Risky business for Packers with 27th pick

Stu Courtney
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Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins reacts after scoring a touchdown during the game against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium in 2015.

Finding an impact player with the 27th pick in the NFL draft can be a hit-and-miss proposition, as the Green Bay Packers are well aware.

In 1996, the Packers missed with USC tackle John Michels as their No. 27 pick.  Michels started nine games as a rookie and played in Super Bowl XXXI, but his career was cut short by a devastating knee injury suffered in training camp in 1998.

In 2013, the Houston Texans struck gold with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who ranked third in the NFL in receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,521) and scored 11 touchdowns last season. Eight years earlier, the Atlanta Falcons also landed a star receiver with the 27th pick in Roddy White.

Barring a trade, the Packers will have the 27th selection in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft on April 28. And there are a number of ways they could go with the pick, with one risk factor being whether they should draft to fill a need or take the best player available, regardless of position.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson, asked at the NFL scouting combine in February whether a lack of depth at linebacker could make that position a first-round priority, demurred.

"We don’t look at it like that," Thompson said. "We look more long-term. We want to see where we’re strong and where do we need to get more healthy. Does it apply to free agency? Does it apply to the draft or whatever? We’re always trying to make sure we’re solid at as many positions as we can be. I don’t know that you ever get to the point where you feel like you're perfectly set on a roster, though, because you’re always looking."

Linebackers have been scarce at No. 27 in recent drafts. Jason Babin (Texans in 2004) and Todd Kelly (49ers in 1993) are the only linebackers selected in that spot in the last 25 years. Babin started all 16 games as a rookie and went on to make two Pro Bowls, while Kelly did little during his brief NFL career.

B.J. Raji’s surprise hiatus/retirement could increase the likelihood of the Packers taking a defensive lineman at No. 27. If they do, it would be the first player at that position chosen with the No. 27 pick since nose tackle Lester Williams by the Patriots in 1982. Williams had a strong rookie season but his career was derailed by injuries.

As for tight end, another position of need for the Packers, the Jets in 2000 took Anthony Becht, a solid blocker who started for them for five seasons before signing with the Buccaneers. And in 1995, the Steelers took Mark Bruener, who played nine seasons in Pittsburgh and five more in Houston.

The Packers are set at quarterback with Aaron Rodgers, and that’s a good thing: No quarterback has been selected at No. 27 since 1983, when the Miami Dolphins were fortunate enough to have Dan Marino fall into their laps.

A look back at the last quarter century of NFL drafts reveals only a handful of players drafted with the 27th pick who rose to stardom in the professional ranks. But a good number have enjoyed solid careers.

Last year’s 27th pick, safety Bryon Jones, made an immediate contribution, starting in 11 games for the Cowboys as a rookie. In 2014, the Cardinals spent the No. 27 pick on Deone Bucannon, who has been a key contributor to the Arizona defense after shifting from safety to outside linebacker.

Kevin Zeitler, a Waukesha native who was a standout at Wisconsin, went to the Bengals with the 27th pick in 2013 and has started 55 of 56 games since for Cincinnati.

Defensive backs have been a popular choice at No. 27 (seven in the last 25 years). In 2012, the Ravens took cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has been a dependable performer for four seasons in Baltimore. Devin McCourty went to the Patriots at No. 27 in 2011 and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.

The Panthers landed a productive running back with the 27th pick in 2006, taking DeAngelo Williams, who had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons for them and last season gained 907 yards for the Steelers. In 2003, the Chiefs picked up Larry Johnson, who twice rushed for more than 1,700  yards and made two Pro Bowls. And in 2001, Milwaukee native Michael Bennett of Wisconsin went to the Vikings and rushed for 1,296 yards in his second season.

Without question, the most infamous No. 27 pick was wide receiver Rae Carruth, drafted in 1997 by Carolina. In 1999, Carruth was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill the mother of his unborn child and was sentenced to 18-to-24 years in prison.


2015   Cowboys:  Byron Jones, DB, Connecticut

2014  Cardinals:  Deone Bucannon, DB, Washington State

2013  Texans:  DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

2012  Bengals:  Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

2011  Ravens:  Jimmy Smith, DB, Colorado

2010  Patriots:  Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers

2009  Colts:  Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut

2008  Chargers:  Antoine Cason, DB, Arizona

2007  Saints:  Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee

2006  Panthers:  DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis

2005  Falcons:  Roddy White, WR, Alabama-Birmingham

2004  Texans:  Jason Babin, OLB, Western Michigan

2003  Chiefs:  Larry Johnson, RB, Penn State

2002  49ers:  Mike Rumph, DB, Miami

2001  Vikings:  Michael Bennett, RB, Wisconsin

2000  Jets:  Anthony Becht, TE, West Virginia

1999  Lions:  Aaron Gibson, T, Wisconsin

1998  Chiefs:  Victor Riley, T, Auburn

1997  Panthers:  Rae Carruth, WR, Coloado

1996  Packers:  John Michels, T, USC

1995  Steelers:  Mark Bruener, TE, Washington

1994  Bills:  Jeff Burris, DB, Notre Dame

1993  49ers:  Todd Kelly, OLB, Tennessee

1992  Bills:  John Fina, T, Arizona

1991  Giants:  Jarrod Bunch, FB, Michigan

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