“Ever churning legs.”
“Flashes speed and short area burst.”
“Has quickness to attack gaps.”
“Fluid lower body and easy movement skills.”
If you didn’t know better, you’d think scouts were describing running backs with phrases like that. Instead, they’re talking about two players that could be key cogs in the Packers’ defensive line rotation this year: Josh Boyd and Khyri Thornton.
Boyd and Thornton stand in pretty stark contrast to the two men they’ll be replacing: Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. Pickett and Jolly made their money by being immovable objects along the defensive front, relying on their tremendous girth (Pickett weighed 340 lbs. while Jolly was generously listed at 325) to plug up gaps up front. Boyd and Thornton, meanwhile, will rely on muscle and motor to make plays in a defense that will rely on attacking up front.
Drafted in the fifth round last year, Boyd arguably made a bigger impact on the Packers’ defense down the stretch than first round pick Datone Jones, and it’s pretty easy to see why. While Jones struggled (partially because of a bum ankle, although I think that excuse is overblown), Boyd filled in along the front admirably.
Coming out of Mississippi State, Boyd’s calling card was his effort, possessing the proverbial “high motor” scouts crave. Watch his highlight reel and look how many times he slides into the backfield to snag a running back or smack the quarterback on his second effort.
Boyd also flashed his motor at the Senior Bowl, playing against the top competition in the country. Several plays are noteworthy in this highlight reel, but the screen pass at the 40 second mark jumped out the most to me. Boyd doesn’t give up once the play is past him, instead chasing the ball carrier down and laying a lick on him.
Much the same is this year’s third round pick Khyri Thornton. While not blessed with the size of Pickett or Jolly, Thornton brings the Packers athleticism and intense effort. Watch how smooth he is navigating around blocks in his draft day highlight video.
Thornton, now playing for his childhood favorite team, is very strong for his size. San Diego Chargers blog Bolts From the Blue broke down Thornton’s game pretty extensively in a pre-draft post, noting (in GIF form) how frequently Thornton seems to knock opposing linemen back on his initial strike:
The Chargers bloggers also noticed Thornton’s quickness off the ball and his ability to slide around blocks.
All this, of course, is great against college-level opponents. The reason guys with less than ideal size slide in the draft is because at the NFL level, the “try hard” guys tend to be less successful against their physically gifted opponents. It’s easy to succeed when you just try harder than guys with the same athleticism than you. The real test for Boyd and Thornton will be doing it on Sundays (wrote the cliched sports blogger), and with Pickett and Jolly out of the picture, they’ll have more than enough chances to do it.