Ranking the Green Bay Packers' Top 10 NFL Draft Sleepers Since 1980

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMay 3, 2014

Ranking the Green Bay Packers' Top 10 NFL Draft Sleepers Since 1980

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    The Packers have found many solid contributors in the later rounds of the draft.
    The Packers have found many solid contributors in the later rounds of the draft.Morry Gash

    While the first round of the NFL draft gets most of the attention, teams' ability to find successful players in the later rounds is often a key to their long-term success. The Green Bay Packers have done a good job in recent years of finding diamonds in the rough and developing them into productive NFL players.

    Here is a look at the Packers' top 10 late-round draft steals since 1980. To be considered for this list, a player had to be selected in the fifth round or later by the Packers in the NFL draft.

    Players are rated on a combination of how late they were selected in the draft and how productive they were during their stay with the team. A player's performance on other teams will not be considered for these rankings.

    Feel free to comment on any of the players on this list or to mention anybody you feel deserves to be here but was omitted. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

10. Phillip Epps

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    The Packers drafted wide receiver Phillip Epps with their 12th-round pick in the 1982 NFL draft, at No. 321 overall.

    Epps had a sprinter's speed and was used to return punts and kickoffs early in his career. In 1983, he returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    On offense, Epps settled into the role of third receiver since the Packers already had James Lofton and John Jefferson on their roster. By 1985, he became a starter, a position he held for three seasons.

    Epps played seven seasons with the Packers and grabbed 192 passes for 2,884 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns. His most memorable touchdown came in 1985 when he managed to maintain his balance and hop down the sideline after losing his shoe to score a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

9. Keith McKenzie

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    Keith McKenzie made big plays for the Packers defense.
    Keith McKenzie made big plays for the Packers defense.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Keith McKenzie went on to a productive NFL career, despite not being drafted until the seventh round in 1996 with the 252nd overall selection.

    McKenzie had a knack for making big plays. He registered back-to-back seasons with eight sacks in 1998 and 1999. He also returned an interception for a touchdown and scored three times during his Packers career on fumble recoveries.

    During Super Bowl XXXI, McKenzie made a key block that helped spring Desmond Howard on his game-clinching kick return for a touchdown late in the third quarter.

    While he never became a full-time starter in Green Bay, he was a valuable contributor who often came up with highlight-reel plays on defense and special teams.

8. Doug Evans

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    Doug Evans became a quality starter at CB for the Pack.
    Doug Evans became a quality starter at CB for the Pack.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Green Bay selected cornerback Doug Evans in the sixth round of the 1993 NFL draft with the 141st overall pick. He became a starter in his second season with the team. Green Bay reached the playoffs in every one of his five seasons with the club and reached the Super Bowl twice.

    In 1996, Evans intercepted five passes. He returned one of them for a touchdown that proved to be the turning point in a crucial win over the St. Louis Rams.

    Evans picked off 12 passes as a Packer during the regular season and added two more in the playoffs. One of those playoff picks came in Super Bowl XXXI.

    After leaving the Packers in 1998, he played another six seasons. Despite being a sixth-round draft choice, Evans went on to have a very productive NFL career.

7. Don Majkowski

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    For one season at least, Don Majkowski was 'Majik.'
    For one season at least, Don Majkowski was 'Majik.'Associated Press

    In 1987, the Packers grabbed quarterback Don Majkowski in the 10th round with the 225th overall pick. The Virginia alum became the starter late in the 1988 season, beating out Randy Wright for the job.

    In 1989, Majik had a breakout season. He led the Packers to a surprising 10-6 record and made his only Pro Bowl appearance. He led the NFL with 4,318 yards and had a career-best 27 touchdowns.

    But things fell apart quickly for The Majik Man. He held out for a new contract in training camp in 1990 and wasn't ready to start the season. He seemed to be regaining his form midway through the season, but he suffered a torn rotator cuff in a game against the Arizona Cardinals.

    In 1991, Majkowski was inconsistent and eventually benched. In Week 3 of the 1992 season, he was injured and replaced by Brett Favre, who then held the position for more than 15 years.

    Majkowski's greatest moment came in 1989 when he led the Packers to their first win over the Chicago Bears in five years. He threw a last-minute touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe to give the team the lead. The referees initially said the quarterback was past the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball, but replays proved the pass was legal and the call was overturned.

    He also led the Packers to a win over the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in 1989, the year the Niners lost only two games all season.

    Majkowski couldn't sustain it, but for one glorious season, he gave hope to a franchise that was hungry for a winner. Had he stayed healthy, there's no telling how much magic he could have provided to the Packers during his career.

6. Bryce Paup

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    Bryce Paup became a good pass-rusher for the Packers.
    Bryce Paup became a good pass-rusher for the Packers.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Packers selected Bryce Paup in the sixth round of the 1990 NFL draft with the 159th overall selection. Scouts weren't sure what to make of the Northern Iowa product, who was considered a tweener between defensive end and outside linebacker.

    Regardless of where he lined up, Paup knew how to rush the quarterback.

    His best season in Green Bay came in 1993 when he recorded 11 sacks. One year later, he had 7.5 sacks and picked off three passes. Paup returned one of those picks for a touchdown in a game against the Detroit Lions. After the season, he was named a starter in the Pro Bowl.

    One year later, Paup left after signing with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent. He earned Pro Bowl honors his first three seasons in Buffalo and led the NFL with 17.5 sacks in 1995.

    Paup was an effective pass-rusher who surprised everybody with his success after being drafted late in the draft.

5. Marco Rivera

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    Marco Rivera was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Packers.
    Marco Rivera was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Packers.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Packers selected guard Marco Rivera out of Penn State in the sixth round of the 1996 NFL draft with the 208th overall pick.

    After spending a year on the practice squad and a season in World League of American Football, Rivera joined the Packers in 1997. He was a key reserve on the team that reached Super Bowl XXXII before earning a starting job the following season.

    Rivera remained a starter for seven more seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2002, 2003 and 2004 campaigns.

    Throughout his career, he demonstrated toughness, playing with several nagging injuries. He was also versatile enough to play on either side of the offensive line when called upon.

    Rivera was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2011.

4. Mark Chmura

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    Mark Chmura was the starting TE in Super Bowl XXXI.
    Mark Chmura was the starting TE in Super Bowl XXXI.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Green Bay drafted Boston College tight end Mark Chmura in the sixth round of the 1992 draft with the 157th overall pick. He spent seven seasons with the Packers and earned Pro Bowl honors three times.

    His best season came in 1995 when Chewie grabbed 54 catches for 679 yards and seven touchdowns. The following season, he was a big part of the Packers' Super Bowl-winning team. He caught a two-point conversion in Super Bowl XXXI. In Super Bowl XXXII, Chmura caught four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown.

    A back injury suffered during the 1999 season caused the premature end to Chmura's career. He was elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 2010.

3. Dorsey Levens

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    Dorsey Levens was a key contributor to the Packers offense.
    Dorsey Levens was a key contributor to the Packers offense.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Packers selected running back Dorsey Levens in the fifth round of the 1994 NFL draft with pick No. 149. He started his career as a backup, but by 1995, he was a regular contributor as a receiver out of the backfield.

    Levens played a key role in Green Bay's win over the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 NFC Championship Game. He ran for 88 yards on 10 carries and caught five passes for 123 yards and an acrobatic touchdown that helped put the Pack in control of the game.

    The best season of running back's career came in 1997. After Edgar Bennett was injured in a preseason game, Levens took over as Green Bay's starting RB and gained 1,435 yards. He also caught 53 passes and had a total of 12 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for his efforts and helped the Packers reach Super Bowl XXXII. Injuries limited Levens in 1998, but he had another 1,000-yard season in 1999.

    In eight seasons with Green Bay, Levens gained 3,937 yards on the ground and caught 271 passes for another 2,079 yards. He was also a key component on a pair of Super Bowl teams.

2. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila

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    KGB is officially the Packers' all-time leader in sacks.
    KGB is officially the Packers' all-time leader in sacks.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is the Packers' official all-time sacks leader, but he wasn't drafted until the fifth round of the 2000 NFL draft with the team's 149th pick.

    KGB had four straight seasons with 10 or more sacks from 2001 to 2004. He used his speed and quickness off the edge to get in the face of opposing quarterbacks. The San Diego State product also made the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season.

    Gbaja-Biamila had only one career interception, but he made it count. It came in 2002, and he returned it 72 yards for a touchdown in a 34-21 win over the Bears.

    KGB played nine seasons for the Packers and recorded 74.5 sacks. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2013.

1. Donald Driver

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    Donald Driver is the Packers all-time leading receiver.
    Donald Driver is the Packers all-time leading receiver.Mike Roemer

    Donald Driver is the ultimate late-round draft steal for the Packers.

    The Pack drafted Driver as an afterthought in the seventh round of the 1999 NFL draft out of Alcorn State. He was the 213th players selected in that year's draft, but he went on to become the most productive receiver in franchise history.

    Driver became a starter by 2002, which was the first of seven seasons he put together with more than 1,000 receiving yards. It was also the first of three Pro Bowl seasons for the Houston, Texas, native.

    In 2006, Driver had a career-best 92 receptions for 1,295 yards and eight touchdowns. He appeared in 15 playoff games for the Packers and caught an additional 49 passes for 675 yards and three touchdowns.

    His most memorable score came in the 2007 NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants when he made a 90-yard touchdown reception from Brett Favre.

    Driver was a veteran leader on the team that won Super Bowl XLV. He earned a reputation as a hard worker and dedicated professional both on and off the football field.

    He finished his NFL career with 743 catches for 10,137 yards, both tops in Packers history. He retired after the 2012 season and will likely be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.