By Gary Zilavy
Hindsight is 20/20. As the NFL Draft approaches, it’s easy to remember the treasure chest of awesome selections general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson have made over the years. It’s also easy to remember Mike Sherman sleeping on NFL Network during the scouting combine — he probably was up all night negotiating Cletidus Hunt’s contract extension at the time.
Not every draft pick pans out, though. And often, there’s a player chosen a few spots behind a particularly bad selection that enjoys a lengthy career. Let’s take a look at three such examples in recent Packers history. Prepare to groan with frustration.
All players who are compared to Green Bay’s selection were drafted within five picks after the Packers and could have reasonably been on their draft boards. While it might be easy to say Green Bay missed on Dez Bryant in 2010 by selecting Bryan Bulaga, pre-draft character and injury concerns probably had Bryant off of Ted Thompson’s board. The players used for comparison would have reasonably fit in Green Bay’s team at the time of construction.
The Packers select: Cory Rodgers, wide receiver, TCU (4th round, 104th overall)
Four picks later: Jahri Evans, offensive guard, Bloomsburg (4th round, 107th overall)
Cory Rodgers was a high-risk, high-reward selection for the Packers. Earlier, in the second round, Chicago turned heads by selected returner Devin Hester from Miami (FL). Rodgers, a speed demon for TCU, averaged 30.3 yards per kick return in his final year of college and returned two for touchdowns. Things never clicked for this Rodgers in Green Bay, and he was released before the 2006 season started.
Jahri Evans, meanwhile, is currently the NFL’s highest paid interior offensive lineman. He’s worth what he’s paid, too earning All-Pro selections for the past five consecutive years. Earlier in the 2006 draft, Green Bay selected center Jason Spitz, who in his Packer career played a handful of games at offensive guard. That year, Green Bay started rookie Tony Moll in 10 games. Evans, a potential future Hall of Fame guard, sounds a lot more enticing now than Moll.
The Packers select: Jamon Meredith, offensive tackle, South Carolina (5th round, 162nd overall)
Three picks later: Chris Clemons, safety, Clemson (5th round, 165th overall)
Jamon Meredith was considered a second round prospect in the 2009 draft, but concerns about his love for the game led to his fall to the Packers in the fifth round. Green Bay made a difficult decision in training camp, choosing to keep undrafted Evan Dietrich-Smith over Meredith. After spending a brief stint on the Packers’ practice squad, Meredith was plucked by the Bills and is now a starting lineman for the Buccaneers.
Chris Clemons is a solid, unspectacular safety. Spending his rookie campaign in a backup role for the Dolphins, Clemons earned a starting spot in his second year only to find himself demoted the following season. He rebounded in the past two seasons and is a hard-working defensive back who is well-positioned and rarely allows a receiver to get behind him. While safety was not a position of need for the Packers in 2009 with Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, Clemons would have added depth and could have stepped in during 2011 when Collins’ career was tragically cut short. A year later in 2010, Green Bay drafted safety Morgan Burnett in the second round.
The Packers select: Mike Neal, defensive tackle, Purdue (2nd round, 56th overall)
Two picks later: Ben Tate, running back, Auburn (2nd round, 58th overall)
Mike Neal earned a new contract with the Packers after his rookie deal expired this offseason, signing a two-year deal. What makes Neal valuable to Green Bay is his versatility, as he has played defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker during his career (and he intercepted RG3, remember?). However, injuries have held him out of 28 games in his four NFL seasons.
Ben Tate was Houston’s incumbent starter at running back before Arian Foster burst onto the scene. Tate and Foster combined to punish defenses together in Houston, but Tate shone this past season in a lead back role as Foster was forced to miss most of the year because of injury. In 2010, Green Bay was entering their Super Bowl season with a healthy, effective Ryan Grant, a young Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn in the backfield. Late in this draft, they added James Starks – a high-ceiling prospect who turned out to be key cog in Green Bay’s deep playoff run. As the Packers searched for a running back the past few seasons before Eddie Lacy’s arrival in 2013, Tate could have been the back Packers fans wanted.