Packers draft for now and future

Mike Sherman said he didn't sleep as soundly the night before the annual draft than he has in the past when Ron Wolf led the charge for the Packers. Other than that, the first-time talent picker performed like a seasoned pro.<p>

Sherman wheeled and dealed. He planned ahead. He landed a potential impact player. By the time Mr. Irrelevant was selected by the Houston Texans, the Green Bay Packers came away with six selections in Saturday and Sunday's NFL draft that should be able to help the Packers this season and down the road.

Sticking to his rule of thumb that you use the draft to build the offense and free agency to plug holes on defense, Sherman traded up to get fast-rising wide receiver Javon Walker from Florida State. He then used the team's third-round pick on UCLA defensive back Marques Anderson. On Day Two of the draft, the Packers led off by taking University of Miami-Fla. fullback Najeh Davenport in the fourth round, defensive lineman Aaron Kampman (University of Iowa) and quarterback Craig Nall (Northwestern Louisiana State) in the fifth round, and offensive lineman Mike Houghton (San Diego State) in the sixth round.

"I thought we got what we needed," said Sherman. "We still have a few issues that have to be addressed through free agency, which we'll continue, also after June 1st, also NFL-E (NFL Europe) players. I think we're in the process of getting to that point, but we're closer. We're a better team today than we were yesterday and the day before."

Green Bay did not address its need for a middle linebacker through the draft, but Sherman said that he feels he can fill that hole through free agency. Green Bay released veteran Bernardo Harris in February and currently has second-year pro Torrance Marshall penciled in as the starter. The Packers flirted with signing free agent Jeramiah Trotter but simply did not have enough room under their salary cap, and Trotter proceeded to seal a seven-year, $36 million deal with the Washington Redskins prior to the draft.

If the Packers can re-sign Antonio Freeman, or another veteran wide receiver after June 1, the Packers should enter the 2002 opener with an improved corp of wide receivers. Walker has the size and speed that every offensive coordinator dreams of. If he can catch on to the offense, he may compete for a starting job with Freeman, Donald Driver, or second-year pro Robert Ferguson opposite Terry Glenn.

"I believe that the value is these guys will grow and become a very viable force in this league because their youth and their athleticism and their potential," Sherman said. "I don't think we can expect Robert Ferguson and Walker to jump on the scene and be everything all the time."

Walker and Ferguson also will compete for the vacant punt returner job, left open when Allen Rossum signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons this off-season.

Sherman has taken an aggressive approach to signing impact players this off-season. He traded to get Glenn, then lured free agent defensive end Joe Johnson out of New Orleans. Not especially content with the 28th pick of the first round, Sherman pulled off a trade with his former boss Mike Holmgren to move up to the 20th spot for Walker. The Packers gave up their second round pick to the Seahawks for a fifth rounder, but got the player they had targeted.

"The opportunity to go up and get him separated us," Sherman explained. "I feel like I got one player I really wanted and felt great about than two players that I was just going to be excited about. That's the difference in my mind. I think I improved my chances for success by elevating the draft pick."

With the exception of quarterback Brett Favre, the Packers enter this season with a fairly young offense and a defense that should improve against the run with the addition of Johnson. The team still could use an established punt and kickoff returner, but those jobs may be up for grabs with in-house personnel, such as Ferguson and Walker on punts, and Ferguson, Rondell Mealey and possibly Dorsey Levens on kickoffs.

"We're trying to win next year, and we all feel like we've got a good window of opportunity to take a big stride next year, but you still have to try as best you can to build for the future," said Mark Hatley, Green Bay's vice president of operations. "We've done a lot of good things as far as staying competitive and having a chance to win every year, and still being able to develop a good foundation."

Anderson is expected to compete on special teams from the get-go. The Packers probably will test him out at cornerback early in training camp, but he ultimately could be headed toward safety. Butler is in the twilight of his career, and 1999 first-round pick Antuan Edwards is coming off a major knee injury.

The Packers have the luxury of putting Davenport, Kampman, Nall and Houghton on the backburner for a year, allowing them time to develop.

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