The 1958 Packers’ draft was probably scout Jack Vainisi’s finest. With two Hall of Famers, the Greatest-Guard-of-the-NFL’s-first-50-Years-who-can’t-get-into-Canton and an All-Pro linebacker, this draft laid the foundation for the team’s turnaround under Lombardi a year later. In 1958, though, Scooter McLean was the team’s new coach, and success looked very far away.
Vainisi hit on seven picks over the first six rounds altogether, although not all seven made the Packers. First rounder from Michigan State Dan Currie and third rounder from Illinois Ray Nitschke both moved into the starting lineup at linebacker as rookies, but had a lot of learning to do before rising to All-Pro and Hall of Fame levels, respectively. Fourth round guard from Idaho Jerry Kramer also displayed great potential and forced himself into the starting lineup as the season progressed. Fifth rounder Joe Francis struggled as a passer, converting from college single-wing tailback at Oregon State to T formation quarterback in Green Bay.
Two other high picks were dispatched on September 23, five days before the season began, and both decisions were mistakes. Third round kick returner from NC State Dick Christy was traded to Pittsburgh for a 1959 fifth round pick that turned into guard Andy Cvercko, as McLean chose to keep slight Oregon free agent punt returner Jim Shanley instead. That same day, McLean cut sixth round pick from Howard Payne University, Ken Gray, to keep veteran guards Hank Bullough and Jim Salsbury. Shanley, Salsbury and Bullough would all be out of football by 1959. Dick Christy twice led the AFL in punt returns for the New York Titans, while Ken Gray spent a dozen years with the Cardinals, making six Pro Bowls and drawing All-Pro notice seven times. As with John Nisby in 1957, had the Packers kept Gray, they probably would not have traded for Fuzzy Thurston in 1959.
The Packers’ sixth rookie, its second round draft pick, got off to the best start of the group, although that start was delayed until late in the season. LSU fullback Jim Taylor only carried the ball eight times in the first ten games of the year but was finally given a chance to start on the team’s season-ending West Coast road trip and gained 238 yards on 44 carries against the Rams and 49ers, an average gain of 5.4 yards. Future Hall of Famer Jim Taylor was the Packers’ top rookie of 1958.