Green Bay Packers Amongst NFL's Elite at Developing Young Talent

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst INovember 18, 2010

GREEN BAY, WI - MAY 5: Green Bay Packers' new head coach Mike McCarthy (C) watches practice at the first mini camp of the season at the Don Hutson Center on May 5, 2006 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson takes a lot of criticism for his strategy of building through the draft and stockpiling a young roster.

While that strategy drives Packers fans crazy most times, Thompson has stuck to it through thick and thin—including this season's rash of injuries. 

But why has that strategy worked—for the most part—for Thompson? Because the Green Bay Packers do arguably the best job of anyone in the NFL at developing the talent on their roster. 

If you need proof of that, just look at the 2010 Packers roster. It's littered with players that have received opportunities and flourished during their development in Green Bay. 

And that list starts right at the top with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers fell in the 2005 NFL Draft amidst questions about his athletic ability and arm strength, and we all remember the awkward moments watching Rodgers in the green room waiting for his name to be called.

Yet the Packers eventually called his name with the 24th pick, and after three years studying the Packers' system, he's now a Pro Bowl quarterback who many NFL observers consider to be among the elite at the position. 

Do you think Rodgers would be the same quarterback he was today had he been drafted first overall by the 49ers? Poor Alex Smith never had a chance. 

But the list doesn't end with Rodgers. Let's look further into the offense. 

Receiver Greg Jennings was drafted in the latter half on the second round back in 2006, but he's quietly turned into one of the NFL's most explosive receivers. Opposite Jennings is Donald Driver—a former seventh-round pick in 1999—who only turned out to be the Packers all-time leading receiver. 

Both progressed from relative no-namers to household names in a seemingly short amount of time. 

Then there is Jermichael Finley. Maybe I'm in the minority, but when Finley was drafted 91st overall back in 2008, did anyone expect him to be the premier up-and-coming tight end in the NFL just two years later? 

I remember his rookie year, fans and Packers' coaches alike sounded off on the immaturity of the young Finley. Those days are long gone.

He's progressed leaps and bounds in just two seasons, and had he not hurt his knee in Washington, there's no doubt in my mind he'd be the starting NFC tight end in the Pro Bowl.

Don't forget about the offensive line, either. Guard Josh Sitton was just a fourth-round pick in '08, and yet today there isn't a nationally televised game that goes by where one of the announcers doesn't recognize him as one of the better, albeit unknown, guards in the NFL. 

Starting center Scott Wells was another seventh-round pick, and while Daryn Colledge was a second-rounder, the Packers successfully relocated him from offensive tackle to guard—a spot he's held down the past two seasons. 

Even Mark Tauscher, who this week was placed on IR, went from seventh-round pick in 2000 to 10-year starter on the Packers' offensive line.

The defensive side of the ball, however, is where the Packers' development really shines. 

To be fair, the defensive line does have two first-rounders in Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, but the rest is made up from development guys. There's no better example of that than Cullen Jenkins. 

Jenkins was signed by the Packers in 2003 as an undrafted free agent, and while he has the bloodlines (his brother is Jets tackle Kris Jenkins), Cullen has turned into one of the NFL's better defensive ends.

It's safe to say the Packers have gotten a pretty high return on investment when it comes to Jenkins. 

C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn, both seventh-round picks, have played important roles in the Packers' defense this season and may have the potential to become pass rushing factors in the 3-4. 

At linebacker, both Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop stand out in their respective progressions.

While Matthews was a first-round pick, did anyone really anticipate him becoming the NFL's sack leader in just one season? Under the coaching of Kevin Greene, Matthews has become one of the NFL's most relentless and feared rushers, and he's only going to get better. 

Bishop, a sixth-round pick in 2005, earned the nickname among many Packers' fans as "Mr. August"—an impressive player in the preseason, but a dud come the real thing.

I think he's done enough to disprove that nickname this season. Filling in for an injured Nick Barnett, Bishop has been a key component of the Packers' defensive turnaround the past three games. 

You could also make a case that fellow linebackers Frank Zombo and Brad Jones have just as inspiring progressions. Zombo is another undrafted rookie free agent who's played key snaps all season for the Packers, and Jones, a seventh-rounder from a year ago, started the latter part of his rookie season and into this season before his season-ending injury. 

Again, who thought when the Packers brought these two on the roster that they'd be playing key roles in the defense so soon and so well?

But the success stories don't end there. In fact, the better part of Green Bay's defensive secondary are a result of the Packers' development of talent. 

Safeties Charlie Peprah (fifth round) and Atari Bigby (undrafted) have both taken advantage of opportunities presented to them, and Nick Collins (whom draft experts dubbed "a developmental project, raw, may be unable to pick up NFL defenses") has transformed from Bethune-Cookman star into a two-time NFL Pro Bowler. 

Cornerback Charles Woodson was a Heisman Trophy winner, but everything below him on the depth chart has been developed in house by the Packers. 

Tramon Williams, possibly the Packers' best example of development, has went from undrafted rookie to a possible Pro Bowl selection this season. It's been a joy watching the growth of Williams, and if you read his story, you couldn't have asked for it to happen to a better kid. 

Behind Williams is another undrafted rookie Sam Shields. The fast development of Shields allowed Green Bay to let go long-time Packer Al Harris, a testament to the faith the coaching staff has in Shields.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has compared the early career path of Shields with Williams' on numerous occasions, and I'd say that's a fair assessment. 

Because in the end, McCarthy and his staff are responsible for the development of the majority of these Packers—both stars and role players alike. 

McCarthy has taken the players Thompson has delivered him, no matter where they were drafted or came from, and turned them into solid football players. 

That's what it takes to be consistently successful in the NFL, and looking up and down Green Bay's roster, it's clear the Packers do it with the best of them. 


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