Jayrone Elliott was a long shot, too. Never mind that Julius Peppers was signed, Mike Neal was re-signed and Carl Bradford was drafted. If any undrafted linebacker had a chance to make the roster, according to conventional wisdom, it was Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard, not Toledo’s Elliott.
Instead, Janis and Elliott most likely clinched roster spots with their performances on Thursday night against Kansas City.
Elliott was well on his way to making the team, anyway, especially after Bradford and veteran Nate Palmer were moved inside this week. He entered the game tied for the NFL lead with four sacks, including a sensational series of three sacks in four plays against St. Louis. With one more sack against the Chiefs, Elliott wound up owning the outright lead with five sacks. That’s tied for the most sacks since Miami’s Adewale Ogunleye had eight sacks in 2002.
“You never know,” Elliott said about clinching a roster spot. “I’m probably going to go catch a movie with the guys and take my mind off it. Whatever happens, happens. The one thing I wanted to do when I came here was to leave everything I had and just get better every day, and I think I accomplished that. I have a ton of ways to go to the top, so I feel like I can get better in many aspects of the game.”
While the late-game show he put on against the Rams put him squarely on the radar, his performance against the Chiefs in some ways was more impressive. In back-to-back plays against the Chiefs’ No. 1 right tackle, Donald Stephenson, Elliott used a quick inside move to draw a holding penalty, then used a powerful bull rush to get the sack.
“If you keep running upfield every time, (the offensive tackle is) just going to deep set and just push you by,” Elliott said. “You have to have some kind of countermove and you have to have a countermove for that. You have to try to bring more to the table every day. I’m sure teams will see this that I’m a good speed rusher, so they’re going to try to take that away from me. A couple plays, they did with a chip and they kind of got me in the fourth quarter. That was kind of a shock to me but it was all fun and games out there.”
It’s been a lot of fun for Elliott. When he had to leave Thursday’s game with a leg cramp, Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy started calling him “LeBron,” for LeBron James, who cramped up during one of the games of this year’s NBA Finals. The training staff started calling him “Shakespeare” because all he’s done is make plays.
Janis’ run to the roster has been remarkable in its own way. Janis, who put up monster numbers during his final two-and-a-half seasons at Division II Saginaw Valley State, had a strong offseason but was sidelined for the start of training camp with shingles. The odds were long in his battle to be the No. 5 receiver, and he knew it. Jared Abbrederis impressed as a fifth-round pick, second-year player Chris Harper was building on a strong offseason, second-year player Myles White was off to a good start and second-year player Kevin Dorsey had shown value on all of the special-teams units.
While Abbrederis sustained a torn ACL and the other receivers were consistently inconsistent, Janis opened eyes upon his return with one eye-opening play every day. In his first preseason game, he turned a short pass into a 34-yard touchdown at St. Louis. Then, Janis went silent. The big plays disappeared at practice and he went without a catch against Oakland. Suddenly, Janis had fallen back into the pack.
“There was quite a bit (of pressure),” Janis said. “I knew that I had to perform and show once again what I can do.”
Janis did just that against the Chiefs. In his only opportunities, he caught a deep pass from Scott Tolzien for a 33-yard touchdown and used his speed to turn a well-blocked kickoff return into a 62-yard runback that set up a touchdown.
Now, the waiting begins. Janis said he’d head out to watch a movie – or several movies – on Saturday to keep his mind off his future. Considering he made more big plays than the other No. 5 hopefuls combined, the odds are good that Janis will be joining his teammates on the practice field as the team begins its prep for Seattle on Sunday afternoon.
“I knew that tonight was going to be a huge game for me,” he said. “I knew that whatever opportunities I had, I had to show what I could do. Thankfully, it all worked out.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.