A tale of two draft picks

A tale of two draft picks

After the 2001 season, it looked like that spring's draft could go down in history as one of the worst ever. Between them, the Packers' first two picks played in fewer than half the games. Their measurable contributions could be counted on one hand. <P> One of those top draftees from three years ago has turned his inauspicious past into a bright and lucrative future. The other is no longer a part of the picture in Green Bay.<P>

When the 2001 season ended, wide receiver Robert Ferguson, selected in the second round (41st overall) had played in just one game and didn't catch a pass. Meanwhile top pick Jamal Reynolds suffered a knee injury in training camp and played just 6 regular-season games, tallying four tackles. Even the most optimistic Packer fan would have had a hard time believing either one was going to be worth the picks spent.

The next season showed slight improvement for both.

Ferguson had the better final report card in 2002, playing in all 16 regular-season games including one start. His rank of seventh on the team's receiving list with 22 catches didn't look like future star material.

Reynolds played in just seven games after sitting out the early portion of the season as he recovered from a January 2002 knee surgery. To describe his season as "finishing strong" would be a stretch, however. His nine tackles and one sack marked a change almost too small to call an improvement.

The road for these draft class of 2001's top prospects reached a fork last season. Both were healthy, both were desperately needed to come through at their position, and both had a golden opportunity to prove that they were the real deal all along.

While Reynolds ended up on the road to the inactive list and, eventually out of town. Ferguson instead took the high road to becoming the receiver the Packers hoped for and needed all along. The first day Ferguson stepped onto the practice field in the spring of 2003, it was obvious which road he was going to take. He seemed to bring a new determination and maturity to the practice field, impressing coaches in training camp. He continued to progress in the regular season, winning a starting spot at split end. He finished 2003 with career highs in receptions (38), receiving yards (520) and touchdowns (4). While the numbers are not off the chart, they mark a true contribution to the NFC North championship campaign.

One of the most notable aspects of Ferguson's season is that he continued to improve during clutch time. He had two fourth-quarter TDs in a Week 15 come-from-behind victory at San Diego. In the playoffs Ferguson added two TDs and five catches for 73 yards.

The third-year man played through to injuries, playing in 15 games despite suffering ankle, knee and Achilles' injuries and a concussion. Ferguson also proved his desire to contribute with his special teams performance. He led the team in coverage tackles with 17 – fourth among NFL starters last season.

Three years after giving both Reynolds and Ferguson their initial vote of confidence in the draft, the Packers again made their feelings known. In a span of a couple weeks, the team showed one the money and showed the other the door.

Ferguson reportedly received a five-year extension worth about $6 million plus a sizeable signing bonus – more than $3 million, according to one source.

That means that Ferguson joins Donald Driver and Javon Walker not only in a battle for receiving rank, but also joins them in the ranks of Packers securely in the fold. All three are signed through at least 2006.

"We're glad that our top three is under contract at least three more years, and maybe Brett Favre's glad, too," Packer vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt said at the time.

The good news about Ferguson was quickly followed by the bad news about Reynolds. His future in Green Bay ran out July 8, when he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for an undisclosed draft pick. The trade was voided less than a week later, when Reynolds failed his physical Wednesday.

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