Aaron Rodgers and the Top 10 Green Bay Packers of the Last 20 Years

Chris Peterson@@ThePPRExpertsAnalyst IMay 24, 2012

Aaron Rodgers and the Top 10 Green Bay Packers of the Last 20 Years

0 of 11

    The 1992 season has special significance for the Green Bay Packers. Not only did it mark the arrivals of Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre; it also signaled the end of an incredibly dismal era of Packer football and the start of a dramatic transformation.

    The 20 years prior to the 1992 season marked the worst stretch in the storied history of the Packers. The team had fallen so suddenly into mediocrity and despair, that outside of the uniforms, it bore no resemblance to the once proud franchise headed by men like Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau. 

    From 1972-1991, according to pro-football-reference.com, the Packers had just one playoff appearance and three winning seasons to their credit, while suffering 13 losing seasons over that same period. It was a dark time in Packer history, yet it all changed the day Wolf took the over as general manager. 

    Not only did Wolf hire Holmgren, who at the time was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, he traded a first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Favre, a young, undisciplined, gunslinger, who wore out his welcome in Atlanta after just one season. 

    Just three games into that season, Favre took over as the starting quarterback following the injury to starter Don Majkowski and the rest as they say is history. The team finished the season 9-7, but missed the playoffs. 

    Wolf, the bold deal-maker, used the team’s success to sell defensive great Reggie White to the Packers and eventually signed him as a free agent following the 1992 season.

    From that point on, greatness ensued. 

    From the day Wolf, Holmgren and Favre first came aboard, the Packers have won an average of 10.8 games a season, have qualified for the playoffs 14 times, have played in the Super Bowl three times, winning it twice and have had just two non-winning seasons. 

    This list will chronicle the top 10 players of the 20 years since the 1992 season when the Packers began their ascent to the NFL’s elite.

    Although, Wolf, Holmgren, current general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy have all had a tremendous impact on the franchise, they will not be on this list. This is a players' list only. 

    Players were ranked based on two things: their play on the field as well as their overall influence on the success of the franchise as a whole.

    It took a long time for Green Bay to be once again mentioned as a premier franchise in the NFL but with the help of these 10 players and many more, they have now become exactly that. 

10. Chad Clifton

1 of 11

    When thinking about the top 10 Packers of the last 20 years, few probably would have thought of Clifton, who may be one the most under appreciated players of this era. 

    Clifton not only started 160 games at left tackle, by far the most important position along the offensive line, but he played at a very high level, earning bids the Pro Bowl following the 2007 and 2010 seasons.

    The 6'5" 330-pound tackle from Tennessee was picked by the Packers in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft and began starting a few games into his rookie season and never looked back. 

    Some may question his inclusion on this list but it is important to remember the impact Clifton had on the Packers. 

    Since Favre became the Packers' starting quarterback in the fourth game of the 92' season, Green Bay's starting quarterbacks have amazingly missed just one start due to injury, (Aaron Rodgers sat out against New England in week 15 of the 2010 season due to a concussion).

    Because Clifton was the blindside protector of Favre and Rodgers for the majority of 12 seasons, he deserves as much credit as anyone for the impressive string of durability among Packers' quarterbacks. He also was a consistent producer at one of the game's most demanding positions.

    If those reasons were not enough, Clifton sealed his spot on this list with his performance in the 2010 playoffs and in particular in Super Bowl XLV. 

    Green Bay entered the Super Bowl knowing they would face constant pressure from the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and that if it could not protect Rodgers there was little hope of victory.

    Luckily, Clifton played one of the best games of his career, holding stellar pass-rusher James Harrison in check without much help. Essentially, head coach Mike McCarthy trusted him enough to leave him alone on an island and it worked.

    Rodgers did get sacked three times in the game but he attempted 39 passes and had more than enough time in the pocket to shred the Steelers for over 300 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 31-26 Green Bay victory. 

    For the efforts displayed throughout his career and in the Super Bowl run especially, Clifton deserves a spot on this list. 

9. Antonio Freeman

2 of 11

    Without question, Antonio Freeman is one of the greatest receivers in Green Bay Packers history. Not only are his career statistics extremely impressive but he was also a big part of bringing the Lombardi trophy back to the Packers with his efforts in Super Bowl XXXI.

    Freeman was selected by the Packers in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech and it did not take long for him to become one of the team's top receivers. 

    In 1996, his second season in the NFL, Freeman stepped up big-time as the Packers receiving core was depleted by a season ending injury to star wideout Robert Brooks. The former Hokie started 12 games, catching 56 passes for 933 yards and nine touchdowns. 

    Freeman only got better when the lights got brighter. Against Carolina in the NFC championship game that year he had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Then in the Super Bowl, Freeman had his defining moment. 

    For the game, Freeman hauled in three passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Yet, it was his 81-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter with the Packers trailing 14-10 that will live on forever in Green Bay lore, as he gave the Packers a 17-14 lead they would never relinquish. 

    After playing eight seasons in Green Bay, Freeman caught a total of 431 passes good enough for 6,651 yards and 57 receiving touchdowns. His totals for receptions and receiving yards rank him sixth all-time in Packer history, while his total for receiving touchdowns is fourth all time. 

    Freeman also posted three consecutive 1,000 yard-seasons from 1997-99, and was named to the Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro in 1998. He also played in 14 career playoff games as a Packer. 

8. Ahman Green

3 of 11

    In an ironic twist, Wolf made a trade with Holmgren to acquire the No. 8 player on our list, Ahman Green. 

    After taking the Packers to the postseason six years in a row, Holmgren left Green Bay for the head job in Seattle, where he could be the coach and general manager. 

    Holmgren did a lot of greats thing during his time in Seattle, including getting the team to the Super Bowl, but trading away Green to the Packers was not one of them.

    Green, the former Nebraska Cornhusker made an impact right away on the Packers, as he rushed for 1,175 yards and caught 73 passes for 559 yards in his first season to go along with 13 total touchdowns. The Packers missed the playoffs that season but won their last four games to finish 9-7. 

    Over the course of the next four years, Green would post four more seasons with at least 1,160 yards rushing and was named to the Pro Bowl four times.

    His best season was in 2003, when he totaled a career-high 1,883 rushing yards as well as 20 touchdowns, which were both single-season franchise records

    Not only was the Green one of the best running backs in team history, he also helped the Packers to four consecutive playoff appearances from 2001-2004. He was also a member of the 2009 playoff team.

    Following the 2006 season, Green signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans but returned to Green Bay midway through the 2009 season. In eight games, he carried the ball 41 times for 160 yards and a touchdown, which was enough to make the Packers all-time leading rusher, surpassing Jim Taylor. 

7. Greg Jennings

4 of 11

    Back in 2006 when the Green Bay Packers drafted Greg Jennings, Favre, who was the starting quarterback then, was disappointed that the team did not trade for Randy Moss.

    Well after seeing what Jennings has done in his first six seasons as a Packer, no one can say he was a disappointment.

    To put it simply, Jennings has become one of the great receivers in the Packer history and as long as the team can get him re-signed to a long-term deal after this season, he may break all kinds of records before his time in Green Bay is up.

    Statistically, Jennings career is already impressive. He has went over 1,000 yards receiving in three of his six seasons. He had 920 yards receiving in 2007, 949 last season and missed three games each of those years. 

    The former Western Michigan star has also found his way into the end zone quite frequently as a Packer, 49 times to be exact. 

    As Jennings enters his seventh NFL season and turns just 28 years old, he is still in the midst of his prime, yet he is already seventh is Packers' history in receptions with 389, eighth in receiving yards with 6,171 and seventh in touchdowns with 49. 

    The other thing that made Jennings a slam dunk for this list is the way he has taken his game to another level when it matters most. In eight career playoff games Jennings has hauled in 40 passes for 558 yards and five touchdowns. 

    Despite the number of clutch catches Jennings has made throughout his career, none meant more than the catch he made late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV. 

    With Green Bay holding a slim 28-25 lead over Pittsburgh, the Packers faced a third-and-10 from their own 25 with under six minutes remaining in the game, Jennings made one of the best catches you will ever see. 

    On the play, Steeler's cornerback Ike Taylor had very tight coverage, but Rodgers trusted his receiver and threw the ball into the tightest of windows. Yet, somehow, someway, Jennings made the catch and turned into a 31-yard gain, eventually leading to a field goal and the win. 

    The catch was instrumental in the Packers eventual victory and because of it, Jennings will always have a place in Green Bay lore.  

6. Charles Woodson

5 of 11

    Back in 2006 when Charles Woodson was a free agent looking for a new home, the last place he wanted to go was Green Bay. Yet, no other team wanted him, so he was forced to accept the Packers seven-year $52 million contract.

    He may not have been happy with it in the beginning but Woodson has grown to love it in Green Bay and has rejuvenated his once floundering career. 

    In six seasons as a Packer, the play-making defensive back has intercepted an incredible 37 passes. He has also forced 14 fumbles, had six fumble recoveries, 94 passes defensed, 10.5 sacks and a franchise record nine defensive touchdowns

    Woodson was outstanding in his first three years as a Packer but after the team named Dom Capers defensive coordinator in 2009, he took his game to an entirely new level. 

    Capers uses Woodson almost as a utility man. He plays him at corner on the outside, inside in the nickel, he blitzes him, he stuffs the run, he pretty much does it all. 

    In his first season in Caper's 3-4 scheme, Woodson dominated the NFL as he intercepted nine passes, forced four fumbles, recorded two sacks and scored three defensive touchdowns, which was enough to earn him the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. 

    The former Michigan Wolverine was also a key member of the Packers Super Bowl team in 2010, even though he missed a significant part of the Super Bowl game due to a shoulder injury. 

5. LeRoy Butler

6 of 11

    LeRoy Butler made many contributions to the Green Bay Packers organization. He was a four-time All-Pro and even helped the Packers win a Super Bowl. However, quite possibly his greatest achievement was inventing the Lambeau Leap. 

    According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Butler was the first Packer to make the leap, first performing the now popular touchdown celebration after returning a fumble for the one and only touchdown of his career in the final game of the 1993 season against the Oakland Raiders

    The touchdown helped the Green Bay seal a victory in the game and clinched the team's first playoff berth since the 1982 season.

    The four-time Pro Bowler was a major part of the Packers return to greatness. He helped the team to six consecutive playoff berths from 1993-98 and of course to their first Super Bowl Championship in 30 years in 1996 when the team captured Super Bowl XXXI with a 35-21 win over New England. 

    The Packers were fortunate enough to have Butler spend his entire career in Green Bay, where he would eventually turn in to one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the franchise. 

    His career numbers look a little something like this: 38 interceptions (fourth in franchise history), 13 forced fumbles (fourth in franchise history) and 20.5 sacks the most by any Packer defensive back. 

4. Donald Driver

7 of 11

    When the Packers drafted a little know wide receiver from Alcorn State back named Donald Driver back the seventh round of the 1999 draft, it generated little excitement.

    But after spending 13 incredible seasons in Green Bay, it is clear the Driver is not only a great wide receiver but he also one of the greatest players in franchise history. 

    Driver's stellar career with the Packers got off to a slow start as he totaled just 520 yards on 37 receptions with three touchdowns in his first three seasons. 

    Then came the 2002 season, when Driver came out of nowhere to catch 70 passes for 1,064 yards and nine touchdowns, helping Green Bay get to the playoffs and earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.

    Over the course of his career he has had at least 1,000 yards receiving six times and earned two more trips to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007. He also caught at least 70 passes seven times.

    Driver's 735 receptions for 10,600 yards are both tops in Packer history, while his 59 career receiving touchdowns ranked third in team history

    The venerable Driver is beloved by Packer nation for his hard work, enthusiasm and sheer determination. Through his great play and unmistakable leadership, he has helped the team qualify for the the playoffs eight times, which includes a Super Bowl title in 2010, which is the perfect cap on a hall of fame-caliber career. 

3. Aaron Rodgers

8 of 11

    Taking over for a living legend is never easy to do. Making people forget about him is even harder. But Rodgers has done exactly that when it comes to his predecessor. 

    Rodgers has not necessarily made fans forget about Favre, it is more that the young quarterback has won them over and who could blame them if they did forget about the old-timer, because the apprentice has now become the master. 

    Few would have believed it possible for the Packers to contend for a Super Bowl championship just three years after the departure of Favre, yet Rodgers made it a reality when he led the team to a 31-25 victory over the Steelers to capture Super Bowl XLV, earning MVP honors in the process. 

    As impressive as that achievement is, Rodgers career statistics are equally impressive.

    In his first four seasons as a starting quarterback, Rodgers has completed over 65 percent of his passes, thrown for more than 17,000 yards and compiled 147 total touchdowns compared to just 31 interceptions. 

    Rodgers is also the NFL's all-time highest rated passer thus far in his career as he has compiled a rating of 104.1. He also is the all-time leader in interception ratio, adjusted yards per pass, adjusted net yards per pass and his completion percentage ranks him at fourth all time. 

    The thing that makes Rodgers truly special though has been his performance in the postseason. In seven career playoff games, he has complied a 4-3 record, while completing 65 percent of his passes, throwing for an average of 254 yards per game to go along with 18 total touchdowns compared with just four interceptions. 

    His greatness in the postseason was only confirmed by the awesome performance exhibited in Super Bowl XLV, where he completed 24-of-39 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns in the defining moment of his young career. 

    Who knows what Rodgers will eventually achieve but he has already earned himself a spot among the greatest players in Packer history. 

2. Reggie White

9 of 11

    There were many people who played a part in the Packers return to greatness in the early 90s but no one played a more important role than the "Minister of Defense" Reggie White. 

    Before White decided to sign on with the Packers as an unrestricted free agent following the 1992 season, Green Bay was kind of like the Siberia of the NFL, no one really wanted to be there.  

    White's signing changed not only the perception of the Packers around the league, it also drastically changed their fortunes. 

    Here is what former Packers beat writer Cliff Christl wrote about the impact of White coming to Green Bay for a special article published on ESPN.com

    Mike Holmgren had raised eyebrows by spurning several other offers to accept the head coaching position and had installed both a structure and a system that was patterned after the San Francisco 49ers, where he had served as offensive coordinator during the Bill Walsh dynasty. Brett Favre, an unbridled but immensely talented quarterback, had created hope by leading the Packers to a 9-7 record in his first season as a starter.

    But it was White, more than anyone else, who restored the franchise's credibility, and he did so with nothing more than a stroke of a pen. The day he signed as a free agent -- April 6, 1993 -- the Packers earned back their good name.

    White's signing created a ton of hype in Green Bay but it was deserved and the minister/football player made sure he lived up to it. 

    In his six seasons in Green Bay, the Packers never once missed the playoffs and made two appearances in the Super Bowl, including the win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

    White was always the type of player to rise to the occasion and it was no different against New England, when he registered a Super Bowl record three sacks, notching two on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter to help the seal the team's world championship. 

    Despite only playing six seasons in Green Bay, White is still second in club history with 68.5 sacks. However, his value to the franchise can never be put on paper, as he helped put the Packers back on the map and there is no stat that can measure that type of impact. 

1. Brett Favre

10 of 11

    Although many Packer fans have mixed feelings about Favre, we cannot rewrite history. The gunslinger from Southern Mississippi was one of the greatest to ever don a Packers uniform and without him, the team would not be where it is at today. 

    Favre came to the Packers back in 1992 as a young quarterback with a lot to learn. He had just partied his way off the Atlanta Falcons, which gave Green Bay a chance to acquire him in what ended up being the greatest trade in franchise history. 

    While White certainly had a huge role in the Packers resurgence, Favre was responsible for turning that surge into sustainable long-term success. 

    Not only did Favre help elevate the Packers to a Super Bowl Championship in 1996, he also won three NFL MVP awards and guided the team to 13 winning seasons in his 16 years as the team's starting quarterback. 

    There are many incredible stats to describe Favre, yet none does him more justice that his incredible streak of starts. After taking over for the injured Majkowski in Week 3 of the 1992 season, he started the next 275 games at quarterback for the Packers, including the playoffs. 

    In those 275 games, Favre compiled an impressive 172-103 (12-10 in the playoffs) record as a starter. The Packers had just one losing season in his 16 years and made the playoffs 11 times. 

    Along the way Favre also became the franchises all-time leader in every major statistical category that has to do with playing quarterback. He was awarded first team All-Pro three times and was an 11-time Pro Bowler. 

    For all intense and purposes, Favre was the Packers for the better part of 16 years. His time in Green Bay was a golden age and can never be forgotten or trivialized, no matter how ugly it ended.

Honorable Mentions

11 of 11

    Nick Collins: 

    Aaron Rodgers was Thompson's first draft pick as Packers general manager, Collins was his second. The college cornerback-turned safety proved to be well that second-round selection, as he earned three trips to the Pro Bowl and had his defining moment in Super Bowl XLV, when he intercepted a Ben Roethelisberger pass and returned for a touchdown to give Green Bay a commanding 14-0 lead they would never relinquish. 

    Unfortunately, Collins was released earlier this offseason due to a neck injury. In six full seasons with the Packers, he intercepted 21 passes and had four career defensive touchdowns. 

    William Henderson:

    Henderson started 112 games for the Packers over the course of his 12-year career that spanned from 1995-2006. Henderson was a true all purpose fullback and was apart of the team's two Super Bowl teams as well as six other playoff teams. He was named to his only Pro Bowl following the 2004 season.

    Dorsey Levens: 

    Even though Levens did not become the Packers full-time starting running back until 1997, he had a big impact on the team's run to the Super Bowl in 1996, highlighted by his acrobatic first-quarter touchdown against the Carolina in the first quarter of the 96' NFC Championship game. The catch tied the game after the Packers fell behind early and stopped the momentum of the Panthers as Green Bay went on to win 30-13. 

    Levens earned a berth to the Pro Bowl following the 1997 season and compiled over 6,000 total yards from scrimmage and 44 touchdowns in his eight seasons in Green Bay. He was apart of six playoff teams. 

    Frank Winters:

    Winters career did not start in Green Bay but it ended there. After bouncing around the league with the Giants, Browns and Chiefs to start his career, he finished his career as a decorated player with the Packers. 

    Winters joined the team for the 1992 season and proceeded to start 141 games with the Packers. He played on a total of eight playoff teams, started two Super Bowls and earned a berth to the Pro Bowl in 1996. 

    Darren Sharper: 

    Sharper is a bit like Favre, he left the team for the Minnesota Vikings, which has left a bad taste in the mouths of Packers fans. However, during his time with the Packers he started 101 games, played on six playoff teams, intercepted 36 passes and earned two Pro Bowl berths.