Donald Driver isn’t going out on top, but he’s going out a lot closer to the top than most great athletes. Green Bay’s all-time leading receiver will officially announce his retirement from the National Football League next Wednesday morning at a public event in the Lambeau Field Atrium. He’ll take with him 743 receptions, 10,137 yards, 61 TDs and the admiration of millions of Packers fans from all over the world.
“I played my entire career in Green Bay and have always enjoyed a special bond with the fans,” said Driver on Thursday. “I can think of no better way to retire than to celebrate with them and the Packers organization.”
Now that Driver is a former Packer, it’s time to look back at his brilliant 14-year professional career. It’s also time to start thinking about where he ranks among all the wide receivers who have caught passes for the league’s most iconic franchise. Since I’ve only followed the NFL since the late 70s, I’ll limit my list to those receivers who’ve worn the Green and Gold in the past three and a half decades. Here it is:
1. JAMES LOFTON – From 1978 to 1986, the Hall of Famer caught 530 passes for 9,656 yards and 49 TDs. You know what’s even more impressive? His QBs during those seasons were David Whitehurst, Lynn Dickey, Jim Zorn and Randy Wright. This guy was as talented as any receiver who ever played the game.
2. STERLING SHARPE – From 1988 to 1994, the former first-round pick from South Carolina caught 595 passes for 8,134 yards and 65 TDs. He almost certainly would’ve been at the top of this list had he not suffered a career-ending neck injury after only seven seasons. He deserves to be in Canton with Lofton.
3. DONALD DRIVER – The former seventh-round pick from Alcorn State amassed huge numbers in his career, but he was never in the class of Lofton and Sharpe. In fact, I’m not sure he was better than the next two players on this list. But consistency and longevity should never be discounted when analyzing a career.
4. GREG JENNINGS – The soon-to-be former Packer caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 TDs from 2006 to 2012. The former second-round pick from Western Michigan was among the top handful of WRs in the league prior to this season. If I had to choose between Jennings and Driver at their best, I’d take Jennings.
5. ANTONIO FREEMAN – From 1995 to 2001, the former third-round pick from Virginia Tech caught 417 passes for 6,510 yards and 57 TDs. For some reason, people seem to forget just how good this guy was in his prime. Unfortunately, his prime didn’t last for very long. He was out of football by age 31.
6. ROBERT BROOKS – From 1992 to 1998, the former third-round pick from South Carolina caught 306 passes for 4,225 yards and 32 TDs. He was spectacular in 1995 (102/1497/13), but a torn ACL the following season all but ended his career. He only caught 117 passes for 1,825 yards after the age of 26.
7. JAMES JONES – From 2007 to 2012, the former third-round pick from San Jose State has caught 251 passes for 3,488 yatds and 34 TDs. Not bad for a player many fans wanted to run out of town after 2010. And he’s done all this as the No. 3 or 4 WR. He could climb a few spots on this list in the next few years.
8. BILL SCHROEDER – From 1997 to 2001, the undrafted free agent from Wisconsin-La Crosse caught 223 passes for 3.420 yards and 20 TDs. It’s only a matter of time before the players at 9 and 10 move ahead of him on the list, but as of right now, this native of Eau Claire deserves to be at No. 8 – warts and all.
9. JORDY NELSON – From 2008 to 2012, the former second-round pick from Kansas State has caught 217 passes for 3,276 yards and 28 TDs. He’s only had one really good season since joining Green Bay (68/1,263/15 in 2011), but what a season it was. A few more of those and he’ll be cracking the top 5 in no time.
10. RANDALL COBB – From 2011 to 2012, the former second-round pick from Kentucky has caught 105 passes for 1,329 yards and 9 TDs. Other receivers, including Phillip Epps, Walter Stanley and Aundra Thompson, have put up bigger numbers, but seriously, would you take any of them over this dynamo?