”
The only lineman the Packers chose on either side of the ball was Louisiana-Lafayette defensive lineman Christian Ringo (6-1, 298).
A first-team All-Sun Belt player, Ringo racked up 11½ sacks among 20 tackles for loss last season as a penetrate-and-disrupt player. He also recovered two fumbles and ran one back for a TD.
“That grabs your attention, sure, the flash stuff,” Thompson said of Ringo’s big-play stats. “But you have to do the nuts and bolts stuff, too. We like him.”
The Packers see similarities to one of their own homegrown defensive linemen, an under-the-radar selection on draft day as well.
“I don’t like to compare people, because I don’t think it’s fair, but Mike Daniels’ name was thrown around,” McCarthy said. “That’s a comparison you’d love to have as a young player.”
Ringo said he isn’t overly familiar with Daniels, but will be soon enough.
“I’ll be googling him,” he said.
The tight end is Alabama-Birmingham’s Kennard Backman, a steady producer in the Blazers’ offense. The school’s football program disbanded after the 2014 season, but Backman said he’ll be honored to carry on the UAB name in the pros.
The 6-3, 245-pounder averaged just over 10 yards per reception each of the last three seasons, catching nine TD passes. His best season was 2014, when he caught 39 passes for 399 yards and three scores.
“We like the speed,” Thompson said. “He’s an athletic type, linear-built tight end. Basketball-looking guy, but we think a pretty good football player.”
Backman said he didn’t shy away from blocking, either, contrary to some reports that it’s not a strong suit.
“I like the physicality part of it,” he said. “That’s what makes football football.”
Added McCarthy: “I like the fact he sticks his face in there. He has the ability to play both displaced and on the line.”
All three sixth-round picks are potential competitors for action on special teams, as is the entire draft class. Ripkowski played a lot of special teams in college and could become one of the young bell cows in that area.
“Every one of these guys will have an opportunity,” McCarthy said. “Anytime you have a four-down player, it excites you.”
Additional draft coverage - Day 3