Seventh-Round Chip on Shoulder Ever-Present

Donald Driver came to Green Bay with a chip on his shoulder after being an overlooked seventh-round pick in 1999. Nothing's changed, and he takes exception to those who think the 37-year-old should be exchanged for a younger model. "You don't think I can play football?" he asked on Sunday.

Donald Driver's still got it.

No, we're not talking about the incredible athleticism that helped make him the Green Bay Packers' all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. Though, an inside-the-park home run at his charity softball game on Sunday shows Driver can run as well as rumba.

Rather, Driver still has the edge.

The edge he needed in 1999, when the Packers selected him with a seventh-round draft choice and he started training camp at the bottom of the depth chart.

The edge he needed in 2000, when the Packers drafted three more receivers.

The edge he needed in 2002, when the Packers bet on Driver as the replacement for Bill Schroeder, the Wisconsin native who led the receiver corps in receptions the previous two seasons.

The edge he needed in 2004, after a disappointing 52-catch, 11.9-yard-average 2003 season stemming from a strained neck after a scary fall on his head in the opening game against Minnesota.

Driver has spent the bulk of his career playing with that seventh-round chip on his shoulder. Never mind that in 2002 — and three more times along the way — he became the third-lowest drafted player in franchise history to play in the Pro Bowl.

And so it was on Sunday, when Driver was asked whether his victory on "Dancing with the Stars" had anything to do with the Packers keeping the venerable, 37-year-old receiver for the upcoming season.

"So you don't think I can play football?" Driver asked.

Nobody said Driver can't play football. As evidence, look no further than the Packers' playoff loss to the Giants. On a day when Pro Bowler Greg Jennings caught four passes (out of seven targets) for 40 yards with one drop, when should-have-been Pro Bowler Jordy Nelson caught three passes (out of seven targets) for 39 yards with a drop and when James Jones caught one pass (and out of two targets), Driver caught all three passes thrown his way for 45 yards and a touchdown.

However, the NFL's a young man's game. Everyone knows that, and it's true in Green Bay more than anywhere else in the league. Last season, general manager Ted Thompson trotted out a bunch of graybeards — at least by his forever-young standards. The Packers, with 10 rookies on the opening 53-man roster, were the third-youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.74 years. That's coming on the heels of being the fifth-youngest team in 2010 and the youngest team from 2006 through 2009.

Time and again, Thompson has chosen a younger player for an older player, most famously with Brett Favre following the Packers' rebirth in 2007.

"Well, maybe those older guys weren't playing to their potentials," Driver said.

True, but Driver is a member of the Packers' deepest position group and he's standing in the way of younger players who potentially could offer more this year and in the future. Nelson was one of the league's breakout stars last year, ranking second in the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions and 18.6 yards per catch. Jennings is a three-time Pro Bowler with 21 touchdowns over his last two seasons. James Jones had a solid bounce-back season and Randall Cobb had a sensational rookie year, with Jones and Cobb tying for third in the league in yards after the catch per reception. Whether Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel are as good as Driver today won't be determined until the heat of training camp, but they obviously have more upside than a 37-year-old receiver who had eight drops and broke one tackle on his 37 catches last year.

The NFL is about today, but it's also about tomorrow. There's no room for yesterday. Yet with Driver, Thompson has done an about-face. It's fair to wonder if Thompson — or someone above him — feared the public-relations backlash of releasing an immensely popular player who found national acclaim in a dancing show.

It's a legitimate question. And a question that brings out the 14-year-old chip on Driver's shoulder.

Given his track record of turning doubters into believers, only a fool would believe Driver will use this season as nothing more than a farewell tour. No, expect Driver to exit on his own terms, and that means ending his career with an exclamation mark. That doesn't mean 50 or 60 catches. It does mean a touchdown here, a big first down there and the unbridled passion of a player who loves the game, the fans and his teammates.

"I just feel like I can still play at a high level," he said. "I've proven that. I think the playoff game proved it, as well. I think one thing about it is, you've got to sometimes put the age out of it and know that a guy is still productive. Sometimes in the National Football League, that's what it comes down to – age, instead of how you perform. And you've got guys who are up in age that are still performing at a high level. And I think I can do the same thing."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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