Commentary: Reynolds started series of mistakes

If Jamal Reynolds faced Tony Mandarich in a one-on-one pass-rushing drill, would both players just fall down?

Mandarich couldn't block anyone. Reynolds couldn't beat anyone. It would have been a matchup fit for the NFL Films blooper reel.

Mandarich may be the fans' consensus answer for the worst first-round pick in Packers history. To me, though, it's Reynolds, hands down.

Mandarich never got close to dominating like he did at Michigan State. He was even further from living up to the "Incredible Bulk" hype thrust upon him by Sports Illustrated and other publications. But by the end of his days in Green Bay, and later at Indianapolis, Mandarich actually was a serviceable lineman. Of course, the Packers didn't grab Mandarich in 1989 with the second overall pick — and pass up future Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders — to get serviceable.

Reynolds, the 10th overall pick in 2001, never approached serviceable.

Choosing between Tony "The Turnstyle" and "Too Small" Jamal for worst draft pick ever is splitting hairs, though. It's like choosing between Anna Nicole Smith and Jessica Simpson for fewest functioning brain cells.

But say one thing for Mandarich: At least he didn't set off a domino effect of personnel blunders. Reynolds, however, forced the Packers' brain trust to scramble again and again in a hapless pursuit to cover up that draft-day mistake. One mistake beget another mistake, leaving a trail of personnel gaffes and missed opportunities.

Needing a defensive end and a pass rusher entering the 2001 draft, the Packers traded in their biggest chip, budding quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, to the Seattle Seahawks to move up seven spots in the first round to grab Reynolds.

Reynolds was slowed by a knee injury from the get-go and played just six games as a rookie. The knee injury, however, wasn't the biggest problem. The Packers saw the error in their ways quickly, and they wound up shelling out $33 million to get Joe Johnson during free agency less than a year later.

Johnson, of course, was the free-agent equivalent of Reynolds: a colossal bust. Johnson missed a large portion of the 2002 and 2003 seasons with injuries. Like Reynolds, however, injuries weren't the biggest problem. Johnson simply couldn't play, and the Packers paid a huge price financially for that move, as well.

With Johnson collecting so much money, the Packers were forced to choose between Cletidus Hunt and Vonnie Holliday during the 2003 free-agency period. The Packers elected to keep defensive tackle Hunt, and defensive end Holliday wound up signing with Kansas City.

If Reynolds had played like a No. 10 pick, the Packers would have had a big-time defensive end combo of Reynolds and Holliday under contract for years. If Reynolds had played like a No. 10 pick, he could have paired with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila to provide a lethal one-two pass-rushing punch.

Instead, Reynolds was a bust and Holliday was sent packing, forcing the Packers to start the woeful Johnson at one end and burn out the high-energy Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila at the other end.

Ironically, the problem Reynolds was drafted to solve — lack of a pass rush — only exacerbated the problem. Reynolds and KGB should have given the Packers two big-time rushers. Instead, they got nothing from Reynolds and are getting a less-than-full-speed KGB because of the added workload.

The impact of the Reynolds debacle goes beyond leaving the Packers reeling at defensive end. Here are a few of the players the Packers passed over to get Reynolds in 2001: linebacker Dan Morgan, defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Marcus Stroud, wide receivers Rod Gardner and Santana Moss, and safety Adam Archuleta.

Think the Packers could have used Morgan, instead of the over-the-hill Hardy Nickerson? Until signing Grady Jackson during the middle of last season, the Packers were woefully lacking of difference-makers at defensive tackle for several years. Think Stroud or Lewis could have helped? Think Archuleta could have have plugged the hole created by LeRoy Butler's declining play/retirement?

Certainly nobody's complaining about 2002 first-round pick Javon Walker, but if the Packers had selected Gardner or Moss in the first round in 2001, they wouldn't have had to trade their first- and second-round pick to Seattle to move up eight picks to grab Walker. The Walker pick instead could have been used on stud linebacker Napoleon Harris. Available in that second round were receivers Antwaan Randle El (kick returner, anyone?) and rising stars Deion Branch and Antonio Bryant.

With the trade of Reynolds, you'd think a sorry saga in Packers history was over. But it's not. Reynolds' ineptitude will linger this season, with his $2.6 million salary-cap figure weighing on the Packers like so much cement attached to a Mafia hit destined for the bottom of the Hudson River. If the Packers are unable to attract pass-rushing linebacker Jason Gildon, the reason likely will boil down to dollars and cents. If Gildon signs with the Bengals and the Packers wind up with another lackluster pass rush this season, you can thank Reynolds for that, too.

Huber writes for Contact him via e-mail at

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