Defensive tackle Jack Heflin was cut by the Packers on Tuesday. It is not the first time in his brief career with the Packers that he has received the phone call and made the walk to the coach’s office. Heflin was an undrafted free agent out of Iowa. He was the feel-good story of the 2021 Packer training camp. His emotional response to reporters on his feelings after making “the initial 53” made any fan root for him. Heflin called it “the greatest feeling in my life”, but Heflin has learned the hard way that the business end of the NFL is a bubble burster for players who are judged to have “limited upside.”
Heflin was cut last year before the infamous playoff loss at Lambeau Field last January. His usual position on the Field Goal team was given to Tyler Lancaster, who allowed the 49ers Jimmy Ward a clean inside route to blocking the Packers first half field goal attempt. Heflin’s family was at the game. Heflin took his dog for a walk, unable to sit and watch the game alone.
Most observers of the Packers 2022 preseason will say Heflin outplayed the seventh round draft pick, Jonathon Ford. Heflin made a number of plays that stood out in the preseason while Ford seemed to live up to his college reputation of being around the ball but not making the play. Heflin had twice as many tackles as Ford. But Ford has something Heflin lacks and in the NFL the term is “upside”.
Ford has size (6’5”/328 lbs) to Heflin’s 6’2” and 305 lbs. Ford has better testing numbers. In football terminology, Heflin has “reached his ceiling” where Ford still has the ability to harness his physical gifts and become an ascending player. For a player like Heflin, you can’t compete against “upside. You can’t compete against being an UDFA versus a draft pick. All you can do is work as hard as you can to improve your own play. Improve your technique. Make the film of your practice and game tape stand out.
Most will tell you that Heflin has the motor and competitive drive to get the most out of his abilities. He has learned and improved his tape since training camp in 2021. But in the NFL, a player with borderline ability is always one that a GM is trying to replace. The Packers defensive line now includes a free agent signing in Jarran Reed and two draft picks from 2022. If Heflin is able to keep a Packer jersey, it will have to start on the practice squad in 2022. You can’t succeed in the trenches in the NFL unless you are a fighter. For Jack Heflin, his fight continues.