Janis Was Saginaw Valley's 'Self-Made' Star

Nothing came easily for Jeff Janis, though it looked that way during back-to-back All-American seasons. "He gets going with that head of steam and that big body, it's something to see," his college coach, Jim Collins, told Packer Report.

Having invested picks on Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis, the Green Bay Packers surely didn't need to select another receiver.

But Jeff Janis was too good to pass up in the seventh round.

"We strictly went by the board this year," general manager Ted Thompson said last week. "It was strictly the way names were left up on the board and we decided to throw out the, ‘Do we need one more of X for training camp?' We wanted to make sure we stuck with the board and tried to pick the best player. We really did."

Janis has been compared to Jordy Nelson. That might wind up being a ridiculous comparison, but there's no denying his upside.

Of the 33 receivers who were drafted, Janis ran the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds), the second-fastest three-cone drill (6.64), the fourth-fastest 20-yard shuttle (3.98) and had the 12th-best vertical jump (37.5 inches). All of that in a 6-foot-3 package.

Saginaw Valley State isn't too far away from Michigan State but, metaphorically speaking, it's a million miles away. At the Division II level, Janis didn't face any cornerbacks the caliber of the Spartans' Darqueze Dennard. Regardless, Janis dominated the competition. During back-to-back All-American seasons, he caught 189 passes for 3,207 yards (17.0 average) and 31 touchdowns.

While Janis was the most athletic player on the field most Saturdays, he didn't rely on his physical dominance to post such gaudy numbers.

"No, because I don't think things came easy for him early," Saginaw Valley coach Jim Collins said. "A lot of times what will happen on our level is you'll have a player who couldn't go Division I because of their grades or they transferred from Division I for whatever reason. Jeff, he's a self-made athlete. He didn't come in here being the star of the team or us thinking he would be the star of the team. He had to work for it. It wasn't until his third year (redshirt sophomore season) that he showed that he was an elite player. The first two years were kind of just ordinary. We didn't even play him as a true freshman. It wasn't until about midway through that third year that you said, ‘Wow, this guy's got something.' So I think because of that, he's really remained humble and he got to that point because of his work ethic and his competitiveness."

Janis' rise was based on his physical maturation. Collins recalls Janis being about 6-foot-2 1/2 and 180 pounds when he arrived on campus. While Janis hasn't grown that much — he was 6-foot-2 7/8 at the Scouting Combine — the Packers listed him at 219 pounds.

"He started to get bigger, he started to get stronger, he started to get faster," Collins said. "That gave him that much more confidence to succeed."

As Collins said, Janis started emerging in 2011, when he turned his 48 receptions into 968 yards and 14 touchdowns. In 2012, he caught 106 passes for 1,635 yards — the 11th- and 10th-best figures in Division II history — and 17 touchdowns. It was more of the same in 2013, with 83 receptions, 1,572 yards and 14 scores. More than 60 percent of his yardage came after the catch, evidence of his combination of speed and strength.

"I'll tell you, he was our featured guy on the offense," Collins said. "He caught probably 200 passes in the last two years. We used him as a possession receiver, we threw short routes to him, intermediate routes to him, deep routes to him. We really got him the ball in any way and every way possible in the passing game."

Can Janis break into the Packers' receiver corps? That will be determined throughout the dog days of August. Going back to the Nelson comparison, Nelson served as the team's primary kickoff and punt returner in 2009 and the kickoff returner again in 2010 before his breakout receiving season of 2011. Returning kickoffs could be Janis' ticket to the roster in 2014.

"He gets going with that head of steam and that big body, it's something to see," Collins said. "He's one of these guys that you just go, ‘Wow.' He's running fast and he's separating from people, but because he's so long and he's got those long legs, it doesn't look like he's running that fast. Then all of a sudden, it's like a blur. It's an interesting thing because you see him accelerate past people and you don't realize he's going that fast."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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