Every year, the Green Bay Packers add a new crop of rookies as they try to improve the team. This year, the Pack had two first-round picks and used them on OLB Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage. While we still don’t know how well they will do this season, here is a look back at the best rookie performances in Packers history.
Some of these players were high draft choices who were expected to be stars, while others were late-round picks or even undrafted free agents who surprised everybody. Many of them went on to long and successful careers with the Packers while others were unable to match their early performances and quickly faded from view.
These players are listed in chronological order with the impact of their rookie performances broken down and analyzed.
1943: Irv Comp, B
Like most players in the NFL in the ‘40s, Irv Comp played both offense and defense. He played tailback on offense and threw seven touchdown passes for the Packers in just 92 attempts while rushing for three more scores. But his best performances came on defense where the Benedictine product intercepted 10 passes in a 10-game season. Even now, more than 75 years later, no Packers player has picked off more passes in a single campaign.
Incredibly, Comp had a successful seven-year career with the Packers despite only having sight in one eye. He was an integral part of the Packers 1944 championship squad, intercepting six more passes in his second year in the league. Comp was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1986
1952: Billy Howton, WR
The Packers selected wide receiver Billy Howton in the second round of the 1952 draft out of Rice and Howton made an immediate impact. Howton was 6’2”, huge for a receiver in the early ‘50s and he had excellent speed. He drew immediate comparisons to the recently departed Don Hutson.
In a 12-game season, Howton led the entire league with 1,231 yards receiving on 53 catches, an impressive 23.2-yard average. He also grabbed 13 touchdown passes which was an NFL record for a rookie. No rookie receiver topped that touchdown mark until Randy Moss 46 years later.
Howton was so impressive he was named to the Pro Bowl for his outstanding rookie season. He played seven years with the Packers and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1974.
1959: Boyd Dowler, WR
Boyd Dowler joined the Packers in Vince Lombardi’s first season in Titletown and remained with the Pack for all five of St. Vince’s championship teams.
As a rookie, Dowler led the team in receptions with 32, good for a 17.2-yard average and four touchdowns. For his efforts, the Colorado alum was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year.
Dowler played 11 years with the Packers at flanker and led the team in pass receptions six times and was selected to two Pro Bowls. He finished his Packers career with 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 receiving touchdowns. Dowler was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1978.
1971: John Brockington, RB
The Packers made a trade to select fullback John Brockington in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft and the Ohio State alum didn’t disappoint. He had an outstanding rookie campaign, rushing for 1,105 yards and averaging 5.1-yards per attempt. The Brooklyn native had four 100-plus yard rushing games and was named an All-Pro for his efforts.
Brockington became the first running back in NFL history to go over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons in the league and led the team in rushing in each of his first five seasons with the club. In 1972, he teamed with MacArthur Lane to help spur the Packers offense, leading the team to a 10-4 mark and their only playoff appearance in the ‘70s.
Brockington retired as the team’s second all-time leading rusher and is presently third in that category. He entered the Packers Hall of Fame in 1984.
1972: Chester Marcol K
Polish-born Chester Marcol joined the Packers in 1972 and immediately ended the team’s struggles at kicker that had been ongoing since Don Chandler retired after the 1967 season.
As a rookie, Marcol led the NFL in scoring with 128 points on a Packers team that struggled to throw the football and relied on its rushing attack and kicking game to score points. The Packers finished the season 10-4 and won the NFC Central Division. Marcol was named the NFC’s Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Marcol led the league in scoring again in 1974 and was again named to the Pro Bowl. An injury suffered in 1975 hurt his career as he gradually became addicted to pain killers and other drugs.
In 1980, his final season with the Packers, Marcol scored the only touchdown of his career when he recovered his own blocked field goal attempt in overtime and ran it into the end zone to give Green Bay a 12-6 overtime win against the Bears in the season opener.
After retiring, Marcol cleaned up his life and later became a drug and alcohol counselor. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1987.
1972: Willie Buchanon, CB
The Packers selected San Diego State alum Willie Buchanon with the seventh overall pick in the 1972 NFL Draft and he became an immediate starter in the Packers secondary.
As a rookie, Buchanon intercepted a pass in his very first NFL game. He finished his first NFL season with four picks including two key interceptions of Fran Tarkenton in the division clinching win over the Vikings in Week 13. He also recovered three fumbles.
Buchanon was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press and helped make the Packers secondary one of the best in the league that season.
Buchanon was named to two Pro Bowls during his seven years in Green Bay and intercepted a career-high nine interceptions in 1978. He was elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1993.
1975: Johnnie Gray, S
Nobody expected much from Johnny Gray when he arrived at the Packers training camp in 1975. The undrafted free agent out of Cal State Fullerton not only made the team, but he started all 14 games and led the team with 123 tackles, a new franchise record for a rookie.
Gray intercepted one pass as a rookie and recovered four fumbles. He earned a reputation as a hard-hitting safety and was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team after the season.
Gray played nine years with the Pack as a safety and punt returner. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1993.
1978: John Anderson, LB
The Packers selected John Anderson with their second pick in the first round of the 1978 draft. The Michigan alum quickly established himself as a quality NFL linebacker. Anderson intercepted five passes and recorded 102 tackles as a rookie despite missing the final three games of the season after suffering a broken arm. His performance helped the Packers to their first winning season under Bart Starr with an 8-7-1 mark.
Anderson was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team in 1978 and went on to play for the Packers for 12 seasons. Anderson was a steady, smart player who was rarely caught out of position. He served as a leader of Green Bay’s defenses throughout the ‘80s. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Second Team All-Decade Team of the ‘80s and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1996.
1979: Rich Wingo, LB
Alabama alum Rich Wingo was an afterthought heading into training camp in 1979. The seventh-round pick had a solid college career but wasn’t considered a lock to make the team. His toughness helped him survive camp and he took over as a starter at inside linebacker after Mike Hunt suffered a serious injury early in the season.
Wingo still holds the Packers rookie record with 166 tackles, breaking Johnnie Gray’s record set four years earlier. He also intercepted two passes and recovered one fumble.
An injury caused Wingo to miss the entire 1980 season, but he returned to play four more years with the Packers including their playoff season of 1982.
After his playing career was over, Wingo was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014.
1984: Tom Flynn, S
Safety Tom Flynn had an outstanding rookie season for the Packers in 1984 but was never able to duplicate that performance. The Pack selected the Pittsburgh alum in the fifth round of the draft. He intercepted nine passes as a rookie which was tops in the NFC and second in the league behind Seattle’s Kenny Easley. As a result, he was named Pro Football Weekly’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The following season, Flynn only intercepted one pass despite starting 15 games. The Pack let him go early in the 1986 season, but he was signed by the New York Giants and won the Super Bowl with New York while contributing mostly on special teams. Flynn played two more seasons with the Giants before his career ended after the 1988 season.
2006: A.J. Hawk, LB
Inside linebacker A.J Hawk burst onto the scene with the Packers in 2006, making 155 tackles, second on the Packers all-time rookie list. He led the team in tackles that season and recorded two interceptions and 3.5 sacks. The Ohio State alum was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team for his strong performance.
Hawk played nine seasons with the Packers and was a key part of the team’s 2010 Super Bowl-winning team and the 15-1 team of 2011. He led the team in tackles in five of his nine seasons in Green Bay.
2007: Mason Crosby, K
Kicker Mason Crosby replaced Dave Raynor as the Packers kicker in 2007 and made an immediate impact. The rookie out of Colorado hit on all 48 extra point attempts and led the league with 141 points after hitting on 31 of 39 field goals.
Crosby made the winning field goal in his first NFL game, kicking a 42-yarder with just two seconds left to lead the Packers past the Philadelphia Eagles. He was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts and later the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November.
Crosby was the Packers kicker during their 2010 Super Bowl season. He is now the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 1,469 points and is the only active player on this list.
2009: Clay Matthews, LB
Clay Matthews set a Packers rookie record by recording 10 sacks in his first season in the league. The Packers selected the USC product in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft with the 26th overall pick. Matthews came from a football family as his father and grandfather had also played in the NFL.
As a rookie, Matthews recovered three fumbles, forced one and deflected a total of seven passes. He was able to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks using his quickness and burst.
Matthews was named the NFC Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
A year later, Matthews forced a key fumble in the Packers Super Bowl win over the Steelers. He demonstrated his selflessness when he moved to ILB when injuries decimated the linebacking corps in 2014 even though it would limit his ability to rush the passer effectively.
He stayed with the Pack until the 2018 season and it the team’s official all-time sack leader with 83.5. He was named to six Pro Bowls during his career.
2011: Randall Cobb RS
Wide receiver Randall Cobb caught only 25 passes as a rookie, but he made this list on the strength of his performance as a return specialist in 2011.
Cobb averaged 27.7-yards per punt return as a rookie, accumulating 941 yards on 34 returns including a 108-yard kick return for a touchdown in his first NFL game against the Saints. He also added another 295 yards on 26 punt returns for an 11.3-yard average and a touchdown. That made him the first Packers rookie to return both a kick and a punt for touchdowns in team history.
The Kentucky product was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team for his accomplishments as a return specialist. He later became a standout wide receiver for the Packers before leaving the team after the 2018 season.
2013: Eddie Lacy, RB
While Eddy Lacy didn’t last long with the Packers, he had a record-setting rookie season in 2013 before weight issues cut his career short.
The second-round pick out of Alabama set a franchise rookie record by gaining 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. He topped 100 yards rushing in a game four times and added 35 receptions for another 257 yards.
For his efforts, Lacy earned a Pro Bowl berth and was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.
Lacy added another 1,000-yard season in 2014, but he never approached the greatness of his rookie season. After four seasons with the Pack, he signed as a free agent with Seattle in 2017.