Packers rookie tight end has succeeded at every level of football
GREEN BAY - The laws of football gravity don't necessarily apply to Josiah Deguara.
It took less than a year for Mike Denbrock to appreciate that fact after the University of Cincinnati offensive coordinator moved into the Bearcats' tight ends room in 2018.
In a sport where every player is neatly sorted and categorized by position, Deguara has always been a slight enigma. He's never been the biggest or fastest player on the field, but Denbrock identified three things early on that separated his 6-foot-2, 238-pound tight end from his peers:
Competitiveness. Athleticism. Football acumen.
"Those three things together make somebody who plays the tight end position somebody you want to have your hands on, and somebody you want to dig in and feature in your offense," Denbrock said. "The offensive system we use really tries to utilize the tight end position, especially if you have a guy there who has the gifts that Josiah does."
Deguara's football career has followed a script of production absent pomp and circumstance. He caught 240 passes for 3,274 yards and 42 touchdowns but still was only labeled as a two-star recruit coming out of Folsom (Calif.) High School, where he also captured a California Interscholastic Federation Division I state title.
At Cincinnati, Deguara became only the second tight end in program history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for his career (1,117), only 18 yards behind 11-year NFL pro Brent Celek.
His 92 career receptions are the most among Bearcats tight ends, while he was just the second tight end in school history with 500 or more yards receiving in a season. The other? Kansas City All-Pro Travis Kelce (722 yards in 2012).
Yet, there's something about Deguara's recipe for success that has never resulted in top billing, an unquantifiable ethos that ultimately made him the Packers' third-round pick in April's NFL Draft.
He's not strictly a "Y" blocking tight end or an "F" receiving tight end lined up in the slot or on the perimeter. He's also not an H-back or drafted to replace Danny Vitale at fullback. Deguara is a football player and a pretty good one at that.
"A guy like him, he just lines up in a lot of different places," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "He lines up on the line, off the ball, has the athleticism to move all over the place and insert himself throughout the front line, so I think it's just one of those things it allows us to do some unique things in the run, play-pass world and also to catch the ball."
Cincinnati lined up Deguara pretty much everywhere on offense, and his knowledge of the Bearcats' playbook enabled him to be effective in practically every situation he was placed in.
No matter where Cincinnati was on the field, Deguara had an innate ability to break down coverages and find soft holes in the defense, particularly in the red zone. All 12 of his touchdowns came during his final two collegiate seasons.
What's more, he has a knack that makes the quarterback comfortable to throw in his direction. And wherever the Bearcats needed Deguara, he slid right in.
"(There's a term) we use around here, with our tight ends in particular, that they need to be that Swiss Army knife-type athlete who can fit into a number of different scenarios and situations and help our football team," Denbrock said.
"I think the systems in the NFL it seems have moved more towards the San Francisco 49ers/Green Bay Packers, that mix where you need that H-back fullback who can do some multiple things."
In the buildup to the draft, Denbrock felt the Packers were an ideal landing spot for Deguara after coaching alongside Head Coach Matt LaFleur at the University of Notre Dame in 2014.
Having known LaFleur's dad, Denny, for decades through college coaching circles, Denbrock kept a close eye on the younger LaFleur's rise up the coaching ladder and what immediately stood out was how innovative he was in his approach to offensive football.
The two have remained in steady contact with each other in the six years since they worked together, but they were reunited this offseason when LaFleur was performing his due diligence. The point Denbrock kept hammering home is Deguara's drive and an "off-the-charts" ability to quickly pick things up.
"I know Matt is a big fan of players who not only have athleticism but have the intelligence to match with it," Denbrock said. "The strengths Josiah's game has, I think fit someone like Matt to a T just because he's looking for that type of player in his system who can plug into a lot of different spots and be really effective. And that's exactly what he got."
A relentless competitor, Deguara impressed LaFleur on film with the effort he displayed when chasing down UCLA defensive back Jay Shaw on what would have been a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown last August.
As panic washed over Denbrock on the sidelines, he then saw a blur of black and white coming from the backside of the play to tackle Shaw around Cincinnati's 35-yard line.
It was Josiah Deguara.
"You can't rip open someone's chest and judge their heart, and his is full, competitive, and well-trained," Denbrock said. "All the great traits you see in great football players, he has. Now, is he 6-6? No. Does he run 4.2? No. But the things he doesn't have physically, he makes up for with his mental approach to the game and his willingness to compete at a high level."
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