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Green Bay Packers: The Pack's Top 5 Draft Classes Ever

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 9, 2017

Green Bay Packers: The Pack's Top 5 Draft Classes Ever

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    The NFL has had the draft system in place since 1936. That means that the Green Bay Packers have participated in 76 NFL drafts since then. Ironically, the Packers, who have been in the NFL since 1921, may have signed their best player ever the year before the inception of the draft.

    That would be WR Don Hutson, who signed with the Packers in 1935.

    Anyway, I'm going to list the five best drafts the Packers ever had, at least in my opinion. One man was responsible for two of those drafts. That man's name was Jack Vainisi. Vainisi was a talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960.

    In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That list should even be bigger. More on that later.

    Vainisi also played a prominent role in bringing Vince Lombardi to the Packers. It was Vainisi who called Lombardi and invited the New York Giant's assistant coach to interview for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

    Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Lombardi-era Packers.

    My first two best ever draft classes were drafted by Vainisi.

    I am not including any of Lombardi's draft classes in this group of five. Lombardi had some solid drafts, but he did not have the eye for collegiate talent like Vainisi did. In fact, from 1960-1968, Lombardi drafted only one player that would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That would be Herb Adderley, who was drafted in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft..

    Some believe that Dave Robinson, who was selected in the first round of the 1963 NFL draft, also deserves induction into the Hall.

    Lombardi did have an excellent eye for NFL talent though, and he made a number of outstanding trades in his tenure.

    Here are the top draft classes ever for the Packers...

Class of 1958

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    This was the best draft class that Jack Vainisi ever selected. The 1958 NFL draft was a fantastic bounty for the Packers. The draft was much different then compared to today, as the NFL staggered the draft on two different dates, with the first part of the draft (rounds 1-4) being in early December and the last part of the draft (rounds 5-30) being in late January. There were 30 rounds in the NFL draft back then, believe it or not.  

    In the first round, the Packers selected LB Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected FB Jim Taylor. In the third round, the Packers selected LB Ray Nitschke. In the fourth round, the Packers selected RG Jerry Kramer.

    All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many, including myself, that believe Kramer should also be in the Hall based on his outstanding NFL resume. 

    Jim Taylor is the second all-time rushing leader for the Packers with 8,207 yards. Taylor also scored 91 touchdowns in his career, including 19 in 1962, the year Taylor was named MVP in the NFL.

    Taylor was named All-Pro six times and was also named to the Pro Bowl five times. Taylor led the team in rushing seven times, and also led the NFL in rushing in 1962. He probably would have led the league a few more times if not for the presence of the great Jim Brown in his era.

    Taylor had five seasons of 1,000 yards or more, plus gained over 100 yards in a game 26 times.

    Ray Nitschke was the face of the defense in the Vince Lombardi era. He also played in an era that had some excellent middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Bill George and Joe Schmidt.

    Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and was named to only one Pro Bowl squad for some ridiculous reason. Nitschke was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants as he deflected one pass for an interception and also recovered two fumbles.

    Currie was All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl.

    Kramer was All-Pro six times and was named to three Pro Bowl teams. He was also named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Kramer is the ONLY member of that squad not in Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    Kramer also kicked three fields goals in the windy and chilly conditions at Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL Championship game. Those three field goals were the difference in the game, as the Packers beat the New York Giants, 16-7.

    Kramer is most famous for his block in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the "Ice Bowl." With 13 seconds remaining in the game and the Packers trailing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, Kramer got great leverage with his block on DT Jethro Pugh, and QB Bart Starr happily followed his right guard into NFL immortality by scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

    Here is the bottom line why Kramer deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The power sweep was the signature play for Vince Lombardi and his Packers. Kramer was a key component of its success. The final drive of the Ice Bowl was the signature series of the Lombardi Packers and cemented their legacy. 

    Kramer again, had a huge role in that. The Bart Starr quarterback sneak in the Ice Bowl was led by the signature block of the Lombardi era. To many, the greatest block in NFL history. It was Jerry Kramer that made that block. 

Class of 1956

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    Like he 1958 draft class, the selections that Vainisi made in 1956 were outstanding. Like 1958, Vainisi was able to select two players who would eventually be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They would be RT Forrest Gregg (second round) and QB Bart Starr (17th round).

    Starr won five NFL championships as a QB, more than any other quarterback in NFL history. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana have won four championships, but Starr still is all alone with five titles. In addition, Starr quarterbacked the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls, winning MVP in each game.

    Starr was also the league MVP in 1966, plus led the NFL in passing three times. Starr is probably best remembered for his thrilling quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining in the infamous Ice Bowl on Dec. 31, 1967.

    Starr was named All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl four times. Starr was 9-1 as a playoff QB. Starr also had his number retired (No. 15) by the Packers.

    In his book Run To Daylight, Vince Lombardi said, “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!”  Gregg played 14 seasons for the Packers. Gregg was the key staple in the offensive line during the Lombardi years which included such greats as Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Bob Skoronski.

    However, only Gregg and Ringo are in the NFL Hall of Fame, which to many is a travesty, especially because of Kramer’s omission. Gregg was named All-Pro nine times and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times as well.

    Vainisi was also able to select two very solid starters in Skoronski (LT) and Hank Gremminger (DB) in 1956, and both started for the Packers for 10 years or more.

    All told, Vainisi drafted six players during his tenure in Green Bay who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were C Jim Ringo, Gregg, Starr, HB Paul Hornung, Taylor and Nitschke. 

Class of 2005

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    The 2005 draft class was drafted by Ted Thompson, and it was his very first draft. His first selection was QB Aaron Rodgers. Just the selection of Rodgers makes this draft class fantastic.

    During the 2011 NFL season, Rodgers threw 45 TD passes to just six interceptions for 4,643 yards and also had a QB rating of 122.5. Rodgers also had a completion percentage of 68.3. The 122.5 QB rating was the best in the NFL and also broke the all-time record set by Peyton Manning in 2004, when Manning had a 121.1 QB rating. 

    That performance led to Rodgers being named the NFL MVP in 2011.

    Rodgers not only had the best-ever QB rating in a single season in 2011, but Rodgers is the all-time leader in QB rating in both the regular season and the postseason.

    Rodgers has thrown 132 TD passes versus just 38 interceptions for 17,366 yards and has a 104.1 QB rating in his career during the regular season. Rodgers is the only QB in NFL history to have a QB rating of over 100 based on 1,500 passing attempts.

    Add to that Rodgers has thrown 15 TD passes versus only four picks for 1,781 yards, and has a QB rating of 105.5 in his career during the postseason. Again, that is the best in NFL history.

    Most importantly, Rodgers led the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV, a game in which he was named MVP.

    Rodgers was also first-team All-Pro in 2011 and has been named to two Pro Bowl squads.

    The second pick by Thompson in the 2005 draft was S Nick Collins. Collins has also been a very nice selection. Collins has been named All-Pro three times and has been selected to play in three Pro Bowls.

    Collins also had a key interception for a TD in Super Bowl XLV.

    Seven other members of the class of 2005 made the team, but it is the selections of Rodgers and Collins that makes this class so outstanding.

Class of 2009

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    Thompson once again hit gold with the class of 2009. First he selected DT B.J. Raji with the ninth overall selection of the first round. Then Thompson traded up, using three draft picks (including one the Packers had after the Brett Favre trade) and selected OLB Clay Matthews with the 26th pick of the first round.

    Both of those selections found their mark, as both Raji and Matthews played key roles in 2010 when the Packers won their fourth Super Bowl trophy and the team's 13th NFL title.

    The Packers also selected OL T.J. Lang, who is currently the starting LG for the Packers, along with a couple other players who are still with the Packers, DE Jarius Wynn and OLB Brad Jones.

    But it was the selections of Raji and Matthews that make this class special.

    Raji was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team in 2011, and his overall play with Green Bay has been impressive. The biggest play of his career had to be in the 2010 NFC Championship Game when Raji intercepted a Caleb Hanie pass and returned it 18 yards for a TD, as the Packers beat the Chicago Bears 21-14 in that game.

    Matthews has been phenomenal since he put on the green and gold uniform. Matthews has been All-Pro once and has been named to three Pro Bowls. He just missed being named the AP 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as he finished second to S Troy Polamalu, but he did win the 2010 Sporting News NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

    Like Raji, Matthews had a very big play when it really counted in championship environment. The Packers were leading the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17 as the fourth quarter was just getting started. However, the Steelers were driving and were in Green Bay territory going for the go-ahead score.

    It was then when Matthews, along with help from DE Ryan Pickett, made a huge play. Both Pickett and Matthews simultaneously hit RB Rashard Mendenhall as he was running with the ball and the force of their impact caused a fumble. LB Desmond Bishop of the Packers recovered and the Packers went on to score another TD in the ensuing drive.

    Bottom line, the Packers held on to win to win Super Bowl XLV 31-25, and there were many big plays, but none was bigger than the fumble that was caused by Matthews and Pickett.

Class of 2000

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    Ron Wolf had a number of very solid draft classes in his tenure in Green Bay, but his class of 2000 stands out. For instance, Wolf drafted LT Chad Clifton in the second round and RT Mark Tauscher in the seventh round.

    Both of them became bookend offensive tackles for the Packers for over a decade. Tauscher had to retire after the 2010 season, while Clifton is still on the team, although he may be getting near his run in Green Bay.

    Tauscher was never All-Pro or named to any Pro Bowls, but he was as solid a RT as they come in the NFL. Clifton was never All-Pro either, but he was named to two Pro Bowl teams. Like Tauscher, he was as solid as they come at LT.

    Wolf's first pick of the 2000 draft was TE Bubba Franks. Franks was a favorite weapon of Brett Favre, especially in the red zone. Overall, Franks had 256 receptions and had 32 TDs. Franks was also named to four Pro Bowls.

    In the fifth round, Wolf selected DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. KGB had a great career for the Packers. He was never All-Pro and only was selected to one Pro Bowl, but he is the all-time sacks leader for the Packers, as he had 74.5 sacks in his career.

    The Packers also selected LB Na'il Diggs in the fourth round in that draft, and Diggs was a six-year starter at LB for the Packers.  

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