In sports, like in life, the lights always shine brightest on the stars.
It’s human nature and it’s never going to change.
Every year in the NFL the very best players, the ones standing in that rarified light, are named to an elite list: First Team All-Pro. Other than Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, AP MVP, AP Offensive or Defensive Player of the Year or, perhaps, Super Bowl Champion, it is the highest honor a professional football player can achieve.
Ultimately, books are written about these positional leaders and supreme talents. These are the names that will undoubtably live on as long as man still breathes and contemplates football. Few books, or even in-depth articles, are written about football players that are never named First Team All-Pro (never officially being named one of the best at their position) at least once in their career.
But what of the less-heralded players? Surely they deserve some credit from time to time, right?
As we’re been stuck inside our homes hoping to finally hear some good news involving the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had some time to ponder those players in this franchise’s history that likely won’t have books written about them.
‘Cause why the hell not?
Many people have assembled “All-Time Teams” for the Green Bay Packers and other NFL franchises. I mean, we’ve dabbled with creating the best lineups possible. But the task gets a lot more difficult when you take away players that have been named First Team All-Pro at least once in their careers.
As you can imagine in this instance, the best of the best are instantly taken out of consideration and you’re left with, well, a lesser talent pool. If we assembled an all-time Packers team, there would just be a couple players from the entire “starting lineup” below that would make that all-time team.
However when you have a franchise as deeply entrenched in history and success as the Packers you can dig a little deeper and still find some compelling names to work with. That is exactly what we did here.
Note: We didn’t dig so far into the nitty-gritty as to worry about Second Team All-Pro designations or anything like that. When we say “All-Pro” we flatly mean First Team All-Pro. We included a minimum of four seasons in Green Bay to be considered for this team.
Here’s the Packers’ all-time “Never All-Pro” Team.
QB: Lynn Dickey (1976-1985)
QB: Tobin Rote (1950-1956)
RB: Ahman Green (2000-2006, 2009)
RB: Dorsey Levens (1994-2001)
RB: Johnny Blood (1929-1933, 1935-36)
WR: Jordy Nelson (2008-2017)
WR: Donald Driver (1999-2012)
WR: Caroll Dale (1966-1972)
TE: Paul Coffman (1978-1985)
LT: Chad Clifton (2000-2011)
LG: Josh Sitton (2008-2015)
C: Larry McCarren (1973-1984)
RG: Marco Rivera (1997-2004)
RT: Baby Ray (1938-1948)
DE: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (2000-2008)
DT: Dave Hanner (1952-1964)
DT: Gilbert Brown (1993-2003)
DE: John Martinkovic (1951-1956)
OLB: John Anderson (1978-1989)
ILB: Nick Barnett (2003-2010)
ILB: George Koonce (1992-1999)
OLB: Fred Carr (1968-1977)
CB: Al Harris (2003-2009)
FS: Nick Collins (2005-2011)
SS: Hank Gremminger (1956-1965)
CB: Sam Shields (2010-2016)
K: Mason Crosby (2007-Present)
P: Craig Hentrich (1994-1997)
KR: Travis Williams (1967-1970)
Offensive Subs: QB Don Majkowski (1987-1992), RB Elijah Pitts (1961-1969, 1971), RB Ryan Grant (2007-2012), RB Eddie Lacy (2013-2016), WR Boyd Dowler (1959-1969), WR Greg Jennings (2006-2012), TE Jermichael Finley (2008-2013), TE Bubba Franks (2000-2007), T Bob Skoronski (1956-1968), T Ken Ruettgers (1985-1996), T Bryan Bulaga (2010-2019), G Russ Letlow (1936-1946), G Buckets Goldenberg (1933-1945), C Frank Winters (1992-2002).
Defensive Subs: DE Ezra Johnson (1977-1987), DE Aaron Kampman (2002-2009), DE Lionel Aldridge (1963-1971), DT Robert Brown (1966-1973), DT Mike Daniels (2012-2018), ILB A.J. Hawk (2006-2014), OLB Bryce Paup (1990-1994), CB Tramon Williams (2007-2014, 2018-19), S Chuck Cecil (1988-1992) and utility player on both sides of the ball TB, QB and S Irv Comp (1943-1949).
And there’s your (admittedly offensively slanted) 53 man roster.
Honorable Mentions: K Ryan Longwell (1997-2005). If Crosby gets hurt in this hypothetical, fantasy season, Longwell is the first player this “team” signs. Mark Chmura (1993-1999) gets a shout-out, too, just in case a string of tight end injuries occurs. CB Tyrone Williams (1996-2002) gets a nod, too. And for the truly old-timers, here’s a shoutout to T Cub Buck (1920-1925), the original star lineman in Packers History.
What does this team ultimately say about the history of the Green Bay Packers?
First, it says they’re a franchise absolutely stacked with wide receiver talent. Good lord.
And this is after accounting for names like Don Hutson, James Lofton, Sterling Sharpe, Billy Howton, Antonio Freeman, Lavvie Dilweg and Tom Nash who all aren’t eligible for this list, or team, because they were named First Team All-Pro at some point in their career. This franchise has been absolutely stacked with talented pass catchers. Dowler and Jennings are the two great modern receivers relegated to “subs,” even on this list excluding the most legendary names in this franchise’s history. It’s incredible.
Jennings specifically would be considered a lock as a top-three wide receiver in many franchise’s histories.
An interesting tidbit of information is that Antonio Freeman (1988) was the last time a Packers receiver was named First Team All-Pro.
Two notable wide receivers that never even got a Pro Bowl nod in their careers are Robert Brooks (1992-1998) and James Jones (2007-2013, 2015). They, along with Pro Bowl pass catchers Randall Cobb (2011-2018), John Jefferson (1981-1984), Max McGee (1954-1967), Carl Mulleneaux (1938-1946), Larry Craig (1939-1949) and Harry Jacunski (1939-1944) couldn’t even make the “subs” list and are simply “honorable mentions” here.
For the sake of complete inclusion we’ll also mention Javon Walker (2002-2005), Bill Schroeder (1997-2003) and Gary Knafelc (1954-1962). They all made impacts for this franchise, but are buried by other talented pass catchers on this all-time exercise.
Did we mention that this position is deep in talent?
Davante Adams is still playing so he’s not really eligible for this team. We think it’s likely within the next two seasons, barring an injury, that he’ll be named First Team All-Pro at wide receiver. If he goes his entire career without being named First Team, then he’ll certainly make this team.
This all-time “team” also suggests that the Packers have been incredibly deep at defensive end throughout the years. I initially thought that Aaron Kampman would definitely be on the starting lineup above, but here we are. And how about Ezra Johnson? His career-high 14.5 sacks in 1983 still couldn’t land him a starter here.
Speaking of rushing the passer…
Time will tell if Za’Darius Smith ever makes it First Team All-Pro, if he keeps up his level of play but doesn’t get that designation he’ll be a starter on this squad as an edge rushing linebacker — no debate. Like Adams, we think he has a decent shot at hitting that goal in the very near future. The same goes for defensive tackle Kenny Clark.
We’d also put cornerback Jaire Alexander and even guard Elgton Jenkins on the watch-list for being named First Team All-Pro sometime in their career.
The other two current Packers, well… we’ll see about one of them, are Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams. We aren’t sure if Williams will be a Packer in 2020, but we are quite sure that neither will be named First Team All-Pro in their careers at this point, so we felt safe including them on this “team.” Crosby recently signed a three year contract, so he’ll be a Packer for life, but still, we don’t see him being kicked off this team.
One thing that jumps out to us when looking at this roster is how impressive it actually is. That may seem like a simple take, but really take a moment to scan those names. Sure, it’s a little jarring to look at an all-time list of Packers and not see the usual suspects. But beyond wide receiver and defensive end, the offensive line and the defensive backfield is pretty damn talented, too. There’s a lot of talent at both of those position groups.
No, we didn’t forget about current Packers running back Aaron Jones. He, like Adams, is primed to be a First Team All-Pro member perhaps as soon as next season. You could make the argument of all current Packers he has the best chance to achieve this goal. But, time will tell. With running back tenures getting shorter, even for star players, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jones’ next contract.
How about the team’s all-time leading rusher Ahman Green on the team followed by mid-1990s star Dorsey Levens? Not bad at all for the starting lineup. Then you have Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Blood, just hanging around. Throw in Elijah Pitts who won five World Championships in the 1960s and Eddie Lacy who’s peak was short but surprisingly sweet and you have a heck of a backfield. And we haven’t even mentioned Ryan Grant, a player we enjoyed rooting for who had two 1200+ rushing seasons. Depth, depth, depth at this position.
Not even mentioned on this team are runners Gerry Ellis (1980-1986), Edgar Bennett (1992-1998), Donny Anderson (1966-1971), Eddie Lee Ivery (1979-1986), and James Starks (2010-2016) who are all top-15 running backs, in terms of rushing yards, in franchise history. And what about Andy Uram (1938-1943) and Ed Jankowski (1937-1941)? They were early stars for this team that never received the ultimate individual honor. Similarly, Howie Ferguson (1953-1958) was a bright spot for a the Packers in their subpar 1950s that deserves mention.
There are some NFL franchises that couldn’t compete with that level of talent at running back even if they had access to their entire list of players all-time, including their First Team All-Pro players. Many franchises, actually.
We haven’t even listed the seven runners that have been named First Team All-Pro. We’ll do that now: Verne Lewellen, Clarke Hinkle, Tony Canadeo, Ted Fritsch, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and John Brockington. Then throw in the two modern blocking fullbacks in William Henderson and John Kuhn, they’re also not eligible for this “team”.
Would you believe that the Packers haven’t had a primary ball carrier named First Team All-Pro since John Brockington in 1971. It’s almost unbelievable.
WR vs RB:
Which position group has more all-time “never All-Pro” talent: wide receiver or running back?
This is tough when looking at all-time players, including those that were named First Team All-Pro and when just looking at the players that weren’t. The history at these skill positions for this franchise is overwhelming and dates back to the game’s earliest days.
We lean toward wide receiver being a slightly deeper position, but it’s extremely close.
Isn’t it interesting that both the Packers’ all-time leading receiver (Donald Driver) and all-time leading rusher (Ahman Green) were both never named First Team All-Pro? The likelihood of that is extremely low, especially for an organization that’s won more World Championships than any other franchise.
Quarterback and linebacker are probably the two weakest positions on this all-time team, but Lynn Dickey’s 1983 season and Tobin Rote’s 1956 season cannot be ignored. With the skill players as deep as they are here, either one of these passers could lead the team to victory. Victory against who? Perhaps the Chicago Bears’ all-time “Never All-Pro” team. If someone wants to create that list go for it! But you definitely won’t find us taking the time to do so.
John Anderson is the defense’s most productive player and probably the leader of the front seven. He was underrated his entire career, so it makes sense he finds himself on a “best of the rest” team. That said, he’s one of the best in NFL history at taking the ball away, believe it or not.
The defensive backfield would have to carry a lot of weight for this defense, but we’d actually put them up to the task. Injuries shortened the careers of a few of those dynamic players, which is likely why they never were named First Team All-Pro at some point.
The Best “Never All-Pro” Player in Packers History:
We have to go with Ahman Green, slightly edging out Jordy Nelson.
Green posted 68 touchdowns for the Packers, 71 including the postseason. Nelson amassed 69 touchdowns donning the green and gold with 74 total touchdowns including postseason play.
We give Green the nod because we believe he could have found his perennial success on any team in the league, but we’re a little more hesitant to say that Nelson would have been as productive elsewhere without Aaron Rodgers throwing to him.
However when scanning this “Never All-Pro” team, Johnny Blood is the most mythical name and is the only Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. That counts for something. Similarly, Donald Driver is probably the biggest fan-favorite player on this “team.” His statue at Titletown Brewery says it all, his legacy is safe.
Who would the captains of this “team” be? We’d say Donald Driver, John Anderson and Mason Crosby are locks. The other captains would be up for debate.
You’ll notice there’s a lack of players from the team’s earliest decades, however most of those notable players were overwhelmingly rewarded with First Team All-Pro designations. Fewer teams in the NFL meant more players named All-Pro.
That’s just how it shook out.
If nothing else, this team should serve as a simple reminder to appreciate the players in Green Bay, and in Green Bay’s history, that were never honored by the Associated Press or anywhere else.
This team, this franchise, is more than its star players.
In some ways, these players more closely represent us–the normal folk–than the biggest stars in Packers history. Something about these players that we’ve been such huge fans of never being named First Team All-Pro is oddly comforting. It serves as a reminder that honest recognition in any field of work is just damn hard to come by — even for professional athletes that have been so productive.
Ponder This, Too:
Brett Favre, in his first seven years as a starting quarterback, had two AP First Team All-Pro wide receivers as weapons.
In Aaron Rodgers’ entire career he hasn’t had a First Team All-Pro to throw to. Neither have had a running back fit that description either, although both Ahman Green and Aaron Jones arguably should have been awarded the distinction for their career-best seasons.
Do with that information what you will, but it’s interesting to note.
Who are our favorite players on the team listed above?
My (Daniel) top five favorite players on this team are Nick Collins, Mason Crosby, Donald Driver, Chad Clifton and Gilbert Brown.
David’s vote for his favorite five players are Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Nick Collins, John Anderson and Dorsey Levens.
As you can see Collins and Driver were picked by both of us. Whatever exactly that says about those two guys, it certainly says it loudly.
Who are your favorite players on this “best of the rest” all-time team?