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Packers' 2003 Class Shares Draft Memories


For Carl Ford, the draft was more pain than pleasure.

From year to year, the only predictable thing about the NFL Draft is its unpredictability.

Just ask the San Diego Chargers.

While in 2003 the Cincinnati Bengals had USC quarterback Carson Palmer under contract before the draft officially began, the Chargers' similar attempt this year to lock up Eli Manning with the No. 1 pick went into disarray just days before the draft when the Ole Miss quarterback expressed his desire to go elsewhere.

If the franchise with the first overall pick can have such a tough time, imagine what it's like for the 31 other NFL teams.

And then imagine what it's like for the players.

From a pool of more than 1,500 draft-eligible players, only 255 names will be called in this year's draft, which is the 69th in league history.

And while there are one or two players like Manning who might have some power to negotiate, the vast majority of prospects head into the draft not only wondering when they'll get drafted, but if.

Last year, talked to three members of the Packers' 2002 rookie class to get them to share their draft day experiences. This year we continue the trend with three members of the 2003 rookie class.

As you read these accounts, keep in mind that there's a lot riding on where a player goes in the draft.

The higher the pick, the more lucrative the contract. The more lucrative the contract, the more security for the player -- not only financially, but in terms of the obligation the team has to see that player succeed.

In other words, if an early-round pick has some room for error, a later-round pick has much less and an undrafted player has almost none.

Nick Barnett -- Recruited to Oregon State University as a safety, Nick Barnett became the first linebacker selected in the 2003 NFL Draft when the Packers nabbed him with the 29th overall pick. One of only two Packers rookies in the past four years to start the team's regular-season opener, Barnett missed only one game of his inaugural season (ankle injury) and led the team with 134 tackles.

Barnett: Going into the draft last season, I honestly had no idea where I'd go.

I'd heard a lot of different things. Some people were saying I could go as early as the second round, or maybe slide up into the end of the first round. But a lot of the 'experts' didn't think I'd go until the third round or even until the fourth round on the second day.

I really had no clue. But then no one really knows, even if they think they do.

Going into the draft, Boss Bailey (Georgia) and E.J. Henderson (Maryland) were getting a lot of pub. I had high expectations for myself, but those were the guys that were rated No. 1 and No. 2 on a lot of the polls as far as the linebackers were concerned.

To me it didn't matter where I got picked, I just wanted to play football for somebody.

On draft day I was in Bartsow, Calif., watching the draft on TV with my family. The first call I got was the Packers saying that they were on the clock and they were going to pick me.

Getting that call was exciting. I would have been happy to be picked up in any round, but to know that a team thinks that much of you to make you their first pick is a great feeling. And being the first linebacker picked isn't bad either.

I was overjoyed. Being a first-round pick and getting the chance to play for the Packers was a blessing. But it's not over once you're drafted. It's just starting.

As excited as I was, I knew I had to live up to that pick.

Barnett's advice for 2004 draft-eligible players on draft day: I would say be happy no matter where you go. Everybody makes a big deal over what round guys get picked. Who cares? It's not about where you get drafted; it's how you play when you get there. That's the only thing that really matters.

Carl Ford -- Selected in the seventh round with the 256th overall pick (out of 265 in the draft that year), Carl Ford became the first player from the University of Toledo (Ohio) to be drafted by the Packers since 1958. After a strong training camp, Ford suffered a knee injury toward the end of the preseason that landed him on injured reserve.

Ford: As exciting as it is for the two months leading up to the draft, when you're getting calls from teams and setting up workout dates, once draft day comes along things change.

The earliest I had been told I might go in the draft was the sixth round, so I wasn't necessarily expecting to go on the first day, but I still watched every pick. The teams that had displayed the most interest in me were the Packers, Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, and every time they came up on the clock I thought I might get taken.

But the first day went by, and my name wasn't called. After that a few teams called and said they had me high on their draft boards for the second day and that they'd pick me up. But the fourth round went by, and the fifth round and the sixth round, and I had to go get some fresh air.

My whole family was over watching the draft, and of course they're all biased, but as the draft was going on they were saying, 'Oh, this is going to be you. Those guys need a receiver and they're going to take you right here. This is your pick.'

When your name doesn't get called, it starts weighing on you. I can honestly say that the draft was the two longest days of my life. I got no sleep, couldn't eat and it just beat me up.

When Green Bay finally gave me the call late in the seventh round, it felt great. But really it wouldn't have mattered if I wouldn't have gotten drafted at all, because I knew I could still sign as a free agent and have the exact same chance of making a team. I mean, there isn't much difference between being the 256th pick of the draft and signing as a free agent, anyway.

To be honest, I was more or less just happy for my family. They all believed I should go in the draft, so I was glad not to let them down.

Still, it's great to be drafted, because once you are you're a part of NFL history. Twenty years from now, you can look back and my name will still be in the books. No one can take that away from me. And when you grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL, that's a special feeling.

All the NFL Draft does is give you a chance. To be drafted is an unbelievable feeling, but it doesn't end there.

Ford's advice to 2004 draft-eligible players on draft day: You've got to be patient. Unless you're a first-round pick, it's going to be frustrating regardless. It's going to be emotional no matter what. My advice is just to stay calm and patient, try to stay positive and to remember to eat. I lost about 5 pounds draft weekend because I didn't eat. It was bad.

Scottie Vines -- Originally signed to a basketball scholarship when he entered the University of Wyoming, Scottie Vines made 73 receptions for 1,255 yards and 11 touchdowns in two years with the Cowboys football team. Passed by in the draft, Vines signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions before eventually being waived in the team's final roster cut down before the regular season. Immediately after that, the Packers signed Vines to their practice squad, where he remained for 13 weeks until heading to injured reserve (knee).

Vines: Going into the NFL Draft, I wasn't too worried about where I was going to go. I didn't expect to get drafted.

In college I played basketball my first two years before switching to football, so I had the feeling that I'd have to sign as a free agent if I wanted to make it in the NFL.

At my pro day at Wyoming there were scouts and coaches from at least 16 NFL teams, so I knew that teams had seen me. But I really wasn't hoping to go to a certain team and it didn't really matter much to me whether I got picked up in the seventh round or signed as a free agent.

To be honest, I slept during the draft. I just knew in my heart that no one was going to take me.

But as the draft started winding down, teams started calling my agent to talk about signing me after the draft.

At first I was supposed to go to the Houston Texans, but then my agent called me back about 45 minutes later and said I was going to the Lions.

I could have gone in there with the attitude that I was ticked off and was going to show everybody that they should have drafted me. But instead I went in there with the attitude that I was grateful for the opportunity.

At first, learning the plays was difficult, but once I got comfortable I started making plays in practice.

The Lions cut me at the end of training camp, but they were hoping I could stick around so they could sign me to their practice squad. But by cutting me when they did, other teams got a chance at me.

When the Packers signed me, it was kind of like my draft experience all over again. I knew it was a blessing that I got picked up and had another opportunity to play.

Vines' advice to 2004 draft-eligible players on draft day: Don't let other people get in your head, telling you where you're going to go in the draft. It's best if you just don't expect to go. But at the same time, you can't totally forget about it, because even if you're not drafted you can still sign a free agent deal. All you're looking for is a chance to show teams what you can do.

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