GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jake Kumerow is no longer just a fun little training camp story that will be forgotten when the football becomes real in a few weeks.
The 26-year-old from the small Wisconsin school, who’s still waiting to play in his first real NFL game, is here to stay if you ask some veterans in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room.
It’s not just that they’ve seen Kumerow perform in the first two preseason games — he leads the NFL with 190 yards receiving and is tied for the lead with two 40-plus yard pass plays. It runs deeper than the 82-yard catch-and-run touchdown he had Thursday as part of his three-catch, 114-yard game in Thursday’s 51-34 exhibition win over the Steelers at Lambeau Field.
“One of the talks of camp in my opinion,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said after the game. “He’s been doing it all camp long. It’s not like he’s just showing up and having fluke games. He’s been doing it all camp long. To see a guy come in like that and work hard, you don’t know his name Day 1. But day after day after day, you’re like ‘Oh man this guy’s pretty good.’ So you start taking notice of him and that’s what you want to see out of guys. And I think Aaron [Rodgers] expressed how much that he’s appreciated the way the guy came in and worked, and that’s the ultimate compliment.”
Rodgers took an immediate liking to the 6-foot-4, long-haired receiver with a significant NFL lineage (his father, Eric, was a former first-round pick and his first cousin is Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa) and that hasn’t waned. Though Rodgers hasn’t played with him in a game yet — his only preseason action to date was the opening series against the Steelers that ended with a touchdown pass to new tight end Jimmy Graham — he continued to toss praise his way.
“From the first time he got here, it’s never been too big for him,” Rodgers said Thursday night. “He continues to make plays, and that’s how you make the squad, you ball out on game day and you do things on special teams when you’re a fringe guy and you give yourself an opportunity, not just for this squad, but for any team watching [number] 16 on film.”
Kumerow, who was signed to the Packers’ practice squad late last season, has been a three-time loser coming out of training camp. He was a camp cut by the Bengals in both 2015 and 2016 and then was an injury casualty last summer when he hurt his ankle.
The Packers drafted three receivers but at this point, Kumerow has to be ahead of all of them. Fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore has had all kinds of trouble catching the ball. Fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown didn’t back up their Week 1 performances with anything significant; each had one catch against the Steelers.
“He’s one of our top receivers in the room,” safety Ha Clinton-Dix said of Kumerow. “You see it. There’s no faking it in this game. It’s not Aaron throwing him the ball. It’s 7 [Brett Hundley] and 9 [DeShone Kizer] and 8 [Tim Boyle]. He’s doing it with young quarterbacks. Imagine when he gets in there with 12 [Rodgers] what he has a chance to do.”
Kumerow quickly became something of a folk hero around Packers’ camp; his in-state ties — he played at Division III UW-Whitewater — made him an immediate favorite. But he might be more than a Jeff Janis — a small-school receiver who was cult hero to fans but couldn’t win over the coaches or his quarterback.
When Kumerow dove into the north end zone at the end of his touchdown catch and it was announced that he was being treated for a shoulder injury — it turned out to be a stinger, he said — his name began to trend on Twitter. On a night with myriad storylines — Rodgers’ first touchdown to Graham, pick-6s for Williams and rookie cornerback Josh Jackson plus Reggie Gilbert’s 2.5 sacks — it was Kumerow who may have stolen the show once again.
“I don’t really try to pay attention,” Kumerow said of the increased attention. “I just try to keep my head down and make a lot of plays. But I do hear a lot more ‘Go Warhawks’ when I’m walking to practice. I like to hear that.”
Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports