Wednesday night was a special one for John Crockett.
One night before shipping off for Green Bay for the Packers’ rookie orientation camp, the undrafted running back from FCS juggernaut North Dakota State enjoyed dinner with his mom and girlfriend.
“It was definitely one of those memorable nights,” Crockett said at an airport on Thursday morning. “Of course, those girls made me pay for everything. And they’re getting crab legs and all of this and I’m like, ‘I don’t have any money!’ They said, ‘You said you were going to wash some dishes.’
“It was cool to just sit back and relax and unwind before starting the task that I’m undertaking. The biggest part about life is building a strong foundation with family — to have that and to go through this dream of mine and they’re living their dreams through me, as well. I think that’s the biggest part about life: How many people can you inspire and how many people can you help grow? That’s what type of person I am.”
Crockett, in fact, is a lot of things, which is why it was a surprise that he went undrafted.
He’s really good, for starters. Despite playing only three seasons due to academic issues at the start of his career, Crockett posted three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and finished his career with 5,151 all-purpose yards. As a senior, he rushed for 1,994 yards and 21 touchdowns and added 30 receptions.
He’s athletic. Put aside his so-so 4.62 clocking in the 40-yard dash for a moment. Out of the 36 running backs at the Scouting Combine, his 10-yard split was the second-fastest. Crockett ranked fourth in the broad jump and fourth in the vertical jump. When you add the 125-inch broad jump to the 40-inch vertical jump, you get an “explosion score” of 165. Only Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah scored better. Of the backs weighing at least 215 pounds, Crockett was No. 1 — Melvin Gordon was next at 161.
“I feel like I showed my explosion. I feel like I showed my athleticism,” he said. “Being among some of these guys and to put up numbers as good as anyone in the whole class, it makes you turn your head a little bit, you know? What more does a little small-school guy got to do to show that he deserves the opportunity to be drafted?”
He’s a leader. At the East-West Shrine Game, which lags behind only the Senior Bowl in all-star game importance, Crockett was selected as a captain. Imagine that: Rather than thumbing their nose at the small-school guy, those big-school standouts picked an FCS-level player to lead them into the game.
“It definitely was an honor, just being an FCS guy among all those great players,” Crockett said. “That was probably one of the most gratifying experiences that I’ve ever had, just because you work so hard to get to that point in time in your life and then you get there and you’re among the best of the best, and out of everybody that’s there, they think that you’re their leader and they believe that you can be their leader. A lot of people don’t get a chance to say they were the captain of an NFL all-star team, basically. It was definitely a blessing.”
Crockett’s road to the NFL began as a young boy in Minneapolis. That’s where Crockett, because of his 100 mph style, became “Taz.”
He hasn’t slowed down since, whether it’s outrunning the big boys for an 80-yard touchdown against Iowa State or keeping his legs churning en route to at least 22 touches in each of his final 13 games as a senior to help the Bison to a fourth consecutive national championship.
“It happened when I was in fourth grade,” Crockett recalled. “I was at basketball tryouts and I was just nonstop. I just kept going, kept grabbing rebounds, kept playing defense and things like that. One of the coaches was like, ‘I’m going to start calling you Taz.’ It stuck throughout my whole career. Even in high school, I would write ‘Taz’ on my face and I’d change into this alter-ego. Off the football field, you get a goofy guy that just loves to be around people and loves to hang out. But that guy, he’s all about business.”
At 6-foot, 217 pounds, Crockett has the makings of a three-down back — something that’s coveted by Packers coach Mike McCarthy as a way to eliminate substitutions in his no-huddle offense. He even averaged 26.2 yards when used as a part-time kickoff returner in 2013 to provide extra value.
“If I had to scout myself, I would say a very passionate kid who loves the game,” Crockett said when asked to provide a scouting report. “I think he has the capability of being a great teammate and has leadership qualities about him. If you’re talking about on the field, a guy that can do it all. If you need him to run through tackles, he can do that. If you need him to run outside, he can do that. I think the biggest strong suit would be him catching the ball out of the backfield. If we had to rate him negatively, definitely everyone has to work on their pass pro. You’re just dealing with different beasts at this level. You’re dealing with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. What are you going to do? You’re a 22-, 23-year-old kid and you’re going against a grown man who’s an animal and does this for a living. I’ve got to lower my pad level. It’s one of those things that I’m excited to work on.”
Crockett was a man in demand after the draft, with more than 20 teams courting him. He thought his best fit was with the Packers — and he was well aware of the fact that they didn’t draft a running back and enter the offseason practices with a wide-open battle to be the No. 3 back after DuJuan Harris wasn’t retained.
Crockett was part of ESPN’s “Draft Academy” series. The cameras were rolling on Saturday, the final day of the draft, as pick after pick was being made but Crockett’s name was not among them. He can joke about it now — “The cameras (are) all up in your face and you’re sitting there and you’re like, ‘I think I’m going to be coming up pretty soon everybody,’” he said with a laugh — but Crockett’s cleats and clothes were packed next to the chip on his shoulder as he prepared to board a plane for Green Bay.
“Definitely,” he said. “That’s the type of player I am. I play with a lot of heart and passion and intensity. I bring a lot more to the game than a lot of people. I really, truly love the game of football. I don’t love what it brings. I mean, yeah, it’s nice but, at the end of the day, I actually love the game. When you get a guy that’s just in it for the money, I see that. A guy like me, I’m very, very hungry. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure that I’m successful and the team that I’m a part of is successful. That’s just the mind-set of a champion. It’s the mind-set you have to have.”
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