He might be short, but there's nothing small about Tyrell Sutton.
At 5-foot-8, Sutton stands out in a locker room because he doesn't stand tall. At 213 pounds, however, Sutton weighs just 13 pounds less than the Packers' starting running back, the 6-foot-1 Ryan Grant.
"Size is a misleading attribute," Sutton said.
When training camp opens in two-and-a-half months, the undrafted Sutton will be battling DeShawn Wynn and Kregg Lumpkin — an undrafted free agent last year — in the battle to be the Packers' third running back.
What will give Sutton a leg up in that competition has nothing to do with his height and everything to do with his hands. When the Packers' offense was at its best, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green were threats not only as runners but receivers.
But the Packers haven't had a big-time receiving threat out of the backfield since Green departed. Last year, Brandon Jackson caught 30 passes but averaged just 6.2 yards per reception. Grant, Wynn and Lumpkin combined to catch 24 passes.
In his four years at Northwestern, Sutton caught 149 passes for 1,244 yards (8.3 average) and six touchdowns. He departed as college football's active leader in receptions and receiving yards among running backs. Combine that with his 3,886 career rushing yards, and Sutton has a legitimate chance of making the roster.
"We don't have a guy like that on the roster," Packers director of college scouting John Dorsey said. "First off, he's an excellent person. Football's extremely important to him. He's the second all-time leading rusher in Northwestern. That's production right there. I would see him as a third-down, kickoff-return kind of guy who would be a change-of-pace back, as well, utilizing his quickness and his sudden burst."
Sutton's draft prospects were sunk by his injury history. An ankle injury limited him to seven games as a junior and a broken wrist held him to nine games as a senior. Sutton — Ohio's 2004 Mr. Football after rushing for a state-record 9,426 yards for his career at Archbishop Hoban High School — pounced on the Packers' invitation.
"Tradition and opportunity," Sutton said when asked why he chose the Packers over the Bears, Buccaneers and Giants, among a few others. "It's a great thing to be able to come in here and get help from Edgar Bennett, one of the legends in this organization. All the guys on the running back depth have been here for, what, no more than three years? So, they know what I'm going through and they can give me help at times and at the same time we can push each other."
There's a definite niche for running backs of Sutton's stature. He grew up loving to watch the 5-foot-8 Barry Sanders. Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew (5-foot-7, 208 pounds) and San Diego's Darren Sproles (5-foot-6, 181 pounds) have supplanted two of the most-productive backs in NFL history in Fred Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson, respectively.
"A lot of people always think that the biggest guy is always the toughest guy or the best guy, but Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles are guys who have been franchise tagged and have sort of moved out the guy ahead of him," Sutton said. "It's very exciting to watch them because you get a role model and you get to emulate them and you get to sit over and say, ‘Look at the small guys, they're kind of taking over.'"
There's one major obstacle confronting Sutton in his bid to unseat Wynn and Lumpkin. Class is in session at Northwestern until mid-June, and by NFL rule, Sutton is ineligible to participate in the Packers' offseson program until then. So, he'll have just one week of organized team activities to get ready for the minicamp that runs June 22-24. Those will be the final on-the-field activities for the Packers until training camp opens Aug. 1.
"The biggest thing is trying to get those protections down," Sutton said. "Obviously, any running back knows how to run the ball, but he's got to be able to do the other things like protect and hold onto the ball and make sure his quarterback is clean. It's a challenge right now, but I'm up to it."
The Packers aren't concerned. Going to Northwestern speaks to Sutton's intelligence, after all.
"Good little football player, I'll tell you that. He jumped out," coach Mike McCarthy told reporters during the rookie camp. "I thought he definitely showed some ability. He definitely has a chance. He has a spring in his step and he's instinctive, so we'll see."
Sutton's chances of making the team will rest on his ability to catch the ball, pick up blitzes and bolster last year's NFL-worst kickoff-return unit. Sutton didn't do special teams at Northwestern because he was a four-year starter at running back, including 1,474 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman. In the East-West Shrine Game, however, Sutton returned three kickoffs for 82 yards. And he was arguably the top receiver among the backs in this draft class.
"Being able to catch the ball is a tremendous attribute," Sutton said. "They always say guys of my size can't be a true every-down back, but I'm going to go out there and compete and do whatever I can to help the Packers win."
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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.