When is a young team an old team?

When many of the Packers' best players are in their 30s. Several years of bad drafts have left the Packers short on big-time players who are in the prime of their careers, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

Much was written and said last season about the Green Bay Packers fielding the youngest team in the NFL.

While that's true, the Packers in a troubling way are also an old team. Here is my list of the team's 10 best players, with their ages when the season kicks off in September:

Brett Favre, 37

Al Harris, 32

Donald Driver, 32

Chad Clifton, 31

Charles Woodson, 30

Mark Tauscher, 30

Aaron Kampman, 27

Ryan Pickett, 27

Nick Barnett, 26

A.J. Hawk, 23

This list is especially bothersome on the offensive side of the ball, where the play of proud veterans such as Driver and Clifton could start to fall at any minute.

The Packers think they have a quarterback for when Favre retires, but they don't really know.

The Packers certainly don't have anyone remotely close to replacing Driver's combination of productivity and toughness as the No 1 receiver. Can the Packers realistically expect another 90-catch season out of Driver when he's 32, 33 or 34?

The Packers love their young guards, but tackle is the most important position on the offensive line. Can they really expect Clifton to stop the league's best pass rushers on a couple of bum knees when he's 32 or 33? He's already shown signs of slipping. How long can Tauscher remain the team's best lineman?

Harris and Woodson form one of the NFL's elite pair of cornerbacks, but they are also at an age when a player's skills can erode rapidly. The Packers don't have any young cornerbacks waiting in the wings. Their projected No. 3 cornerback, Frank Walker, barely played last season for the Giants. The only young prospect, Will Blackmon, couldn't manage to stay healthy last year.

I don't want to turn this space into another place to beat the dead horse that was Mike Sherman's run as general manager, but in a perfect world, a majority of a team's best players would be about 28 and younger. Of my list of the Packers' top 10 players, only four are in their 20s, and Sherman acquired just two of them.

Sherman and Ron Wolf were responsible for the 2001 draft — they've taken turns blaming the other for selecting Jamal Reynolds in the first round. Of their six picks that year, only Robert Ferguson remains on the team. Chances are, he won't be on it when the season kicks off.

Of the six players selected in 2002, only fifth-round pick Kampman remains on the roster. The first-round pick that year was Javon Walker, who might be one of the top 10 offensive players in the NFL.

Of the nine players selected in 2003, only first-round pick Barnett remains on the roster.

Of the six players selected in the 2004 draft, only sixth-round pick Corey Williams and seventh-round pick Scott Wells remain on the roster. Four picks in the first three rounds were all wasted.

The players selected in the 2001 through 2004 drafts — because of their combination of youth and experience — should be the core to this team. Instead, only five players are on today's roster, and only Kampman and Barnett are among the team's best players.

All of this adds up to trouble on what we think is a young and up-and-coming team. A lot of things are going to have to fall right for this team to rise in the standings and then stay there for a few years.

First, Ted Thompson must have a big draft this year. He can't miss with the No. 16 pick, and he'll need to find another difference-maker or two later in the draft.

Second, Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff must do a great job developing the young talent. Wells is on his way to becoming a fine center. The young guards have to become big-time starters, and maybe Tony Moll or Daryn Colledge will be the long-term solution(s) at tackle. Greg Jennings must become a solid No. 2 receiver, not a solid No. 3 receiver. Young defensive backs like Nick Collins and Blackmon have to become consistent, above-average starters.

Third, Thompson at some point is going to have to fill gaps in free agency. There are going to be too many voids to realistically plug in the draft.

Fourth, whether it's Vernand Morency or somebody Thompson acquires, the Packers need a starting running back.

Fifth, and most importantly, the Packers need more than just a caretaker quarterback. Whether that's Aaron Rodgers or someone else remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, Favre, Driver and Harris can't defy age forever. Unfortunately, Clifton and Tauscher are going to wear down.

Thompson and the coaches rave about their young players. At some point soon, that potential must become reality.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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