Once promising draft picks who fizzled out in Titletown
As a general rule, most NFL prospects chosen over the first two days — or first three rounds — of the draft are expected to flourish as cornerstones who will either develop into foundational mainstays or at the very least become solid rotational contributors.
These are the players that an organization can’t miss on since inexpensive talent is what keeps salaries down to allow teams to not only avoid signing too many overpriced veteran free agents, but also re-sign their homegrown talent with expiring contracts.
In the eight-year window from 2012-2019, Green Bay focused on shoring up their defense, which for the better part of the past decade has underperformed. During that stretch, in fact, 18 of the Packers 25 picks in the first three rounds were all on the defensive side of the ball.
Many of these same athletes showed varying flashes of their extraordinary physical gifts that catapulted them into the first three rounds, only to peter out and ultimately play their way off the roster.
Here are the top five Packer flame-outs who at one point — however brief — gave Packer backers reason to anticipate several years of success in a green and gold uniform.
5. Josh Jones
Billed as an intimidating enforcer entering the 2017 draft, Jones had the size (6’2”, 220), quickness and versatility to play up in the box or patrol centerfield in zone coverage during his time at North Carolina State. His one and only shining moment as a Packer occurred in Week 3 of his rookie campaign, as he registered a team-high 12 tackles and 2 sacks in a thrilling overtime win over the Bengals. In that game, Jones exhibited his lateral quickness and ability to level ball carriers. Surprisingly, it was all downhill from there for the young safety as his deficiencies in coverage began to emerge, along with his penchant for taking bad angles and missing tackles. Things only worsened when Jones openly complained about new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wanting to move him to linebacker. The former second-round pick was released prior to the 2019 regular season and is currently trying to earn a spot with the Jaguars. There once was a place for physical box safeties in the NFL, but that’s no longer the case in the here and now.
4. Quinten Rollins
The Packers were so enamored with the athletic upside of the former hoops standout that they took him in the second round of the 2015 draft despite the fact that Rollins had only played one year of football at Miami University-Oxford (Ohio). And while the 5’11” corner showed signs of blossoming into a useful defender in his rookie campaign (see his 45-yard touchdown pick-six versus the Rams), Rollins struggled mightily as he began being thrust into a bigger role. The young defender’s utter lack of skill in terms of reading offenses totally negated his considerable athletic prowess, which was reflected in his plummeting PFF rating, which tumbled from 133.8 in his first year to 58.4 in 2016 before he bottomed out as the 106th-ranked cornerback with a 41.2 rating. Watching Julio Jones toy with Rollins in Green Bay’s Week 2 loss to the Falcons in 2017 was more than any Packer fan should have to endure.
3. Datone Jones
It’s hard to believe that Jones was a first-round selection in 2013 considering how quickly he’s faded from the memory of most fans. The former UCLA Bruin started his NFL career as a 295-pound 3-4 lineman who contributed as a serviceable run-stuffer, but was never able to emerge as a forceful pass rusher. Jones was never a twitchy athlete who could turn and bend coming out of the Pac-12, but he also often struggled in gaining leverage on opposing blockers as a Packer. In an act of desperation, former defensive coordinator Dom Capers elected to move the Los Angeles native to outside linebacker during the 2015 season. Jones generated more pressures in his new role, but couldn’t record nearly enough sacks or splash plays to justify keeping him on the roster. No. 95 concluded his four-year stay in Titletown with 9 sacks in 59 games and subsequently bounced around four teams without making much of an impact. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is currently a free agent.
2. Damarious Randall
Prior to being selected as Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2015, the highly-touted defensive back was ranked as the top safety of that year’s draft class by multiple experts, including current Raiders GM and former NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. The Packers, however, only had designs on using Randall as a cornerback. After a positive rookie year that saw the brash defender produce clutch plays and pick off the likes of Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Cam Newton, the Arizona State product slipped in 2016 when he was asked to take over for an injured Sam Shields as Green Bay’s CB1. Opposing quarterbacks completed 63.6-percent of their passes and 10 touchdowns against him in his 10 starts. Randall’s abysmal Week 2 performance versus a shifty and explosive Stefon Diggs, in particular, was embarrassing on many levels. As the year wore one, No. 23 increasingly gave up lots of cushion to receivers to prevent from getting burned. The miscast corner never truly recovered and was mercifully traded to the Browns, where he enjoyed a resurgence as a safety in 2018, but reverted to his inept ways this past season. In 2019, the Florida-born defender was reportedly suspended for refusing to practice in the cold. Randall was recently signed as a free agent by the Raiders.
1. Nick Perry
The Detroit-born edge rusher hasn’t been a total bust — far from it. Many fans will surely remember his clutch outings in postseason play, including his 1.5 sack performance versus the Cowboys in the 2015 NFC Divisional Round and his 2.5 sacks a year later versus the Redskins in the NFC Wildcard round. The primary issue with Perry was his inability to stay on the field for long periods, as the 2012 first-round pick suffered a myriad of injuries in his seven years as a Packer from knee and wrist ailments as a rookie to a fractured foot and shoulder issues, along with a broken hand, among other setbacks. Although the power end never played a full 16-game season, he finally broke out in 2016 by posting a team-high 11 sacks — his one and only year with double-digit sacks. Perry parlayed his newfound production into a five-year, $60 million contract, with a signing bonus of $18.5 million. Were the Packers wrong in handing him that deal? If they would’ve opted not to pony up those dollars, some other team (namely the New York Jets) would have probably stepped in and accommodated the ascending pro. At his best, Perry was a physical presence who could punish blockers with his tremendous bull rush and explosive get-off. Unfortunately for Perry (and the Packers for that matter), the injuries only multiplied with No. 53 playing in only 21 of his 32 games in 2017 and 2018. He progressively devolved into less of a factor and was often invisible during his final season in Green Bay. It took the one-time USC Trojan four years to play up to his 2012 first-round status, but after getting paid, Perry — through no fault of his own — morphed into the ultimate flame-out.——————
When ~Reverend~ Ralph Mancini is not tackling hard news in New York City, he enjoys analyzing his favorite sports team, the Green Bay Packers. You can follow him on twitter at ReverendRalph.