It is unlikely that Packer fans had ever heard of Rasul Douglas prior to October 6 of last year. That’s when Green Bay signed the cornerback off the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers were in desperate need of help at the position after both starters, Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, went down with injuries. And, at the time, it seemed to be a bit of a desperate signing.
After all, Douglas was the definition of a journeyman player. He had been shipped on and off of four different NFL teams just in 2021 alone before coming to Green Bay. He was not expected to play much. More of an emergency stop gap. In week six, the coaching staff started Isaac Yiadom at corner against the Bears. It was clear early on that Yiadom wasn’t ready. With little to lose, the coaches inserted Douglas in his place.
The rest is improbable history. Douglas went on to play so well that he was named a Pro Bowl alternate at season’s end. He led the team with five interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns. Another dramatically saved a victory at Arizona. He was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week after a dominating performance against the Rams. He was so good, the Packers used much of the money they saved by trading Davante Adams to re-sign Douglas to a three year, $21 million contract.
How did this happen? Who is this guy? Did he come out of nowhere or what?
Actually, Rasul Douglas is not the obscure, rags-to-riches player you might think he is. He grew up in the gritty town of East Orange, New Jersey. He attended East Orange Campus High School, whose claim to fame, before the emergence of Douglas, was that it was the alma mater of pop singers Janis Ian and Dionne Warwick. As of last year, the enrollment there was 90 percent African American, and 8 percent Hispanic. Unable to secure a college football scholarship from a major school, Douglas went to Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York, where he immediately began turning heads by amassing 83 tackles and five picks.
That put him on the radar for a gaggle of big time football schools. He wound up transferring to West Virginia. As a senior he led the nation in interceptions with eight, piling up 70 tackles and a sack, and was first team all Big 12. Going into the 2017 draft, most scouts pegged him as a day two pick. His only negative was speed, logging just a 4.6 at the combine.
Rasul was no overlooked diamond in the rough. He was taken in the third round by the Eagles, meaning he was expected to be an eventual starter, if not a star. He wound up playing in fourteen games, with five starts, in his rookie season for an Eagles team that won the Super Bowl that year. He would play in every game the next two seasons, starting thirteen of them, but in September of 2020 he was waived in the Eagles final round of roster cuts.
His unemployment lasted one day. The Carolina Panthers claimed him immediately. He went on to start eleven games in 2020, with nine passes defensed and 62 tackles. The Panthers decided to go in another direction after the season, which started a frustrating ride through the 2021 offseason that included stops with the Raiders, Texans and finally the Cardinals. It seemed everyone wanted him, but no one would give him a chance to play. That is, until Brian Gutekunst came calling in October.
So you see, Douglas’ stunning performance for the Pack last fall should not come as such an unexpected shock. He was a five year veteran player who had started 29 NFL games and played in 60 of them. And he has something only three other current Packers possess: a Super Bowl ring. (The others are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Sammy Watkins)
Asked if he can believe his success last season, the soft spoken Jersey kid simply said “I can. I work hard. Eventually it pays off.”
To the tune of a cool $7 million per year. The most encouraging news for fans of the Green and Gold is that there is every reason to believe Douglas’ big season was not a fluke. He is a proven talent. He was good enough to start five games as a rookie for a Super Bowl team. Every time he has been given a chance to play, he has done well. There’s no tangible reason, short of an injury, that his play should drop off. Combined in the secondary with all pro Jaire Alexander, and rising star Eric Stokes, I like Rasul’s chances of having another probable improbable season.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.