Packer Draft Kings

On the day of this year’s NFL draft, let’s take a look at the draft history of the Packers, broken down by the men in charge of the selections. I have given a grade to each first round pick on an A to F scale and computed a First Round GPA for each GM (although not all the selectors carried that title). I gave Incompletes for the four top picks who did not sign with Green Bay (Bob Gain, Randy Duncan, Lawrence Elkins and Bruce Clark) as well as 2015’s Damarious Randall, and Incompletes were not used in the GPA calculation.

For each Packer drafter, the following table shows the number of first round picks he had, his first round GPA, the number of Hall of Famers he picked, the number of All-Pro and Pro Bowl players he picked, the number of men he took who started for Green Bay for at least four years and the top picks to whom I assigned either and A or an F.

GM Years Duration #1 Picks #1 GPA HoFs AP/PB 4-yr Starters #1 A’a #1 F’s
Jack Vainisi 1950-59 10 years 11 2.4 6 20 24 Hornung, R. Kramer Losch
Vince Lombardi 1960-68 9 years 13 2.33 2 8 14 Adderley, D. Robinson, Gillingham Horn
Phil Bengtson 1969-70 2 years 3 1.67 0 1 5 R. Moore
Dan Devine 1971-74 4 years 5 1.8 0 4 6 Brockington, Buchanon Tagge, Barry Smith
Bart Starr 1975-83 9 years 11 2.4 1 8 18 Lofton R. Campbell
Forrest Gregg 1984-86 3 years 2 1.5 0 3 5 Carreker
Tom Braatz 1987-91 5 years 7 1.14 0 8 7 Sharpe Mandarich, D. Thompson, V. Clark
Ron Wolf 1992-01 10 years 11 1.9 0 13 26 Michels, A. Edwards, J. Reynolds
Mike Sherman 2002-04 3 years 3 1.67 0 4 3 Carroll
Ted Thompson 2005-15 11 years 11 2.2 0 12 19 Rodgers, Matthews Harrell, Sherrod
Totals 1950-15 76 years 77 picks 2.05 9 81 127 11 16

 

It’s clear the first round GPA is flawed. First, it’s based on my purely subjective grades. In addition, there is more to the draft than the first round. Ron Wolf’s first round record is weak by any measure, but he built a champion by drafting more solid starters, mostly in later rounds, than anyone else. (Of course, trading a first round pick for a Hall of Fame quarterback helped, too.) It also should be pointed out that his first round picks were generally later picks than Bart Starr, for example, by nature of Wolf building a better team.

Jack Vainisi had the advantage of drafting during a period when there were only 12-13 picks in the first round, making it more likely to find a good player in that round. Vainisi, though, found more blue chippers throughout the draft than anyone else. Vince Lombardi’s failure to continue drafting at Vainisi’s level ensured the end of the Packer dynasty.

In essence, Jack Vainisi collected Hall of Famers; Vince Lombardi collected draft picks; Bart Starr collected mediocrities; Ron Wolf collected solid starters and Ted Thompson follows in his mentor’s footsteps, though not quite as successfully. It should also be said that acquiring players through trades and free agency, hiring the right coaching staff and running a stable organization are all equally important in consistently fielding a winning team.

1951bjvainisi  1968tpvlombardi

1975TBSTARR  mayowolf

Vainisi custom card is colorized.

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Packers Top Rookie: 1982

Rookies1982pepps

Bart Starr brought in fewer rookies, six, in 1982 than in any other season of his nine-year tenure as coach. Unfortunately, it was not a particularly strong class. Five of the six rookies came via the draft, but top pick, Iowa guard Ron Hallstrom, was a reach in the first round. He had trouble getting on the field for his first three years in the league before finally developing into a decent and durable guard who lasted 11 years in Green Bay.

Other draft picks to make the squad were: Utah runner Del Rodgers in round three, Virginia Tech defensive end Robert Brown in round four, Penn State runner Mike Meade in round five and TCU receiver Phillip Epps in round 12. Chet Parlavecchio, a sixth round linebacker from Penn State, spent the season on IR, and SMU kicker Eddie Garcia (round 10) was assigned to the taxi squad. The sixth rookie to make the 1982 Packers was undrafted free agent Larry Rubens from Montana State who caught on as the team’s long snapper.

Ultimately Hallstrom and the undersized Brown would have the best Packer careers, but as rookies neither made an impact, and Del Rodgers was an uninspiring kick returner. By default, slightly-built world-class sprinter Phillip Epps, who caught just 10 passes, but averaged 22.6 yards per catch and scored twice, was the Packers’ top rookie in 1982.

1982tdrodgers  1983trhallstrom

Birthday Roundup

March 24 marks the birthdays of former short-tenured Packers Carlton Oats, John Rowser and Art Hunter, but also of Hall of Famer Mike Michalske and All-Pro Carroll Dale.

Mike Michalske (adapted from Packers by the Numbers)

Iron Mike Michalske was a true 60-minute man. He resisted ever coming out of any game, and with good reason. He was a four-time All Pro and was the first guard elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its second year, 1964. On offense he was expert at pulling and leading interference downfield for Packer ball carriers. On defense he was known for blitzing the passer, but was also tough against the run. Benny Friedman, the Giants All-Pro quarterback from the 1920s, picked Michalske for his All-Time Team in the New York Times in 1949. He claimed Mike was “one of the fastest and most agile of linemen. He was smart, alert, aggressive and was…never mouse-trapped, never out of position. He was always in the right place at the right time and a deadly tackler.” Citing his intelligence, Friedman called Michalske a “quarterback playing guard”

Mike was an All-America at Penn State in 1925 and played fullback, guard, end, and tackle for the Nittany Lions. He signed with Red Grange’s New York Yankees of C.C. Pyle’s new American Football League in 1926. The Yankees were the class of that league, but the first AFL folded after only one year. The Yankees joined the NFL, but the team itself foundered two years later. In 1929 still owed $400 by the Yankees, Mike became a free agent and signed with the Packers. Along with Cal Hubbard and Johnny Blood, Mike was one of three key Packer acquisitions that year, and Green Bay would take the league title the next three years in a row.

While many things have changed about the game, the basics remain the same. Michalske recalled to the Milwaukee Journal in 1965:

We called it blitzing in those days, too. Our target was the man with the ball, especially the passer. It may not have been exactly ethical, but it was legal in those days to rough the passer, even after he got rid of the ball. We worked him over pretty good. Hubbard and I used to do some stunting in the line to find an opening for a blitz breakthrough. We figured the best time to stop them was before they got started.

Carroll Dale (adapted from Green Bay Gold)

When Max McGee began to lose a step, Lombardi made one of his best trades to refresh the starting lineup in 1965. He traded aging linebacker Dan Currie to the Rams, who needed someone to replace Jack Pardee who had retired to battle cancer. In return, he received the underutilized Carroll Dale whom the Rams had tried to play at tight end despite his packing just 200 pounds on his 6’2” frame. Drafted out of Virginia Tech in the eighth round in 1960, Dale was unhappy with the Rams. The small town boy wanted out of Los Angeles and was delighted to come to Green Bay where he could play for a winning team in a more congenial setting.

Like Dowler at flanker, Dale at split end had good but not great speed, yet Dale was a home run threat his entire time in Green Bay. He had good moves and continually got free deep. Cornerback Bob Jeter told Chuck Johnson for Greatest Packers of Them All, “Carroll is one of the few complete ends in the league. By that, I mean he can run all the patterns and run them well. There are some receivers who have a favorite move, and if you take it away from them, they’re done. After a week of working against Dale, I figure I’m ready for anything on Sunday.”

Dale once told reporters, “We throw mostly short passes, so the defenders have got to play the percentages. They’ve got to play me for the short pattern, so it’s sometimes a little easier to get them to bite when I fake a short move and then go for the long one.” Carroll was being a bit modest there. Quarterback Bart Starr was continually among the leaders in yards-per-attempt, so he liked to go long, and Dale was very good at it. Every year but one in Green Bay, Dale averaged better than 19 yards per reception, and for his Packer career, he averaged 19.7 yards and caught 35 touchdowns.

1929mmichalske  2waymichalskec

1965pcdale1  1966pcdale4

Michalske custom cards colorized.

Shipped Off to Texas

With the granting of a new NFL franchise to Dallas in 1960, the NFL embarked on a new process to staff the fledgling club: an expansion draft requiring each team to make available a list of 11 players from which the Dallas Rangers, as the Cowboys were then called, would select three players. The expansion draft has been used in various forms since then to stock 11 more new teams in the NFL and AFL, but Dallas was the first instance.

The Dallas draft generally is listed as being held on March 13, 1960, but that is only when it began. With this being a new procedure conducted by new commissioner Pete Rozelle, this first expansion draft operated by unique rules. Rozelle told the New York Times on March 8 that each team would present their list of 11 available players in secret to him and that he would pass these lists on to Dallas one by one. He explained, “We wouldn’t want the Bears for example to know what players the Rams will offer. We wouldn’t want the players Dallas turned down to know they’ve been offered. Bad for morale.”

As a result, Dallas picked six players from the Rams and 49ers on Sunday the 13th, but didn’t pick their Packer trio until Monday, March 14. The draft was not completed until Dallas made their finalselections from the Colts and Cardinals on Thursday, March 17. Two days later, the Rangers were renamed the Cowboys to avoid confusion with a minor league baseball team.

On March 20, Bud Lea wrote a piece for the Milwaukee Sentinel about the three Packers headed to Dallas. Green Bay lost veteran defensive end Nate Borden, halfback Don McIlhenny and defensive back/returner Bill Butler. Lea quoted Packer personnel man Jack Vainisi about the draft:

Borden took it pretty hard. He was one of the most well liked among his teammates. Even though McIlhenny played college ball in Texas (SMU), he was reluctant to go. Butler had obtained a job for a Green Bay tiling company, but the Dallas people said he should come right away, that an off-season job was waiting for him.

Those three players from Vince Lombardi’s first season would not be missed on the 1960 Western Division champs. Borden was replaced by Willie Davis, acquired from Cleveland in a trade. McIlhenny was replaced by top draft pick Tom Moore, and Butler’s main functions as kick and punt returner were filled by Moore and by free agent safety Willie Wood respectively.

We likely will never know who the other eight players Lombardi offered to Dallas because of the way the draft was conducted, but it is interesting to speculate. I would guess that 14 offensive players were protected: Dowler, McGee, Knafelc, Ron Kramer, Gregg, Skoronski, Masters, Jerry Kramer, Thurston, Ringo, Starr, McHan, Hornung, Taylor and Carpenter. I also would surmise that 11 defenders were protected: Quinlan, Temp, Jordan, Hanner, Bettis, Forester, Currie, Nitschke, Whittenton, Gremminger and Symank.

That leaves end A.D. Williams, guard John Dittrich, quarterback Joe Francis, defensive lineman Ken Beck, and defensive backs Bobby Freeman, Emlen Tunnell and Boby Dillon, as well as injured end Steve Meilinger and injured guard Andy Cvercko and perhaps guard Mike Falls who was also under contract at the time, as the most likely targets. Tunnell and Dillon were still starters, but neither was near the player he had once been. Indeed, Dillon would announce his retirement three months later.

If we look at the assistant coaches’ evaluations published by Phil Bengtson’s son Jay in 2001 as Launching the Glory Years, Lombardi may have considered putting underachievers Nitschke and McGee on the unprotected list, but I think they would have been taken by Dallas if they had been offered. Perhaps this is a question best put to Packer historian Cliff Christl to see if he can uncover anything on the Packers final expansion list.

1960Tnborden  1960tbbutler

1959tdmcilhenny3  1959tadwilliams2

1959tjdittrich2  1959tkbeck2

1959tbfreeman2  1959tacvercko

All custom cards colorized except Butler and McIlhenny.

Packers Top Rookie: 1981

rookies1981clewis

One could look at the 1981 Packers’ draft as the last gasp of Bart Starr’s coaching career. With some truly great players available in the early rounds, great players who could have made a difference in the team’s porous defense, Starr drafted badly again. Although he had flown USC cornerback Ronnie Lott to Green Bay before the draft, Starr went against his instincts on draft day and selected California quarterback Rich Campbell instead. Starr later admitted he had noticed a flaw in Campbell’s delivery that kept the Cal QB from throwing very hard, but hoped he could fix it. Five years later, Ronnie Lott recalled his trip to Green Bay and sarcastically commented to the Milwaukee Journal, “But they took Rich Campbell and had a lot of success with Rich.”

In the second round, Mike Singletary, Howie Long and Rickie Jackson were all available when Starr took Texas Arlington tight end specimen Gary Lewis, who never developed into anything except an able kick blocker. Starr then went for Michigan State punter Ray Stachowicz in round three in a move of pure incompetence. The remainder of the draft brought: Oklahoma nose tackle Richard Turner in round four, Alabama defensive end Byron Braggs in round five, Missouri defensive back Bill Whitaker in round seven, Notre Dame guard/tackle Tim Huffman in round nine and Southern Mississippi linebacker Cliff Lewis in round 12.

Three undrafted free agents also made the team: Alabama linebacker Randy Scott, Grambling linebacker Guy Prather and Northern Illinois defensive back David Petway. Scott would last six years in Green Bay, and Prather and Huffman would each last four. Scott, Huffman, Braggs and Turner would eventually become regular starters of middling quality at best. This Green Bay rookie class was weak. My top Packers’ rookie was kamikaze kicking teams firebrand Cliff Lewis who had a four-year tenure as a Packer despite being drafted in the final round of the 1981 draft. At least, his spirit is worthy of a salute.

1981tbbraggs  1981trcampbell

Custom Cliff Lewis card is colorized.

Phil Bengtson’s Sad Denouement

Phil Bengtson’s career arc was an odd one in the suddenness of its downward end. Phil was an All-America tackle as a senior at the University of Minnesota in 1934, playing on unbeaten Golden Gopher squads under Coach Bernie Bierman in both 1933 and 1934. Future coaching legend Bud Wilkinson was the quarterback on that 1934 team.

Although offered a contract to play for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935, Bengtson instead began his coaching career as the line coach for Don Faurot at the University of Missouri that year. Although the Tigers had been winless in 1934, Faurot turned the team into a winner in one season with his innovative Split-T offense that relied on the option play. Bengtson spent five years at Missouri before leaving to join another coaching legend, Clark Shaughnessy, who was taking over at Stanford in 1940. A year earlier, Stanford had finished 1-7-1, but converting to Shaughnessy’s T offense, the team went undefeated in 1940. Shaughnessy was replaced by Marchy Schwartz in 1942, and Bengtson went into the military where he served from 1942-45.

Discharged in 1946, Phil returned to Stanford as Schwartz’s line coach in 1946. Five years later, Bengtson joined the NFL as the line/defensive coach of the 49ers under Buck Shaw. Phil worked for San Francisco for eight years under Shaw and his successors Red Strader and Frankie Albert.

In 1959, of course, Bengtson was hired by Vince Lombardi as the Packers’ defensive coach, and Phil reached his pinnacle, establishing a championship defense that would allow just 15.9 points per game over the next 12 years, finishing first in fewest points three times, second four times and third two times. His pass defense was especially stingy, permitting the fewest pass yardage in the NFL six times. Phil was also the only one of Lombardi’s assistants to serve for all nine years of Vince’s tenure.

That loyalty and effectiveness was rewarded when Lombardi named Bengtson his successor as coach in 1968, with Phil ascending to the GM position as well a year later. From this point on, Bengtson’s career took a nose dive. He was miscast as a head coach and a terrible GM. Fired after three years as coach, Phil was hired by Sid Gillman as the Chargers’ defensive coach in 1971. However, new San Diego GM Harland Svare fired Gillman 10 games into the season. Bengtson was reassigned to the scouting department in 1972 and then given a leave of absence to serve as the Patriots interim head coach for the last five games of that season.

In January 1973, Bengtson was released by New England and then fired by San Diego three days later. In a nice turn, new Patriots’ coach Chuck Fairbanks rehired Phil as an “executive assistant” in February of the same year. Bengtson did some scouting for the Patriots through 1974 and then dropped out of football at age 61. Such a loss; he was a brilliant defensive coach, one of the greatest in NFL history, and his career just ended abruptly. It’s surprising that no team hired this defensive virtuoso through the rest of the 1970s.

Twenty years later, Bengtson died of cancer in 1994.

1968tpbengtson2  1969tpbengtson

1970tpbengtson  1972tpbengtson

All custom cards but 1968 are colorized.

Green Bay-Tulsa War Time Connection

The University of Tulsa was an early proponent of the passing game, producing future pro passers Tommy Thompson, Glenn Dobbs and Clyde LeForce from 1938-43. It makes sense that offensive-minded Curly Lambeau would find their program of interest.

1942 marks the beginning of Tulsa connection to Green Bay. That season, with Dobbs a senior and LeForce a junior, the Golden Hurricanes also featured four future Packers: ends Clyde Goodnight and Nolan Luhn, halfback Charlie Mitchell and freshman guard Buddy Burris. Burris went into the service in 1943 and then transferred to Oklahoma in 1946 before being drafted by the Packers in 1948.

Goodnight, Luhn and Mitchell continued at Tulsa in 1943 and were joined by two freshmen in 1944: passer Perry Moss and halfback J.R. Boone. In fact, at the 1945 Orange Bowl where Tulsa defeated Georgia Tech, Moss and Goodnight started the game and Luhn, Mitchell and Boone came off the bench to appear in the game as well.

In 1945, the Packers drafted Goodnight in round three and Luhn in round 25, with the Bears taking Mitchell in round 28. The first game of the preseason featured the defending champion Packers playing the College All-Stars, and the most exciting play came early in the fourth quarter when veteran Don Hutson intercepted a pass by All-Star quarterback Perry Moss and returned it 82 yards for the final score of the contest. That season, Goodnight and Luhn trained under Hutson and both moved into the starting lineup in 1946 when Charlie Mitchell joined the Packers for one season.

Luhn and Goodnight each had their biggest season in 1947, catching 42 and 38 passes respectively. In 1948, the Packers drafted Perry Moss, who had transferred to Illinois, in the 13th round, but he completed just four of 17 passes in his only year as a pro, while Luhn and Goodnight dropped to 17 and 28 catches respectively.

As noted above, Buddy Burris joined the team in 1949, and that would prove to be the final Packer season for the Luhn-Goodnight duo. Burris would play in Green Bay through 1951, and a year after that, the WWII Tulsa connection ended when J.R. Boone finished his NFL career with the Packers in 1953. Ultimately, Nolan Luhn probably had the best Packer career, with 100 receptions and one second team All-NFL notice. Luhn was also better than any Golden Hurricane Packers since then: punter Ken Duncan, receiver Jessie Green, linebacker Marv Matuszak, infamous quarterback T.J. Rubley and safety Todd Franz.

1948lnluhn  1948logoodnight  1948bpmoss  1949lbburris

1953bjrboone

All custom cards are colorized.