Surprise! Pack Sacks Palmer

Sixth-round pick Nate Palmer didn't expect to be drafted, despite leading FCS in quarterback hits. He adds much-needed depth to an outside linebacker corps that had just four players on the depth chart.

Outside linebacker may be the Green Bay Packers' highest-profile position on defense with newly minted Clay Matthews on the right side and last year's first-round pick, Nick Perry, set to return on the left. But a lack of depth makes it the highest-risk position, as well.

That concern lessens a bit with the selection of Illinois State's Nate Palmer, a 6-foot-2, 248-pound defensive end, in the sixth round at No. 193 overall. The Packers hope to convert Palmer to outside linebacker, much like they did with undrafted free agent Dezman Moses a year ago. Moses wound up starting six games for Green Bay, collecting four sacks and 27 tackles when injuries struck.

With the loss of Erik Walden to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency and the decision to not re-sign oft-injured Frank Zombo, the outside linebacker ranks were depleted. The only other outside linebacker on the roster heading into this year's draft was Micah Johnson, who was signed to the practice squad on New Years' Eve.

Palmer was in Green Bay on April 9 for a pre-draft visit, meeting with, among others, position coach Kevin Greene, who owns the all-time career sack record for NFL linebackers with 160. It's safe to assume Palmer, who wasn't even projected to be drafted, made a good impression.

"No, I wasn't expecting (to be drafted)," an excited Palmer said. "I was just watching the draft as a fan, to see if I had any friends that were going to get drafted. When I got the call and saw it was from Wisconsin … words didn't even come out of my mouth. I was speechless."

But Palmer's game film said plenty, and his knack for harassing the opposing team's quarterback is the biggest reason Green Bay pulled the trigger on him.

As a senior captain at Illinois State, Palmer led the nation in quarterback hurries (27) and piled up 7.5 sacks, 15 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles. He was selected to the all-Missouri Valley Football Conference second team for the second year in a row. While the Redbirds played a base 4-3 defensive scheme, Palmer said they also ran some 3-4, and he played some snaps at stand-up defensive end along with outside linebacker.

"He's got good prototype size and length and that sort of thing," general manager Ted Thompson said. "He'll look the part. Good athlete."

Palmer started his career at the University of Illinois but transferred after redshirting in 2008 and seeing only spot duty in 21 games in 2009 and 2010. In his first season at Illinois State, Palmer notched 9.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for losses and forced two fumbles.

While he didn't receive an invite to the Scouting Combine following his senior season, he did get the scouts' attention with his explosion and strength at the NFLPA all-star game. His encore included impressive workouts at pro days hosted by Northwestern and Illinois State. He ran a 4.69 in the 40-yard dash with 35.5-inch vertical and 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

When it comes to rushing the passer, Palmer said his best move is a speed-to-power change up.

"It's like a counter," Palmer said. "Like I rush outside, just go speed outside, speed outside, speed outside, then I rush like I'm going outside and then when I get parallel, I go power and get (the offensive tackle) off-balance, like bull rush, because they're expecting speed."

As a player who made his mark rushing the passer, it was no surprise to hear Palmer gush about the Packers' Matthews and marvel at his array of moves and athletic ability. But when put on the spot about his favorite NFL team growing up, the Chicago native hesitated.

"Yeah, it's changed now, big time," Palmer said laughing. "I was a Bears fan growing up but that's all behind me now"

Ahead of him is opportunity.


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.

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