I am about to be negative, but fortunately for Packer fans, I will be negative about the past.
Mike Sherman was first the coach and then the general manager and coach of the Packers.
It is not Mike Sherman, the coach who should be blamed for the Packers' current condition, but Mike Sherman the talent evaluator. As a coach, he won a lot of games and made the playoffs. What ails the 2006 Packers is a mess which Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have inherited. It is simple yet complex. The easy answer is that Sherman left the club with less talent than he inherited. The numbers, however, do not lie.
The Pack released B.J. Sander the other day and, rightly or wrongly, Sander has become the poster child for Sherman's poor personnel decisions. It says here that a punter or kicker is never taken in the high rounds unless he's a virtual lock to play 10 years, but not Sander. Sander, however, never asked to be drafted in the third round. He also did not ask Sherman to trade two later round picks to move up to get him. Had he been taken in the sixth or seventh round, no one would have batted an eye over his performance, but had he been taken so low, he would have been cut his rookie year.
Sherman had control of the 2002, 2003 and 2004 drafts. Let's take a look at each pick based upon the player and his draft position. I expect the first rounders to be starters for many years. The second rounders should also eventually start. Third and fourth rounders should be valuable members of the team and fifth, sixth and seventh round picks are in most cases long shots to make the team. If you get anything from them, it is a bonus. Yet any player that does not make the team is ultimately a failure.
Javon Walker – WR - Round 1 - The Packers gave up their first round and second round pick to trade up and select Walker. He took a few years to blossom, but blossom he did. His attitude, though, went south and he was dealt to Denver. Walker had only one giant season before injury took him out, but this pick was an A.
Marques Anderson – S - Round 3 - He had five tackles for the 49ers last year. I barely remember him. He bounced to the Raiders in 2004 and then the Niners last year. I do not think he is in a camp this year. Three teams in four years earns him a D.
Najeh Davenport – RB - Round 4 - Injuries and underachievement are hallmarks of this guy. He is a third teamer at best. Not good, not bad , C.
Aaron Kampman – DE - Round 5 - Given his performance and draft position, this is a steal. - A.
Craig Nall – QB -Round 5 - Decent backup who is in Buffalo and may not make the team. Looks like he will be third string at best. He will see a lot of action in their third preseason game and that may decide his future. C.
Mike Houghton – OL - Round 6 - Got cut in training camp. Bounced around the NFL with Buffalo and Carolina. Played in one game – D.
Sent a 4th round pick to New England in the Terry Glenn trade and a seventh round pick to Tennessee in the Rod Walker trade.
With Walker and Kampman, this draft rates a B for talent but losing Walker for far less than the team spent for him makes this draft just short of total disaster. Walker made the Pro Bowl and Kampman is a very good player. One starter and one part-time player left from five years ago, when players are usually entering their prime. A grade of C is probably being generous.
Nick Barnett – LB - Round 1 - Very good linebacker who has lead the team in tackles for each of his three years in the league. B+.
Kenny Peterson – DL - Round 3 - Still on the team, but has never realized his potential. Packers traded up to get him - C .
James Lee – DL - Round 5 - On the roster for three years. Played in nine games in 2004 and had seven tackles and one sack. Traded up to get him - D.
Hunter Hillenmeyer – LB - Round 5 - Cut in training camp but has played for the Bears the last three years. What did Chicago see that the Packers could not? B.
Brennan Curtin – OL - Round 6 - He was cut last summer after spending most of his time adjusting to the NFL. Was with the Patriots but it looks like he is out of football. D.
Traded a second round pick for Al Harris. Also lost a 4th rounder from the Terry Glenn trade. Barnett is the only player to make an impact - The Al Harris trade makes it a little better, but this is also a bad draft mostly because Sherman traded up to get players who underperformed. This draft grades out as a C-. If you discount Al Harris, it would be a D.
Ahmad Carroll – CB - Round 1 - Has been average at best - constantly getting called for penalties. Gets in trouble on and off the field. Given his draft position and output he is a D at best.
Joey Thomas – CB - Round 3 - Cut last year. Had difficulty with the coaches and Carroll and never lived up to his early hype. D.
Donnell Washington – DL - Round 3 - Injured his rookie year. Inactive for 15 games in 2005. Cut by the Packers in the spring. Battled weight problems. Is on the roster of the Raiders. F.
B.J. Sander – P - Round 3 - Released the other day and was on the active roster as a rookie, but was a disappointment. Had a mediocre year last year. Sherman traded up to draft him. Because you never draft kickers or punters this high unless bound for Canton this pick is a big fat F.
Corey Williams – DL - Round 6 - Still trying to get over the hump. He shows flashes of talent but has not had a breakout yet. C (but could advance)
Scott Wells – C - Round 7 - Started a few games last year and is penciled in to start this year. Given his draft position and his expected performance, I give him a B.
This draft is arguably the worst of Sherman's tenure. Only Wells and Carroll have played any significant minutes and only Wells would be considered a good pick, because he came in the last round. Carroll has underperformed given his draft spot. The only thing that prevents this draft from being an F is that Wells is a steal and Williams may eventually make it. D-
So in the last three years, you have one Pro Bowl player no longer with the team, Walker, two good starters, Kampman and Barnett, and another, Wells, who may develop into a solid pro. Carroll and Davenport have contributed to some degree, but all in all, 2002-04 represents a bad showing by the team's player personnel department. The most glaring deficit is on special teams, where depth on a team is realized through the draft and those late round picks.
If anyone can be blamed for getting Sherman fired as head coach it is Sherman, the general manager. It has been a rough few years for the Green and Gold and for some reason it came as a surprise to some people.
Even the 2001 draft was poor. It was Ron Wolf's last draft, but who knows who was in charge in reality. Only Robert Ferguson, taken in the second round and David Martin, taken in the sixth round are still on the team. Neither one of them has set the world on fire. That means there are nine players from those drafts on the team out of 27 potential picks.
Few figured Green Bay would be as bad as it was so quickly last season, but one review of draft history and it becomes rather clear. Over four years, the Packers drafted poorly. Now, it is accounts payable time and it isn't pretty.
Questioning the production is one thing. How the selections were arrived at begs more scrutiny.
Did the scouts agree or disagree with Sherman? It's a fact that Sherman spent considerable in-season time evaluating talent, time that could have gone into coaching that year's team.
Did the personnel men see things completely differently from the viewpoint of their boss? Were they a bunch of ‘yes' men, or did they challenge Sherman and argue passionately for their guys? If the scouts did challenge him, why would Sherman ignore their advice so consistently?
If dissent existed, did upper management know of it and look the other way?
I'm afraid there are many questions, draft-wise, and we may never know the answers.
In hindsight, Sherman was a good leader of men. He kept the locker room in check. I still feel that the players respected him and many of them probably liked him. He knows the game, but he failed to delegate and he failed to listen to the people who worked for him. It seemed that he was a good coach from Monday to Saturday, but on game day and on draft day he made bad decisions. When things did not work or players did not perform, he had one solution.
His solution was to work harder and longer, but he should have worked smarter. He should have listened to his coaches and players and scouts more. He might still be here. I also believe that he would still be the head coach had someone not hired him as general manager. It is hard to turn down such an opportunity, but in this case it was a mistake. Like Sander, it is not really Coach Mike's fault that he was given an opportunity he did not earn, and it is unfortunate that his good coaching record will be overshadowed by his weak personnel decisions.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.