As Chris mentioned earlier this month, we are rolling out a few different series leading up to our Training Camp coverage. With mini-camp and several OTA’s in the books, names of players who were drafted in April are starting to stick out with their performances so far. Now some of these players could just be shining in non-contact drills and we won’t ever hear their names outside of special teams this fall and for some it could be a sign of good things to come and Ted Thompson stole a player in the later rounds.
Whatever the case might be, it is way to early to tell if some of these late round draft picks stick or not. So, I figured let’s take a look back on some of the players who were drafted late, out-played their draft number and will go down as a “steal.” This list will look past first and second picks with a couple possible exceptions.
Before I kick off part one, I want to mention that I am focusing on only players who were drafted by the Packers, not players who were late round picks and later signed or got traded to the team (i.e. Ryan Grant). I am also dismissing players who were signed as undrafted free agents (i.e. Willie Wood) just because this list could go on and on.
I am breaking down players by decade and grouping all players from the 1960’s and prior because there weren’t as many teams drafting back then and fewer players you could classify as a “steal.” For the earlier drafts, I am more focusing on what overall pick the player was taken and not the round. Remember, with only 10-12 teams drafting, a 3rd round pick in say the 1940’s-1960’s could still translate as a late 1st round pick today. For example, Jim Taylor was a 2nd round pick in 1958, a steal right? Not as much when you consider he was still the 15th overall player taken, a mid-first round pick today.
Unlike Chris’ last series of the 12 Greatest Packers Players of All-Time, I am going to try to avoid controversy, so there shouldn’t be any James Lofton-Sterling Sharpe-kerfuffle. If you feel I am missing someone (especially with the earlier drafts), feel free to shoot us an email or comment below.
So without further aideu, let’s look at some of the draft “steals” from the 1960’s and earlier.
Bart Starr – 1956, Round 17, Pick 200
It would be a crime to start this list with anyone other than Starr, who one could make the case as the greatest Packer ever (but that is all up debate). We all know of his championships, stats, and impact on the game, so I will save my breath on that. If the league knew what he would become there is absolutely no way he is the 200th player picked. If Starr was selected 200th overall in 2009, he would have been a late 6th round pick. Still having a hard time putting the Packers’ steal of Starr into perspective? Tom Brady was the 199th pick of the 2000 draft. Both have two Super Bowl MVP’s and while Brady has the statistical records, he still trails Starr by two championships. You maybe could consider Brady the modern-day Bart Starr.
Tony Canadeo – 1941, Round 9, Pick: 77
Picked 77th overall 1941, Canadeo would be a mid-third round pick, not bad for a Hall of Fame running back. The “Grey Ghost of Gonzaga” became the the third running back in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, as well as the first Packers back to accomplish the feat. One could say he was one of the first all-purpose backs that are all the rage in today’s game. Canadeo could run, catch, throw and play some defensive back. Imagine what he could do in the Wildcat formation. His number 3 is retired and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Eljah Pitts – 1961, Round 13, Pick 180
Will Pitts go down as one of the best running backs in Packers’ history? Probably not. Playing behind Paul Hourning and Tom Moore, Pitts did have an impact on the team in his 10 seasons with the Packers. His two touchdowns in Super Bowl I stand out above anything else, not bad for the 180th pick the draft.
Jim Ringo – 1953, Round 7, Pick 79
Like Canadeo, Ringo was another Hall of Famer who would have been a mid-third round pick today. Despite his smaller size for a Center (6′1″, 230 lbs), Ringo was one of the anchors of the Packers’ offensive line for a decade. A six-time All-Pro and 10-time Pro Bowl selection, Ringo used his quickness to overcome his lack of size to become an ideal fit in Lombardi’s power sweep offense. Granted things became sour between him and the team, when he tried to renogiate his contract before the 1964 season. Ringo brought an agent along with him, which apparently Lombardi did not appreciate and traded him to the Eagles. Either way, he still one of the greatest lineman in Packers’ history and a steal with the 79th pick.
Ken Bowman – 1964, Round 8, Pick 111
Ringo’s replacement was none other than a former Wisconsin Badger named Ken Bowman (something tells me the team has a knack for uncovering centers later in the draft, more on this as the series continues). Everyone remembers that Jerry Kramer led the way for Starr’s famous touchdown dive in the Ice Bowl, but Bowman was right alongside paving the way in the most famous play in Packers (and maybe NFL) history. Bowman played on three straight championship teams, which included Super Bowls I and II. He also studied law at Wisconsin and became an attorney while playing for the Packers. How many current NFL players could do that? I would have to go out on a limb and say none.
Ray Nitschke- 1958, Round 3, Pick 36
Perhaps the lone exception among former first and second round picks, Nitchke was far greater than the 36th overall pick (early second round today). One of the most feared linebackers and players in NFL history, Nitschke was a member of the NFL’s 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams. He is one of five players to have their number retired in team history (Starr, Canadeo, Don Hutson and Reggie White) and helped the Packers to capture five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls. Nitschke said this of himself, which every athlete should take notice of:
“Success has a high price. Not many of us are willing to pay for it. Even fewer of us are fortunate enough to set a goal, steel ourselves to the task and carry it through. I’m prepared to win – whatever it takes.”
That concludes the first list of Packers draft steals, with the 1970’s coming next. Did I miss anyone in this first list. Is Nitschke really a “steal?” As always feel free to let us know what you think.