While it might be a little early to put Derek Sherrod amongst the Packers’ all-time worst first round draft choices, he is slowly sliding into the discussion.
The Packers were riding high back in 2011, fresh off their victory in Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and held the last pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
They had few positions they needed to fill being the Super Bowl champion. However, one glaring weakness was evident — the offensive line. Enter No. 32 pick overall, Derek Sherrod.
Sherrod had a fantastic college career at Mississippi State and was a consensus first round draft choice by most draft experts. Sherrod appeared in 47 games at MSU, which included 35 starts — he even appeared in 11 games as a true freshman. Durability was the key for Sherrod back then — he missed only one game due to injury in four years at MSU.
In his first year on campus, Sherrod appeared in 11 games and helped MSU and current San Francisco 49ers running back Anthony Dixon shatter the MSU school rushing record. In his junior season, Sherrod didn’t allow a sack the entire season playing predominately at left tackle.
Then came his senior season, the one that officially put Derek Sherrod on the NFL map. Sherrod bullied the stiff SEC competition all season on his way to a All-SEC first team selection, he was voted to the All-American first team by CBS Sports, and the All-American second team by the AP, SI.com and Walter Camp, he was also a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is considered the “Academic Heisman” in College football. The William V. Campbell Trophy combines an athlete’s academics, community services and their on-field performances to select a winner.
When the Packers selected Sherrod with the 32nd pick in the 2011 draft he wasn’t expected to play right away at left tackle as Chad Clifton was just finishing up his career after manning the position for 12 years. Sherrod had time to learn behind a Pro-Bowl player and was set to be the next Chad Clifton at left tackle for the Packers — until one December day in 2011.
The Packers were in Atlanta to face the Falcons in a matchup of NFC powerhouses. Late in the second quarter, Clifton went down with an ugly hamstring injury that prompted Sherrod off the bench. Marshall Newhouse, who was subbing for the injured Bryan Bulaga, shifted over to left tackle and Sherrod, who was a left tackle in college and had been playing left guard in training camp, was placed at right tackle.
Sherrod held his own against the Falcons, but didn’t play again until week 10 against the Minnesota Vikings. He played only three snaps against the Vikings before again not playing for three more weeks. Due to injuries again, however, Sherrod was brought off the bench in week 14 against the Oakland Raiders. Sherrod didn’t play well against the Raiders, giving up a sack and a few quarterback hurries, but he earned more playing time the following week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then the play that has haunted Sherrod the past two years occurred.
In the fourth quarter, on a normal passing play, Sherrod found himself locked up with Chiefs’ linebacker Tamba Hali when Hali went to the ground and rolled into Sherrod’s leg. Sherrod’s leg bent at a gruesome angle and shattered the bones. Sherrod was placed into an air cast and carted off Arrowhead field not to be seen since on an NFL field.
Flash forward 19 months and Sherrod is finally nearing a comeback.
He is reportedly getting close to returning to practice for the first time since that fateful day. According to head coach Mike McCarthy, Sherrod is just trying to get his legs back, in terms of conditioning and movement, which is always tough for a 300-pound man. McCarthy believes this is the last hurdle in Sherrod’s recovery.
“He looked good in conditioning yesterday (July 25), Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s now to the point where he has to be able to use torque and lean on people and drive people. Those things are really hard to emulate in a rehab process.”
Sherrod himself had this to say about his timeline for his return:
“I’m working very hard to make sure that I am doing everything I can to get out there as soon as possible and be with my teammates.”
It’s not clear what Sherrod will bring to the table when he comes back, but he will be thrown into a position battle at right tackle with Don Barclay and Marshall Newhouse, in what could be training camp’s best position battle. The Packers are starving for better offensive line play and are desperate for production out of their former first round draft choice.
The good news for Sherrod is there is no more pressure on him to perform. He already has underwhelmed for a first round pick, so he should be able to go into camp on his own time and just compete for the first time in his career without expectations. When he finally does practice, he will be the No. three right tackle on the roster behind Newhouse and Barclay. However, the Packers will give him every opportunity to succeed.
Sherrod will be starting his career over as a 24-year-old rookie who has knowledge of the system in Green Bay from his three years with the team —that’s not the worst position to be in as a player.
Sherrod is a terrific football player as his college career and first round selection would indicate. Only time will tell if Sherrod will be able to forget the past and seize the future.