McGinn Wrap, Part 9: The 1979-2021 All-Time Green Bay Packers offense
The best of the best that our Hall-of-Fame writer covered in Green Bay are ranked. Favre or Rodgers? Green or Jones? Sharpe, Lofton, Adams? All debates are settled here.
Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre?
Ahman Green or Aaron Jones?
Davante Adams, James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe: what’s their order?
Is the No. 1 left tackle Chad Clifton or David Bakhtiari?
These are just some of the dilemmas that I faced over the past two months in selecting my all-time team from players on the roster during my 43 consecutive seasons (1979-2021) covering and/or analyzing the Green Bay Packers.
In the previous parts of the series, which will conclude my in-depth reporting on Packers’ seasons, I brought back excerpts from my grading of players with A’s, A-minuses’ and F’s. That was followed by team grades in those three levels, and then my year-by-year grades for all players with at least eight seasons spent on rosters in Green Bay.
If you’ve followed along, you should have considerable feel for what the All-McGinn team will look like. Today, Part 1 features the offense, to be followed by Part 2 (defense) and Part 3 (special teams).
My greatest fear in the project was recency bias. I also worried about falling victim to selective memory.
Generally, my solution was trusting the grades that I had given players since 1991.
In almost every case, I did the grading about one week after the close of the Packers’ season, playoffs included. The grades followed season-long discussions with assistant coaches and scouts working for the Packers as well as other teams.
The grades didn’t commence until 1991, my first year at The Milwaukee Journal. That left the seasons from 1979, my first year covering the team, to 1990 without grades.
For portions of that 12-year span, however, I did write season-ending synopses of players for the Green Bay Press-Gazette as well as positional analyses for Don Heinrich’s Pro Preview, which for much of the 1980s and 1990s was the bible of NFL personnel breakdowns. In each case, I consulted coaches and scouts for the Packers and other teams before writing.
In the past several weeks I went back over those accounts to refresh my memory besides digging into my clip files from all the years.
The Pro Bowl results were significant through 1992 because the vote was split 50-50 between coaches and players. After the league introduced the vote of fans in 1993, it significant meaning.
The Associated Press All-Pro teams and individual awards such as Most Valuable Player go back more than 60 years. For at least 40 years, however, the panel of media representatives (mostly sportswriters) had to submit their ballots before the playoffs even started.
My grades always included the playoffs, which by definition are the most important games. Those grades also were based to an extent on what experts in the field were telling me. Thus, I felt justified minimizing the Pro Bowl team, the All-Pro teams and honors like NFL MVP.
General managers often explain decisions made in the draft by saying, “We just went by our grades.” Basically, I followed suit here.
Having set forth the career arcs of all eight-year veterans, I went back and did the same for players with even one year as a starter. I averaged the grades for players with three or more seasons; that was illuminating because it was never more clear that my grading scale never changed.
Years of service certainly played a role in the rankings, although I decided not to establish a standard for minimum number of games or seasons played. I considered a player’s greatest season compared to the greatest of his peers. Availability was somewhat important. How a player might have performed for another team wasn’t considered.
Without a doubt, statistics contributed to my grades every year. This time, I didn’t look at many numbers. You, the reader, has access to all that. I had access to football people for all those years, and in using the grades as a conduit I was able to let them speak.
I did spend time looking back at two of my own stats: career dropped passes (for wide receivers and tight ends) and career sacks allowed (for offensive linemen). In the end I had to make the call on each drop and sack, but beyond the obvious cases I did spend considerable time all those years talking to personnel and players in Green Bay to determine drop and sack responsibility.
The 1990 season was my first recording both. My first season compiling targeted passes was 1992.
After calculating career drop rates and career sack allowance rates, I used them in separating players to an extent. Those rates, however, were factored in anyway when I was doing the grades each year.
To varying degrees, I had a relationship with virtually every one of the players listed. Not once did I begrudge any player a cent of his compensation. Theirs was a difficult, dangerous occupation.
My goal here is to provide a fair and accurate gauge of how their careers stacked up when they played in the NFL’s smallest city.
First Team: James Lofton, 1978-’85 (136 regular-season games).
Second Team: Sterling Sharpe, 1988-’94 (112).
Third Team: Davante Adams, 2014-’21 (116).
Others: 4. Greg Jennings, 2006-’12 (96); 5. Donald Driver, 1999-’12 (205); 6. Jordy Nelson, 2008-’17 (136); 7. Antonio Freeman, 1995-’01, ‘03 (116); 8. Robert Brooks, 1992-’98 (96); 9. Javon Walker, 2002-’05 (48); 10. Randall Cobb, 2011-’18, ’21 (117); 11. John Jefferson, 1981-’84 (50); 12. James Jones, 2007-’13, ’15 (120); 13. Robert Ferguson, 2001-’06 (60); 14. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 2018-’21 (59); 15. Perry Kemp, 1988-’91 (62); 16. Allen Lazard, 2018-’21 (42); 17. Phillip Epps, 1982-’88 (85); 18. Bill Schroeder, 1994, 1997-’01 (74); 19. Walter Stanley, 1985-’88 (48); 20. Aundra Thompson, 1976-’80 (63); 21. Anthony Morgan, 1993-’96 (37); 22. Don Beebe, 1996-’97 (26); 23. Geronimo Allison, 2016-’19 (46); 24. Corey Bradford, 1998-’01 (42); 25. Antonio Chatman, 2003-’05 (48).
Overview: Lofton is the greatest athlete I ever covered. His 22-yard crossing routes and end-arounds were breath-taking … Playing with multiple quarterbacks for four seasons and stumblebums next to him for six seasons, Sharpe was on track for all-time records before his career-ending cervical injury … Adams’ size and releases give him the nod over Jennings, whose B-plus career average was best in class (Sharpe averaged A-minus/A but that was for only his final three campaigns) … Driver, the best of the slots, kept bouncing back up for 14 seasons after getting whacked by linebackers. Man, he was tough … Nelson’s probably still running on those over routes off deep bootleg action … Freeman’s average of 7.3 yards after the catch in 1998 remains the highest of WR1’s since 1992 … Brooks’ career drop rate (26 of 631, .041) is the lowest of the four wideouts ahead of him in the rankings … Reconstructive knee surgery in September 2005 ruined Walker’s career but he was all-world in 2004 (two of 135 dropped); his career drop rate of .027 (eight of 292) led the pack … Only Driver outpaces Cobb as a pure slot … The pin-balling Jefferson delivered his Air Coryell magic for 2 ½ seasons before hitting the wall … Jones saved the best for his fifth and sixth seasons … Ferguson’s superb hands (11 drops of 246, .045) lifted him above some other worthies … Valdes-Scantling, Epps, Schroeder and Beebe possessed world-class speed … The rail-thin Kemp had catch counts of 48, 48, 44 and 42 during the grim administration of Lindy Infante.
First Team: Paul Coffman, 1978-’85 (119).
Second Team: Mark Chmura, 1992-’99 (89).
Third Team: Jermichael Finley, 2008-’13 (70).
Others: 4. Bubba Franks, 2000-’07 (114); 5. Jackie Harris, 1990-’93 (60); 6. Ed “Toolbox” West, 1984-’94 (167); 7. Keith Jackson, 1995-’96 (25); 8. Donald Lee, 2005-’10 (92); 9. Robert Tonyan, 2018-’21 (51); 10. Jared Cook, 2016 (10); 11. Richard Rodgers, 2014-’17 (63); 12. Andrew Quarless, 2010-’15 (60); 13. Marcedes Lewis, 2018-’21 (64); 14. Jimmy Graham, 2018-’19, (32); 15. Tyrone Davis, 1997-’02 (69).
Overview: Coffman was lucky even to obtain an NFL tryout out of Kansas State in 1978. He made three straight Pro Bowls (1982-’84) when the Pro Bowl meant a lot and Packers were used to being ignored … Chmura’s B-minus career average was surpassed only by Harris, who averaged B-minus/B in his three graded seasons. Both were complete players … Finley’s exciting, ascending career was cut short by cervical fusion in November 2013. He has never been replaced … The plodding Franks had surprisingly reliable hands (26 drops of 415, .063) and played a key role as a blocker for the killer rushing attacks of the early 2000’s … West was ranked No. 11 among NFL tight ends by the plugged-in Joel Buchsbaum entering 1992 … Jackson called it quits after hauling in 10 touchdown passes for the ’96 champs … Lee provided competent play as the successor to Franks … Through 2021, Tonyan had dropped merely two of 114 passes (.018) to lead this group by a mile … Cook was a one-year wonder; his post-season sideline catch in Dallas will long be remembered … Graham (nine of 152, .059) and Rodgers (13 of 215, .061) were sure-handed, too.