While the NFL Network continues counting down the Top 100 Players of 2011, I decided to do a little countdown of my own (hopefully mine will be a bit less laughable). I’ve watched the Packers since 1978, and in those 32 years I’ve seen some great players and some not so great players wear the Green and Gold. Before I get to the best of the best, I thought it would be fun to focus on the worst of the worst. I only included players who started at least 10 games on my list, so don’t look for quarterback T.J. Rubley or defensive lineman James Lee to make an appearance. We’ll save guys like that for another day. Anyway, here are my Bottom 20 Packers of the Past Three Decades:
20] WR Aundra Thompson (1977-1981/46 starts) – He’s probably best-remembered for being part of the big John Jefferson trade, but before that, he started for three seasons opposite All-Pro and future Hall of Famer James Lofton. Despite seeing single-coverage on every snap, he managed to catch only 91 passes and score 7 TDs in 46 starts. That’s because he never figured out how to harness his great speed. Having hands of stone didn’t help either.
19] LT Karl Swanke (1980-1986/61 starts) – It’s inconceivable that he started over 60 games at the most important position on the offensive line. That tells you all you need to know about the acumen of GMs Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg. He weighed 260 pounds and was often overpowered in pass protection by bigger and stronger defensive ends. His lack of size also proved to be a problem when the Packers attempted to run the ball to the left.
18] SS Aaron Rouse (2007-2009/10 starts) – He proved to be one of general manager Ted Thompson’s biggest mistakes. The third-round pick from Virginia Tech had great size (6-3, 225) and straight-line speed (4.4), but he was extremely stiff. That made breaking down as a tackler extremely difficult and staying with quick receivers a virtual impossibility. His play so exasperated the coaches in ’09 that he was released after only two games.
17] RB Eric Torkelson (1974-1981/21 starts) – He was tough, determined and slow as molasses. In short, he was the stereotypical white running back. He actually makes John Kuhn look nifty. There’s certainly no crime in having an overachiever like him on the roster, but giving him 21 starts and handing him the ball 351 times should get any general manager and/or head coach a life sentence with Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League.
16] DT Steve McMichael (1994/14 starts) – It’s easy to forget that the ex-Bear spent the final season of his 15-year career in Green Bay. That’s because he was awful. He later admitted that he “stole money” from the Packers. Anybody who watched him meander through 14 starts would wholeheartedly agree. The 35-year-old had nothing left in the tank.
15] LT Tim Stokes (1978-1982/40 starts) – He lost his starting job in 1980, but filled in for the injury-prone Swanke quite often in 1981 and 1982. He epitomized the word journeyman. Played for five teams over the course of 9 nondescript seasons in the NFL. He ingratiated himself to Starr by working hard, but his glaring lack of physical talent was evident every time he took a snap. You want to know why Starr was a failure as a coach? Look at how many guys on this list played during the time he was on the sidelines.
14] LB Hardy Nickerson (2002/15 starts) – He’s far and away the most accomplished player on this list, but his one season with the Packers was an unmitigated disaster. One of coach/GM Mike Sherman’s many free agent acquisitions who simply couldn’t get the job done. He went to numerous Pro Bowls earlier in his career with the Buccaneers, but he had very little left in the tank by the time he got to Green Bay. The more you look at some of the starters on defense in 2002, the more you have to respect the job done by coordinator Ed Donatell.
13] CB Ahmad Carroll (2004-2006/28 starts) – Yet another Sherman blunder. He was selected in the first round of the ’04 draft despite a lack of size and a long history of mental lapses and physical breakdowns while in college. He impressed the Packers by running a 4.3 at the Combine, but that speed could never make up for an alarming lack of instincts. His three-year career in Green Bay came to an abrupt end when he was unceremoniously released after an embarrassing loss to the Eagles early in the ’06 season.
12] TE Tyrone Davis (1997-2002/27 starts) – He somehow managed to survive under three different coaches. That was possible because each one thought he could get more out of the former wide receiver from Virginia. Each was ultimately proven wrong. Despite good size and speed, he never learned how to get open. And on the rare occasion when he was able to extricate himself from a defender, he could never be counted on to actually catch the ball.
11] RB Michael Haddix (1989-1990/13 starts) – He was signed as a Plan B free agent. He played more like a Plan Z free agent. After flopping in Philly, the former first-round pick averaged 3.16 yards on 142 carries in his two seasons with Green Bay. Amazingly, that was better than his career average of 3.0. He led the Packers in rushing with a paltry 311 yards in ’90. He was big and fairly fast, but few running backs took longer to hit the hole.
10] QB David Whitehurst (1977-1983/37 starts) – Replaced an injured Lynn Dickey and nearly led Green Bay to the playoffs in ’78. Despite a winning record, the passing offense was hardly a strength. He completed only 51% of his passes and he threw seven more interceptions than TDs. He started for only one more season before handing the reigns back over to Dickey. The fact that such a talentless quarterback could start 34 straight games tells you all you need to know about the state of the franchise in the late 70s and early 80s.
9] RT Tony Mandarich (1989-1991/31 starts) – The greatest collegiate offensive lineman I ever saw couldn’t block anybody in the National Football League. He wasn’t able to beat out journeyman Alan Veingrad as a rookie and only “won” the job in 1990 because of his big name and his big salary. Not taking steroids reduced his size, his strength and his confidence. He still had the talent to be a pretty decent right tackle, but he seemed to lose his desire once it became obvious that he could no longer physically dominate his opponent.
8] NT Bob Nelson (1988-1990/39 starts) – He wasn’t talented enough to make the woeful Buccaneers in ’87, but he wound up starting over 30 consecutive games for the Packers. That tells you all you need to know about the state of the defense under coach Lindy Infante in the late 80s and early 90s. Veteran coordinator Hank Bullough was well-respected before coming to Green Bay, but he never had the personnel to make his 3-4 effective. One of the biggest problems was having to start a slow-footed 272-pounder at nose tackle.
7] CB Estus Hood (1978-1984/32 starts) – He was Ahmad Carroll before Ahmad Carroll. He started for two seasons opposite the very underrated Mark Lee. That meant he saw a lot of balls thrown his way, and more often than not, he failed to step up. He finally lost his starting job in 1981, but hung on with the Packers for another four seasons. After he was cut, not a single team was willing to even bring him to training camp. That came as little surprise.
6] RB Harlan Huckleby (1980-1985/14 starts) – How bad was the situation at running back after Eddie lee Ivery suffered a season-ending knee injury on opening day in 1981? Bad enough that the coaches had to hand the ball to this pedestrian second-year player from Michigan 139 times. That he averaged only 2.7 yards per carry wasn’t a surprise. He lacked size, speed, strength and vision. And to think, many fans weren’t satisfied with Brandon Jackson as the No. 2 running back last season. My how things have changed in Green Bay.
5] OG Will Whittiker (2005/14 starts) – He, along with Adrian Klemm, were the starting guards in ’05. Heck, maybe Thompson was trying to drive Brett Favre into retirement. Or have him killed. The rookie from Michigan State won the job at right guard almost by default, and then proved on a weekly basis that he wasn’t up to the challenge. He was massive, but he didn’t move very well, and even worse, he wasn’t very aggressive. Being slow-footed and passive is not a recipe for success in the NFL – at any position, let alone the offensive line.
4] LB Kurt Allerman (1980-1981/11 starts) – He was an undersized and slow inside linebacker whose claim to fame was getting his nose broken by guard Ron Hallstron during a training camp fight. He played at 222 pounds, and not surprisingly, didn’t hold up very well at the point of attack. Other starters on defense in ’80 included nose tackle Charles Johnson, linebackers Jim Gueno and Ed O’Neil and cornerbacks Estus Hood and Mike McCoy. That unit gave up 371 points. Coordinator John Meyer should’ve been given a raise.
3] P Ray Stachowicz (1981-1982/25 starts) – He was B.J. Sander before B.J. Sander. Starr drafted him in the third round, and the payoff was a career net average of 31.6 yards. Starr stuck with him for way too long in an attempt to justify the high pick, but one line drive after another eventually forced him to admit his mistake. The Bears took a chance on the former Michigan State star in ’83, but he somehow managed to punt even worse in the Windy City.
2] QB Randy Wright (1984-1988/32 starts) – Gregg did many things wrong as coach/GM of the Packers in the mid-80s, but thinking he could win with this quarterback was his biggest blunder. The Wisconsin native made for a nice story when he was drafted by his hometown team, but it turned into a nightmare as soon as he started to play. A lack of talent around him didn’t help, but he lacked accuracy, and even worse, wasn’t much of a leader. Those negatives translated to brutal career stats (53%/31 TDs/57 INTs) and only 7 wins in 32 starts.
1] K Tom Birney (1979-1980/13 starts) – Fans today aren’t satisfied with Mason Crosby because he converts only 78% of his field goals. Well, this guy converted only 75% of his extra points. Believe it or not, he made only 21 of 28 PATs in parts of two seasons with the Packers. His low point was choking on two short field goals against the Buccaneers in 1980. The first miss came at the end of regulation and the second occurred with just seconds left in overtime. He was ultimately replaced by Jan Stenerud. Talk about an upgrade.
Let me know what you think of the list. This was an arduous post to write. It’s amazing how many bad players wore the Green and Gold from the late 70s through the early 90s. So who’d I miss? Just remember, I only considered players who started at least 10 games.