In this day and age of the salary cap, the draft is even more vital to contending teams. Hit on your middle and late round picks and you have depth for the long season ahead. In the future, when a starter leaves via free agency, you have a replacement groomed and ready to step in. Miss on those mid-to-late round picks and you have holes that may never be filled during the coming season and some potentially devastating salary cap problems.
Case in point for the Packers is the 1996 Super Bowl team. The Pack made headlines by trading for Brett Favre in 1992 and signing Reggie White in 1993. While these headline players made them a playoff team, the players that put the Pack over the top and made them a true Super Bowl contender were drafted in 1995 and 1996, primarily in the later rounds of the draft.
In 1995, the Packers selected cornerback Craig Newsome in the first round and Newsome became an instant starter and a key contributor to the Packers Super Bowl teams. While Newsome was a solid pick, the third round is where Green Bay made the 1995 draft count. The Pack had four selections in the third round and all four of them went on to have solid NFL careers with three of them made major contributions to the Packers success. The four players? First, the Pack selected defensive tackle Darius Holland, who never really lived up to his potential in Green Bay but still has managed a solid if unspectacular NFL career. The next pick was William Henderson, a bruiser who became one of the better blocking fullbacks in the NFL. Henderson has started for the Pack from 1996 through the 2003 season and is still on the team's roster. Linebacker Brian Williams was the third selection in the third round that year. Williams went on to become a starter at outside linebacker and was considered the Packers best linebacker before a knee injury limited effectively ended his career in Green Bay. The fourth pick in the third round was a wide receiver named Antonio Freeman. None of the four third round picks made big headlines when they were selected but three of them became key components in the Packers championship season a year later. Other selections in the 1995 draft who contributed to the Packers Super Bowl winning squad were special teams' ace Travis Jervey, selected in the fifth round, a little known guard named Adam Timmerman who was pressed into service in the playoffs and preformed admirably when starter Aaron Taylor went down with a season ending injury. Both Timmerman and Jervey have played in the Pro Bowl. The following season, the later rounds of the draft brought future starters Mike Flanagan, Tyrone Williams and Marco Rivera. Pass rushing specialist Keith McKenzie, the Packers seventh round pick also made a solid contribution to the cause. Even though the Green and Gold's first two picks, tackle John Michels and wide receiver Derrick Mayes never lived up to their potential, 1996 has to be considered a successful draft because so many productive players were selected after the first two rounds ended.
In order to succeed, a team needs to get contributions from its late middle and later round picks. Other Packers who were selected in the third round or later include Najeh Davenport and Na'il Diggs (4th round) Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (5th round) and Mark Tauscher and Donald Driver (7th round).
So, while first round picks get big headlines, still bigger contracts and saturation coverage in the press, the overall success of a draft is determined in the team's "war room" long after the crowds of fans and press have gone home and the commissioner hasn't been seen on the podium for hours. It's in this unglamorous setting that the foundation for championships are made. If the Packers hope to succeed in 2004 and beyond, success in the middle and later rounds of this draft will be crucial.