Packers Have a Mixed History With First Round Picks at Wide Receiver

The Green Bay Packers have not used a first round draft choice on a wide receiver in two decades. Most experts expect that streak to end in this year’s NFL Draft.

As of now, GM Brian Gutekunst has two picks in the first round of the draft. After the departure of Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, receiver is easily the team’s greatest and most pressing need. There are as many as six wideouts expected to go in the opening round this year and it is likely the Packers will pick one.

Since the start of the Lombardi Era, the Packers used a first round pick on a wide receiver only six times and the results have been mixed. Here is a look back at what happened when the Packers used a first round pick on a wide receiver:

1965: Larry Elkins, 10th Pick Overall

The Packers had two first round picks in 1965. GM Vince Lombardi picked running back Donny Anderson with the seventh overall pick and then took wide receiver Larry Elkins from Baylor with the 10th overall selection.

Elkins was also drafted by the Houston Oilers of the AFL with the second overall pick in that league’s draft, right after the Jets chose Joe Namath.

This was at the height of the bidding wars between the NFL and AFL and Elkins chose to sign with Houston. He missed the 1965 season after suffering an injury in training camp. He played two seasons with the Oilers, catching a total of 24 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns.

Elkins never played with the Packers and was out of football by 1969 after he suffered a broken collarbone while playing for the Steelers in a preseason game.

1973: Barry Smith, 21st Overall

The Packers offense struggled to move the ball through the air in 1972 and they drafted wide receiver Barry Smith in the first round of the 1973 draft to try to improve in that area. The former Florida State star was supposed to be another Fred Biletnikoff, a shifty possession receiver with good hands who could consistently help the Packers offense keep the chains moving.

Unfortunately, Smith never developed into a star in the NFL. He lasted three years with the Packers but never caught more than 20 passes in a season. He had trouble gaining separation from NFL cornerbacks and the Packers didn’t have any great quarterbacks at that time either.

In three seasons with the Pack, Smith caught 41 total passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. The Tampa Bay Bucs selected him in the 1976 expansion draft and he caught four passes for 88 yards in 13 games for that winless Tampa Bay team in their first season before retiring from football.

1978: James Lofton, 6th Overall

The Packers also had two first-round picks in 1978 and they did well on both by adding wide receiver James Lofton out of Stanford and linebacker John Anderson out of Michigan.

Lofton had an immediate impact on the Packers and earned Pro Bowl honors seven times in his nine years in Green Bay. He had a track star’s speed and was as good a deep threat as any player in the NFL during his career. Twice he led the league in average yards per catch with 22.4 in 1983 and 22.0 in 1984. He combined with Lynn Dickey, John Jefferson and Paul Coffman to give the Packers one of the most explosive passing games in the league in the early 1980s.

In nine seasons with the Packers, Lofton caught 530 passes for 9,656 yards and 49 touchdowns despite playing on some mediocre Packers teams.

After leaving Green Bay, Lofton spent time with the Raiders and Bills, Eagles and Rams. He reached the Super Bowl three times with Buffalo but never won one.

Lofton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and remains one of the best receivers in Packers franchise history.

1988: Sterling Sharpe, 7th Overall

Sharpe was a dominant receiver for the Packers after Green Bay selected the former South Carolina star with the seventh overall pick in the 1988 NFL Draft.

Sharpe had good size and excellent hands and was able to get open frequently. In seven seasons with the Packers, he made the Pro Bowl five times and was All Pro three times.

He set an NFL record with 108 catches in 1992 then broke his own record a year later when he had 112 catches. Three times he led the league in catches, twice he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns and once in receiving yards.

Sharpe was the favorite target of both Don Majkowski and Brett Favre during his career with the Packers. In his final season, 1994, he caught 18 touchdown passes to lead the league.

Unfortunately, Sharpe suffered a career-ending neck injury in the season finale that year and his career was over at the age of 29.

Sharpe finished with 595 catches for 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns. He was likely on his way to a Hall of Fame career before injuries took away that chance. Sharpe was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2002.

2002: Javon Walker, 20th Overall

The Packers drafted Walker with the 20th overall pick in 2002. Two decades later, he remains the last wide receiver the team has selected in the first round of the draft.

After a rookie season that saw him catch 23 passes 319 yards and one touchdown, he jumped to 41 catches for 716 yards and nine scores in his second year before catching a career-high 89 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004. He earned Pro Bowl honors that year and seemed to be a star in the making.

Walker wanted a new contract after his big 2004 season but the Packers refused to renegotiate until his rookie deal expired. Walker returned for 2005 but injured his knee in the season opener and was lost for the season.

The Packers traded Walker to the Broncos before the start of the 2006 season. He gained more than 1,000 yards for Denver in 2006 but never approached that kind of production again in one more season with the Broncos and two with the Raiders.

Overall, the Packers record on first round receivers is mixed. How they do in 2022 will be a key factor in determining whether Aaron Rodgers has enough quality receivers in this season and for the rest of his career in Green Bay.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (39)

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Leatherhead's picture

April 07, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Lofton was great. Sharpe was great. If we could get a guy at #22 that could be like them, it would really help this team this year and in the future.

I want a big bodied WR who can replace a good size chunk of Adams production. (123 catches). The "big body" requirement kind of removes a few guys from contention, and some will certainly be taken before us, but I think it's a lead pipe cinch we'll have a shot at one of these four big-bodied WRs at #22: Burks, London, Williams, Watson.

I'd be happy with any of them at #22. Then I'd come back at #53 and take the best WR on the board. Perhaps between the two of them we can replace quite a bit of what Adams gave us.

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davekenya's picture

April 07, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Agreed, it would be great to get that kind of production. We have to be realistic in our expectations, though...as Sharpe and Loften went off at #6 and #7 overall, not at #22. I put Lofton just behind Hutson as top receiver. If he had stayed at GB his entire career, he'd have put up some amazing stats. However, he was a bit of a 'hot dog' if you know what I mean.

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PeteK's picture

April 07, 2022 at 12:42 pm

I want speed because we have a big body WR in Lazard already. A receiver with speed that can gain separation and make big plays off our playaction.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

April 07, 2022 at 04:38 pm

I don't think we can have too many big guys. A big fast guy would be good.

A big-gish guy who runs routes well and who has a quick first step would be ideal. A little stutter step, little head jerk, and a cut is enough to blow off most coverage.

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 07, 2022 at 02:02 pm

Williams was listed at 179 lbs by Alabama. Hardly big bodied, more like beanpole.

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BirdDogUni's picture

April 07, 2022 at 03:17 pm

True, true... Though I am sure he'll fill out a little bit as he matures. (We all do...) Lol

I fear Williams will go to the Giants or the Jets. I don't see him falling all the way to 22, even with the ACL tear.

London, I'm not a huge fan. I would be more excited with Jelani Woods in the 2nd than London in the 1st.

I'm on the fence with Burks. His 40 time bugs me, but his speed isn't terrible. If I knew Burks was all about ball and was a hard worker and good team mate, I would feel better about drafting him at 22. (He might not even be there?) I'm sure Gutey's crew can answer all those questions, so I will trust him to make the decisions.

I almost hope someone wicked falls to 22 and Gutey has to take them, (Devin Lloyd, Trevor Penning, Derek Stingley Jr.) then he comes back and trades out of 28 with a team trading back into the 1st round for a QB and we get a high 2nd plus a bunch more.

Then Gutey goes nuts in the 2nd and 3rd rounds drafting 5 pass catchers. ; )

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 08, 2022 at 07:58 am

I'm waiting to see how London tests but he moved his testing day to the 15th. If he can't run then he could slide.

I read yesterday some scouts think Kyle Hamilton could be a big slider. Be wild if he slid into the 20s.

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Leatherhead's picture

April 07, 2022 at 04:47 pm

Agreed. He's got some height and speed, but he's not a real big body. I think he'll be gone by 22, anyway.

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greengold's picture

April 08, 2022 at 09:14 am

6-5 227 Allen Jamel Lazard has entered the chat.

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 07, 2022 at 12:14 pm

If the Packers take 1st round WR and they turn out as well as any of the last three it's a win.

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PeteK's picture

April 07, 2022 at 12:36 pm

I agree, but would like a quicker start than Walker's 23 receptions. Sharpe 55 and Lofton's 46-6 would be fine. A very good O line/RBs and HOF QB could certainly help our new WRs.

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 07, 2022 at 02:33 pm

Driver had over 1000 yards that year and Terry Glenn had over 800 so it wasn't quite the barren landscapes Lofton and Sharpe walked into. Rookies are going to struggle but if they take the best things they did in college and don't put too much on their plate they should be halfway productive with the dearth of talent at the position. To me Burks, Tolbert and Moore are the most ready to contribute early but Watson could probably take over MVS' role without too much trouble. Run fast, look for ball and catch ball. He's going to drop a few but we're used to that.

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jannes bjornson's picture

April 07, 2022 at 05:01 pm

A bit difficult to have a sample survey and analyze results when the Brain Trust has drafted Only three players with a one pick in 44 years--sad.

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LeotisHarris's picture

April 07, 2022 at 06:17 pm

You're still salty about the whole Larry Elkins thing, aren't you, jb?

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Johnblood27's picture

April 07, 2022 at 09:39 pm

Isn't there a Rich Campbell we could take in the first round?

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jannes bjornson's picture

April 08, 2022 at 10:03 am

We all miss Barty Smith....

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HarryHodag's picture

April 07, 2022 at 01:11 pm

We had season tickets in the northeast part of Lambeau back in the 1980's. The Packers one Sunday were playing the Chargers as I recall. The Packers were driving toward the north end zone with the ball on about their 30. Lofton and Jefferson split wide on each side. At the snap, Lofton does an in-down-out pattern. He was still making his move when Lynn Dickey threw the ball directly on a line toward where we were sitting. Lofton was near the hash mark on the near side and turned toward the sideline. Without looking up until the last second the ball dropped in his hands about two steps from the sidelines, he caught it and stepped out. The pass was indefensable.

I remember the play so clearly because it showed the skill level of pro players. Dickey's pass was perfect, Lofton ran a perfect route.

Lofton's off the field antics ended his time in Green Bay but he was one of the best I've seen.

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 07, 2022 at 02:05 pm

One of the things I remember most from those years was Schnelker calling bombs on 3rd and 10. Sometimes it even worked!

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Tundraboy's picture

April 07, 2022 at 04:36 pm

I remember that play and many others. Loved Sharpe too, both were unique, but Lofton was to me the best I have seen.

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stockholder's picture

April 07, 2022 at 01:26 pm

Yes: We need A wr. If Not two. And As I watch; what teams are giving up for veterans. Whether it be at QB or WR. We're lucky to have the picks. So why blow them? The packers need that trio of Nelson, Cobb, and Finley.( Yes James Jones helped.) But- These guys weren't slow. They were No names. That made a passing attack, that was the best in the NFL.--- "It's not just about one shinning star."-- And 1 WR , just isn't going to work. Gutey must take the RAS. It's where the NFL has gone. Film and slow isn't enough. When the speed goes. Giving your all, isn't enough. So who's the next star? The guy with the speed. And he will be taught to separate. Taking the top of an offense should have been Priority #1. Instead of paying 10 million for a veteran TE. Draft one that moves the chains. The more the deep threats. The better. Because I want Jones running the ball, and not playing WR.

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Pizzadoc's picture

April 07, 2022 at 02:22 pm

I enjoy your thoughts, but the punctuation makes all your posts difficult to read.

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LeotisHarris's picture

April 07, 2022 at 06:25 pm

I have to thank dobber for opening my eyes to the epic spoken-word poetry stockholder's dropping. Once you read it that way, you'll feel like you're sipping tea while attending the Spring Poetry Slam at Vincent's Ear.

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Johnblood27's picture

April 07, 2022 at 09:41 pm

...or dropping acid at Burning Man...

kinda the same thing I think...

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 08, 2022 at 08:02 am

I like how he stuck a comma in there at the end. Fills me with hope for the human race!

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LeotisHarris's picture

April 08, 2022 at 08:50 am

Exactly! It's the little things, you know?

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Tundraboy's picture

April 07, 2022 at 04:33 pm

Oh to draft another Lofton. I have waited my whole life for the next Nitschke, little did I know I would waiting for the next Lofton too.

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LLCHESTY's picture

April 08, 2022 at 08:05 am

Think I'd rather have the next Dave Robinson in this day and age. A OLB that can shut down TEs and rush the passer? Sign me up!

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Handsback's picture

April 07, 2022 at 05:22 pm

Green Bay can land at least 1 first round graded player and maybe 4 second round graded players. Since maybe 21 guys have a first round grade, and forty two with a second round grade the Packers can add five potential starters to their team in this year’s draft. That is no small event. Almost twenty five percent new potential starters to an already strong roster. Wow!
Now how many of those potential starters do you want to be receivers? Where are the weakness in the team? Is a number two receiver more important than a safety that will get on the field over 50 percent of the game?

I’m always leery of receiver fever. The Packers are in great position to get a very good receiver, but keep your eye on the big guys, pass rushers, and the last line of defense. This is a great replacement draft…I hope it turns out that way.

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stockholder's picture

April 07, 2022 at 07:28 pm

Gil You went way back. Looking at TT drafts. After Terrance Murphy got hurt. TT found success in the second round. With Jennings, Nelson, Cobb, And Adams. And he kept drafting the Wr position for development. But they didn't. ( other than James Jones. ) So looking at the list of failures. Hopefully Gutey knows the difference between Jeff Janis, and James Lofton.

2017 5th DeAngelo Yancey. 7th Marcus Dupre

2015 3rd Ty Montgomery. = Turned RB

2014 5th Jared Abrederris 7th Jeff Janis.

2013. 7th Kevin Dorsey. 7th Charles Johnson

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JessicaMelendez's picture

April 07, 2022 at 07:35 pm

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

April 07, 2022 at 08:36 pm

Hah. My first thought on reading the title was "Barry Smith, 1973" That was the first year I really got into the draft, and I had been a big Fred Biletnikoff fan, so I was very excited by the Smith pick...and then very disappointed by the results. Although, if memory serves, his first catch for the Packers went for a touchdown.
If I had to pick two receivers to start on "my" team (from the past 50 years), they'd be Lofton and Sharpe, without question. Both could do everything, including being great blockers.

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Starrbrite's picture

April 07, 2022 at 09:23 pm

I well recall the Packers drafting Smith. I didn’t know much about him but predicted he would do great things to my friends.
I watched the game where he caught his first touchdown. I remember the announcer stating his TD catch was the beginning of many more TD’s…and we know the rest of the story.

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Since'61's picture

April 07, 2022 at 09:43 pm

Lofton remains my prototype for a #1 NFL receiver. He was the best I’ve seen play for the Packers. He had all the tools.

If the Packers could draft another WR like Lofton it would be huge for them. However, I doubt that any WR as good as Lofton would last until #22 in the first round. He’d be gone in the top 10 and would cost a ton of draft capital to move up.

Even a WR close to Lofton’s level would a great pick. Up to Gute now. Thanks, Since ‘61

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cheezyone's picture

April 08, 2022 at 06:37 am

Justin Jefferson lasted until 22. It can happen

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Since'61's picture

April 08, 2022 at 08:45 am

Good point cheezyone! Thanks, Since '61

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greengold's picture

April 08, 2022 at 10:02 am

James Lofton - Stanford
6-3 187

Selected by the Packers #6 Overall in the 1978 NFL draft.

*I completely freaked out. What a pick. What a player. He was a true outlier in his day, at that size, with his abilities. When they brought Jon Jefferson in on the opposite side? Ho. Ho. Ho. LOOK OUT! I was in double secret freak out when that happened, stealing JJ away from Dan Fouts & Air Coryell..!!! That was some fun football.
___

Great piece by Gil Martin lends insight:

Lofton’s HC at Stanford, Bill Walsh, after the Packers selected Lofton: “James will be one of the major factors in the NFL next year. I predict a great rookie year for him. He’ll be outstanding almost immediately.”

For perspective (on top rookie WR impact):
“Lofton finished his rookie year with 46 catches for 818 yards and six touchdowns. He caught at least one pass in all 16 games the Packers played and had a healthy 17.8-yard average per catch. He earned the first of what would be eight trips to the Pro Bowl that season.”

___

We’ll be fine, Since’61. I’m confident Gutekunst will be doing his very best, no matter what, because he knows this draft could determine his future. There’s a lot on the line here. If he tries to get too cute, he could easily F it all up.

I think the talent will be there for Gutekunst to literally shotgun WR with 3 of his first 4 picks… adding a major TE as a receiver (not necessarily a blocker) to the group if possible.

Here’s my hope: 22 Burks, 28 Moore, 53 Woods, 59 Jones. Do that, and we’re loaded for bear.

Thought bubble when I first saw Lofton play: “He’s a gazelle.”

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jannes bjornson's picture

April 08, 2022 at 10:13 am

They have four chance to bring in two guys who can be playmakers. Move UP for a blue chip.

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crayzpackfan's picture

April 08, 2022 at 02:15 pm

As a 52 year old lifelong Packer fan, reading the OP mentioning LD and DM at the QB spot inspired a healthy bit of nostalgic bliss. Between BS and BF the QB room in GB was, well, like stepping in cat poop without socks on. Then came Lynn and Don!! If only we had a complete defense during those years. God those offensive teams were high blood pressure inducing fun to watch. There was so much value at the WR and TE positions. Even our our committee of RB’s were solid with Jessie Clark, Gerry Ellis, and Harlan Huckleby. Had Eddie Lee not caught so many bad breaks, he would’ve been amazing. Epps, Coffman, Jefferson, and Loften with grandpa Jan Stenerud kicking field goals? Come on!! Holy Chester Marcol folks!!

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