Every Packer fan was left scratching their head when Green Bay's General Manager Ted Thompson drafted Justin Harrell (HAIR-uhl), a defensive tackle out of the University of Tennessee, with the 16th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
The Packers really didn't have a "need" to attend to. Brett Favre agreed to play again in 2007, so they were pretty much set at most positions and just looking to add some depth. Their star running-back, Ryan Grant, was still a member of the New York Giants, so the only true position to draft for was an RB.
But Ted Thompson is a "best-available guy" type of GM, and he chose to go with Harrell over some other players with just as much, or perhaps better, talent than the Volunteer. Apparently Thompson saw tremendous "potential" in Harrell, which is like saying that someone has a great personality. The potential may be there, but what about how he looks on the field and the skill level he has.
Marshawn Lynch, of UC-Berkeley, and Adam Carriker, of Nebraska, were the most popular among the experts as going to Green Bay. But Buffalo swiped Lynch at No. 12, and Carriker followed right behind him to the Rams at No. 13. Ted Thompson had 15 minutes to come up with option "C," and it's hard to believe that Harrell was that option.
There were still plenty of guys with "great personalities" when Harrell had his name called. They include, but are not limited to: DE Jarvis Moss (No. 17 to Denver), CB Leon Hall (No. 18 to Cincy), S Michael Griffin (No.19 to Tennessee), CB Aaron Ross (No. 20 to NY Giants), S Reggie Nelson (No. 21 to Jacksonville), and DE Anthony Spencer (No. 26 to Dallas).
Let's take a brief look at what these guys did during their college years.
Justin Harrell (DT, Tennessee) - Was a three-year starter as a Volunteer, but only played three games his senior year in 2006 as he missed the rest of the season due to a partially torn bicep tendon. He was told he would have no lingering effects after surgery. Compiled just 82 tackles and four sacks in college career.
Jarvis Moss (DE, Florida) - The only blemish on his college record was a "character flag," saying he was a potential troublemaker.
Anthony Spencer (DE, Purdue) - Purdue is known as the "Den for Defensive Ends", as Spencer racked up 155 tackles with 21 sacks; 10.5 of his sack total came in his senior year.
Reggie Nelson (S, Florida) - Nicknamed "The Eraser," because of his nose for the football, and his exceptional ability for tackling opponents.
Michael Griffin (S, Texas) - Made 15 starts in his 37-game career as a Longhorn, with 238 tackles, three sacks, and four INTs. Also holds a school record with six blocked punts.
Aaron Ross (CB, Texas) - Started 15 of his 51 total games played, compiling 205 tackles and 10 INTs. Additionally, he had 76 returns for nearly 900 yards.
Leon Hall (CB, Michigan) - Started all but three of his 50 games in Ann Arbor with 160 tackles and 12 INT. Named to the All-Big-10 team in each of his three years at Michigan.
Does Justin Harrell still look like the best available, even though he barely played in his final year in college? Well, he apparently still did to Thompson.
Now let's see how that potential stacked up in 2007 with the six other guys. Last year's stats will prove that Harrell wasn't the one with the best personality, or even a good one.
Justin Harrell - Briefly appeared in 10 games his rookie year with 16 tackles. Sat out the first six games with the torn bicep tendon (no lingering effects, huh doc?). Put on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list and will sit out the first six in '08 with an injured ankle and might miss even more time.
Jarvis Moss - Appeared in six games getting 12 tackles, with a sack and forced fumble.
Anthony Spencer - Played 16 games with 36 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. Spencer will also miss the season opener due to injury.
Reggie Nelson - Played all 16 games, getting 62 tackles, one sack, and five INT.
Michael Griffin - Compiled 54 tackles and three INT in his 16 games played.
Aaron Ross - Recorded 42 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three INT (returned one for TD). Oh, and he helped knock off the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl as a rookie.
Leon Hall - Played 16 games, getting 68 tackles and five INT in troublesome Cincinnati.
Seems to me that Harrell actually had the worst "personality," as his injuries continue to pile up. Sure, he could overcome them and have a strong 10 games to finish the year and have a nice career.
He could also develop nagging injuries from the bicep and ankle and go from first-round draftee to McDonald's employee. The point is that Green Bay didn't have to draft Harrell; if they were looking for defensive depth there was plenty left on the table.
Spencer could've played the same position for the Pack as Harrell, perhaps with better results. Ross or Hall would've created solid backup to one of the best CB-combos in the game—veterans Charles Woodson and Al Harris. They also would have been great help in nickel and dime set ups.
Nelson or Griffin would've added depth to an already-deep safety corps, with Atari Bigby, Nick Collins, Jarrett Bush, and Aaron Rouse (Bush is then the odd-man out).
But this is all just wishful thinking, and Packer fans will have to live with Harrell being on the roster and continue to imagine the defense with someone else. Harrell had 10 games to prove himself last year and didn't perform. He will again have 10 games at the very most to prove himself this year.
Will his fortune change in '08? As a Packer fan, I hope so, but I wouldn't be too surprised if he is unable to duplicate his minuscule numbers from '07.