Mandarich flopped quickly, famously with Pack

BY foxsports • April 13, 2012

Today is the second day of two weeks of Green Bay Packers coverage leading up to the April 26 beginning of the NFL draft.

April 12: Five best first-rounders in the past 25 years
Today: Five worst first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Ted Thompson's draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick

It’s what every fan tries to forget. Those painful moments when the realization sets in that a team’s once-promising first-round draft pick is never going to pan out. A glance at the list of Pro Bowl players selected after the team’s pick brings up plenty thoughts of "what-if?"

In the crapshoot that is the NFL draft, there's always a chance that a team's general manager will live to regret his biggest decision. All of the film study, advanced scouting and interviews can only lay the groundwork for what is essentially a gamble. There's a risk the player won't stay motivated once becoming a millionaire, that he won't fit in well in the locker room and that he won't buy into what the coaches are preaching. And there's always the chance he just isn't as good as he appeared to be in college and at the Combine.

For one day only, allow yourself to relive those transformations from hopeful to helpless with a look at the Green Bay Packers’ five worst first-round picks of the past 25 years.

1. TONY MANDARICH, OT, 1989, second overall

On the draft board: The Incredible Bulk. The best offensive lineman prospect ever. If the Packers could ask for one draft redo, this would be it. Buying into the hype surrounding Mandarich’s size and stature, Green Bay’s front office not only drafted the biggest bust in team history but it did so while also passing on three future Hall of Famers in Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. That said, choosing Mandarich didn’t seem so crazy at the time. He was a freak athlete entering the draft. Though it would later be revealed that at least part of that unbelievable athleticism was due to steroids use, Mandarich was strong, fast, quick ... you name it, he had it.

As a rookie: Mandarich was far from any of those things after he was drafted. He didn’t endear himself to Packers fans by calling Green Bay "a village," and Mandarich later had a lengthy contract holdout that nearly lasted until the regular season. After that, he played only on special teams in his first season.

From there: It didn't get much better. Mandarich did start 15 games in his third season in 1991 but was cut by the Packers before the 1992 season due to a non-football injury. Mandarich disappeared from the NFL for five years, spending some of that time in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. He returned in 1996 with the Indianapolis Colts and was relatively effective, starting 32 games over the next three seasons. However, at age 32, a shoulder injury ended his NFL career. With so much promise and such great intrigue that all fell tremendously short, Mandarich will likely forever be known as the worst draft pick in Packers history.

2. JUSTIN HARRELL, DT, 2007, 16th overall

On the draft board: This pick made very little sense at the time. Packers general manager Ted Thompson knew Harrell was dealing with injuries that were suffered while playing at the University of Tennessee. Plus, the general consensus was that the Packers reached for Harrell and could have waited until later in the draft to pick him. But Thompson seemed sure he saw something in Harrell that others didn’t. Well, for as many "I told you so" moments as Thompson has had in his seven years in Green Bay, this was one of the few times he got it wrong.
As a rookie: The injury red flags that came with Harrell’s 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame prior to the draft just kept popping up. Harrell's previously existing torn biceps tendon kept him out of many of the Packers’ postdraft drills. Whether it was due to injury or laziness, Harrell was also out of shape. A biceps injury should not have prevented him from running, and Harrell was bigger than advertised -- and not in a good way. With $8 million of guaranteed money in his pocket, Harrell recorded 16 tackles in seven games during his first year.

From there: Injuries continued to plague Harrell’s career. Back injuries were followed by knee injuries, and four years after being drafted, the Packers released Harrell. He was never even able to step on the field in 2009 or 2010 and finished his disastrous Green Bay career with 28 tackles and no sacks. In a first round that featured players like Darrelle Revis, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas, the Packers came away with less than nothing from their investment in Harrell. Having spent the entire 2011 season without a team, Harrell remains a free agent whose career seems to be over.

3. AHMAD CARROLL, CB, 2004, 25th overall

On the draft board: This was another relatively confusing pick, though these questions were more because of other players on the roster. The Packers had cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Al Harris, plus safety Darren Sharper manning the secondary. However, Green Bay’s passing defense had ranked 23rd in the league in 2003. McKenzie and Sharper also ended up spending only one more season after this with the Packers. Enter Carroll. He was known to be crazy fast -- even by NFL cornerback standards -- as he was a top-ranked sprinter in college. However, for all that speed, Carroll was barely 5-foot-10 and lacked strength.

As a rookie: Numbers-wise, Carroll’s rookie season wasn’t altogether terrible. He picked up one interception, two sacks and a fumble recovery while appearing in 14 games next to Harris and McKenzie. However, it was already obvious that Carroll did not have the coverage skills necessary to keep up in the NFL without drastic improvement in the coming offseason.

From there: Unfortunately for the Packers, that improvement never happened. Carroll became known as the cornerback who drew countless illegal-contact penalties. After less than three seasons in Green Bay, Carroll was released following disastrous performances early in the 2006 season. Though the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets each gave him a chance, it never worked out for Carroll. Still only 28 years old, Carroll is completely out of the NFL and only able to find work with the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League. Hopefully that league’s officials are more relaxed about illegal contact.


On the draft board: Buckley's talent was endless. Touted as the next Deion Sanders -- hey, the Packers passed on Sanders three years earlier, they might as well get version 2.0 -- Buckley entered the NFL draft as Florida State’s all-time best in interceptions and interception return yards. Plus, he could return kicks and punts. Buckley was the total package – up to and including the fact he threatened to play baseball for the Atlanta Braves if he didn’t get a satisfactory contract from the Packers.

As a rookie: They weren't quite Deion-esque, but Buckley showed flashes of brilliance in his first year. He had three interceptions and returned a punt for a touchdown. Perhaps Buckley would eventually reach the level of hype that accompanied his arrival to Green Bay.

From there: But he didn't. After only three seasons with the Packers, Buckley was gone. His numbers were OK -- five interceptions and three forced fumbles in his third year -- but it wasn’t what it could have been, and he was burned repeatedly. Green Bay was hoping it had an all-time great on its hands – after all, Buckley compared himself to Jim Thorpe. He wasn’t a complete bust like Mandarich was, but being the fifth overall pick comes with raised expectations that weren't close to being met in Green Bay. Buckley went on to have a solid NFL career with 50 interceptions -- including at least one in 13 straight seasons -- though he never made the Pro Bowl. His best seasons came with the Miami Dolphins from 1995-99, and he later played for the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and the New York Jets, while also having a second stint with Miami. He retired in 2004.


On the draft board: Reynolds was awesome in college while playing at Florida State. The pass rushing specialist had 12 sacks as a senior, was a consensus first-team All-American and nearly won the national Defensive Player of the Year award. It made perfect sense for the Packers to believe strongly in Reynolds. Green Bay was coming off a 9-7 non-playoff season and was relatively fine on both sides of the ball, having finished 15th in the NFL in total offense and 15th in total defense. Adding a defensive end with Reynolds’ ability to sack the quarterback, especially with the Packers being 19th in the league in sacks the year before, could put the team in the playoffs.

As a rookie: Injuries simply cannot be predicted. Reynolds was not able to play until Week 11 of his first NFL season due to injury. He ended up playing in six games and had two sacks and four tackles. In the meantime, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila became an absolute pass-rushing monster. After having just 1.5 sacks as a rookie the year before, KGB had 13.5 sacks during Reynolds’ rookie season. This somewhat rendered Reynolds as less valuable to the Packers.

From there: The injuries just wouldn’t stop for Reynolds. After playing in 18 career games and collecting just three sacks, Green Bay attempted to trade Reynolds, but he couldn't pass his physical. That was it. Reynolds' once-incredibly-promising career was over. The Packers released him, and though the Cleveland Browns tried to give him a shot the following season, Reynolds never got on the field.

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