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Packers’ troubles with early round CBs have been matched by Lions’ misses at RB

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Green Bay’s quest to find reliable cornerbacks in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft has proved to be as wearisome as Detroit’s pursuit of an every-down back.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin-USA TODAY Sports

Drafting first and second day picks at cornerback in the NFL Draft has been a nightmare for the Green Bay Packers in recent memory. Not only has the franchise struggled to discover a consistent playmaker, it has rarely seen one play well enough to earn a second contract. As hard as it has been for fans in Green Bay to remain optimistic about the position, it has been just as difficult for another divisional team to fill a routine position of need.

Since Barry Sanders retired in 1999, the Detroit Lions have been on the prowl for a game-changing, every-down running back to help Matthew Stafford and a medley of other former quarterbacks. While the Lions were scrutinized for their first round selections of four wide receivers in five years from 2003-2007, their search for a running back has been just as strenuous.

As a recent APC commenter remarked, there seems to be a humorous obsession for both Green Bay and Detroit to fix their glaring positions of need primarily via early round draft picks.

The Lions have selected eight running backs in the first three rounds since 2000. By comparison, the Packers have chosen ten cornerbacks in the first two days of the NFL Draft during that timeframe. For every shining moment an individual player may have brought in a given year, both teams have experienced a great deal of underachievement.

In the 2018 edition of the draft, both teams swung big for the respective positions yet again. Green Bay took Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in rounds one and two and Detroit added second rounder Kerryon Johnson. Perhaps this time around, both franchises will find more success than the majority of the picks found in the tables below.

Lions RBs drafted in Rounds 1-3 since 2000

Year Round Player College Lions Career Highlights
Year Round Player College Lions Career Highlights
2000 3 Reuben Droughns Oregon 2 seasons; IR full rookie season; 72 yards on 30 carries in 2001; 1 receiving TD
2004 1 Kevin Jones Virginia Tech 4 seasons; 1,133 yards as a rookie, but no more than 689 during last 3; 24 rushing TDs
2006 3 Brian Calhoun Wisconsin 2 seasons; 14 carries for 54 yards; 7 catches for 55 yards; 0 TDs
2008 3 Kevin Smith Central Florida 5 seasons; 976 rushing yards and 8 TDs as rookie; 1,370 yards combined in next 4 seasons; Added receiving value
2010 1 Jahvid Best California 3 seasons; 945 yards and 6 TDs rushing; 774 yards and 3 TDs receiving. IR full third season
2011 2 Mikel Leshoure Illinois 2 seasons; 807 yards and 9 TDs rushing; 214 receiving yards
2015 2 Ameer Abdullah Nebraska Entering 4th season; 1,250 yards and 6 TDs rushing; 402 yards and 3 TDs receiving
2018 2 Kerryon Johnson Auburn TBD

Packers CBs drafted in Rounds 1-3 since 2000

Year Round Player College Packers Career Highlights
Year Round Player College Packers Career Highlights
2001 3 Bhawoh Jue Penn State 4 seasons; 3 INTs; 13 PD; 98 tackles; 2 FF
2004 1 Ahmad Carroll Arkansas 2+ seasons; 3 INTs; 21 PD; 96 tackles
2004 3 Joey Thomas Montana State 1+ seasons; 4 PD; 1 FF; 29 tackles
2008 2 Pat Lee Auburn 3 seasons; 1 PD; 19 tackles
2012 2 Casey Hayward Vanderbilt 4 seasons; 9 INTs; 35 PD; 1 FF, 133 tackles
2015 1 Damarious Randall Arizona State 3 seasons; 10 INTs; 32 PD; 124 tackles
2015 2 Quinten Rollins Miami (Ohio) Entering 4th season; 3 INTs; 16 PD; 71 tackles
2017 2 Kevin King Washington Entering 2nd season; 5 PD; 21 tackles
2018 1 Jaire Alexander Louisville TBD
2018 2 Josh Jackson Iowa TBD

As seen above, there has been limited production from a majority of the players selected. For several, especially the two Kevins in Detroit and Hayward and Randall in Green Bay, rookie seasons have typically been the best year of players’ stays in the two cities before a drop off in subsequent seasons. And while Kevin Smith signed a one-year deal with Detroit after his rookie contract expired, no other player on this list returned to their team past their initial deals. Injuries surely played a factor for a few players on these lists, but players like Leshoure, Calhoun, Carroll, and Thomas proved to be significant early round blunders.

Noticeably absent from the career highlights in the tables are Pro Bowl appearances, with none of the selections generating that honor while with the franchise that selected them. Of course, Hayward would go on to earn that recognition with the Los Angeles Chargers quickly after leaving Green Bay.

Outside of the players drafted this past April, only Abdullah, King, and Rollins will be returners to the squads. Each carries varying expectations. In Detroit, the once-high hopes for Abdullah have been diminished to a receiving back role in an offense that already features Theo Riddick as a capable third down back. Transitioning into more of a receiving role has been common for the players on Detroit’s list in their third and fourth seasons. For Green Bay, King is looking for a bounce-back season after injuries ended an inconsistent rookie year. Meanwhile, Rollins is just trying to make the final Packers roster. It’s safe to say that none of the players in this group are expected to earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2018.

But with King’s tantalizing upside and the exciting draft grades provided for Alexander and Jackson, there is hope that the trio of young corners will develop into that elusive high-caliber player long sought after. Green Bay has fortunately been able to utilize veteran additions such as Al Harris and Charles Woodson to help alleviate some of the issues caused by swings-and-misses, while hitting big on undrafted players in Sam Shields and Tramon Williams.

Likewise, Johnson’s presence in Detroit may not be felt as quickly this upcoming season with Riddick, Abdullah, and LeGarrette Blount vying for snaps. But after receiving minimal year-to-year contributions from players such as Reggie Bush and Joique Bell while searching for its bellcow, Detroit has a strong desire for Johnson to eventually develop into its feature back.

Maybe, just maybe, both teams have fixed their annual positions of need this draft season with players worthy of a long-term investment.