Jake Kumerow: D-III to NFL with help from cousin Joey (Bosa)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The lineage says Jake Kumerow is right where he belongs:

  • Son of a former first-round pick.

  • First cousin of a former first-round pick.

  • Nephew of a former first-round pick.

The path, however, says otherwise:

  • Walk-on at the University of Illinois.

  • Transfer to Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater.

  • Enter the NFL as an undrafted free agent and spend a year on the Bengals practice squad.

No, the NFL doesn't care that Kumerow's father, Eric, was the 16th pick of the 1988 draft.

Or that his cousin, Joey Bosa, was the third pick in 2016.

Or that his uncle, John Bosa, went 16th in the 1987 draft.

Nor does it matter what Kumerow accomplished -- or failed to accomplish -- to this point.

All the Green Bay Packers see are the possibilities, and all Kumerow cares about is the opportunity.

Both look perhaps better than anyone expected.

"If you're playing today, you'd like him on the field," Aaron Rodgers said, unprompted, of Kumerow last week.

A head start

The 6-foot-4, 209-pound Kumerow impressed the Packers from the start of training camp last month. He caught everything thrown his way and before long, he had worked his way onto Rodgers' radar and into his huddle.

After Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, it was Kumerow -- and not any of the receivers the Packers drafted this year -- who found himself on the field with the starters.

"If I had a nickel for every time I said, ‘Just catch the ball, son,' I'd be a rich man today," Eric said.

Kumerow had the benefit of a head start on the rest of the young receivers in the Packers' training camp.

The 26-year-old, who first came into the NFL as undrafted free agent with the Bengals in 2015, might not have even made it to Green Bay had he not rolled his ankle last summer. He had already spent the final week of the 2016 season on Cincinnati's active roster and there were those who felt that other than A.J. Green, Kumerow was the Bengals' next-best receiver in training camp last summer.

Instead, Kumerow spent most of last season out of football; he had a brief stint on the Patriots practice squad before the Packers signed him in the same capacity on the final week of the regular season, ensuring he would be here for the offseason.

"I love Jake," Green said. "Jake was one of the guys I really formed a great relationship with when he was here, a guy that worked his butt off, great hands, sneaky fast. Put him in a system and just let him run around. He has great hands, so I knew he would have a great camp."

Family ties

The 6-foot-7, 264-pound Eric Kumerow was a highly recruited prospect who had a standout career at Ohio State as a defensive end/outside linebacker. The Dolphins drafted him in the first round. That's where he met John Bosa, who was the Dolphins' first-round pick a year earlier.

Kumerow introduced Bosa to his sister, Cheryl. The two got married, and two football families became one.

"It's awesome," said Joey Bosa, the Chargers' third-year star pass-rusher. "It says a lot about our gene pool and the kind of family we have. To see someone from the other side of the family having success and kind of doing what he set out to do as a little kid is cool."

Unlike his father, uncle and cousin, Jake gravitated toward to the offensive side of the ball.

"I had him at the quarterback spot, of course -- son of the coach type of deal," Eric said. "He actually didn't really play receiver until we moved back to Chicago; one of the youth teams put him there."

Kumerow spent this offseason in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, with his cousin. They didn't just work out together; they lived together, giving Kumerow the opportunity to see how one of the NFL's rising stars goes about his daily business.

"Just being around Joe and seeing the way Joe prepares himself, too," Eric Kumerow said. "Living with Joe and seeing how Joey takes care of his body and prepares himself has helped Jake tremendously."

Said Kumerow: "That's a great cousin to have. Because we're in the same boat."

And then Kumerow stopped himself, realizing how absurd that probably sounded considering Bosa was the 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and has already made a Pro Bowl.

"Well, maybe not the exact same boat," he said chuckling. "We're both playing ball, we're both working out, and we both have the same goal.

‘He's in the right spot'

Kumerow walked on at the University of Illinois, where Ron Zook was the coach.

"You knew the guy was going to have a future in football," said Zook, now the Packers' special-teams coach.

It just wasn't in the Big Ten. Kumerow transferred to UW-Whitewater, where he finished his career second on the school's all-time receiver list. All the while, the NFL remained his goal.

"I never changed my thought process," Kumerow said. "It was a little bit of a bummer. I was at Illinois for two years with Ron Zook and then I go to a D-III school. I'm like, ‘I hope I can still make it' because it might be a little tougher to come out of a D-III school. At the same time, I can't think like that. I'm thinking about my next game, thinking about trying to get better with my team, trying to win championships. So, I hoped for the best and hoped it'd all play out."

Here's Kumerow now, with one month to go before he could not only make the Packers' roster but be part of what's expected to be one of the NFL's most potent offenses, catching balls and hearing praise from Rodgers. On the same day when Rodgers ripped the young receivers for what he called a "piss-poor" effort in practice, he once again went out of his way to praise Kumerow.

"I was telling Jake the other day, I watched a play that he was in on, he ran a certain route, he was open on the route," Rodgers said. "I wasn't the quarterback. We came back three practices later, same call, same coverage, same player -- him -- running the route, and he wasn't expecting the ball. I said, ‘Hey, I watched that rep three days ago. I saw this play and I reminded myself at the time, if we had that opportunity again, where to go with the football.' I said, ‘When you're out there, I'm coming your way.' I have confidence in him. He's in the right spot all the time, he makes contested catches, finishes the right way. He practices like a pro. It's a reminder to those other guys, this is what it looks like."

ESPN reporters Eric D. Williams and Katherine Terrell contributed.