The Green Bay Packers have been part of the National Football League since 1921. Therefore, the Packers have taken part in every single NFL draft since it was instituted in 1936. That means the Packers have participated in 76 drafts going into the 2013 NFL Draft, which will take place later this month.
In that time frame the Packers have selected a number of great players via the draft. I'm going to try and name the 16 best players the Packers have ever selected using that process. This list will not include Don Hutson, as he was signed as a free agent the year before the draft was instituted.
The first group of players (seven in all) come from the 1950s. The person most responsible for the selection of those players was full-time talent scout Jack Vainisi. Vainisi also played a key role in getting Vince Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959 as well.
Not everyone on this was drafted in the first round, either. Far from it. Only eight from this list were, in fact. Some were drafted much later, like Bart Starr, who was drafted in the 17th round in 1956.
Okay, let's take a look at the list.
Jim Ringo was drafted in the seventh round of the 1953 NFL Draft by the Packers. Ringo played with the Packers for 11 years, from 1953-1963.
The former Syracuse star was considered the best center in the NFL for a number of years. In fact, Ringo went to 10 Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro six times.
Ringo was named to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
He was the starting center on two championship teams (1961 and 1962) for the Packers.
Ringo is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Forrest Gregg was drafted in the second round of the 1956 NFL Draft. In his book Run To Daylight!, Vince Lombardi said, "Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!"
High praise, but well-earned. Gregg played with the Packers from 1956-1970, mostly at right tackle. In that time, Gregg went to nine Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro seven times.
In 1961, when Jerry Kramer was injured, Gregg shifted over to play right guard. But for close to a decade, Gregg was considered the best right tackle in the NFL.
Gregg was named to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Gregg started on all of Lombardi's NFL championship teams (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967) and was on the first two Super Bowl-winning teams.
Gregg is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bart Starr wasn't drafted until the 17th round by the Packers in 1956. Starr proved everybody wrong as he turned out to be the epitome of a championship quarterback.
No quarterback in NFL history has won as many championships (five) as Starr. Starr was also the MVP of both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.
Starr was 9-1 in the postseason, and has the highest quarterback rating of all time with a 104.8 rating. In those 10 games, Starr threw 15 touchdown passes, compared to just three interceptions.
Starr also won three passing titles (1962, 1964 and 1966) and was NFL MVP in 1966.
Starr played in four Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro just once, as he played in the shadow of the great Johnny Unitas.
Bart played with the Packers from 1956-1971, and is the longest tenured player (16 years) in the history of the franchise, along with Brett Favre.
Starr is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Paul Hornung was the number one pick in the entire 1957 NFL Draft by the Packers. Hornung struggled his first two years with the Packers, as the team used him in a variety of ways. He played quarterback, fullback and halfback in that time, as well as being the placekicker.
That all changed in 1959 when Vince Lombardi made him strictly his halfback, although he still kicked. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Hornung was a scoring machine in Green Bay, as he led the NFL in scoring three times, plus was the NFL MVP in 1961. Hornung scored 62 touchdowns, kicked 66 field goals and made 190 extra points in his career with the Pack.
The "Golden Boy" was named to two Pro-Bowls and was first-team All-Pro twice. Hornung played on four NFL championship teams under Lombardi, and scored 19 points by himself in the 1961 NFL title game won by the Packers 37-0 over the New York Giants.
Hornung was truly multidimensional, as he caught 130 passes for 12 touchdowns during his career. He also threw five touchdown passes himself.
No. 5 was also on the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
The former Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame played with the Packers from 1957-1966, and in addition to the four NFL title teams he played on, Paul was also on the Super Bowl I team.
Hornung is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jim Taylor was part of the best draft class that the Packers ever drafted in 1958. The Packers' first four picks in 1958 were linebacker Dan Currie, Taylor, linebacker Ray Nitschke and guard Jerry Kramer. That group gave the Packers two Hall of Fame players (Taylor and Nitschke), one who should be in Canton (Kramer), and a two-time All-Pro (Currie).
Taylor was drafted in the second round out of LSU. He and Paul Hornung became the best one-two running attack in the NFL for several years. Taylor rushed for over 1,000 yards for for five straight years and had 83 rushing touchdowns.
Like Hornung, he was also a very good receiver who caught 225 passes for 10 more touchdowns.
In 1962, Taylor gained 1,474 yards and scored 19 touchdowns and was the NFL MVP that year.
The bayou battering ram played in five Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro once. That was only because Taylor played in the same era as the great Jim Brown.
No. 31 was also on the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Taylor played with the Pack from 1958-1966 and was on four NFL championship teams, including the Super Bowl I team.
Taylor is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ray Nitschke was drafted in the third round out of Illinois in 1958. Nitschke was the Pack's middle linebacker on two different and talented units during his time in Green Bay.
Early in Nitschke's career, he played with Dan Currie and Bill Forrester at linebacker to form one of the NFL's best units. Later, he played with Dave Robinson and Lee Roy Caffey, who also were among the elite at their positional units.
Nitschke could do it all on the field. He was a physical presence who intimated his opponents. He also made big plays, as his 25 career interceptions and 23 fumble recoveries attests.
Nitschke was the MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game when he deflected a pass for an interception, plus had two fumble recoveries, as the Packers beat the Giants 16-7 at Yankee Stadium.
Believe it or not, Nitschke only played in one Pro Bowl and was only first-team All-Pro twice. However, he also played in an era with great middle linebackers like Bill George, Joe Schmidt and Dick Butkus.
No. 66 was also on the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Nitschke played with the Packers from 1958-1972 and was on five NFL championship teams, including the first two Super Bowl champions.
Nitschke is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jerry Kramer was drafted in the fourth round out of Idaho in 1958. He and Fuzzy Thurston formed the best guard combination in the NFL for several years. The Packers made the "power sweep" their signature play in that era, and Kramer and Thurston would pull and block on that play with outstanding success, as Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor put up big rushing numbers.
Kramer was not just a right guard either, as he was the Pack's kicker for part of the 1962 season and all of the 1963 season. In the 1962 NFL Championship Game at cold and windy Yankee Stadium versus the New York Giants, Kramer did both his jobs very well.
He helped lead Taylor and Hornung in the ground game, plus kicked three field goals in the game, which turned out to be the difference in Green Bay's 16-7 win. Kramer also recovered a fumble in the game. Kramer received the game ball from his teammates after the game.
Kramer always played well in championship moments. In the 1965 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field, it was Kramer who first blocked the middle linebacker of the Cleveland Browns and then the cornerback on Paul Hornung's 13-yard touchdown run, as the Packers beat the Browns 23-12.
Then in the Ice Bowl in 1967, it was Kramer who delivered the greatest block in NFL history when he got underneath Jethro Pugh of the Dallas Cowboys. That effort opened a hole for quarterback Bart Starr to sneak through for the game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds left. The Packers won 21-17.
Kramer played on three Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro five times in his career.
Kramer was also named to the NFL's 50th anniversary team. Jerry is the only member of that team to not be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kramer was also named to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Jerry played with the Packers from 1958-1968 and was on five NFL championship teams, including the first two Super Bowl winning teams.
Kramer is in the Packers Hall of Fame and should most definitely be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Herb Adderley was drafted by the Packers as a running back out of Michigan State in 1961. However, the Packers had an abundance of depth at that position at the time and the Packers also had a number of injured players in their defensive secondary, so it was decided that Adderley would become a cornerback.
Talk about a great decision. Adderley became the best cornerback in the NFL for almost a decade. He was Deion Sanders before Deion Sanders. Herb was a true shutdown corner.
Adderley had 39 career interceptions with the Packers, and he returned seven of those picks for touchdowns.
Adderley was also a kickoff return specialist for the Packers for many years, and he had two returns for touchdowns.
Herb was named to five Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro four times.
No. 26 was also on the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Adderley scored the first defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history, when he returned a pick for 60 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl II.
Herb played with the Packers from 1961-1969 and was on five NFL championship teams, including the first two Super Bowl champions.
Adderley is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dave Robinson was drafted in the first round of the 1963 draft. Starting in 1965, Robinson was part of the best linebacking corp in the NFL for five years, along with Ray Nitschke and Lee Roy Caffey.
Robinson was big and fast and could cover a lot of ground. He was adept at making big plays.
Robby had 21 career interceptions as a Packer, plus recovered nine fumbles. These turnovers always seem to come a key moment of the game, as well.
No. 89 was named to three Pro Bowl teams, plus was named first-team All-Pro one time.
Robinson was also on the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Dave played on three NFL championship teams, including the first two Super Bowl champions.
Robinson is in the Packers Hall of Fame and was recently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Gale Gillingham was the second of two first round picks in 1966, with the first selection being fullback Jim Grabowski of Illinois.
Gillingham became a starter at left guard when Fuzzy Thurston was injured in training camp in 1967. After the 1968 season when Jerry Kramer retired, Gillingham moved to right guard.
Gilly was one of the best guards in the NFL in his era, and was named to five Pro Bowl squads, as well as being named first-team All-Pro twice.
For some unexplained reason, head coach Dan Devine moved Gillingham to defensive tackle in 1972, and Gilly was injured after playing in only two games. Gale moved back to guard in 1973 and he played at a Pro Bowl-level once again at that position.
No. 68 played on two NFL title teams with the Packers, which included the first two Super Bowl championship teams.
Gillingham is in the Packers Hall of Fame and certainly has the credentials to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.
James Lofton was drafted in the first round out of Stanford in 1978. Lofton was the best player for the Packers when he played in Green Bay, and he quickly became one of the best wide receivers in football.
Unfortunately for Lofton, the Packers only played in two playoff games in his tenure in Green Bay. Lofton had a touchdown reception in each one of those games.
But when the Packers needed a big play while Lofton wore the green and gold, it was No. 80 who made it.
James had 530 career receptions for the Packers and also scored 49 touchdowns. Lofton also had 245 rushing yards as well and had another touchdown.
Lofton was named to seven Pro Bowls while he was a Packers, plus was named first-team All-Pro once.
No. 80 was also named to the second-team on the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1980s.
James is in both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sterling Sharpe was drafted in the first round out of South Carolina in 1988. Sterling didn't talk to the press much at all during is playing career, but he sure did some talking on the field with his stellar play.
Sharpe quickly became one of the most feared wide receivers in the NFL, as he had great hands, and was a load to bring down after the catch.
Shape only played with the Packers for seven years, as he suffered a career-ending neck injury, but he was truly spectacular when he did.
No. 84 had 595 career receptions for the Packers, which included 65 touchdowns. Twice, Sharpe caught over 100 passes in a season.
In the playoffs, Sharpe also played big-time. Twice he had over 100 yards in a game. His biggest moment came in the 1993 Wild Card game against the Detroit Lions. Sharpe had three touchdown receptions in that game, including the game-winning 40-yard touchdown reception in the final minute of that game.
Sharpe was named to five Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro three times.
Sterling is in the Packers Hall of Fame and if his career had not be cut short by injury, would surely be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
LeRoy Butler was drafted by the Packers in 1990 in the second round out of Florida State. Early in his career, Butler played some cornerback, but he soon became one of the best safeties in the NFL throughout his career.
Butler was truly a playmaker. He had 38 career interceptions and 20.5 sacks, forced 13 fumbles and had 10 fumble recoveries. Additionally, Butler scored three defensive touchdowns. It was on one of those occasions (a fumble return) that Butler did the very first Lambeau Leap in 1993.
Butler was named to four Pro Bowl teams, plus was a first-team All-Pro four times.
No. 36 was also named to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Butler was on Green Bay's Super Bowl XXXI winning team.
LeRoy is in the Packers Hall of Fame and has the career numbers for consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Donald Driver was drafted in the seventh round out of Alcorn State by the Packers in 1999. Driver did not have a lot of production early in his career (37 receptions in three years), but starting in 2002, his career really took off.
Driver ended up as the Packers' all-time receptions leader with 743 catches, as well as the Pack's all-time yardage leader with 10,137 yards. Donald also added 61 touchdown receptions.
No. 80 ran the ball on occasion too, and he had an additional 217 yards and another touchdown.
In the postseason, Driver also flourished, as he had 49 receptions for three touchdowns.
Driver was named to three Pro Bowl teams.
Donald was also a member of the Packers' Super Bowl XLV-winning team.
Aaron Rodgers was drafted in the first round in 2005 out of California by the Packers. Rodgers was Ted Thompson's first ever draft selection as general manager of the Pack. Needless to say, that pick has turned out to be fabulous for the Packers.
Rodgers is the all-time leader in NFL history with a 104.9 regular season quarterback rating. In his career, Aaron has thrown 171 touchdown passes, compared to just 46 picks.
Rodgers has led the Packers to the playoffs four times in his five-year career as a starter, plus the Packers have won the NFC North title two of those years.
In 2011, Rodgers was the NFL MVP, as he had a season for the ages. Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes, compared to just six interceptions, for 4,643 yards. His 122.5 quarterback rating that year is the best-ever mark in the history of the NFL.
Rodgers has also tuned out to be great in the postseason as well. Aaron has the third-best quarterback rating of all-time with a 103.6 rating. Rodgers is 5-3 in the playoffs, and has thrown 18 touchdowns, compared to just five interceptions.
Rodgers was MVP of Super Bowl XLV, where he threw three touchdowns, without an interception, for 304 yards, as the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.
No. 12 has been named to named to three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2011.
Clay Matthews was drafted in the first round (26th pick) in 2009 out of USC by the Packers. Matthews was the second selection in the first round that year by the Packers, as the team first selected defensive lineman B.J. Raji with the ninth pick of the draft.
The Packers traded up to get back into the first round to select Matthews, and one of the picks used to trade up was acquired in the Brett Favre trade in 2008.
Matthews has made that selection a wise choice. Clay has had 42.5 sacks in just four years at outside linebacker. Matthews has also had four interceptions (two for touchdowns) in his short career, plus has forced seven fumbles and recovered three (one for a touchdown).
The biggest forced fumble of Matthews' career happened in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers were clinging to a 21-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, when Matthews made a huge defensive play. The Steelers were driving and in Green Bay territory, when Matthews, along with defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, forced a fumble by running back Rashard Mendenhall, which linebacker Desmond Bishop of the Packers recovered.
The Packers went on to score another touchdown after that turnover, and Green Bay went on to win 31-25.
Matthews has been named to four Pro Bowls and was also named first-team All-Pro in 2010.