jean-charles photo

Appalachian State defensive back Shemar Jean-Charles intercepts a UAB pass during the first half of the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21, 2019.

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GREEN BAY — In the days leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, Shemar Jean-Charles had lots of fans in the Green Bay Packers’ draft room. And those fans’ voices got louder and louder.

Surely there were other NFL teams intrigued by the athletic, ball-hawking cornerback from Appalachian State. But those teams’ general managers probably weren’t pestered about him as much as Packers GM Brian Gutekunst was by the members of his personnel staff.

“He was a favorite of a bunch of our scouts,” Gutekunst explained after the Packers picked Jean-Charles with the second of their two fifth-round draft picks (No. 178 overall). “We have a certain process we go through in the final three weeks before the draft. Guys get together and they work our board from the bottom up. This was a guy that just was the outlier for them. They were so excited to try to move this guy up the board. Which we did.”

Then, as the fifth round of the draft approached, Gutekunst’s crew started pressuring him again. And after taking Florida defensive tackle T.J. Slaton with the Packers’ first fifth-round pick (No. 173), Gutekunst knew if Jean-Charles didn’t go in the four picks that followed, he had no choice but to make the pick.

“I really was,” Gutekunst replied when asked if he was surprised Jean-Charles was still there at No. 178. “As it unfolded, I got a lot of taps on my shoulder (in the draft room) during those period of times about him being on the board and available. So, we were thrilled to be able to select him.”

Not as thrilled as Jean-Charles, of course, who called draft day “the best day of my life, easily” and called the entire experience “surreal.”

Now, though, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Jean-Charles enters a defensive backfield with opportunities aplenty, even with the Packers having drafted Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round, 149 picks before Jean-Charles.

“There’s a lot of great players in this draft class, period. He’s one of them,” Jean-Charles said of Stokes. “I never really met him face-to-face, but eventually we’ll meet and we’ll chop it up. I’m just excited for us to go in here and show everybody what we’ve got. I know he’s pretty excited about this opportunity going pretty early like that, and I’m excited just to have a shot. I’m excited to meet him. I’m looking forward to making a bunch of plays with him.”

Beyond Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander, who still one of the league’s rising stars at the position, the Packers’ cornerback corps needed a depth charge. The Packers brought back oft-injured starter Kevin King, a 2017 second-round pick who has been a good player for them when healthy but has battled injuries for much of his four seasons.

King has played in only 41 of a possible 64 regular-season games so far in his career, and he missed five games last season with a quadriceps injury. He also dealt with Achilles’ tendon and back issues during the season and was questionable heading into the team’s 31-26 NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl LV-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field on Jan. 24, when he was involved in a pair of game-changing plays that day that contributed to the Packers’ loss.

Beyond King, the Packers’ other cornerbacks to see meaningful action last season were Chandon Sullivan, who manned the slot position last year and re-signed as a restricted free agent last month; 2018 second-round pick Josh Jackson, who started five games last year but fell out of favor with former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and was a healthy scratch late in the season even after recovering from a concussion; and Ka’dar Hollman, a 2019 sixth-round pick who has played only 112 defensive snaps in two seasons.

Sullivan will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, while Jackson is in the final year of his rookie deal.

“We needed to add some competition for this year, and we needed to add some guys who will be under contract moving forward,” Gutekunst said.

That leaves ample opportunity for both Stokes and Jean-Charles to earn playing time in new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s system, which Jean-Charles, Stokes and the rest of the rookie class will start learning with a minicamp next weekend.

“I think Joe has a great vision. He does a great job of articulating that vision,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “We think we’ve got some players that can potentially help us. But all these draft picks within every team, no matter where you’re drafted, everything’s an unknown at this point. Everybody feels good about their draft class. The bottom line is guys have got to come in and they’ve got to prove it.”

For his part, Jean-Charles, who led the nation with 17 passes defensed (16 pass break-ups, one interception) last season, wasn’t aware of how many fans he had inside 1265 Lombardi Avenue heading into the draft. And truth be told, he wasn’t sure he’d get drafted at all. While he wouldn’t go so far as to say he didn’t care whether he got drafted or not, he does appear to have landed in a place where he’ll get the opportunities he was seeking.

“Coming from App State, it’s a lot of blue-collar guys, a lot of underrecruited (guys) coming out of high school, I was a two-star recruit, didn’t any Power 5 offers,” Jean-Charles said. “I was hearing late rounds to possibly (undrafted) free agency. But at the end of the day, like I told my agent, I didn’t care when I went. I just wanted an opportunity.

“It’s pretty much the story of my life. I’ve had to earn everything that I’ve got. So I wasn’t going to be disappointed if it came down to that. And like I’ve said, I’m just excited for the opportunity.”


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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