NFL Draft: Crown jewel of the offseason
BY THOM GERRETSEN
MARSHFIELD — If you watch the National Football League Draft on April 27, you’re likely to hear at least two traditions. Commissioner Roger Goodell often gets loud boos from fans when he opens the three-day proceeding. And a collective angst – both optimistic and cynical – emerges from Packer Nation when Green Bay’s first pick is announced.
The Aaron Rodgers trade notwithstanding, the draft has become the NFL’s “crown jewel” of the offseason. It attracts thousands of fans who will make the pilgrimage to Kansas City to enjoy large football festivals and parties when they’re not straining their necks to see a celebrity announce their team’s next great quarterback, linebacker, etc.
If Green Bay ever gets to host the draft, it would be the second of its kind in Wisconsin. Milwaukee had it in 1940, when the league rotated it among seven cities before settling in for 50 years at the league’s headquarters’ city of New York. The draft was moved to Chicago in 2015-and-’16 with goals of attracting more fans and attractions. Detroit will have it in 2024. Beyond that, league owners could decide in May on future locations. Green Bay officials are working to win the event in 2025-or-’27.
First round draft picks always get the biggest hype. Following the April 17 trade that sent Rodgers to the New York Jets, the Pack will pick 13th in the first round with ten other selections in the remaining six rounds – two in the second round, one in each of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds and four selections in the seventh round.
The current Packers are often criticized for having only three homegrown first-rounders who made the Pro Bowl — quarterback Rodgers, cornerback Jaire Alexander and defensive tackle Kenny Clark. But even in the 1960s Glory Years, Packers’ first-rounders inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame have been relatively rare. Of Green Bay’s 28 enshrinees in Canton, Ohio, only three were taken by the Pack in Round 1; cornerback Herb Adderley in 1961, linebacker Dave Robinson in 1963, and wide receiver James Lofton in 1978.
Rodgers is expected to join that esteemed group five years after he retires. Although he was taken lower than many expected – 24th in 2005 – Rodgers is the only first-round pick among the three Green Bay quarterbacks to win Super Bowl titles since 1967. Brett Favre, traded to the Pack in 1992, was taken in the second round by Atlanta the year before. Bart Starr fell to the 17th round in 1956. A number of Hall of Famers played before the NFL Draft came along in 1936. Legendary receiver Don Hutson was one year too early.
Once the draft became popular on television, top prospects were called to New York to appear with the commissioner on stage as they were chosen. One notable Wisconsin player snubbed his invitation. Former Badgers’ offensive tackle Joe Thomas said it was “the last opportunity to spend time with your family and your old life,” and he opted to fish with his father on Lake Michigan. Thomas, taken by Cleveland as the third overall pick in 2007, told interviewer Graham Bensinger a decade later that the draftees were unpaid talent – and he believed the league “abused” Rodgers by constantly showing his frustration backstage two years earlier as he was falling down the draft board and “doing that for free.”
On the other hand, don’t expect Thomas to miss his next major TV invite; his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’ll be enshrined in Canton Aug. 5 after he set a new NFL record for consecutive snaps played: 10,363 of them over 11 seasons with the Browns before an injury made him retire in 2017.