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Draft sleeper Donald Driver had all the intangibles

Franchise's all-time leading receiver was Packers'  last pick in last round in '99

Former Packers WR Donald Driver
Former Packers WR Donald Driver

Donald Driver

  • Inducted: 2017
  • Wide Receiver: 1999-2012
  • Height: 6-0; Weight: 194
  • College: Alcorn State, 1996-98


  • Pro Bowl Selection (played since 1950): 2002, '06, '07, '10

The sleepers of yesteryear's drafts have become relics of a bygone era. With today's deep scouting staffs and the countless hours spent scouring the country for players, there's little chance of an NFL team unearthing a small-college prospect that others didn't even have on their radar screens.

The days of the Packers drafting someone like Elijah Pitts of Philander Smith College, as they did in the 13th round in 1961, and leaving mouths agape throughout the league because few others had ever heard of him are over.

But that doesn't mean organizations can no longer reap rewards for their due diligence and find unsung prospects from off-the-beaten-track programs that then produce far beyond expectations.

Donald Driver, the Packers' last pick in the last round of the 1999 draft and the 213th overall selection, was a relatively recent and prime example.

During his four seasons at Alcorn State, a historically black university located adjacent to the unincorporated community of Lorman, Miss., Driver never played on a winning team. Nor was he ever selected all-conference. His best sport was track and field, where as a sophomore he leaped 7 feet 6½ inches in the high jump at the Pelican Relays in Baton Rouge, La., and qualified for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Yet 14 years after he landed in Green Bay, Driver retired as the Packers' career leader in receptions with 743 and also their career leader in receiving yards with 10,137.

While the Packers' future Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf credited his then newly hired scout Alonzo Highsmith with uncovering Driver, it was Ted Thompson who was talking on the phone in the draft room to Driver's agent about a free agent contract who precipitated the spur of the moment decision to pick him. The agent told Thompson that up to 18 teams might be bidding for Driver if he went undrafted, and the Packers' then director of player personnel relayed that information to Wolf. "I said why don't we just pick Driver," Thompson said later. "It wasn't my call; it was Ron obviously calling the shots."

As a rookie, Driver was considered a longshot to make it as the sixth wide receiver. Dropped passes had been his albatross at Alcorn State. His 4.5 40-yard dash time was nothing special at his position. His 181-pound playing weight was another concern. On top of all that, the nuances and timing of the Packers' West Coast passing attack were foreign to him.

But Driver's unrelenting practice habits immediately caught the attention of the coaching staff. "He's a guy who catches the ball and runs 100 yards down the field," receivers coach Charlie Baggett said just days into camp, adding that it had reminded head coach Ray Rhodes and offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis of Jerry Rice's approach as a rookie when they were young assistants on Bill Walsh's staff in San Francisco.

While Driver made the cut as the sixth wide receiver, he played sparingly and didn't catch his first pass until the 13th game. Driver's playing time increased in his second and third seasons, but he and Corey Bradford continued to share the third and fourth receiver slots.

At that point, Driver had started only four of 35 games and had caught merely 35 passes. His value was largely measured by his play as a jammer on the punt return team. "He's by far our best player on special teams," head coach Mike Sherman said near the end of Driver's third season. "Covering punts. Jamming. He does a hell of a job."

Finally, in 2002, Driver cracked the starting lineup, beating out 2001, second-round draft pick Robert Ferguson for the split end job opposite flanker Terry Glenn. It also turned out to be Driver's breakthrough season. He caught a team-high 70 passes for 1,064 yards, a 15.2 average, and made the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Over the next seven seasons, Driver led the Packers in receiving five more times. Although he was supplanted as the No. 1 receiver at times, Driver still had highly productive years. In 2004, Javon Walker, the Packers' No. 1 draft pick two years earlier, eclipsed Driver's stats, but together they combined for 173 catches, 2,590 yards and 21 touchdowns. In 2008, Greg Jennings, a recent second-round choice, had more catches, more yards and a 16.2 average per catch compared to Driver's 13.7, but, again. together they combined for 154 receptions, 2,304 yards and 14 TDs.

During that time period, quarterback Brett Favre once said of Driver: "He gives tremendous effort. He's not Javon Walker or Randy Moss. He's not as physically gifted as a guy like Robert Ferguson. But he's crafty." What's more, Favre said there was no receiver he trusted more than Driver. "Is he the tallest? Is he the fastest? Does he have the best hands? Is he the quickest? No," said Favre. "But when you need someone to make a play you go to Donald Driver. And that's the mark of a hell of a player and that's what he is."

Besides Driver's overall athleticism manifested in his track exploits, his best assets were arguably his intangibles, which was also part of what made him a fan favorite. He was fearless running slants and posts across the middle, and remarkably consistent not only year to year, but play to play.

"He plays with a lot of intensity, an awful lot of passion," Jimmy Robinson, Driver's position coach from 2006-10, once said. "He has an awful lot of fun out there and he's very, very productive. He's just to me an excellent football player, a great leader for our group of receivers, a true professional and a hard-working guy in practice."

Driver's best year statistically was 2006, when he caught 92 passes for 1,295 yards, a 14.1 average, with eight touchdowns. In 2010, when the Packers capped their season with a victory in Super Bowl XLV for their 13th NFL title, Driver finished second on the team with 51 catches for 565 yards compared to Jennings' 76 catches and 1,265 yards. Still a starter in 2011, Driver finished fourth in catches among wide receivers with 37. A year later, he played sparingly in his final season, catching only eight passes.

Among Driver's other notable team records are his 133 consecutive games with a reception and his seven seasons of gaining more than 1,000 yards on receptions. His 61 touchdowns on pass receptions ranked third when he retired.

In all, Driver played in 205 games and started 155. He also played in 15 postseason games, catching 49 passes for 675 yards, a 13.8 average, with three TDs.

Born Feb. 2, 1975. Given name Donald Jerome Driver.