The Green Bay Packers and the legend the franchise has carved out for itself is one of the hallmarks of the NFL in general. Not only is the Super Bowl trophy the namesake of the greatest coach in team history, but the Packers have also seen some of the best players in league history don their uniform. Some of those players were signed in free agency, or traded for (perhaps most notably Brett Favre). Others were home-grown first round draft picks, and they hold a special place in Green Bay's franchise history, for being on the team from the beginning and rising through the ranks.
And then there are examples of first round picks who were nothing short of a disaster. This is a fate that every NFL team suffers at one point or another. No matter how proficient the scouting department, or how thorough the analysis of any given prospect, there always remains a chance that they will end up a bust, and cost the team a valuable draft pick. The Packers have seen their share of first round picks on both ends of the spectrum. Let's revisit their biggest draft hits, alongside the underwhelming failures.
Ranked below are the eight best, and seven worst first round draft picks in the history of the Green Bay Packers.
15 BEST: Bubba Franks
Though he didn't post Gronk-esque numbers at the tight end position, Franks was the model for consistency for the better half of a decade in the 2000s for the Packers. He could do a bit of everything, and was an outstanding blocker, as well as a red zone touchdown threat in his prime. He was a 14th overall selection in the 2000 draft, and provided stability at tight end for the waning years of the Favre era. Franks is exactly the kind of player that every NFL team hopes to acquire as a draft pick. What he lacked in elite receiving yardage, he made up for by being a great blocker, and a versatile player that the Packers could count on, year in and year out. All things considered, probably the best tight end in team history.
14 WORST: Ahmad Carroll
Carroll spent just a little over two seasons in Green Bay, and certainly wasn't the force in the secondary the front office thought he would be when they drafted him 25th overall in 2004. He started for his first couple of seasons with the team, but ultimately couldn't cut it in a full-time role, and he was quickly let go during the 2006 season. He spent some time with the Jaguars and Jets before calling it quits in 2009, which says it all, really. He did contribute a bit, so it's hard to call him an out-and-out bust, at least to the level of some others, but he still didn't live up to the hype of a first-round pick, and this is the one that the Packers wish they could have back.
13 BEST: Paul Hornung
The era of football that Hornung played may be antiquated now, but there's no denying that the Packers teams of the late-50s through the 60s are some of the most legendary in the history of the league. Hornung was selected as the first overall pick in 1957, and was a cornerstone in the backfield for Vince Lombardi's championship-winning teams. He could double at either fullback or halfback, and in the era of a power-running scheme featured on the majority of teams at the time, a skill-set like Hornung's was invaluable. There's no doubt that he was one of the most popular players in Packers history, and was a staple of some of the best teams in league history. An undisputed Packer great that deserves more recognition in the modern day.
12 WORST: Justin Harrell
Selected 16th overall in 2007, Harrell was supposed to be the force on the interior defensive line that would solidify the entire defense. The Packers were already competitive team when they drafted him, so when he busted completely it wasn't too big a blow. Still, there's no two ways about it; Harrell was gigantic miss, and contributed almost nothing at all during his three years on the team. Appearing in 14 games during those seasons, he totaled less than 20 tackles, which seems almost difficult to do at his position. Regardless, he was out of the league after the 2010 season, and he remains one of the biggest failures in team history. Again, Green Bay's defense didn't suffer too much of a hit, but it's a pick that they wish they could have back.
11 BEST: James Lofton
One of the most underrated receivers of the 1980s, Lofton was in Green Bay during the post-Lombardi dark ages of the 70s and 80s. The team only made a couple of playoff appearances in that span, and therefor Lofton goes largely unrecognized today. But in his prime, he was able to post some astounding numbers, including averaging over 22 yards per reception in 1983, which simply astounding in any era, and almost incomprehensible during the 80s. Loft spent almost a decade in Green Bay, and then shuffled around the league to a few other teams, remaining largely productive, until he finally retired in 1993. Despite playing on some really bad Packers teams, he deserves more recognition as one of the best receivers in the history of the franchise. Lofton was a player that was simply ahead of his time.
10 WORST: Barry Smith
Smith on the other hand was one of the biggest receiver busts in franchise history. Selected 21st overall in 1973, he was slated to be the big-play threat that a struggling Packers offense of the time could count on to rebuild that side of the ball. He didn't come anywhere close to doing that, and Smith's numbers were mediocre at best, and paltry at worst. He lasted just four years in the league, and just three with the Packers. Draft busts like this were representative of the current state of the team during the 70s and 80s, and hurt them for a long time until the 90s came around, and fortunes began to improve. Without question, Smith is a Packer selection that every fan would like to forget. One of the biggest disappointments at his position, during a time when the Packers couldn't seem to buy a break.
9 BEST: A.J. Hawk
Hawk had a lot of hype surrounding him as the fifth overall pick in 2006, and he didn't disappoint. He became one of the best linebackers in the league very quickly; an equally proficient tackler and coverage player on the defense. He saw the Packers win their first Super Bowl since 1997, and is generally considered one of the best defensive players of his era. He played in Green Bay for almost a decade, and is currently a free agent, though his last two brief stints in Cincinnati and Atlanta were just as a fringe depth player. He'll likely retire soon, and will be considered one of the best Packers in team history at the end of the day. Hawk is exactly the kind of well-rounded player any team would expect to receive at the fifth overall pick.
8 WORST: John Michels
A first round offensive tackle should be the rock of any given offensive line for a decade, but Michels was the exact opposite. He was taken 27th overall in 1996, and fizzled out extremely quickly, on a team that was actually good, no less. He played in the league for a mere two seasons, both in Green Bay, and started just 14 games in that brief span. That's about as big of a letdown as an offensive lineman can be when they're drafted in the first round, and Michels was the epitome of such a letdown. Fortunately for the Packers, they had a very good roster at the time, which was able to win a Super Bowl despite the poor first round pick, and it was quickly forgotten. But that doesn't make this selection any better, and Michels was a flat-out bust, no two ways about it.
7 BEST: Herb Adderley
In an era that wasn't conducive to having many legendary cornerbacks dispersed around the league, due to a lack of high-volume passing offenses, Adderley certainly stands out as an exception. Green Bay took him 12th overall in 1961, and he spent the rest of the decade as a cornerstone player on Vince Lombardi's championship-winning Packers teams. He was a force, racking up plenty of INTs, and pick six's over his time in the secondary, and became a player for future cornerbacks to aspire to. It may not have been a pass-heavy game when Adderley played, but it was present enough for him to make a huge impact on the game, and give the Packers a surefire elite player on the defensive side of the ball. One of the best defensive players of his era, and extremely influential to future NFL players down the line.
6 WORST: Brent Fullwood
Fullwood was selected four overall in 1987; the waning days of the dark ages in the post-Lombardi era. He was an extremely limited running back that couldn't cut it as a full-time starter, which automatically made the pick a failure. His career was also brief, spending just three years in Green Bay, and was gone by 1990. Fullwood was just one in a long line of poorly executed draft picks that held the team back in the 80s, and even for an NFL running back, his production was very limited. Thankfully for the Packers, better times would be a short time away from the late-80s, but Fullwood still serves as a reminder of when the team was in dire straits, and couldn't seem to establish any consistency. Green Bay would make a pick just a few years later that would begin to turn their fortunes around for the better.
5 BEST: Sterling Sharpe
Had his career not been cut short due to injury, he would've been considered one of the best receivers to ever play in the league. Sharpe was drafted seventh overall in 1988, and was one of the acquisitions that spearheaded a return to greatness for the franchise. It took a few seasons to really get on the right track, but when he did, Sharpe was one of the best receivers in the league, posting awe-inspiring numbers on an annual basis. His career was cut short in 1994, but Sharpe was responsible for setting a precedent that would carry through to a Packers Super Bowl victory in 1997, their first since the Lombardi era. Without question, Sharpe is one of the best receivers in franchise history, and was an extremely important player in the revitalization of the team as a whole during the 90s.
4 WORST: Jamal Reynolds
The Packers sure have had some huge gaffs while drafting defensive lineman over the years, but Reynolds takes the cake for the worst. He was a 10th overall pick in 2001, and didn't start a single game in his three years on the roster, and played in just 18. That's absurdly low output for a player take in the blue-chip range in any draft. He made almost no impact whatsoever, and was quickly ousted from any contention of being a starter. A pick that should have landed the Packers a player who could be counted on for nearly a decade, was squandered instead, and the team received a certified bust who could barely get on the field at all. The team would recover from the error in this draft, but Reynolds is still undoubtedly one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history.
3 BEST: Clay Matthews
While Aaron Rodgers has unquestionably been the most talented and impactful player on the Packers during the Mike McCarthy era, Clay Matthews has been the heart and soul. A 26th overall pick in 2009, Matthews quickly formed a tandem with A.J. Hawk, and almost overnight the Packers had one of the best group of linebackers in the league. Matthews is a do-it-all player who can rush the passer, tackle in the open field, and cover receivers. He embodies everything about the Packers in recent years, and is a durable, reliable force that the team can count on, year after year. It's fair to wonder at this point how much he has left in the tank of his career, but regardless, Matthews has already made his stamp on the team, and will be considered one of the best players in team history when it's all said and done.
2 WORST: Rich Campbell
Any time a quarterback is taken at sixth overall in any draft, they are expected to be the franchise player for the next decade at least. Such was the case with Campbell, who the Packers figured would be the player to lead them out of the streak of perennial losing they had suffered since the departure of Vince Lombardi. Well, that didn't happen. In fact, during his four years in Green Bay from 1981 to 1984, Campbell didn't start a single game, appearing in just seven. It was the absolute lowest of letdowns, to draft a quarterback so highly, and then come to realization that he couldn't play a lick of NFL football to save his life. Campbell retired after the '84 season, and the franchise continued in disarray for several more seasons until they found the light. But for the dark ages in Packers history, Campbell is the embodiment of the frustration they suffered during that period in the franchise.
1 BEST: Aaron Rodgers
As if anyone else could claim this number one slot. Rodgers was drafted 24th overall out of California, and served as Brett Favre's backup for three seasons, before being given the reigns of the franchise. Rodgers simply has the best skill set of any quarterback in franchise history, and has kept the Packers in deep playoff contention for essentially every year that he's been the starter. The statistics themselves are ridiculous enough, but watching Rodgers play the position is something that is nothing less than awe-inspiring. Mobility, a rocket arm, and pinpoint accuracy just don't come around simultaneously for a quarterback in most cases. Some would say Brady is the best quarterback of the era due to his myriad of Super Bowl-wins. While that's a valid point, one would have to pretty brash to say that Rodgers is the inferior of the two when it comes to actually playing the position of quarterback. It's a testament to why he's the best quarterback in Packers history, and the best first round pick they ever made.
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