Good drafting is the foundation of success for NFL teams and the Green Bay Packers are no exception. If you draft well, your roster will be stocked with talented players and enough difference makers to create a team that wins consistently. If you draft poorly, it could set your teams back several years and force you to overspend on free agents to fill in the roster gaps.
Here is a look at the Packers best and worst first-round picks by decade since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. Only first round picks are eligible for this list and it is too early to consider the 2020 and 2021 draft classes.
Feel free to comment on the players on this list and to suggest alternatives if you disagree with my picks.
Best Pick: WR James Lofton, 1978
Most Disappointing: WR Barry Smith, 1973
Wide receivers made up the best and most disappointing picks of the decade of the 70s, a 10-year period that saw the Packers struggle with just one playoff appearance and two winning seasons.
The Packers drafted Lofton out of Stanford in 1978 and he went on to an outstanding, Hall of Fame career. The former track star made seven Pro Bowls in nine seasons with the Packers including five seasons with 1,000-or-more yards.
Lofton was one of the fastest receivers in the league and he was a big-play threat every time he touched the football.
He finished his Packers career with 530 catches for 9,655 yards and 49 touchdowns. Lofton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Barry Smith was selected in the first round in 1973 out of Florida State. He was supposed to be the next Fred Biletnikoff, a sticky-fingered possession receiver who would come through in the clutch. Unfortunately, Smith struggled to get open and catch passes in the NFL.
In three seasons with the Packers, Smith caught a total of 41 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns and never caught more than 20 passes in a season. The Packers lack of consistent quarterback play during his three seasons with the team certainly didn’t help Smith’s cause, but he played only one more NFL season after leaving Green Bay and caught just four passes.
Best: Sterling Sharpe
Disappointing: Tony Mandarich
The Packers added Sharpe in the first round in 1988 and he immediately gave the Packers a reliable weapon in their passing game. Sharpe had a great combination of size, strength and hands that made it difficult for defenders to cover him.
Sharpe set an NFL single season record in 1992 with 108 catches, then broke his own record by catching 112 passes a year later.
He was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career when a neck injury ended his NFL career after the 1993 season.
Mandarich was considered the best offensive line prospect ever when he was selected with the second overall pick in 1989. Unfortunately, his strength and speed were artificially enhanced by steroids at Michigan State.
Mandarich held out after being drafted but when he finally signed and reported to the Packers, the coaching staff quickly realized he could not match his college performance levels.
He played three seasons with the Packers but never came close to justifying being the second overall pick in the draft. The other players still on the board when the Packers chose Mandarich included Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.
Best: Craig Newsome
Disappointing: Vinnie Clark
Newsome played four seasons for the Packers after being selected in the 1995 NFL Draft. He was rapidly developing into a quality cover corner when injuries derailed his career.
He became a starter immediately during his rookie season and had a fumble return for a touchdown that set the tone for the Packers 1995 playoff upset of the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.
The former Arizona State star had an interception and forced a fumble in the Packers 35-21 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
Vinnie Clark lasted only two seasons with the Packers despite being their first round pick in 1991. He started a total of 15 games over those two seasons but never developed into a reliable corner during his time with the Packers.
Best: Aaron Rodgers
Disappointing: Justin Harrell
Rodgers is the runaway choice as the Packers best draft pick of the 2000s and possibly of all time. The 49ers had the first overall pick and chose Alex Smith over Rodgers and the Cal quarterback fell all the way to the Pack who held the 24th overall pick. Green Bay took Rodgers even though they already had Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre on their roster.
Rodgers went on to become a three-time NFL MVP and led the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XLV. He has been to nine Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s.
Harrell never got the chance to realize his potential because of numerous serious injuries that derailed his career. He played in a total of 14 games for the Packers over four seasons and started two. He never recorded a sack.
We will never know what the former Tennessee star may have been able to accomplish had he remained healthy.
Best: Jaire Alexander
Disappointing: Derek Sherrod
The Packers added Alexander with the 18th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has quickly developed into one of the best cover corners in the league was earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020 for the first time in his career.
Alexander has outstanding speed and a lot of confidence. If he can raise his interception totals, he can become a perennial All Pro. Alexander is just 24 and his best football should be ahead of him.
Sherrod is another player who had their career ended prematurely by injuries. As a rookie in 2011, he played in five games before suffering an injury that caused him to miss all the 2012 season. He spent two more seasons with the Packers but started only one game and never became the player he could have if he had stayed healthy.
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