The BEST Green Bay Packers First Round Draft Picks of the Last 50 Years
As the 2010 NFL Draft approaches, and anticipation builds, Packer fans everywhere are hoping the team’s first round draft pick will turn out to be the team’s next Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, Packers’ history says that’s not very likely.
The Green Bay Packers have 19 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only 3, however, were first round draft choices (Paul Hornung, Herb Adderley and James Lofton). Only 2 (Adderley and Lofton) were between the years of 1959-2009 that this article covers.
In the 72-year history of the NFL Draft, Green Bay has only had the first overall pick once, in 1959. It would be Vince Lombardi’s first draft and his selection, quarterback Randy Duncan, unfortunately made my previous list of the WORST Packers first-round draft picks of the last 50 years.
You may be surprised to know that the Packers have been very active first-round traders. In 28 of the past 50 drafts, the Packers have made a trade involving a first round draft choice.
Before we get to the picks, two disclaimers:
You will not find Jerry Kramer or Paul Hornung on this list as they were drafted before 1959.
You will not find Aaron Rodgers or Clay Matthews on this list as their bodies of work, while impressive, are still too short.
So, without further delay, here is the list:
Nick Barnett – LB – 2003 – Selected 29th overall – 6’2″, 236 lbs.
Out of Oregon State University, Nick Barnett was a 4-year varsity player. He entered the starting lineup halfway through his sophomore season and remained a fixture at strong side linebacker for the rest of his collegiate career. His senior season he averaged over nine tackles a game and was named All-Pacific 10 Conference, after leading the league with 121 tackles (62 solo).
Selected by the Packers with pick 29 of the first round, Barnett was the first Oregon State player taken in the first round in 40 years. He quickly proved to be worthy of that pick, starting the Packers’ first regular season game at middle Linebacker. Barnett has been incredibly consistant, still averaging the same nine tackles per game with the Packers as he did in college. Barnett has lead the Packers in tackles 5 times, including last season, coming off the only serious injury of his career. He has been the de-facto leader of the Packers’ defense, and at no time did this become more evident than the 2008 season. When Barnett got injured, the Packers defense plummeted downhill fast. His leadership and contributions were sorely missed.
Ezra Johnson – DE – 1977 – Selected 28th overall - 6’4″, 240 lbs.
Out of tiny Morris Brown College, Ezra Johnson was actually the the Packer’s second first-round pick in the 1977 draft. Green bay had received this first-round pick as compensation from the Oakland Raiders for Al Davis signing Ted (The Stork) Hendricks as a limited free agent.
Ezra Johnson played eleven seasons (1977-1987) for the “Green and Gold”. In only his second pro season, Johnson made the Pro Bowl after a season with an “unofficial” 20.5 sacks. Unfortunately for Johnson, the NFL did not officially begin keeping sack statistics until the 1982 season. The official sack total for his career is 55.5, ignoring the first five years of his career. Johnson is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Donny Anderson – RB – 1965 – Selected seventh overall -6’2″, 215 lbs.
Out of Texas Tech, Donny Anderson was known as the “Golden Palomino”. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a multiple threat. While primarily a halfback, Anderson also was a punter, kick returner, defensive back, and even played some quarterback. He signed with Green Bay for a then-record $600,000 contract.
With the Packers, Anderson had an immediate impact during the season leading to their second straight Super Bowl win. In total, he played six solid seasons for the Packers before leaving for St Lous and playing three more years before retiring.
Although remembered more for his running, Anderson had a much larger impact on the NFL as a punter. In 1967, Anderson is credited with developing the concept of punting hang-time. Before Anderson, punters were only concerned with distance.
Reporters at the time couldn’t understand why Vince Lombardi didn’t go find a punter that could kick farther (Anderson’s average was only 36.6 yards per kick in 1967). But then Lombardi showed them these statistics for the year:
63 punts, only 13 returned, 22 TOTAL return yards.
Other punters soon followed suit, and eventually the NFL had to change punt coverage rules to bring punt returns back into the game.
Donny Anderson is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
John Anderson – RB – 1978 – Selected 26th overall -6’3″, 226 lbs.
Out of the University of Michigan, John Anderson was an Academic All-American. Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he couldn’t have been happier to be drafted by the Packers. Anderson was actually the second of Green Bay’s two first-round picks (the first was James Lofton – more on him later). The pick was obtained from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for DT Mike McCoy.
A team leader on defense, Anderson had a solid 12-year NFL career, all with the Packers. He was a fixture at left outside linebacker, and retired as the Packers’ all-time leader in tackles and interceptions for a linebacker (25). Although he was never named to a Pro Bowl, Anderson was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1980s and is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Fred Carr – LB – 1968 – Selected fifth overall -6’5″, 238 lbs.
Out of the University of Texas – El Paso (UTEP), the 6′ 5″ Fred “Freddy” Carr helped usher in the move to taller linebackers in the NFL. As Vince Lombardi’s final first-round pick for the Packers, Carr was rated the best overall athelete in the 1968 draft. With the Packers, Carr was originally tried at tight end and defensive end before settling in to his final position of OLB, starting every game for the next eight years.
Carr’s amazing athletic ability manifested itself in many ways. In High School, Carr was a National top-10 discus thrower. In college, besides starting for UTEP football, Carr was a member of the 1966 NCAA Basketball champions from UTEP (then known as Texas Western College).
Although he didn’t see much playing time as a sophomore on the basketball team, he did witness history. UTEP won the NCAA championship, beating legend Adolph Rupp’s University of Kentucky team in the final game. Coach Don Haskins broke racial barriers by being the first coach to start 5 African-American players in an NCAA championship game. This was the team that the movie “Glory Road” was based on.
For the Packers, Carr was a model of consistancy. In his 10 years with Green Bay, Carr never missed a game. He had a nose for the ball, recovering 25 fumbles in his NFL career. He also blocked 3 field gaols and two extra points.
Carr was named to the NFL Pro Bowl three times, and was voted the MVP of the 1971 Pro Bowl. Carr is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Gale Gillingham – G – 1966 – Selected 13th overall -6’3″, 255 lbs.
Out of the University of Minnesota,Gale Gillingham was the Packers’ second of two first round draft choices in 1966 (the first was running back Jim Graboski, selected with the ninth pick). Gillingham was drafted as the heir apparant at guard for Fuzzy Thurston and/or Jerry Kramer.
Gillingham was an early proponent of weight lifting, which was still uncommon at that time. His rookie season, he was a backup for Kramer and Thurston, and earned a Super Bowl ring. Fuzzy Thurston retired and Gillingham took over his left guard spot for the 1967 season, which resulted in a second Super Bowl ring for Gillingham.
Gillingham would play 10 seasons for the Packers, earning Pro Bowl honors four times. In 1972, Coach Dan Devine made the dubious decision to convert Gillingham into a defensive tackle. He was injured in the first game and missed the rest of the season.
He came back next year at his normal offensive guard spot and played three more years. Gillingham is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Dave Robinson – LB – 1963 – Selected 13th overall -6’3″, 245 lbs.
Out of Penn State University, Dave Robinson was an All-American two-way player for the Nittany Lions at tight end and defensive end. Robinson was a superb athelete, and could probably have played almost any position on the field.
Drafted by Vince Lombardi with the intention to convert him into a linebacker, Robinson was the understudy for Dan Currie his first year. He earned the starting spot the next season and was a fixture there for the Packers for the next nine seasons.
Robinson was a key player for the Packer defense during their three straight NFL championships. He intercepted 12 passes during those seasons and finished with 27 interceptions during his 12 year NFL career. Robinson was a new breed of linebacker in the NFL; tall, fast, intelligent and skilled.
Robinson wanted so much to finish his career with the Packers. But unfortunately Dan Devine had other ideas. In 1973, after 10 years with the Packers, he decided he wanted younger players and traded Robinson to George Allen’s Washington Redskins. Robinson played two years for the Redskins and then retired from the NFL.
Dave Robinson was a three-time Pro Bowler, the MVP of the 1967 Pro Bowl and was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s. In addition, Dave Robinson is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
John Brockington – RB – 1971 – Selected ninth overall -6’1″, 225 lbs.
Out of Ohio State University, John Brockington had just set the OSU single-season rushing yardage record as a senior. The Packers made him their first selection in the draft, but probably never could have expected the instant production they got out of Brockington.
Brockington crashed onto the NFL season his rookie year, gaining over 1000 yards and making the Pro Bowl. Amazingly, he repeated those feats his next two seasons as well, becoming the first running back in NFL History to rush for over 1000 yards in his first three NFL seasons.
Brockington represented a new type of running back, with the strength to run through and over defenders, instead of around them. Together with MacArthur Lane, the Packer running game was of the bruising variety in the early 70s.
Unfortunately, all of that contact started to wear down Brockington. His fourth season he reached 800 rushing yards and was used more as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 43 passes. That was his last productive season for the Packers and after playing in only one game in 1977, his seventh with the Packers, he was released. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs for one year, but hardly played. He retired from the NFL after that season.
Although he didn’t have a long career, Brockington was a star from day one with the Packers. If his career had been longer, he might have been in the discussion for greatest Packer first-round pick of all time. As it is, he’s still near the top of the list. Brockington is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
James Lofton – WR – 1978 – Selected sixth overall -6’3″, 187 lbs.
Out of the University of Stanford, James Lofton was a second-team Football All-American, Academic All-American, and a National long-jump champion. Mostly a track athlete, Lofton wasn’t even a football starter until his senior year. Stanford coach Bill Walsh saw his potential and decided to feature him in the offense. As a senior in 1977, Lofton caught 57 passes for 1,010 yards (17.72 yards per reception average) with 14 touchdowns.
Drafted by the Packers, Lofton was an instant starter. His speed and “soft hands” made him a premier deep-threat receiver from the moment he entered the pros. His rookie year with the Packers, Lofton caught 46 passes and averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Those first-year numbers are very telling, as they are almost exactly what Lofton would average over his 16 season NFL career.
Lofton spent his first nine seasons with the Packers. During that time, Lofton caught 530 passes for 9.656 yards and 49 touchdowns. In 1987, Lofton left Green Bay for a two-year stay with the Los Angeles Raiders, followed by four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and brief stints with the L.A. Rams and Philadelphia Eagles before his retirement following the 1993 season.
In his 16 NFL seasons, Lofton caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards and 75 touchdowns. He averaged 20 yards per catch or more in five seasons, leading the league in 1983 and 1984 with an average of 22.4 and 22 yards respectively.
James Lofton was named to the Pro Bowl 8 times, seven with the Green Bay Packers. He is a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sterling Sharpe – WR – 1999 – Selected seventh overall -6’0″, 207 lbs.
Out of the University of South Carolina, Sterling Sharpe graduated with a double major and a retired jersey already in hand. As a holder of numerous receiving records for the Gamecocks, the school decided not to wait, and retired his jersey after his senior year. Sharpe was the school record-holder for career receptions (169), receiving yards (2,497), and receiving touchdowns (17).
As the first round pick for the Packers, Sharpe was an immediate starter. His rookie season he caught 55 passes, the most ever for a Green Bay Packer rookie. In his second year, Sharpe caught 90 passes and was on his way to an amazing career.
In 1992, Sharpe’s fifth season in the NFL, a new quarterback with a big arm and a funny name (Favre) emerged for the Green Bay Packers. That season was one of the greatest ever recorded by a receiver. Sharpe broke the NFL single season reception record with 107 and led the league in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Only seven players in NFL history have accomplished this; Don Hutson (5 times!), Elroy Hirsch, Pete Pihos, Raymond Berry, Jerry Rice and Steve Smith.
The following year, Sharpe caught 112 passes, the first player to have caught more gthan 100 passes 2 years in a row. He and Brett Favre led the Packers to their first playoff game of the 90′s. The Packers defeated the Detroit Lions that day on a last-minute Favre to Sharpe 40 yd touchdown pass (his 3rd of the game).
In 1994, despite playing with very painful turf toe, Sharpe was having another outstanding year when he suffered a neck injury in a December game. He was cleared to play the following week, but had to leave the game once again with severe pain in his neck.
He was later diagnosed as having damaged two vertebrae in his neck and would require surgery to fuse the vertebrae. After successful surgery, Sharpe considered returning to the NFL, but neither the Packers or any other NFL team were willing to take the chance of Sharpe suffering a debilitating injury. Sharpe was forced to retire after only seven seasons with the Packers.
Sharpe was an extremely intense individual, both on and off the field. Unhappy with how the press treated him his rookie year, and feeling that dealing with the press interfered with his focus, Sharpe refused to grant interviews throughout his career. He says he has no regrets, although it was a bit ironic that he went on to work for ESPN.
Sharpe was selected to the Pro Bowl in five of his seven seasons with the Packers and is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame. If not for that career-ending injury, I feel that Sharpe would be looked at today as one of the greatest receivers of all time.
Herb Adderley – RB – 1961 – Selected 12th overall -6’0″, 205 lbs.
Out of Michigan State University, Adderley was a star running back for the Spartans. He arrived on the scene at Green Bay expecting to continue in that vein, but found future Hall-of-Famers Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung squarely in his path.
Well into the season and unlikely to find him any playing time at running back, Vince Lombardi put Adderley in as an emergency replacement for injured cornerback Hank Gremminger. Adderley turned out to be a natural at the position and stayed there for the rest of his career.
Adderley’s athleticism and instinctual nose for the football helped him intercept 47 passes during his career, returning 7 for touchdowns. Besides playing cornerback, Adderley also used his running back skills to his advantage as a kick returner. He returned 120 kicks for the Packers, averaging 25.7 yards per return.
Adderley played for the Green Bay Packers from 1961- 1969. He later went on to play with the Dallas Cowboys for three years and retired at the end of the season in 1972. Adderley is one of only 3 players in history to have won 6 world championships. He was on 5 Green Bay Packer World Championship teams and won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys.
Adderley is quoted as saying, “I’m the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn’t wear it. I’m a Green Bay Packer.”
Adderley was voted to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade team and is a member of both the Green Bay Packer and NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of only 20 defensive backs in Canton, he is considered by many to be the greatest cornerback to ever have played the game of football.
Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.