THURSDAY, April 14, 2005, 2:38 p.m.
Looking back at Packer Drafts - 1989
Based on what the expectations were for him, where he was drafted and how his professional career transpired, Tony Mandarich might have been the biggest bust in the history of the National Football League draft. What made the choice a double whammy for the Green Bay Packers was that they selected Mandarich after narrowing their options to him and running back Barry Sanders.
Of the first five picks in the 1989 draft, four figure to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Already, Sanders, the No. 3 choice, is in. Quarterback Troy Aikman, the No. 1 choice; linebacker Derrick Thomas, the No. 4 choice; and cornerback Deion Sanders, the No. 5 choice; are all but cinches to make the Hall in the near future. But it was Mandarich who might have been the most coveted prospect in the group. Aikman was selected ahead of him, largely because he played quarterback and NFL teams place a premium on quarterbacks.
Mandarich stood 6-foot-5, weighed 315 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds and bench-pressed more than 500 pounds. He was a can’t-miss prospect in the eyes of nearly every coach and scout who graded him. And once the Packers eliminated themselves from the Aikman sweepstakes by winning their final game of the 1988 season in Arizona, they focused on Mandarich as their likely pick.
But two weeks before the draft, Sanders ran a 4.39 40-yard dash during an impressive workout in Stillwater, Okla. Up until then, the Packers had a 4.55 time for Sanders, which was nothing to get excited about. Once Sanders wowed scouts with his speed, Lindy Infante, the Packers’ coach at the time, began to lobby on his behalf. The debates began and continued up until 48 hours before the draft.
“Lindy had a lot of trouble with it,” Tom Braatz, the Packers’ former vice president of football operations, said after the Mandarich pick had been announced. “He really liked Sanders. We talked seriously about it -- long drawn-out deals – as late as Friday. After hashing it out with all the coaches and all the scouts and Lindy and myself, we decided Mandarich was better.”
One of the considerations in the end was that the Packers had drafted a running back, Brent Fullwood, with fourth pick just two years earlier. Infante wasn’t all that enamored with Fullwood, but the second-year back had started 10 games at fullback in 1988 and had led the Packers with 483 rushing yards, including an impressive 4.8 average per rush.
“We had just taken Fullwood and we had (Don) Majkowski,” Braatz said earlier this week. “So we had a quarterback and a running back. When the coaches feel they have a player at that position, you can’t take another one if you have needs at other positions.”
Fullwood had a Pro Bowl year in 1989, but didn’t make it through the 1990 season and was out of football by the following year. Mandarich survived three disappointing seasons with the Packers.