The Green Bay Packers are a football team steeped in tradition — both the kind that is recognized by the organization and the more informal, unofficial kind. In the latter category is the annual habit of fans to get attached to a Great White Hope: a fringe roster player who likely will amount to nothing but has captured the minds and hearts of summer onlookers.
This year’s runaway favorite for the role is wide receiver Jake Kumerow. Measuring 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, the third-year player — sporting a head full of long, flowing locks — checks just about all the boxes Packers fans seek out when looking for a player to irrationally fall in love with.
First and foremost, he is at best a borderline NFL talent. This is essential for summer football fandom. It’s easy to get attached to a highly-touted draft pick or a free agent with proven skills. Those players are supposed to be good. A preseason crush has to actually be bad yet flash just enough to make you think, “OK, but if everything breaks just right, maybe he could be something…” He has to be of the everyman quality that makes people think anyone can make it with enough hard work and dedication.
Kumerow has this in spades. He went undrafted in 2015 and spent two seasons on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad. Last year he lasted two weeks with the New England Patriots (another team with a rich tradition of Great White Hope players) before landing on the Packers’ practice squad. Players fall through the cracks all the time in the NFL, but Kumerow didn’t hear his name called for the 256 selections of his draft and he twice passed through waivers. This makes him a prime candidate to get overly attached to for no good reason.
There are two ways for these kinds of players to catch on with fans: flash some sort of physical gifts that can’t be taught, or over-perform expectations in typically meaningless situations that cause people to imagine those talents appearing in actual game situations.
Ex-Packers wideout Jeff Janis embodies the former. With his big frame, a blazing fast 4.42-second 40-yard dash time, and a sky-touching vertical leap, Janis was the type of receiver most teams dream of having on their roster. Unfortunately, his on-field skills never caught up to his physical prowess. The man can’t run any direction but straight, and save for two miraculous catches in a playoff game he never really left his mark in Green Bay in any meaningful way other than amassing undeserved support from fans. Now he’s trying to make the Cleveland Browns’ roster.
Kumerow falls decidedly into the category of the overachiever. His measurables aren’t anything to write home about: He has average speed and acceleration, an underwhelming vertical leap, and he doesn’t have the strength to shrug off defenders. But what he lacks in physical abilities, he has more than made up for in his performance on the practice field and in preseason game action.
The hype train for the long shot wide receiver started this offseason when he stood out on the practice field, pulling in catches and building a rapport with Aaron Rodgers. Then, when the quarterback chewed out the slew of young wideouts on the roster for turning in a “piss poor effort” during a drill, he went out of his way to mention Kumerow as one of the few who actually showed up.
And through two preseason games, Kumerow has managed to turn in big play after big play. In the opener, against the Tennessee Titans, he beat his man to pull down a 52-yard bomb from Tim Boyle.One week later, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he took a simple out route thrown by DeShone Kizer and turned it into an 82-yard sprint and score as he put the moves on two defenders and outran a third to the goal line. Take those results, sprinkle in the fact Kumerow is a local guy who spent the majority of his collegiate career at UW-Whitewater, add the football pedigree of being a cousin of the Bosa clan that has produced several NFL-quality players, and account for the fact that Janis and Jordy Nelson both departed this offseason, and you have the perfect recipe for a new Great White Hope.
But here’s the deal: Jake Kumerow is not the next Jordy Nelson. The two had similar pre-draft measurables, but Nelson was a high pick — an early second-rounder — who proved to be an all-time great route runner with hands made of super glue. Kumerow is closer to a concussion-free Jared Abbrederis than anything.
At the end of the day, he’s a 26-year-old receiver (he’s older than Davante Adams!) who has a ceiling of being the fourth option on a team currently stacked with young pass catchers. The Packers invested three draft picks in wide receivers in April. It’s unlikely the team will cut bait on any of them immediately, especially for a guy who has already entered his prime and is likely devoid of upside.
His best shot is hoping Green Bay gives up on a previous draft experiment (DeAngelo Yancey comes to mind) or decides to keep an extra receiver at the expense of another position on the 53-man roster. Either way, the odds of Kumerow surviving the preseason purge are probably about 50/50. If he doesn’t make it, get ready for fans who have turned him into the team’s new top pass catcher to be outraged.
Kumerow wouldn’t be the difference between a Super Bowl ring and an early playoff exit for Green Bay. In fact, he likely wouldn’t even be the difference between a win and a loss during a regular season game. But that’s the true value of the Great White Hope — they almost never pan out or get the time their most fervent supporters believe they deserve, so their potential remains limitless.