For over a decade, the NFL draft has been open to college juniors who formally declare their eligibility for it. However, there was another period when underclassmen were eligible to be drafted as “Futures” even if they still had college eligibility as long as their original college class had graduated. These were players who either were “redshirted” in college or had interrupted their college careers for military service. From 1949 through 1966, future picks were a regular part of the NFL draft and even were used in the first round at least twice (Dick Bass by the Rams in 1959 and Donny Anderson by the Packers in 1965). The American Football League also engaged in futures picks, and even conducted separate Redshirt Drafts in 1965 and 1966. The practice of futures picks was discontinued when the NFL-AFL merger brought about the combined draft in 1967.
Using the wonderful Packers History web site linked on the right column of this blog, I compiled a list of the 70 underclassmen selected by the Packers in that time period. I also included Stan Heath, who was drafted in the 25th round of the 1948 draft and then again in the first round the following year by Curly Lambeau. The 1948 selection was voided by the league because Heath was not eligible for the draft.
Green Bay began selecting futures in 1953, and Packers’ futures picks were made by Jack Vainisi from 1953-59 and by Vince Lombardi from 1960-66. Vainisi used 32 of his 219 picks in those drafts (14.6%) on futures. By far, his first futures’ choice, versatile back Joe Johnson of Boston College, was his best. The only other futures pick to make the team in Vainisi’s tenure was tackle Bill Lucky, but Lucky’s selection was voided by the league because his class had not graduate. Lucky was then selected by the Browns the following year and dealt to Green Bay in 1955.
Jack even selected three sophomores in 1958. One of those players, Dave Crowell, had interrupted his college years to serve in the military; presumably the situation was similar with the other two as well. Only two other of Vainisi’s futures ever played pro ball, Mike Hudock in the AFL and Ed Sullivan in the CFL. Vainisi, though, never picked a future higher than 110, and his average futures pick was 227.
Vince Lombardi made greater use of the futures system in his time. 37 of Vince’s 156 picks from 1960-66 were futures (23.7%). Moreover, Lombardi used futures much earlier in the draft than Vainisi. Lombardi chose 15 futures higher than Vainisi’s high point of pick 110. Futures picks allowed Lombardi to get a jump on some players who would not be available when the late-picking Packers turns came. Of Vince’s 37 futures picks, seven played for Green Bay, two made the Packers’ taxi squad, eight played elsewhere in the NFL or AFL and two played in Canada.
Lombardi’s best two futures picks were consecutive Packer picks. Bill Curry was Green Bay’s 20th round pick in 1964 and Donny Anderson was the team’s first round pick in 1965. Lombardi was also competing with the AFL in those years, so he missed out on a couple of good players like Paul Costa and Jim Harvey who signed instead with the rival league. Vince also missed out on Buck Buchanan, who he mistakenly selected as a future in 1962 only to have the pick voided by the league.
The following table lists the Packers’ futures picks and the relevant information about them:
|Drafted||Round||Pick #||Player||Pos.||College||As Pro||AFL Draft||Notes|
|1953||11||127||Joe Johnson||HB||Boston College||GB|
|1953||13||151||Bob Orders||C||West Virginia|
|1953||12||139||Dick Curran||HB||Arizona State|
|1955||22||257||Bill Brunner||FB||Arkansas Tech|
|1956||19||224||Ken Vakey||E||Texas Tech|
|1957||12||135||Ed Sullivan||C||Notre Dame||CFL|
|1957||25||292||Jerry Johnson||T||St. Norbert|
|1958||16||186||Arley Finley||T||Georgia Tech|
|1958||23||267||Jack Ashton||G||South Carolina||Soph|
|1958||28||326||Dave Crowell||G||Washington State||Soph|
|1959||23||265||Orville Lawyer||T||Lewis & Clark|
|1960||16||185||John Littlejohn||HB||Kansas State|
|1962||8||112||James Tulis||HB||Florida A&M||Patriots|
|1963||9||126||Bill Freeman||T||Missouri Southern|
|1963||15||210||Gene Breen||HB||Virginia Tech||GB||Chargers|
|1963||19||266||Herman Hamp||E||Fresno State||Chargers|
|1964||4||55||Paul Costa||T||Notre Dame||AFL||Chiefs|
|1964||15||209||Alex Zenko||HB||Kent State||Oilers|
|1964||20||279||Bill Curry||HB||Georgia Tech||GB||Raiders|
|1965||1||7||Donny Anderson||G||Texas Tech||GB||Oilers|
|1965||11||150||Jim Weatherwax||G||Cal State – LA||GB||Chargers|
|1965||13||178||Roy Schmidt||LB||Long Beach State||NFL||Patriots||GB taxi|
|1965||18||248||Jeff White||T||Texas Tech||Chargers||GB taxi|
|1965||19||262||Len Sears||T||South Carolina||Oilers|
|1966||12||184||Jim Mankins||FB||Flroida State||NFL||Dolphins|
Dudley, Harvey and Schmidt custom cards are colorized.