If there isn’t enough proof that the NFL draft needs to hurry up and get here, it’s this piece.
With news about the Green Bay Packers on the slower side this week and with all of the attention that soon-to-be former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is getting, I thought I’d take a look back at some Packers history.
And what better time period to focus on than the 2004 NFL draft, which took place just over 10 years ago? Actually, there are plenty of better time periods to look back on in Packers history but for the next few minutes, let’s go back a decade and remember what was.
Coming into the 2004 season, Packers fans were still reeling from what I still say is the most gut-wrenching loss in the time that I have followed the team. Notoriously dubbed the “4th and 26” game, the Packers were stunningly bounced from the divisional round of the 2003 playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles after it looked like a magical playoff run was underway.
The expectations of the 2004 team were high. Brett Favre would be back at quarterback, despite some media rumblings about when he would eventually retire. Head coach and general manager Mike Sherman and his staff were returning and most of the Packers roster would be back. Besides Favre, the Packers were coming off of one of the best seasons by an individual running back in team history. Ahman Green amassed over 1,800 yards in 2003 and the Packers had a legitimate dual-threat offense.
Heading into that draft, the expectation was the Eli Manning was going to be the first player chosen by the San Diego Chargers. The drama surrounding that story was the fact that Manning made it known that he wouldn’t play for San Diego, at the urging of his father and former NFL quarterback Archie Manning.
The quarterback position dominated the conversation and with those rumblings about Favre, some started to wonder if the Packers might be looking for a quarterback to start grooming for the future.
You may recall, Sherman was promoted to head coach and general manager in 2001 to replace the outgoing Ron Wolf, although Wolf actually handled the 2001 draft himself. Having left the team after the 2005 seasons, Sherman handled three drafts for the Packers. In looking back, drafting was not one of Sherman’s strong suits.
Let’s look at the Packers’ 2004 slate with some notes about each selection:
Round 1: CB Ahmad Carroll
Notes: Carroll was taken with the 25th overall selection. I didn’t know a thing about Carroll at the time and the pick confused me a bit, as the Packers had two solid outside cornerbacks in that of Al Harris and Mike McKenzie. Maybe Sherman knew that McKenzie would gripe his way out of Green Bay at the start of the 2004 season and that the team would need a replacement. As with any Packers draft choice, I had to be hopeful that it would pan out.
Pan out, it did not. Carroll played just over two seasons with the Packers, recording three interceptions and a lot of boo’s from fans. Let’s put it this way, if he were a pitcher, Carroll’s ERA would have been off the charts. He was atrocious and I have longed for the day when I could share those sentiments with the masses and express my sheer frustration at Carroll’s ineptness and yet another of Sherman’s head-scratching draft picks.
Just before Carroll, the St. Louis Rams selected running back Steven Jackson. With Green entrenched as Green Bay’s starter, it’s uncertain if the Packers would have selected Jackson if he had been available. After Carroll, the most notable names in round one were Jason Babin, Chris Gamble and Ben Watson.
It’s revisionist history but Gamble would have been the better selection. He went on to have a successful career as both a cornerback and a punt returner over nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He recorded 27 interceptions during his career.
Round 3: CB Joey Thomas
Notes: Another cornerback having just chosen one and with other areas to address? Perhaps Sherman was truly sticking to his board and going best player available. That player, Thomas, played one full season for the Packers in 2004 and was released shortly into the 2005 season after a reported rift with Sherman. Thomas played a few seasons in New Orleans, was out of football for a few years and played sparingly for the Miami Dolphins in 2008 before retiring.
The Packers passed on defensive tackle Randy Starks, who was chosen by the Tennessee Titans one pick later. Starks went on to have a stellar career with the Titans and Miami Dolphins.
Round 3: DT Donnell Washington
Notes: Washington was taken just two slots after Thomas. Washington never played a single snap in the NFL. He was injured in 2004, missing the entire season. In 2005, he wasn’t able to return to the team and he was let go shortly after current Packers head coach Mike McCarthy arrived.
The Packers needed a defensive lineman and unfortunately, Washington wasn’t the answer. Sherman chose Thomas over Starks just prior to that and that made this one of Sherman’s worst picks. Ironically, Randy wasn’t the last Starks that one could argue haunted the Packers in that draft. Offensive tackle Max Starks was taken after Washington in round three and with the Packers set at the position on both sides of the offensive line (Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton), Washington was the choice. Max played six seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three picks, three busts for Sherman so far. Maybe current Packers general manager Ted Thompson studied up on this Starks debacle when he decided not to pass up on running back James Starks in the 2010 draft, despite an injury that forced Starks to miss his senior year of college. Not that Thompson will ever share that information or answer that question, but I digress.
Round 3: P B.J. Sander
Notes: In Sherman’s defense of pulling a minor “Al Davis” (the late, former owner of the Oakland Raiders selected kicker Sebastian Janikowski in round 1 of the 1999 draft), the Chargers drafted kicker Nate Kaeding with the first pick in round three, 22 spots ahead of Sander.
Still, that hardly justified the pick nor constituted a run on kickers and the selection of Sander has been a sore subject for many Packers fans ever since. Sander played in NFL Europe in 2004, appearing in zero games for the Packers. He appeared in just 14 games in 2005 and was released by McCarthy just prior to the 2006 season. 4-4 is great in baseball, bad for Sherman in this case.
Because the Packers did not have a fourth or fifth round pick, here are the notable players passed up in favor of Sander that year: Shaun Philips, Jerricho Cotchery, Nathan Vasher, Will Allen, Robert Geathers, Jared Allen, Michael Turner, and Matt Schaub. In the case of Schaub, Sherman actually could be credited with setting the Packers up for their latest championship. By passing on Schaub, the Packers had a need at quarterback that would be filled the following year with Aaron Charles Rodgers.
Round 6: DT Corey Williams
Notes: It took until the sixth round for Sherman to hit on a pick. I use the term “hit” in a relative sense, given how the previous choices panned out. Williams played four seasons and effectively manned the middle of the team’s 4-3 scheme for the Packers before being franchise tagged and later traded to the Cleveland Browns in 2008.
In looking at the rest of the names after Williams in that round, Williams still seems like the best pick at the time.
Round 7: C Scott Wells (compensatory pick)
Notes: Better late than never, Wells was another good pick up by Sherman. Wells played seven seasons in Green Bay, five as a starter, before departing in free agency in 2012. Wells was a member of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV winning team and was, by far, the best pick of this draft. He was fifth to the last player taken in that draft.
In less than a week, the Packers and current general manager Ted Thompson will get another chance to upgrade the roster when round one of the draft finally arrives. Thompson has nine drafts with the Packers to his credit and while he certainly has not hit on all of his picks, he has managed to keep the Packers competitive and fiscally sound. Rarely have they had to let a player go that they really wanted to keep because they couldn’t afford him.
I don’t know about you and say what you will about the current front office in Green Bay, but after that stroll down memory lane, it’s hard not to appreciate who the Packers currently have in charge of their future.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: