NFL fans wonder “what if” often, but perhaps no single event brings out the hypotheticals more than the NFL Draft. The Green Bay Packers have their fair share of picks to wonder about, but a few of those wishes come in the form of players that the team just barely missed out on.
Several times in the past three decades, the Packers have made a selection one pick after a Hall of Famer or All-Pro went off the board. While a certain 1989 first-round pick surely comes to mind, the Packers have narrowly missed out on several tremendous players who were selected just before Green Bay went on the clock.
None were more painful for the team’s general managers than a certain first-round pick in 1996, however. The Packers were talking to their desired player on the phone when his name came in on the card by the team ahead of them in a shocking twist. And if he had come to Green Bay, perhaps there would be another Lombardi Trophy or two adorning the halls of Lambeau Field.
Here are some of the players the Packers selected in recent years after just missing out on a tremendous player who was picked one choice earlier.
2.48: OT Jason Spriggs
This one hurts. The Packers traded up to 48 to take Spriggs, the athletic tackle from Indiana. But if Green Bay had been able to move up one spot earlier, they could have landed wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has put up over 5,500 receiving yards in four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including a league-leading 1,725 last year.
2.62: CB Quinten Rollins
The Packers grabbed Rollins one pick after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected a Division III offensive lineman, Hobart’s Ali Marpet. Marpet has started at all three interior line positions over the past five years, being a solid performer. Meanwhile, Rollins is out of football.
5.147: QB Brett Hundley
The Packers traded up for Hundley, but like in 2016, they could have landed a great wideout if they had made it one pick earlier. That’s because Minnesota selected Stefon Diggs at pick 146.
1.32: OT Derek Sherrod
Through no real fault of his own, Sherrod ended up as a bust. He broke his leg as a rookie and never really made an impact after that. However, in 2011, the Packers faced the prospect of replacing both an aging left tackle in Chad Clifton and a departing defensive lineman in Cullen Jenkins. Going one pick before the Packers at 31, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Cameron Heyward out of Ohio State.
It took Heyward two years before he took hold of a starting job, but since 2013 he has been the team’s starting 5-technique end, the role that Jenkins held in Green Bay. His last three years have been his finest, totaling 29 sacks while making the Pro Bowl each year and earning two first-team All-Pro nods.
2.56: DE/OLB Mike Neal
Little did the Packers know how important an off-ball linebacker would be in the coming years. The team selected Neal the spring before their most recent Super Bowl appearance, and he played just two games as a rookie. But selected 55th was Sean Lee, the Penn State linebacker who landed in Dallas.
Lee might have stepped into the starting lineup in Nick Barnett’s place early that year instead of Desmond Bishop, but he has been an excellent player (when healthy) for the Cowboys’ defense over the past decade, earning a first-team All-Pro nod in 2016.
2.56: QB Brian Brohm
In 2008, the Packers were passing the torch. At the time of the draft, Aaron Rodgers was set to take his first snaps as a starter and Brett Favre was still retired. The Packers picked Brohm in round two then Matt Flynn in the seventh as backup options for Rodgers. Flynn won the job, while Brohm made only three NFL appearances, all in Buffalo.
One pick before the Brohm pick, Baltimore selected a dual-threat running back who would have a tremendous if brief peak to his career. In the four-year span from 2009 to 2012, Ray Rice racked up 5,066 rushing yards, a 4.6 yards per carry average, 2,440 receiving yards, and 39 total touchdowns. Of course, his career came to a screeching halt after a video surfaced showing him punching his wife in an elevator.
7.253: DE Dave Tollefson
Rarely does a seventh-round pick make you wonder “what if,” but the 2006 draft is one of those rare occasions. The Packers picked Tollefson, and he went on to a moderately productive career with the New York Giants. But the 252nd pick of that year’s draft was another great wide receiver find by the Saints: Marques Colston. Colston shocked the world with a 1,000-yard season as a rookie, and he ended up over the 1,000-mark six times, with another two years over 900 yards, putting him in the conversation for being one of the best seventh-round picks in recent history. Somehow, though, he never made a single Pro Bowl.
1.14: TE Bubba Franks
The Packers’ first first-round pick after Ron Wolf left was a big, lumbering tight end, and although Franks was a longtime starter for the team, he had nowhere near the impact of the player selected 13th. That player was defensive end John Abraham, who would go on to have 133.5 sacks in his 15-year NFL career with two All-Pro honors. And just think — picking Abraham could have saved the Packers from the Jamaal Reynolds debacle in 2001.
2.47: DB Fred Vinson
Ron Wolf loaded up on defensive backs in his final draft, picking Antuan Edwards, Vinson, and Mike McKenzie in order in the first three rounds. One pick before Vinson, the New England Patriots selected Kevin Faulk, who would go on to a long career as a versatile third-down back with over 3,000 yards each receiving and rushing. He would have been a nice complementary piece in the Packers’ 2000s offense, but the Vinson pick wasn’t all for naught; he ended up being a part of the trade that brought Ahman Green to Green Bay on draft day in 2000.
1.27: OT Jon Michels
Perhaps the biggest regret of Ron Wolf’s career as GM was missing out on the player drafted 26th overall in 1996. The Packers were even on the phone with Ray Lewis when Baltimore’s clock was ticking down, assuring him that there was no chance of the recently-relocated team grabbing a linebacker. Instead, that’s exactly what they did, and Lewis went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Ravens.
5.146: WR Terry Mickens
I was shocked when I learned about this one. The Packers selected a depth receiver 146th in 1995, and he went on to start five games during the Super Bowl year in 1996. But one pick earlier, the San Diego Chargers found a future star in safety Rodney Harrison. Harrison would not start until 1996, but he made two All-Pro teams, one each in San Diego and New England.
1.5: CB Terrell Buckley
This one isn’t a regret, but more of just a fun oddity. One pick before the Packers selected Buckley in 1992, Washington picked a future Packers Super Bowl MVP: Desmond Howard.
1.18: DE/OLB Tony Bennett
While Bennett had a nice career, particularly with back-to-back 13-sack seasons for the Packers in the early part of the decade, he came one pick after the Dallas Cowboys selected Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith at 17 overall.
1.2: OT Tony Mandarich
Of course, this one would show up. The only pick out of the top five in 1989 not to be a Hall of Famer, Mandarich came before Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders, in order. But he was the second pick, as the Packers went one spot after the Dallas Cowboys picked Troy Aikman first.