Once the NFL draft reaches its final stages is when the real homework takes over, when all the miles traveled in rental cars on back roads and the hours in darkened film rooms are rewarded. That’s when a player such as center Scott Wells, chosen by the Packers 251st overall out of Tennessee in 2004, is selected with only four more spots remaining before the doors close.
Perhaps nothing is as satisfying to an NFL personnel man as discovering late-round finds like Wells. It’s part of the craft of scouting; finding the jewel in the rough.
It’s also a testament to the resolve and grit of the guys who beat the odds. Maybe they first earned a roster spot by playing special teams. Perhaps they beat out more established players by being hungrier.
Wells was waived once as a rookie and spent a few weeks on the practice squad. The effort and determination it takes for an unheralded player to create a roster spot for himself is respected by his teammates and fans.
The definition of the later rounds has changed considerably over the years. It was a 30-round marathon until 1959, rambled 20 rounds until 1966 and 17 until 1977, when it was shorted to 12. In 1993, the draft was abbreviated to eight rounds, and the following year it was shortened to the present structure of seven.
From a historical perspective, today’s draft feels like a sprint.
The patron saint of all Packers late-round picks is QB Bart Starr, chosen in 1956 in the 17th round at 200th overall out of Alabama. The first number he was issued was 16 and he only attempted 44 passes as a rookie. The rest of his story is well documented.
Starr would go on to be one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks. He would lead Green Bay to five NFL championships and his more familiar number 15 is one of only five Packers numbers that have been retired.
His center in 1966 was Bill Curry, chosen in the 20th round (279th overall) out of Georgia Tech in ’64. He was the second-to-last player selected and earned a spot as a reserve on a team that would go to the playoffs that season. Not unlike Wells in Super Bowl XLV in February, Curry was the starter in the middle of the offensive line when the Packers won Super Bowl I with a 35-10 victory over Kansas City.
Curry isn’t the most notable late-round selection at center for Green Bay. In 1973, the Packers chose Larry McCarren 308th overall, and the 12th-round pick from Illinois played in 162 games over a 12-year career and was voted to the Pro Bowl twice. McCarren gets the nod over Curry.
A more recent offensive lineman picked late but who also paid big dividends is tackle Mark Tauscher, the first of five seventh-round picks in 2000 and the 224th overall pick of the draft. Tauscher took over as the starter at right tackle early in his rookie season and has played in 134 games, with 132 starts.
Plucked out of Wisconsin, the 11-year veteran’s 2010 season was cut short due to a shoulder injury. Longevity gives Tauscher the edge over guard Adam Timmerman, picked 230th overall in 1995 and a solid player for 61 contests before departing in ’98.
If not for Starr, the Packers’ greatest draft-day steal would be Donald Driver in 1999. Picked 213th overall out of Alcorn State, Driver was the second of two Green Bay seventh-round choices. It was the year the Saints traded their entire draft for RB Ricky Williams, and more heralded wide receivers such as Ohio State’s David Boston, Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards, Syracuse’s Kevin Johnson and Tennessee’s Peerless Price were taken in the opening two rounds.
Driver made the team as a relative unknown, was inactive for nine contests as a rookie and appeared in six games. He made an impression with his first NFL grab being an 8-yard TD.
In his first three years, Driver had a total of 37 catches. Over the next eight years, he would post seven 1,000-yard seasons and Driver closed 2010 with a team-record 698 receptions.
Among running backs, Elijah Pitts was a bargain in the 13th round in 1960. Chosen out of tiny Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., Pitts scored 36 rushing and receiving TDs as the top reserve behind Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor on the Packers dynasty teams of the 1960s. He added a pair of TDs in the win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl I.
Not quite as dramatic a long shot is Dorsey Levens, a fifth-round choice out of Georgia Tech selected 149th overall in 1994. He was the 17th running back chosen that season and the second by the Packers following LeShon Johnson, a third-round pick.
As a rookie, Levens only touched the ball six times, but his breakthrough was brewing. By 1996, he was second on the team in rushing with over 500 yards and Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI. In ’97, Levens exploded for 1,435 yards and scored 12 TDs, and in ’99 he had 1,034 yards rushing and caught 71 passes.
In the same draft that the Packers landed Levens, the club also found Bill Schroeder, a lanky wide receiver from Wisconsin-La Crosse. Taken 181st overall as the team’s third sixth-round selection, Schroeder had two catches as a rookie while returning punts and kicks. Over the next four seasons, he hauled in 223 passes for 3,420 yards and 19 TDs.
Despite Schroeder’s credentials, the top late-round pass-catcher other than Driver is tight end Mark Chmura, landed in the sixth round at 157th overall in 1992. Selected in the last year of the 12-round format, Chmura played in 90 games, scored 17 TDs and was voted to three Pro Bowls.
On defense, the club has been able to find unheralded defenders in the middle rounds that have developed into top NFL pass-rushers. Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila set a team record with 74.5 career sacks after being selected in the fifth round (149th overall) out of San Diego State in 2000.
In ’02, Green Bay dug up defensive end Aaron Kampman in the fifth round at 156th overall from Iowa. He would post 54 sacks and was voted to a pair of Pro Bowls before departing last season.
In 1990, the Packers found linebacker Bryce Paup with the 159th overall selection. The sixth-round pick out of Northern Iowa only played in five games as a rookie, but he would post 32.5 sacks over the next four seasons.
Ricky Zeller is a contributing writer for packers.com. He has covered the NFL for several publications.