As a general rule, I don’t include active players on my High Fives because their place in history might fluctuate before their careers end. But Aaron Rodgers is included here because he has solidified his ranking as the Packers’ best-ever No. 1 draft pick and that won’t change in my mind unless a future No. 1 supplants him.
This list doesn’t take into account value based on where someone was taken in the first round or who else might have been available. It’s simply a list of the best players drafted No. 1 by the Packers. Players drafted in the first round who weren’t the team’s No. 1 choice -- tight end Ron Kramer in 1957, for example – weren’t considered.
In 2014, when I listed the team’s best draft picks regardless of round, I chose Herb Adderley over Paul Hornung, but the criteria for that list were different.
The toughest call here was choosing among James Lofton, Dave Robinson and Gale Gillingham for the final two spots. The three were comparably great, but Lofton and Robinson played positions where they were able to have more impact.
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB (2005) – Any talk about the Packers’ greatest player ever should now be a two-name conversation: Brett Favre and Rodgers. I write that with some hesitation not having seen Verne Lewellen, Johnny Blood, Clarke Hinkle and Don Hutson play. Packers players from the 1920s raved about Lewellen and many players from the 1930s thought Hinkle was the greatest. Blood and Hutson might have introduced the big play to pro football and revolutionized the game. Hutson had unbelievable numbers. Blood played in the pre-stats era, but I’ve read and heard stories about how at age 32 he barely lost a 100-yard race with a 22-year old Hutson in 1935. Bart Starr and six other Pro Football Hall of Famers collected five championship rings during the Lombardi years. Then there was Hornung and Jim Taylor. But considering the importance of the quarterback position today and the reverence with which coaches, teammates and opponents have talked about Favre and Rodgers over the past 25 years, I think they’re in a class by themselves. And Favre isn’t eligible for this list because he wasn’t drafted by the Packers or in the first round.
2. Paul Hornung, HB (1957) – You’ve maybe read some of the quotes before. Vince Lombardi called him “a great pressure player,” and someone who “may have been the best all-around back ever to play football.” Adderley said: “Vince called him our money player and he was just that. He should have been the first player from our team in the Hall of Fame.” Jerry Kramer said: “He was always the star of our team, even after he stopped being the best player.” Not everyone has agreed over the years, but the consensus among coaches, scouts and players from the Lombardi years seemed to be that Hornung was the team’s key player. Ron Wolf has said he was told the same thing by Packers coaches from the 1960s who were on his scouting staff in Green Bay and other old-timers, as well. Who are we to disagree even if Hornung’s stats don’t translate to today’s game?
3. Herb Adderley, CB (1961) – Along with Night Train Lane, Jimmy Johnson, Mel Blount, Mike Haynes, Deion Sanders and maybe one or two others, Adderley deserves to be in the discussion about the NFL’s greatest cornerbacks. He was drafted to be a combination right halfback-flanker, a Packers’ version of Lenny Moore, but Adderley showed too much promise on defense and he was moved there before his rookie year was over.
4. James Lofton, WR (1978) – They might have to build a special wing in Canton for wide receivers who had numbers, but not necessarily Hall of Fame talent. Lofton had both. He played on some terrible offenses when he first joined the Packers and bad defenses for much of his time in Green Bay. Had he found himself in the same situation as Jerry Rice in San Francisco, Lofton might be talked about today as the game’s greatest receiver. There wasn’t much Rice could do that Lofton couldn’t. Plus, Lofton was faster and a much more dangerous vertical threat.
5. Dave Robinson, OLB (1963) – Robinson was big enough (6-3, 245) and fast enough that he probably could be a rush linebacker or maybe even used in third-down coverage in today’s game. But when he played in Phil Bengtson’s conservative 1960s defense, his primary job was to hold the point of attack and nobody did it better. Here are two team stats that speak volumes about Robinson’s contribution. After he had taken over as the Packers’ starting left linebacker in 1965 and his primary responsibility against the pass was to jam the tight end at the line, Hall of Famer John Mackey averaged 2.9 receptions and a mere 26 total yards in eight games against the Packers while fellow Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, in six games from 1965 to 1972, averaged 1.5 catches and 14 total yards per game. Against the run, Robinson’s job was to hold the point and protect his flank. When the Packers won three straight NFL titles from 1965 to 1967, they faced a future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back nine times. Only Gale Sayers in 1967 ran for more than 100 yards against them. Robinson also made three of the biggest plays during that three-year title run: Returning an interception 87 yards in a win-or-be-eliminated showdown against Baltimore in 1965; forcing a last-minute, fourth-down interception in the end zone to preserve victory in the 1966 NFL Championship Game against Dallas; and blocking a chip-shot field goal in a 1967 playoff game against favored Los Angeles.