What Could Have Been: The Packers 80’s Dynasty That Never Was

It’s draft season and I love the what-if game.

The draft is such a powerful tool, it can literally turn the fortune of a team around in one year.

Today, I want to look at what the Packers could have done in the abysmal late 80’s when they were perpetual basement dwellers picking early and blowing every opportunity because of their ridiculous front office structure.

We all know how bad the legendary 1989 draft was, but the Packers also had some monumental misses in the two years before that.

So let’s back up and dream about the dynasty that could have been if only a few years of drafting really hit home.

1987 Draft

The Packers picked number 4 overall and took a running back who didn’t even play out his original contract in Brett Fullwood. What a waste. Johnny Holland was a solid 2nd round pick, but Dave Croston, Scott Stephen, Lorenzo Freeman, Tony Leiker, and the rest of the forgettable picks didn’t turn around the Packers fortunes.

Let’s look at what they could have taken from this draft if they’d played their cards right:

  • Rod Woodson (Hall of Fame cornerback)
  • Eric Thomas (All Pro cornerback)
  • Jerry Ball (Pro Bowl defensive tackle)
  • Henry Thomas (Pro Bowl defensive tackle)
  • Cris Carter (Hall of Fame wide receiver)
  • Greg Lloyd (All Pro linebacker)
  • Dan Saleaumua (All Pro defensive tackle)
  • Jessie Tuggle (All Pro linebacker)

Having one draft net a couple Hall of Famers, four more All Pros, and a couple Pro Bowlers would have been one of the greatest draft classes of all time… certainly a step up from Brett Fullwood and compnay.


1988 Draft

The next year, the Packers got it right in the 1st round,  taking Sterling Sharpe at #7 overall. But it was all downhill from there with Shawn Patterson in the 2nd round, Kieth Woodside in the 3rd, Rollin Putzier in the 4th and a similar litany of guys you don’t remember (or wish you didn’t).

Here’s what they could have done with that draft:

  • Sterling Sharpe (All time great wide receiver)
  • Thurman Thomas (Hall of Fame running back)
  • Bill Romanowski (Pro Bowl Linebacker)
  • Chris Dishman (All Pro cornerback)
  • Jeff Cross (Pro Bowl defensive end)
  • Tony Jones (Pro Bowl offensive tackle)
  • Rufus Porter (All Pro linebacker)
  • Jeff Feagles (Pro Bowl punter who holds the record for most punt yards in NFL history)

So here we have a Hall of Famer (plus Sharpe, who was on his way) along with a couple more All Pros, and four Pro Bowlers, including the most prolific punter of all time. Boy, if someone put these two draft together, they would probably be looking like a Hall of Fame GM.

1989 Draft

Here it is, the grand daddy of all draft blunders. I’ll spare you the details and get right to the good stuff – here is who the Packers could have taken:

  • Derrick Thomas (Hall of Fame linebacker)
  • Marve Cook (All Pro tight end)
  • Tony Martin (All Pro wide receiver)
  • Marion Butts (Pro Bowl running back)
  • Mark Schlereth (Pro Bowl guard)

This list is shorter, with “only” one Hall of Famer, two All Pros, and two Pro Bowls (Side note: the 1989 NFL draft actually wasn’t deep – it gets a lot of fanfare for the top five picks, but wasn’t all that amazing afterwards). Still, this would have to be considered an amazing draft class.


There you have it. Imagine drafting like that for a few years before free agency and the salary cap, when you could keep your players locked in.

This is the power of the draft – one class can change the course of history and launch a franchise to a title.

Four Hall of Famers, nine All Pros, and nine Pro Bowlers in a three-year stretch of drafting. Then make that trade for Brett Favre, sign Reggie White and win like eight or nine Super Bowls in a decade.

Ah, why doesn’t this happen in real life?


It doesn’t happen because drafting is hard.

Want to know how hard?

Want to get a deeper understanding of the draft than one-page articles and quick-hit tweets can provide?

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Check out Packers Draft Central 2020 for all our 2020 NFL Draft coverage!


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