Simmons follows mentor to Pack

Big and sure-handed Jamarko Simmons ‘has the ability to start' in the NFL, according to Greg Jennings. Simmons, who dominated his matchup against star Illinois corner Vontae Davis last season, finished fourth in the nation with 104 catches. We talked to Simmons and the man who coached Simmons and Jennings at Western Michigan.

The Packers think they might have an undrafted steal on their hands in Western Michigan receiver Jamarko Simmons.

Simmons sure thinks so.

"I feel I'm a top-five receiver (in the draft)," Simmons told the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette before the draft. "I might not run a 4.2 or 4.3, but I feel I have the best hands in the draft, the best body in the draft, the highest upside in the draft."

In a bit of a shocker, 256 draft selections were made, and Simmons' name wasn't one of them.

It's not like Simmons wasn't productive. As a senior, he caught 104 passes.

It's not like Simmons doesn't have the size teams crave. At 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds, he's got the size to effectively shield away defenders.

It's not like Simmons is as slow as a turtle. His 40-yard time at Western Michigan's pro day was 4.51 seconds.

It's not like Simmons' numbers were inflated by playing a bunch of nobodies. In a late-season game against Illinois, he trashed the Vontae Davis-led secondary for 11 catches, 174 yards and one touchdown. As a junior, he had 14 receptions against West Virginia and Indiana and 10 against Missouri. As a sophomore, he riddled Florida State for nine catches, 123 yards and one touchdown.

Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit was "shocked" that Simmons wasn't drafted.

"Sometimes you get the knock — we get it all the time — that a guy like (Packers receiver Greg) Jennings and (Broncos tight end Tony) Scheffler played in the MAC, but look at Jamarko's stats against all of the so-called BCS schools," Cubit told Packer Report on Thursday. "Almost every one of them, he has at least nine catches for a lot of yards. What they're telling me doesn't translate to his productivity on the field."

After the draft, picking Green Bay was an easy choice for Simmons, who was being pursued by about six other teams.

"Looking in the draft and seeing that they didn't draft any receivers, I looked at it like, ‘Maybe I can come in and make a real big impact on this team,'" Simmons told reporters during the recent rookie orientation camp.

In Green Bay, Simmons will join his former Western Michigan teammate, Jennings. Simmons smashed Jennings' single-season school records last season with 104 catches and 1,276 yards. He also broke Jennings' career record with 260 receptions. Not bad after spending his redshirt and freshman seasons as a pass-catching running back in some of Western Michigan's specialty packages.

Jennings was a mentor to Simmons during those two years at WMU. They remain friends, having exchanged text messages after Simmons signed with the Packers and some phone conversations since. Simmons went to Jennings' church, where his dad is a pastor. The mentorship will continue in Green Bay, both have said.

"I know he'll look after me," Simmons said.

Like Cubit, Jennings believes Simmons has the talent to beat the odds of an undrafted free agent and earn a spot at the Packers' deepest position.

"He has the ability to be a starter in this league," Jennings told the Kalamazoo paper. "No matter the draft or free agency, he can make an impact."

That was evident during Simmons' senior season. His 104 catches ranked fourth in the nation and topped Jennings' school record. Jennings caught 98 passes in 2005, when he led the nation. In fairness to Jennings, Western Michigan played 11 games in 2005 compared to 13 last season.

Unlike Jennings' 16 catches against ACC power Virginia in the 2005 opener, Simmons' 11 catches against Illinois last season apparently didn't make many believers among NFL scouts. That's hard to believe, considering he spent what Cubit called a "fair amount" of the game matched up against Vontae Davis, who was the Miami Dolphins' first-round draft choice.

"Jamarko was the best player on the field," Cubit said. "He made just unbelievable catches."

The first was a tap-dance along the sideline in the end zone for a remarkable 15-yard touchdown.

"You're not going to see a prettier catch in all of football," Cubit said.

The last was a game-sealer on third-and-4 in the final 2 minutes of the 23-17 upset victory. Simmons was drilled at the end of a 24-yard reception along the sideline. He was ruled out of bounds but was given the catch after a review.

Even with his prodigious 2008 campaign paired with 84 catches as a junior, Simmons wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine. Then, there was the long and fruitless wait on draft weekend.

"I'm not going to take it as bad criticism on me. I take it as constructive criticism," he said. "I'm going to build off of that. Not necessarily say I'm coming in mad at the world, but at the same time, I have something to prove."

To make the roster as a rookie at a position where Ruvell Martin is a solid fifth receiver and 2008 seventh-round pick Brett Swain is more polished after a year on the practice squad, Simmons knows he'll have to make a "big impact" on special teams.

Simmons senses an opportunity with the Packers, who didn't draft a receiver for the first time since 2004 and just the second time since 1993.

"There's a lot of talent here, but at the same time, I compete at a high level and I'm very physical and I have good hands, and I think I can contribute to the team," he said.

As for the inevitable comparisons to Jennings, there's really no comparison.

Jennings is a Pro Bowl-caliber talent who's an unimposing 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds with an on-the-field speed that's faster than his timed speed. Simmons is 3 inches taller and 33 pounds bigger.

"They're two totally different body types. The only similarity is both of them were real productive," Cubit said.

Who was the best in college?

"I saw some catches by Jamarko that were just unbelievable," Cubit said. "I only had Greg for a year, but what a gem he was. I would say Greg probably gave us credibility, because they were 1-10 before we got here. Greg's affect on our kids really was probably bigger. He gave us credibility right from the beginning. Jamarko, I worked with him for four years, and hopefully we became a big part of his life in getting him to understand what he needs to do to get to the next level and be a productive player."


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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