Packers Top Rookie: 1957

Rookies1957jsymank

Lisle Blackbourn’s last Packer squad included eight rookies; aside from one obtained via a trade, all were draft picks. In 1957, Green Bay finally got its turn at the Bonus Choice that the league had instituted in 1947. The Bonus Choice was the first overall pick and was awarded via lottery from 1947-1958 so that all 12 franchises got a shot at having the best collegiate player at least once in that period.

With the Bonus Choice, the Packers selected the Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, quarterback Paul Hornung. Then with the fourth overall pick, the team grabbed Michigan tight end Ron Kramer. Hornung would turn out to be one of four first rounders in this draft (with Len Dawson, Jim Brown and Jim Parker) later elected to the Hall of Fame, and five other Canton-bound players (Tommy McDonald, Sonny Jurgensen, Henry Jordan, Gene Hickerson and Don Maynard) were picked in later rounds.

Other Packer picks to make the team included: 4 guard Carl Vereen, 19 linebacker Ernie Danjean and 23 defensive back Johnny Symank. Two Green Bay picks from 1955 finished their tour of duty in the military and reported for their rookie seasons in 1957: defensive end Jim Temp and guard Norm Amundsen, both Wisconsin Badgers.

The final rookie to make the team was tackle Norm Masters, and he came via trade. Originally drafted by the Cardinals, Masters instead played with BC in Canada in 1956 before being traded to his hometown Lions. Detroit included Norm in the Tobin Rote trade soon after, and he had a productive eight-year career in Green Bay.

The one that got away was defensive lineman John Nisby who was sold to Pittsburgh where he was shifted to offensive guard. In an eight-year career with the Steelers and Redskins, Nisby was named to three Pro Bowl teams. Had he not been dealt away, Vince Lombardi may not have needed to trade for Fuzzy Thurston.

Except for Amundsen and Danjean, all these rookies got to start for at least part of the season and most acquitted themselves well. Hornung is remembered as a great disappointment as a rookie, but part of that is because Blackbourn thought he was drafting a quarterback, and Paul proved unable to do that. Hornung did play some at all three backfield positions and averaged over five yards per carry as a runner. Ron Kramer finished second on the team with 28 receptions and demonstrated a talent for blocking.

The player who had the biggest initial impact, however was undersized late-round selection Johnny Symank who started the whole season at left safety and tied with Bobby Dillon for the team lead in interceptions with nine. Vince Lombardi would later write of Symank in Run to Daylight, ”He has made it in this league because he gets a great deal more out of himself than his ability and size justify.” Johnny Symank was the Packers top rookie in 1957.

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