With the combine finished and free agency around the corner, this time of year is always filled with optimism for NFL fans. No picks have been made, no injuries have been suffered, no dreams have been waylaid by the harsh realities of professional football.
While this is a very exciting time, it’s also appropriate to remember some of the big swings and misses the Packers have made in the draft in the past decade.
This is always a tough position for me since I have the utmost respect for all of these guys. To even be drafted into the NFL is an elite club, and for the most part, the reasons why the to-be-mentioned players didn’t find success with the Green and Gold are uncontrollable for players such as injury and scheme. This will read as a critique of the individuals on the list but it’s not intended to shame, rather to illuminate some of the lessons learned from good and bad experiences coming from the draft.
To be fair to current players, I am starting the countdown by year in 2016 since it is still early to fully judge the classes of ’17, ’18, and ’19.
2016 : Jason Spriggs
Jason Spriggs came into the draft with a 2nd round grade per leading NFL scouts, and the Packers seemed to agree as he was selected 48th overall. Standing 6’5″ and weighing 301, he certainly had the size and build of a prototypical NFL tackle. Many thought that he would be a long term replacement taking over for Bryan Bulaga, who has his own rough injury history to contend with.
However, the injury bug bit Jason early and the speed of the NFL proved to be too much when he was pushed back into action. The summer following his rookie year saw Spriggs go down with a hamstring injury that landed him on the injury reserve. While he was able to bounce back and started 5 games for the Packers at right tackle, the quality of play was lacking from what Packer’s fans had gotten used to with Bulaga.
Spriggs continued to be a spot offensive lineman who was capable of stepping in for injured starters, but injuries again lead him to fall back to the injured reserve on and off again. As he is currently headed into free agency at the start of the new league year, it is highly doubtful that Spriggs will return unless he is willing to sign a non-guaranteed contract for a hometown discount.
Runner Up: Trevor Davis
2015: Damarious Randall
The former Arizona State safety was the consensus top safety available in the 2015 NFL draft, with a 1st or 2nd round grade attached to him coming out of his pro day and combine. Standing a shade under 5’11” and weighing 196 lbs, there was never any doubt that Randall was a strong athlete who could compete physically in the NFL.
He was drafted in the 1st round by the Green Bay Packers (30th) overall with plans to play strictly cornerback. This was undoubtedly confusing for both Randall and draft analysts, who could see that his natural position was clearly at safety.
Drafted in the same class as Quentin Rollins, both young CB’s struggled with the position at the NFL level. While Rollins was often beat soundly, it seemed like Randall just never could fit in the mold at the position or within the locker room. He was one of the more vocal members of the defense- not a slight against him, but this ultimately helped contribute to his eventual trade to the Cleveland Browns in March of 2018.
After he was traded to the Browns, he was moved back to the safety role and so far has thrived in that defense. This draft swing and miss was never a question of IF Damarious could play and be successful in the NFL, but rather how the Packers could not figure out the best was to effectively utilize his talent and ultimately had to move on from him.
Runner up: Jake Ryan
2014: Khyri Thornton
Khyri Thornton is perhaps the least recognizable name on this list for longtime Packers followers. The only player here not drafted in the first 2 rounds, Thornton was never suppose to be a star for the Packers but still was essentially a non-factor with the Packers.
Coming out of the combine standing 6’3″ and weighing 304, he was labeled as a “project player” on account that his skillset was still very under-developed for an NFL rotational player and he did not face a lot of top talent in his college career at Southern Mississippi. Thornton himself was surprised when the Packers drafted him in the 3rd round, but Ted Thompson and the Packers scouting staff must have saw something either on tape or in his physicals that they loved, given that he was taken by them with the 8th pick.
Unfortunately for Thornton, he never really had a chance to make an impact. After he suffered a hamstring injury in the final 2014 preseason game, he was added to the injury reserve and never saw the field again with the Green and Gold. A year later, Thornton was waived by the Packers. Thornton has bounced around in the NFL and is currently on injured reserve for the St. Louis BattleHawks in the XFL.
Runner up: Carl Bradford
2013: Datone Jones
The first UCLA defensive lineman drafted in the first round since 1979, Datone Jones came to the Packers as an explosive 6’4″ and 285 lb defensive lineman. When Packers fans look back at the career of Datone Jones with the Packers, they can see a player that just never developed to what was expected given how highly he was drafted.
Jones played his rookie year as a defensive lineman and posted 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks during the campaign. In addition to that he also added a fumble recovery and an extra point attempt block.
Sadly this was about as good as his numbers ever looked on paper. He would end his Packers stint after 4 seasons with 9 sacks total in 59 games, which was just not enough to justify the 1st round draft capital the Packers spent on him. Even a position switch from defensive line to outside linebacker (lining up as an EDGE rusher) wasn’t able to get him over the hump, and while he did bounce around the league for a few more years Datone Jones’ legacy is a small one compared to his big talent.
Runner up: Eddie Lacy
2012: Jerel Worthy
Jerel Worthy was a consensus first-team All American when he declared he’d be forgoing his remaining eligibility with Michigan State to enter the 2012 NFL Draft. A powerful man at 6’3″ weighing 309 lbs, Worthy was thought to be a wrecker in the middle of the defensive line. The Packers believed in him enough that they traded up from the 59th position to the 51st to select Jerel, so he carried the weight of both a 2nd and 4th round pick.
However, as these things tend to turn out, Worthy’s opportunity to live up to his draft potential was cut short by injury.
A 2012 ACL tear put Worthy back significantly and robbed him of development opportunity during the offseason as well as the majority of the 2013 regular season, the period of the career that 2nd year NFL needs to show significant development in order for their draft teams to pick up late-year options on their respective rookie deals.
With limited opportunities, Worthy was able to record 2.5 sacks playing part-time duty but wasn’t able to stay on the field for long enough to make an impact for the club, which ultimately lead to his being shipped to New England for a conditional late-round pick.
Runner up: Nick Perry
2011: Derek Sherrod
Former 1st Team All-SEC selection Derek Sherrod was an absolute force for the Mississippi State Bulldogs during their 2010 SEC campaign, as he started all 12 games at left tackle and was a part of the group that set Mississippi State records as well as leading the SEC in rushing. Standing a massive 6’5″ and weighing 321 lbs, he was an absolute force to be reckoned with in the run game.
With the 32nd pick in the draft coming off of a Superbowl victory, the Packers selected Sherrod to help stabilize an offensive line that had played well during the championship run, but was lacking depth.
A late-season injury due to a rollup in a 2011 regular season game cost Sherrod the 2012-2012 offseason as well as the 2012 season. When Sherrod was able to return, it was abundantly clear that he had lost a step and was no longer the player the Packers had expected when they took him in the 2011 draft. He was waived in November of 2014 and was never able to make it back to the big league.
Runner up: DJ Williams
2010: Mike Neal
Mike Neal is on this list by default, though he was still an impact player that helped the Packers win their first Superbowl in a decade his rookie year. The draft class of Bryan Bulaga, Neal, Morgan Burnett, Andrew Quarless, Marshall Newhouse, James Starks, and C.J. Wilson all proved to be starters in the league, with all of them having over 60 games played to their name.
That being said, the Mike Neal journey with the Packers was still lacking. Neal was a starter for the Packers in 29 of the 68 games played, claiming 19 sacks and an interception during his time as DE and OLB. While not as big of a bust as other players on this list, the Packers were not impressed enough with Neal to offer a new deal after the 2015 season after giving him a 2-year deal back in 2013.
Runner up: Andrew Quarless
——————Joe Kelley is a lifelong Packer fan born in Wisconsin and currently living surrounded by Patriots fans in New England- please send messages of support to @Jkelleylol on Twitter or @j.k.lolz on Instagram.