Editor’ note: I published this about one month ago, but thought because we are so close to the 2013 NFL Draft that I would resurrect it.
If you read this before, give it another read. I really enjoyed putting it together and I hope you will enjoy reading it.
With the National Football League Draft right around the corner, we have taken a few moments to review all of the first round Green Bay Packers draft selections since Russ Letlow was selected out of the University of San Francisco in 1936 and have come up with a top 10 list (because everyone loves lists) of our best of the best Packers first round selections.
The imprecise science in deciding who to select in the draft is well known,. The Packers have hit some home runs over the years – but they’ve struck out, too (a subject for another post).
But without boring you with my rambling, here is our list and some information about each of those selections.
10. Gale Gillingham - Gale Gillingham, who died Oct. 20, 2011, was drafted out of the University of Minnesota (13th overall) in the first round by the Packers in 1966 and played his entire career with the team, retiring in 1976. Gillingham was drafted at the end of the Packers championship run in the 1960s, but was known for his toughness and talent. Somewhat undersized, Gillingham’s fundamentals were what made him special. He was known for taking on much bigger linemen throughout his career and neutralizing them at the line of scrimmage.
He started the 1967 season at left guard after Fuzzy Thurston was injured and moved to right guard the next season when Jerry Kramer retired. in all, he played 128 regular-season and 5 postseason games. He was selected first-team All-Pro in 1969 and 1970 and was selected for the Pro Bowl five times, from 1969-71, as well as in 1973 and 1974.
A story in the New York Times published upon his death in 2011 recounts a visit to Gillingham by Jerry Kramer who was in the midst of writing “Distant Replay”, the follow-up to “Instant Replay.”
Kramer asked his old teammate what he remembered best about his football career. Gillingham didn’t talk about any particular play or any specific game, like the Ice Bowl or either of the Super Bowls. What mattered most to Gale Gillingham was the feeling of anticipation in the moments leading up to the opening kickoff. “I love my kids dearly”, he said, “but I have never been as close to people as I was every Sunday when I walked through that damn tunnel to the field. I thought so much of those guys walking with me, I didn’t want to do anything to let them down. We would kill for each other. We would die for each other. We would do anything for each other.”
Gillingham received the ultimate honor as a Packer in 1982 when he was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
9. Kenneth Ruettgers - He was selected seventh overall out of the University of Southern California in the 1985 Draft and played for the Packers his entire career - from 1985-96. He had injuries early in his career and was forced to retire during the Packers’ 1996 Super Bowl championship run because he just couldn’t do it anymore.
The 6-6, 295-pound left tackle toiled through some very bad seasons with the Packers, but was also one of the team’s most consistent players. Keeping his quarterbacks’ blind side safe, Ruettgers was rewarded in the late 1980s when quarterback Don Majkowski arrived on scene and the Packers realized success on the field in 1989. He was voted the offensive MVP that season. However, it wasn’t until the final four years of his career that he was part of a rising program when Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Reggie White and Brett Favre arrived in Green Bay.
8. John Brockington - Brockington was selected ninth overall in the 1971 draft.
If there ever was a running back whose career exploded with success as fast as it went downhill, it was that of John Brockington. Known for his high knee kick pounding style of running, Brockington gained more than 1,000 yards his first three seasons in the league – that being during a 14-game season. As a rookie in 1971, the year he was named NFL Rookie of the Year, Brockington averaged 5.1 yards per carry and in 1972 his average went down to 3.7 yards per carry, but he still gained 1,027 yards. In his third year in the league, 1973, Brockington gained 1,144 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
In seven years with the Green Bay Packers, he carried the ball 1,293 times for 5,024 yards (3.9 yard average), and 29 touchdowns.
He is also a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
7. Ezra Johnson - Johnson was a first round selection, 28th overall), out of Morris Brown in the 1977 Draft.
Though the NFL didn’t start officially recording sacks, Johnson was a pro bowler in 1978 when he unofficially recorded 20.5 sacks. The defensive end was a hulk on the Packers line and one of the best to play for the Packers prior to Reggie White. Coming off the 1978 season when he was a nightmare for quarterback, he continued to play well season-in and season-out. In 1983, he recorded 14.5 sacks, but also posted a team record 107 tackles – the most by a Packers defensive lineman. In 192 career games, Johnson had an official 55.5 sacks, but when the unofficial count is added he is said to have 99. As a Packer, he had 41.5 sacks in 86 games.
He finished his career playing for Indianapolis and Houston. He was inducted into the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame in 1997.
6. Aaron Rodgers - selected in the first round of the 2005 Draft, number 24 overall, out of Cal, Aaron Rodgers is the only active player on this list for obvious reasons.
Rodgers rode the bench for three years while waiting in the wings until Brett Favre unofficially retired after the 2007 season. He began his career in 2008 and has lifted his level of play through the 2012 season as probably the best quarterback in the game. Though not official as of this writing, Rodgers was poised to sign a new contract that was to make him the highest-paid player in the National Football League.
In 78 games over the course of the past five years, Rodgers has completed 1,752 passes in 2,665 attempts (65.7 percent), for 21,661 yards, and 171 touchdowns. He’s had just 46 interceptions over the course of those five years, a 1.7 percent average. His quarterback rating average over five years sits at 127. His highest season rating came in 2011 when he posted an astounding 149.
He’s also been named the league’s Most Valuable Player, has won a Super Bowl, and has been named MVP of the Super Bowl.
While Rodgers’ story is just beginning, there will still be much to write. Should he play another 8-10 years and remain healthy during that time, there’s no reason why Rodgers couldn’t overtake the many records now held by Brett Favre. However, he still has a long ways to go … that is why he isn’t rated higher in this top 10. His career is still young and he has much yet to do.
I hope to see the day when I can revisit this column and post him at the number one position.
5. Sterling Sharpe - Sharpe was selected seventh overall in the 1988 draft and played through the 1994 season with the Packers.
His career was cut short by a neck injury that forced his retirement from the game after just two seasons in the program with quarterback Brett Favre. Many feel had he not been forced to retire, he would have easily had the career statistics to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – some feel that even though his career was cut short, he should still be considered for the Hall.
In seven short seasons, Sharpe hauled in 595 passes for 8,134 yards (13.7 yard average), and 65 touchdowns. In 1992, Sharpe caught 107 balls and was one of just seven others in league history to win the “Triple Crown” at the receiver position. He led the league in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and receptions. The only others prior to him to do so were Don Hutson, Elroy Hirsch, Pete Pihos, Raymond Berry, Jerry Rice and Steve Smith. In 1993, he broke his own record with 112 catches.
4. Dave Robinson - Robinson, in the days when the American Football League was bidding for the services of college football players , was drafted out of Penn State in the first round of the 1963 NFL Draft by the Packers and by the San Diego Chargers. Incidentally, he was also drafted by the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but eventually selected the Packers.
Robinson played 10 years for the Packers, from 1963-1972, playing in 155 games with Green Bay. He finished his career in Washington, where he played an additional 28 games. For the Packers, he had 21 interceptions that he returned for 322 yards. His only career touchdown came in 1973 when he returned an interception 39 yards.
One of Robinson’s most notable games was when on fourth down in the 1966 NFL Championship Game in Dallas, he pressured Cowboys’ quarterback Don Meredith into a game-ending interception in the end zone that preserved the Packers win.
Robinson was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past month.
3. James Lofton - Lofton was a first round selection by the Packers in 1978. He was the sixth player chosen that season.
Lofton played 16 seasons in the NFL, the first nine with the Packers. He played in and started 136 games with Green Bay, catching 530 passes for 9,656 yards (18.2 yard average), and 49 touchdowns. He was the perfect NFL receiver in size and speed. He could catch passes over the middle, but also get deep down the sidelines – a combination he used well throughout his career.
Lofton was an incredible athlete who ran and jumped with the best of them. In 1978, he won the NCAA Track and Field long jump with a leap of 26 feet 11-3/4 inches. He was also a sprinter and has participated in the Masters event since 1997.
But it was on the football field that he made his mark.During his 16 years in the league, wh caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards and 75 total touchdowns. In five of those seasons, he had an average of 20 yards per catch. Incredibly, in 1983 and 84 with the Packers, he averaged 22.4 and 22 yards. For years, he owned the Packers all-time yardage record until it was borking by Donald Driver. Though he didn’t win any championships with the Packers, toiling on some average teams during the 1980s, Lofton did participate in three Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately, he did not win a ring.
He has gone on to coach and has most recently taken up broadcasting.
In addition to his induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Lofton is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Paul Hornung - Hornung was selected first overall in the 1957 NFL Draft.
The “Golden Boy” from Notre Dame could do it all, run, pass and kick – and he did so for the Green Bay Packers. He was only the third player to win the Heisman Trophy to be selected first overall in the Draft and it wasn’t until Head Coach Vince Lombardi that his career took off. While he won four championships with the Packers, including the first Super Bowl in 1967, he was the only Packer not to play in the game.
He played in nine seasons for the Packers, teaming up in the backfield with fellow Hall of Famer Jim Taylor that brought Lombardi’s Packers sweep to national prominence. In his career, he carried the ball 893 times, 3,711 yards, (4.2 yard average), and scoring 50 touchdowns.
One of Hornung’s most enduring records came during the 1960 season, when he scored a total of 176 points in 12 games – a record that stood until 2006 when LaDainian Tomlinson scored 180 – in 16 games.
Coupled with his backfield work, Horning also handled the Packers place kicking duties. When you look at his career average of 47.1 percent conversion rate (66 made in 140 attempts), you might laugh when comparing it to today’s averages, but one has to consider all of those kicks were outdoors, and on surfaces that weren’t anywhere close to NFL fields of today.
Hornung also threw for five touchdowns in his career, completing 24-of-55 passes.
Best known for his short-yardage skills, He won the league’s MVP award twice, was named an all-pro and to the Pro Bowl twice and is also just one of five to win both the Heisman and NFL MVP. Near the conclusion of his career in 1965, Hornung scored five touchdowns in a single game against the Baltimore Colts.
Other notable records held by Hornung include the most games with 30-plus points – 2; most with 25-plus points – 3; and most games with 13 points in a season – seven.
Though his number is not one that has been retired by the Packers, it was “unofficially” retired in 1990 by the team. The last player to have worn the number was Don Majkowski, but he later changed his number to 7 after the public outcry.
1. Herb Adderley - Adderley was selected 12th overall in the 1961 NFL Draft, but was also selected 13th overall by the New York Titans of the American Football League.
He played nine years with the Green Bay Packers and three years with the Dallas Cowboys, winning a combined three Super Bowl championships between the two teams. However, when you also figure in the other championships by the Green Bay Packers, you can add two more, making him a six-time world champion.
Adderley was once asked about the championships and was quoted as saying about the Cowboys rings he achieved … “I’m the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn’t wear it. I’m a Green Bay Packer.”
He was drafted out of Michigan State as a halfback, but was switched to defensive back because the Packers already had the duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung in the backfield.
During his nine seasons in Green Bay, Adderley was as instinctive of a defensive player that has ever played cornerback. He used what he learned as an offensive player to his advantage, intercepting 39 passes as a Packer, returning three for touchdowns in a single season and tying Darren Sharper for the franchise record of seven interceptions returned for touchdowns in a career.
One of Adderley’s most memorable came in Super Bowl II when he intercepted a Darryl Lamonica fourth quarter pass and returned it for a touchdown to put the championship game away for Green Bay.
During his entire career, Adderley intercepted 48 passes, returning them 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns.
He is a member of both the Green Bay Packers and Pro Football halls of fame, a six-time world champion, five-time Pro Bowl selection, four-time first team All-Pro selection, three-time second team All-Pro selection, and was voted to the 1960s All-Decade Team.