Running backs stiff-arm Packers in the draft

The Packers have a long history of fumbling when picking a running back early in the draft, especially in the first round.

With the draft a week away, I'm going to tell you something you might not have known: The Green Bay Packers need a running back.

OK, that's not breaking news. Not even close. But here's something you might not have known: The Packers haven't drafted a running back since 2002, and that was Najeh Davenport in the fourth round. And here's something else: The Packers haven't drafted a running back in the first round since Darrell Thompson 17 years ago.

When it comes to running backs, the Packers have found more lemons than they've found lemonade.

It's been 50 years since the Packers drafted a Hall of Fame running back. And they did it in back-to-back years with Paul Hornung with the No. 1 overall pick in 1957 and Jim Taylor with a second-round pick in 1958.

In the last 25 years, the Packers have drafted 27 backs. Two of them were drafted in the first round: Thompson in 1990 and Brent Fullwood in 1987. Looking back even further, Green Bay selected Eddie Lee Ivery in the first round in 1979, Barty Smith in the first round in 1974 and John Brockington in the first round in 1971.

Brockington topped 1,000 yards from 1971 to 1973 — the first player in NFL history to do that for his first three seasons — and added 883 yards in 1974 before his career went downhill quickly.

He's a superstar compared to the others, though.

Smith — compared to Larry Csonka while coming out of college — rushed for almost 2,000 yards during his seven seasons in Green Bay. He suffered a serious knee injury during his rookie season that limited him to nine attempts.

Ivery rushed for just shy of 3,000 yards during his eight seasons in Green Bay, his career derailed by knee injuries during his first and third seasons.

Fullwood literally dropped the ball on his career. Drafted fourth overall, he earned the derisive nickname of Fumbles Fullwood. He rushed for 1,700 yards in three-plus seasons, including a promising 821 yards in 1989, when he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. In his final game with the Packers, a "sick" Fullwood pulled himself out of the lineup in a game against the mighty Bears. That night, he was seen out partying.

In five seasons with the Packers, Thompson rushed for 1,641 yards. He never rushed for even 4.0 yards per carry.

The second-rounders were second-rate runners over the last quarter century of drafts. In 1986, there was Kenneth Davis, who had a decent rookie season before faltering and eventually having a decent career with Buffalo. In 1979, there was somebody named Steve Atkins — quite the one-two punch, he and Ivery in that draft class. The third-rounders were only marginally better: LeShon Johnson in 1994, Chuck Webb in 1991, Keith Woodside in 1988 and Del Rodgers in 1982.

With running backs like those, is it any wonder why the Packers were so bad for so long?

Amazingly, the Packers haven't drafted a single starting-caliber running back since Wolf uncovered Dorsey Levens in the fifth round of the 1994 draft. He was taken with the 149th overall pick, or 65 picks after Johnson was taken.

In 1992, Wolf selected Edgar Bennett in the fourth round. Without Levens and Bennett, the Packers wouldn't have won a Super Bowl or back-to-back conference championships.

The lesson is this: If Marshawn Lynch falls into the Packers' laps next weekend, there's no guarantee he'll be the answer. And if Lynch goes to, say, Buffalo with the 12th pick, that doesn't necessarily mean the Packers will have failed to find their running back of the future.

Good running backs can be found in any round of the draft. Unless you're the Packers, where history shows elusive backs seems to elude Green Bay.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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