Next Man Up
Looking at how your team of choice has drafted in the past can be interesting, but frustrating. Almost every year, you'll end up saying to yourself "man, what if we'd drafted _____ instead of _____? Then we'd be REALLY awesome." And generally that's true, but it's kind of silly to think that way. After all, the draft is one of the most inexact of the inexact sciences, and it's also big enough that each selection could have happened many thousands of different ways.
But sometimes, it's interesting to look at the draft on a smaller scale. For instance, between 2002 and 2012, the Oakland Raiders could have put together a veritable all-star team had they picked the player taken immediately after their choice. Here's an example: in 2002, the Raiders took Napoleon Harris with their fist pick, which would be fine, except surefire Hall of Famer Ed Reed was taken in the very next slot. Take a look at how their picks over the last decade have panned out, with the actual pick listed first and the very next player
2002 - Napoleon Harris (Ed Reed) 2003 - Nnamdi Asomugha (Tyler Brayton (also selected by Oakland)) 2004 - Robert Gallery (Larry Fitzgerald) 2005 - Fabian Washington (Aaron Rodgers) 2006 - Michael Huff (Donte Whitner) 2007 - JaMarcus Russell (Calvin Johnson) 2008 - Darren McFadden (Glenn Dorsey) 2009 - Darrius Heyward-Bey (Eugene Monroe) 2010 - Rolando McClain (C.J. Spiller) 2011 - traded first pick to New England, who selected Nate Solder 2012 - traded first pick to Cincinnati, who selected Dre Kirkpatrick
So as you can see, sometimes the wrong decision isn't too far from the right one. How did the Packers do during the same stretch? Let's take a look:
2002 Actual pick: Javon Walker - WR - Florida State Next pick: Daniel Graham - TE - Colorado Verdict: Though Walker would eventually force his way out of Green Bay, he was still a pretty good player while he was there, catching 22 touchdowns and making a Pro Bowl. Plus, the Packers eventually selected Greg Jennings with the pick they got from Denver for Walker, which seems to have been a good move in hindsight. Graham, while still playing last year, never had the impact that Jennings or Walker did. Picking Walker was definitely the right move.
2003 Actual pick: Nick Barnett - LB - Oregon State Next pick: Sammy Davis - CB - Texas A&M Verdict: Barnett was never a dominating force at linebacker, but he did start in the middle for eight years in Green Bay. Davis, meanwhile, played for three teams in five years and was out of the league by 2008. The Packers made the right move by picking Barnett. However, if you consider that Nnamdi Asomugha was picked immediately after Davis, then it gets a bit trickier to evaluate.
2004 Actual pick: Ahmad Carroll - CB - Arkansas Next pick: Chris Perry - RB - Michigan Verdict: Neither Carroll or Perry every really established themselves in the NFL. Carroll only stuck around in Green Bay for two and a half seasons before he went packing, and Perry didn't last much longer with the Bengals, hanging on for four injury plagued seasons before he got his walking papers. Carroll was undoubtedly a bad pick, but the Packers had Ahman Green at the time, so picking Perry wasn't ever really an option. This one is a wash.
2006 Actual pick: A.J. Hawk - LB - Ohio State Next pick: Vernon Davis - TE - Maryland Verdict: This pick is a bit tricky. Hawk has been anything but spectacular in Green Bay, but he's also been consistently healthy and solid. Davis hasn't always played to his potential, but San Francisco hasn't been the greatest environment over the last decade, recent success notwithstanding. It's hard to believe he wouldn't have been a better player earlier in his career if he was playing with Brett Favre instead of Tim Rattay and company. Davis probably would have been a better selection.
2007 Actual pick: Justin Harrell - DT - Tennessee Next pick: Jarvis Moss - DE - Florida Verdict: Harrell and Moss were both awful in the NFL, but as a whole the second half of the 2007 draft was pretty pathetic in general. Green Bay took Harrell 17th overall, and you have to get all the way down to Dwayne Bowe at the 23rd spot or Jon Beason at the 25th to see a real difference maker they should have taken instead. If the choice is just between Harrell and Moss, it's a wash.
2008 Actual pick: Jordy Nelson - WR - Kansas State (second round) Next pick: Curtis Lofton - LB - Oklahoma Verdict: Nelson probably plays a bigger role in the Packers' offense than Lofton would have ever played in their defense, so he's probably the winner here.
2009 Actual pick: 1) B.J. Raji - DT - Boston College 2) Clay Matthews - LB - USC Next pick: 1) Michael Crabtree - WR - Texas Tech 2) Donald Brown - RB - Connecticut Verdict: Other than drafting Aaron Rodgers, the 2009 draft might be the highlight of Ted Thompson's career. He drafted long term leaders at two critical positions, even fleecing the New England Patriots to get Matthews with his second first round pick. While Crabtree has improved greatly and Brown is a decent contributor, both Raji and Matthews have significantly bigger impacts on the field.
2010 Actual pick: Bryan Bulaga - OT - Iowa Next pick: Dez Bryant - WR - Oklahoma State Verdict: Though Bryant would be fun to see in a Packers' uniform, Bulaga will probably fill in somewhere along the offensive line for the next decade. Receivers are far easier to replace than quality offensive linemen. Bulaga was the right choice here.
2011 Actual pick: Derek Sherrod - OT - Mississippi State Next pick: Ras-I Dowling - CB - Virginia Verdict: We haven't seen enough of Sherrod to know what he can do, but if he can return to full health and contribute at all, he's likely to be better than Dowling, who's already approaching "bust" status in some New England minds.
2012 Actual pick: Nick Perry - LB - USC Next pick: Harrison Smith - S - Notre Dame Verdict: Early returns would seem to indicate Minnesota got the better of this one. Smith looks like a world beater, and Perry had trouble getting ahead of Erik Walden even when he was healthy. To be fair, Perry was learning an entirely new position and Smith was a standout in a horrific secondary, but the Packers definitely could have used someone like Smith when Charles Woodson went down. The early edge goes to the Vikings.
As with any team, the Packers don't always make the right move in the draft. But if the last decade is any indication, they seem to have hit more than they missed. That should give Packer fans a bit of confidence as draft day approaches.