Those who actively follow the Green Bay Packers are probably aware their favorite National Football League side does not have a reputation for always being one of the more active clubs in free agency, particularly as it pertains to acquiring the biggest names and best players who become available each and every March. Thus, the Packers have often looked to the draft to build up cornerstones of hoped-to-be championship rosters, and this method hasn’t gone all that poorly for the franchise. For example, drafting a young quarterback named Aaron Rodgers even though the team already had a mainstay and future Hall-of-Famer at the position worked out rather well, as doing so helped Green Bay win at least one Super Bowl to date.
As much as the team has gotten right over the years, there have also been several occasions where the franchise could’ve turned a future NFL star into a Packer long before he ever played an official down in the league. One such player is, in the eyes of some who watched him throughout his career, viewed as arguably the greatest running back in NFL history, not to mention an offensive weapon who terrorized the Packers for years. Then, there is the case of the QB who was passed by every team in the NFL more than once. We all know better now, obviously, but it's still interesting to think what could have been for the Packers, and the NFL, had Green Bay taken a flier on that QB before he made his way to a different franchise.
15 Tom Brady
We all know New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fell all the way down to pick number 199 of the 2000 NFL Draft before the Patriots selected him, and also that the Packers had a guy named Brett Favre leading the offense at that time. Remember, though, that Favre failed to guide the Packers to even a single Super Bowl berth in the 2000s, while Brady became a living legend and, perhaps, the greatest QB in history over the past 17 years.
If those running Green Bay had an idea of what Brady would become by, say, 2003, the club could’ve dumped Favre, won out on a trade and then had Brady under center up through at least the 2016 season. Just one draft pick could and would have changed so much NFL history.
14 Derrick Thomas
The Green Bay Packers selected offensive tackle Tony Mandarich with the second pick of the 1989 NFL Draft. Unlike Mandarich, the following three players taken in that draft class are currently members of the Hall of Fame. We start with Derrick Thomas, a pass rusher who spent his entire NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs and who became a mainstay of Pro Bowl squads for his stellar play during regular seasons.
Thomas is widely viewed as one of the best defensive players of his generation and one of the top players to ever feature for the Chiefs, and he'll always go down as one of the best picks of this draft class. This is the first of three times the 1989 Draft will be featured in this piece. Sorry, Green Bay fans.
13 Tyrann Mathieu
Running back Eddie Lacy, selected by Green Bay in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, was a fine pick, but Lacy’s struggles with weight, among other issues, resulted in he and the club parting ways following the 2016 season.
It’s a safe bet to assume the Packers would’ve rather had defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who fell down to the Arizona Cardinals in the third round because character concerns hovered over his draft status. Mathieu has been well worth the risk for the Cardinals, and he's widely respected as one of the better secondary players in the NFL even though injuries have been a problem for him throughout his NFL career. It's somewhat ironic both Lacy and Mathieu have plenty to prove during the 2017 regular season.
12 DeAndre Hopkins
We stay with the 2013 NFL Draft, but this time it’s the first round that will leave Green Bay fans with feelings of regret. Instead of taking defensive end Datone Jones, who is no longer with the Packers, the club could have selected wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins has not only proven himself worthy of being deemed one of the better offensive weapons in all of the AFC. He has done so without ever truly playing with a top-tier QB. Imagine just how much better Hopkins and the Green Bay offense would both be today if the Packers could turn back time and exchange Jones for Hopkins. Maybe, in such a universe, it would’ve been the Packers instead of the Atlanta Falcons facing the Patriots in last February’s Super Bowl.
11 Jared Allen
So much stings about the Packers not taking defensive end Jared Allen during the 2004 NFL Draft. To begin with, Green Bay actually used a third-round pick on punter B.J. Sander, who didn’t last long with the club. Allen fell down to the Kanas City Chiefs in the fourth round, but that, alone, is not why this particular selection burned the Packers.
Kansas City ultimately traded Allen to the Minnesota Vikings, and it was as a member of Green Bay’s division rivals where Allen truly showed his greatness and even set multiple franchise records. Granted, every team missed Allen, but at least the majority of them didn’t take punters so early. You almost have to wonder why any club would bother taking a punter before the last day of any draft.
10 Terrell Owens
Yes, we know every franchise had multiple chances to draft wide receiver Terrell Owens back in 1996, and it’s also hardly a secret Owens had a reputation for being a nightmare for coaches, some teammates and just about every team he played for during his career. Nobody should ignore Owens is, statistically speaking, one of the greatest receivers in NFL history and one who should already be in the Hall of Fame.
The Packers were already decent in the mid 1990s, but think how much better that offense could’ve been had Brett Favre been able to target a young Owens. Perhaps Favre could’ve served as the mentor Owens needed during that portion of his life and prevented Owens from floating around the league even when in his physical prime.
9 Cris Carter
Here is one where you cannot help but wonder if the sequence of events worked out as it was meant to be. The Philadelphia Eagles used a fourth-round supplemental draft pick to acquire Cris Carter back in 1987, but Carter failed to flourish with the club largely because of personal demons he struggled with during the early stages of his career.
Carter eventually found stability and a home with the Minnesota Vikings, and he turned his life around and became a Hall-of-Famer and one of the best receivers of his time. Would Carter have been a Superstar had the Packers taken a chance on him? It’s possible, and that is why we have to include him in any list of NFL stars that could have been a Packer.
8 Deion Sanders
The 1989 NFL Draft comes back to once again stare Green Bay fans in the face. This time, it’s cornerback Deion Sanders, who was taken by the Atlanta Falcons three picks after the Packers selected the previously mentioned Mandarich.
Sanders was not only a great defensive player during his time. “Prime Time” was a threat on special teams and even on offense. He was also one of the most electric athletes, in any sport, of the decade, the type of Superstar who served as the face of multiple franchises and who proved capable of selling merchandise. Sanders moved around to multiple franchises during his Hall-of-Fame career, but he would’ve been worth the draft pick even if only hung around in Green Bay for a handful of seasons.
7 Chad Johnson
The Packers not only selected defensive end Jamal Reynolds in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. Green Bay moved up to grab him when the franchise could’ve remained lower in the same round and, instead, selected a wide receiver named Chad Johnson.
We’re not going to pretend Chad Johnson, or Chad Ochocinco, was the most reliable of teammates, but there is no question he was incredibly gifted and a talented receiver when in his prime. Johnson is yet another receiver spotlighted in this piece who may have enjoyed an even better career had he been able to play with Brett Favre throughout the early stages of his playing days. Maybe Johnson could’ve even taught Favre a celebration dance or two during the first half of the 2000s.
6 Ronnie Lott
We are turning the clock back all the way to the 1981 NFL Draft for this one. With the sixth overall pick that year, the Packers selected QB Rich Campbell, a player who is probably anonymous to many of you out there. Just two picks later, the San Francisco 49ers acquired a defensive back named Ronnie Lott.
Even younger readers who know their NFL are probably at least a little familiar with the rest of the story. Lott is widely respected as one of the best defensive players in NFL history, and he would have been a tremendous selection for the Packers or any other team. Knowing how the Packers were during the 1980s, it’s probably a safe bet he’s glad he ended up a member of what became the franchise of the decade.
5 Kam Chancellor
It’s easy to see how the Seattle Seahawks became a potential dynasty when you review the club’s draft picks from the current decade. Seattle used the 133rd pick of the 2010 NFL Draft to grab Kam Chancellor, and Chancellor has repaid Seattle by becoming one of the top safeties in the NFC who has been part of multiple conference championship sides.
The Packers had no fewer than three opportunities to add Chancellor to their roster, and that doesn’t even include potential trades Green Bay could’ve made when Chancellor was still on the overall draft board. Bryan Bulaga, Mike Neal and Morgan Burnett all took up roster spots that could have been filled by Chancellor. He would’ve been worth the pick even if Green Bay let him enter free agency after his rookie contract expired.
4 Jimmy Graham
We stay in 2010 to focus on tight end Jimmy Graham. Remember those three names from the previous section who were drafted by the Packers instead of Kam Chancellor? Green Bay could have taken both Graham and Chancellor, as Graham dropped down to pick number 95 before the New Orleans Saints removed him from the board.
Playing in an offense led by future Hall-of-Fame QB Drew Brees, Graham became a Superstar talent and one of the better modern tight ends in history. Granted, teams can often find elite and top-tier tight ends later in a draft or even on a list of undrafted talents, but Graham has proven to be an exception well worth even a first-round selection. Aaron Rodgers would’ve loved targeting him during games.
3 Dez Bryant
We remain in 2010, this time to discuss the first round of that year's draft. When the Packers elected to use the 23rd pick of that draft to take offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, wide receiver Dez Bryant dropped one spot to the Dallas Cowboys, The Cowboys happily grabbed Bryant, and Bryant ultimately became one of the franchise’s top players of the decade.
Bryant has built a reputation for being somewhat of a diva receiver, but the same can be said about so many stars who found fame and fortune playing at that position over the years. Aaron Rodgers teaming up with Bryant could have made for one of the top offensive duos in the NFL, so much so that it may not be an overstatement to say the two could have helped the Packers win a Super Bowl.
2 Rob Gronkowski
For the last time (we promise), we discuss the 2010 NFL Draft and what could have been for the Packers. Tight end Rob Gronkowski dropped out of the first round before the New England Patriots selected him with the 42nd overall pick, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Even if there is some validity to the idea Gronk' has been lucky to play with such a talented QB as Tom Brady, we’re confident he still would’ve become a Superstar playing in an offense led by Aaron Rodgers. The biggest knock we could have about any team using a high draft pick on Gronkowski is that he has faced some significant injury woes throughout his career. Still, he would’ve been more than worth it for the Packers.
1 Barry Sanders
We end up back in 1989, when the Packers could’ve used the pick spent on Tony Mandarich to select running back Barry Sanders. Yes, that is, in fact, the same Barry Sanders who was drafted by Green Bay’s division rivals the Detroit Lions and who spent his entire career with that franchise. At absolute worst, Sanders is one of the greatest backs in history, and it’s possible the only reason there is any debate about whether or not he's number one on the list is because he retired at such a young age when he was still healthy and capable of earning well over 1,000 yards in a season.
Sanders could and should have been a Packer, and passing on him has to be one of the worst draft mistakes the franchise has ever made, largely because of where he ended up.