Sports Illustrated identified the best players at all 259 NFL draft spots. These 20 Packers made the list.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 10 May, 2021 - 12:40pm 28 views

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Rick Gosselin of Sports Illustrated identified the best NFL player at all 259 draft spots, and the Packers led the way with 20 picks.

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Rick Gosselin of Sports Illustrated conducted a fun project looking at the best player taken at every NFL draft spot — all 259 of them.

The Green Bay Packers, as it turned out, led the way with 20 draft selections, two more than Pittsburgh in second place. There were also some additional Wisconsin selections of note.

Check out who made the list.

The Hall of Fame Packers cornerback won six championships (five with the Packers). He finished his career with 48 interceptions. He also won a ring with Dallas, but he's quoted in Jerry Kramer's book, "Distant Replay," as saying, "I’m the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn’t wear it. I’m a Green Bay Packer."

The nine-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle won six rings, then went on to a successful coaching career that included a return to the Packers from 1984-87 (though he was NFL coach of the year in 1975 with Cleveland).

Surprised to see him here? The receiver won five championships and caught 474 passes for 7,270 yards. He was part of the NFL's 50th anniversary team and, of course, part of the "Ice Bowl" team that went on to win Super Bowl II.

The Hall of Fame linebacker won five championship rings and became the archetype of hard-nosed Lombardi-era football.

The guard threw the famous Ice Bowl block, and though he waited a long time for Hall of Fame induction, he's now there after five championships and a spot on the 50th anniversary team. He also scored 10 points in the 1962 NFL title game in a 16-7 Packers win.

The Hall of Fame center's name can be found in the Lambeau ring of honor after he made 10 Pro Bowls and won two titles. His blocking helped pave the way for Jim Taylor, particularly in 1962 when Taylor won the NFL's rushing title. 

A key piece of Green Bay's two NFC championship teams in 1996 and 1997, Freeman may have only made one career Pro Bowl, but he left an indelible mark in Green Bay. He finished with 477 career receptions and caught 61 touchdowns. It's hard to say if his most memorable came in a Super Bowl or against the Vikings on Monday Night Football. 

He made his career elsewhere, including three Pro Bowl appearances with the Jaguars, but he was one of many top-flight quarterbacks backing up Brett Favre over the course of history.

Turns out this was a pretty good draft for the Packers (with Wayne Simmons, George Teague and Earl Dotson picked in the first three rounds). Evans was in the secondary for the Super Bowl triumph after the 1996 season and finished with 28 career interceptions. He spent five seasons in Green Bay and the second half of his career in Carolina.

Levens was also part of the Super Bowl run and became a popular fixture in Green Bay with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 36 touchdowns. 

The defensive end made back-to-back Pro Bowls and finished with 58 career sacks (including 15½ in 2006). He spent eight of his 10 years with the Packers.

Ten years earlier, Green Bay struck gold with another pick in the 150s. Chmura went to three Pro Bowls and was part of the Super Bowl teams of 1996 and 1997. He finished with 17 touchdowns and 2,253 career receiving yards.

The four-time Pro Bowler was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1995 ... although that was his first year in Buffalo after the Packers let him go. Still, he spent five productive years with the Packers, including a 1994 season in which he posted three interceptions and 7.5 sacks.

We mentioned the run of strong backup quarterbacks earlier, and Hasselbeck certainly fits the bill. The three-time Pro Bowler led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season, though he got his start as Brett Favre's understudy in 1999 and 2000.

The kicker Crosby has been a reliable staple during the Packers' recent run of success, with 1,682 career points (top 20 all time).

It's flabbergasting that Starr was taken so low in the draft. The superstar Hall of Famer was the face of the franchise for years, guiding Green Bay to wins in the first two Super Bowls with two Super Bowl MVP trophies. The quarterback won five titles overall.

Driver became a tremendous underdog story, emerging from a humble draft slot to become the all-time leading receiver in Packers history, with 743 career catches for more than 10,000 yards and 67 touchdowns. He's part of the Super Bowl champion team after the 2010 season.

Here's a name some Packers fans may have forgotten, but diehards know Timmerman as a guard on the Super Bowl champion team in 1996, and he won a second ring with the 1999 Rams.

The Packers found another staple offensive lineman in the 250s, taking the center that eventually won a Super Bowl and earned a Pro Bowl berth during his time in Green Bay. After eight seasons, he also finished his career with the Rams.

And you thought 200 was a low spot to get a starting quarterback? Majkowksi became the Majik Man during his tenure in Green Bay, the final days before Brett Favre and Reggie White ushered in a new era. His 4,318 passing yards and 27 touchdowns led the NFL in 1989, and he finished with 12,700 career yards with 66 scores.

Other picks that weren't made by the Packers but have significant ties to the franchise or state of Wisconsin.

33. Brett Favre, 1991. OK he wasn't drafted by the Packers, but Atlanta traded their second-round pick a year later to the Packers, and the rest is history. In 1992, he became Green Bay's starting quarterback, led the franchise to new heights, won a Super Bowl and set a nearly unbreakable record for most consecutive NFL starts.

45. Dave Casper, 1974. The Oakland tight end made five Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl and owns a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played his final year of high-school football in Chilton, Wisconsin. He made 378 career catches with 5,216 yards and 52 scores.

58. Dick LeBeau, 1959. The Hall of Fame cornerback was drafted by Cleveland and spent the bulk of his playing career in Detroit, but he was a secondary coach with the Packers from 1976-1979 before working his way up to one of the league's top defensive coordinators. 

75. Russell Wilson, 2012. The Seattle quarterback, of course, spent his final year of college at the University of Wisconsin, orchestrating a magical 2011 season and Big Ten championship. Now, he's made seven Pro Bowls for the Seahawks, with one Super Bowl title, and generally stands as a thorn in the Packers' side.

108. Jahri Evans, 2006. The six-time Pro Bowler will always be associated with the New Orleans Saints, but he did close his career in Green Bay for the 2017 season.

113. Kevin Greene, 1985. The tough-nosed linebacker for the Steelers played in five Pro Bowls, twice led the league in sacks and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1996. He was also an assistant coach with the Super Bowl champion Packers in the 2010 season.

122. Hardy Nickerson, 1987. The five-time Pro Bowler was drafted by Pittsburgh and made his name in Tampa Bay, though he spent his final season, in 2002, with the Packers.

125. Mike Webster, 1974. The native of Tomahawk (Rhinelander High School) is on the short list of greatest NFL players ever from Wisconsin. The nine-time Pro Bowler and four-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers redefined the center position.

169. Al Harris, 1997. Selected by Tampa Bay, Harris made two Pro Bowls and is best known in Packers history for his famous pick-six to beat the Seahawks in the playoffs after the 2003 season.

181. Willie Davis, 1956. The Hall of Famer is far better known for his 10 seasons in Green Bay, featuring four All-Pro selections and five rings. But the defensive end was actually drafted by Cleveland first and played two seasons with the Browns at the start of his career.

192. Shannon Sharpe, 1990. Sharpe never played for the Packers, but he did thank his brother, Sterling, at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. 

"I’m the only player of 267 men that’s walked through this building to my left that can honestly say this: I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame, and the second best player in my own family."

Sterling, of course, was a record-setting receiver for the Packers during his injury-truncated seven-year career.

208. Seth Joyner, 1986. His three Pro Bowls came with Philadelphia and Arizona, as did most of his 24 interceptions and 52 sacks. But his Super Bowl experiences came later, first in 1997 in his only season with the Packers and then in 1998 with the Broncos, when he won his only ring.

212. Harry Galbreath, 1988. He was drafted by Miami but played all 16 games for the Packers from 1993-95 at offensive guard, right on the precipice of a Super Bowl breakthrough. 

223. Mark Clayton, 1983. The five-time Pro Bowler will always be remembered as a Miami Dolphin, but he caught 32 passes for Green Bay in 1993, his final NFL season.

254. Vai Sikahema, 1986. The kick returner drafted by the Cardinals became a special-teams weapon in his career and spent the 1993 season with the Packers.

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Buccaneers 2021 schedule: Who will the Super Bowl champs open against? Cowboys? Bills? Saints?

The Athletic 10 May, 2021 - 01:46pm

Buccaneers 2021 schedule: Who will the Super Bowl champs open against? Cowboys? Bills? Saints?

Who Will Kick If Off with the Bucs in 2021? Potential Week One Foes

Buccaneers.com 10 May, 2021 - 07:00am

My first effort remains my best one, unfortunately. In 2017 I listed four possible Week One candidates for the Buccaneers and essentially hit on two of them, which sounds impossible. See, one of my predictions was an away game at Miami, which was in fact what the schedule-makers selected. However, that game was eventually postponed by Hurricane Irma, making the Bucs' real opening opponent the Chicago Bears, at home. That was also one of my four predictions.

I had no such luck in each of the next three years. The closest I came was last year, when I had a home game against the Saints on my list and it ended up being a road game in New Orleans. So why am I confident I can get it right this year? Well, to be honest, there are a lot fewer variables to consider. In fact, there are so few obvious options that I'm only going to pick three games this year.

The reason for this, of course, is that the Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions. Since 2004, the NFL has began the season with a "Kickoff Game" on the Thursday evening of Week One. That game has almost always included the defending champs playing on their home field. The only two exceptions were in 2013, when the Baltimore Ravens had a conflict with an Orioles home game, and 2019, when the NFL kicked off with the Bears at the Packers to celebrate the league's 100th season. (The 2012 Kickoff Game was played on Wednesday night to avoid the Democratic National Convention, but it still featured the defending-champion Giants at home.)

So it's fair to assume a Week One home game for the Buccaneers, which reduces the options from 17 to eight. Furthermore, the league will almost certainly search for the juiciest matchup on Tampa Bay's schedule, something that might look like a potential playoff or Super Bowl preview. That further reduces the field of candidates.

For instance, last year's Kickoff Game sent the Houston Texans to Kansas City, which was a rematch of the previous year's AFC Divisional Round win for the Chiefs. Similarly, the first game of 2018, Atlanta at Philadelphia, was a rematch of the same two teams in the previous year's NFC Divisional Round. The most epic rematch came in Week One of the 2016 season, when the league was able to schedule a rematch of Super Bowl 50 between Carolina and Denver.

Since 2006, the defending champs have been matched up with a playoff team from the previous season every year except one. The exception was in 2012, when the New York Giants as reigning Super Bowl winners took on the Dallas Cowboys, who had missed the playoffs the following year. But we all know how much the NFL loves to put Cowboys-Giants in the spotlight.

So, yes, I'm strongly assuming the Bucs' Week One opponent will be a 2020 playoff team. A rematch would be ideal, but there's only one likely candidate, as Green Bay and Kansas City are not on Tampa Bay's 2021 schedule and the Bucs will play Washington on the road. There are three 2020 playoff teams on the Bucs' 2021 docket: Buffalo, New Orleans and Chicago. So you can see where I'm going with this.

Here are three possible Week One matchups for the Buccaneers in 2021, starting with what I consider the most likely choice:

To me, this is far and away the favorite, and it might be the next best thing to a Chiefs-Bucs matchup. Buffalo went from being a somewhat surprising playoff entrant in 2019 to clearly one of the NFL's best teams in 2020, and they advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City. They even had an early 9-0 lead in that game before Patrick Mahomes went supernova.

Another chapter in the Mahomes-Tom Brady supposed "passing-of-the-torch" continuum would have been ideal, but a meeting of Josh Allen and Brady is very appealing, as well. Like Mahomes, Allen is another young passer on the rise who should be battling for NFL G.O.A.T status in the (eventual) post-Brady era. Allen was one of three players to receive votes in the league MVP voting last year, with four to Mahomes' two. Aaron Rodgers won the award with 44 votes.

This matchup would pit two of the most entertaining teams from 2020. Buffalo and Tampa Bay ranked second and third, respectively, in points per game last year, both topping 30. The Bucs had the league's fourth-best points differential; Buffalo was fifth. Brady and the Bucs had the NFL's second-most potent passing attack, while Allen and the Bills were third, and Allen also ran for 421 yards and eight touchdowns.

Then there is the matter of Brady and the Bills. Brady left the AFC East after 20 years in 2020 but it only took two years for the Bucs to be matched up with that division again. Obvious, the six-time champion Patriots were a tough matchup for every other team in the East for the past two decades, but Brady was especially tough on the Bills. His all-time record as a starter against Buffalo is an incredible 32-3. That is the most wins by one quarterback against any one franchise in NFL history. It includes three games pitting Brady and Allen, all won by the elder statesmen of the division.

Allen has clearly taken his game to another level since the last time he shared the field with Brady. This matchup, both of the quarterbacks and of the teams, is just too good for the league to pass on.

Even with everything I wrote above, we can't dismiss the possibility of the NFL wanting the one playoff rematch available on the Bucs' home schedule.

I would have given this better odds had Drew Brees not retired in March. The very first game the NFL dialed up for the Buccaneers after they landed Brady was a meeting of the two most prolific passers in league history, in Week One last season. Perhaps the possibility of former Bucaneer Jameis Winston taking over for Brees as the Saints starter will add some flavor to this matchup in the schedule-makers' eyes.

Intra-divisional matchups haven't been too common in the Kickoff Game era, but of course it's not all that common for the Super Bowl champions to share a division with what was clearly one of the league's best teams that same year. Even without Brees, this is still likely to rank as one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries in 2021. The Buccaneers claimed the biggest prize in 2020 but they did not win the NFC South. That title went to New Orleans for the fourth straight year, mostly because the Saints won both matchups with the Buccaneers during the regular season. That included Tampa Bay's worst game of the year by a considerable margin, a 38-3 New Orleans win at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday Night Football. That game alone is worth another dose of revenge in addition to the Bucs' playoff win in the Superdome.

And while these two teams are loaded with offensive stars, from Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, they also could stage an impressive defensive battle. The Saints ranked fourth in the NFL's defensive rankings last year and the Bucs were not far behind, at sixth. New Orleans has owned the recent regular-season series with Tampa Bay in large part due to a turnover-happy defense, but the Buccaneers' own squad started producing takeaways in bunches during its eight-game winning streak that ended in the Super Bowl.

Perhaps the NFL would like to open with a different sort of quarterback matchup with 43-year-old Tom Brady going up against 22-year-old Justin Fields, the player Chicago traded up to get with the 11th-overall pick in the draft. The obvious problem with that idea is that there is definitely no guarantee the rookie passer will be in the lineup in Week One. The Bears also signed veteran starter Andy Dalton in the offseason and still have Nick Foles on hand, as well.

Still, this is another matchup of 2020 playoff teams, not to mention a rematch of a prime-time win by the Bears over the Bucs in Chicago early last season. Other than New Orleans, Chicago was the only team to hold Brady and the Buccaneers below 20 points in a game last year. The Bears also drubbed the Buccaneers in Soldier Field in 2018, 48-10, and while Brady obviously wasn't around for that game, nor was the current coaching staff, it is still a relatively fresh memory in the minds of Buccaneer veterans.

Even if Fields is not playing by Week One, the Bears can make this a tantalizing matchup with the Super Bowl champs because of their potentially elite defense. That defense is led by Khalil Mack, perhaps the NFL's most feared pass-rusher, and also includes a budding young star linebacker in Roquan Smith.

While the Bears were a playoff team, they only finished 8-8 and made the postseason due to the added seventh spot in each conference. There's a good chance they're a better team in 2021, and thus an appealing partner in the reigning champs' Week One spotlight, but probably not quite as appealing as the Bills or Saints.

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