GM’s first draft offers a window into his biggest concerns
Green Bay — Now we know Brian Gutekunst’s biggest roster concerns going into this year’s NFL draft: cornerback, receiver and special teams.
We also know that the Green Bay Packers’ new general manager is not as worried about his team’s suspect pass rush and big opening at starting right tackle.
That’s the bird’s-eye view of Gutekunst’s quirky first draft.
Sure, the draft board has a big say over how a team’s draft falls. But GMs have wiggle room to maneuver for players they want, as Gutekunst showed with a couple big trades on Day 1.
And in three days of drafting, Gutekunst showed that he was happy to go extra-heavy at cornerback, receiver and specialists, and equally fine with doing little to nothing at outside rusher and right tackle.
Gutekunst’s decision to draft cornerbacks (Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson) with his first two picks, while extreme, made plenty of sense considering the team’s problems at that position. And throwing multiple later-round picks at his thin receiving corps, much like his predecessor did by selecting three running backs last year, makes sense, too.
But then also drafting not one but two specialists – a punter (JK Scott) in the fifth round and a long snapper (Hunter Bradley) in the seventh – was a head scratcher for a team that had as many positional needs as the Packers.
In the end, what matters is whether a few good players, or maybe one great one, emerge from any draft class. And maybe the two cornerbacks will help the Packers’ defense immediately and a lot.
But it’s hard not to wonder if, come November and December, Gutekunst will be ruing his decision to wait until a finalpick flier to take an outside rusher (Kendall Donnerson of Southeast Missouri), and to not add any possible replacement at right tackle, assuming Bryan Bulaga won’t be back from his ACL tear until late October or November.
“It would be nice to come out of every draft and feel like you filled all the holes you think you have,” Gutekunst said after all the drafting was finished Saturday evening, “but that’s never the case. So you try to take really good football players, because you really don’t know what your needs are going to be come September. I think we stayed disciplined to the process and not try to get out of that. We feel really, really good right now.”
The Packers no doubt will be looking for Alexander and Jackson to be factors early. One and maybe both figure to be starters in the Packers’ nickel defense next season.
The decision to pass on selecting an edge rusher until the seventh round included trading back in the first round instead of choosing Marcus Davenport at No. 14. He’s the player New Orleans traded with the Packers to get.
Gutekunst’s decision to accept future compensation (a 2019 first-rounder) to trade back, and then spend a thirdrounder to move up for Alexander, also cost the Packers a valuable top-100 pick in this draft. That opportunity cost included the potential chance to spend that pick or trade up from there for a rusher.
Gutekunst talked about possible roster moves between now and the start of the season, as the Packers’ GM always does after the draft. But while a meaningful move always is possible, it’s not very likely. The draft usually ends up being the last chance to take some big swings, and right or wrong, Gutekunst was not bullish on the rushers in this draft.
“I don’t think it was a particularly great edge rusher draft,” Gutekunst said.
The two big quirks of this draft, both coming on Day 3, were drafting three receivers and two specialists.
With Jordy Nelson cut, Randall Cobb in the last season of his contract, and Davante Adams having sustained three concussions the last two seasons, I don’t fault Gutekunst for going hard at that position. It worked last year at running back, and the prospects he took this season appear to be more talented than the two receivers Thompson drafted in the late rounds last year (DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre, neither of whom made the 53-man roster).
It’s never a bad idea to add receiving talent when you have a premier quarterback to get them the ball, and this was a deep receiving class..
“We had a good board with wide re- ceivers this year,” Gutekunst said, “and some guys lasted up there a lot longer than we thought.”
What jumps out is their uncommon size and speed, though they’re laterround prospects for a reason. Fourthrounder J’Mon Moore of Missouri actually is the shortest (6-25⁄ 8) and slowest (4.60-second 40) of the three. Fifthrounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling of South Florida is 6-4 and ran an exceptional 4.37-second 40 at the scouting combine. And sixth-rounder Equanimeous Brown of Notre Dame is even a little bigger (6-3 3⁄4) and plenty fast himself (4.48 40).
They give the Packers what has to be the tallest receiving corps in the NFL, and maybe the tallest in league history, depending on which ones make the final roster. Besides the three rookies, two other receivers figure to be in the hunt for playing time and stand taller than 6-3: Geronimo Allison (6-3 1⁄4) and Michael Clark (6-51⁄ 8).
Either way, all bets are off for playing time and roster spots behind Adams and Cobb.
“You’re always looking for bigger targets,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It makes sense doesn’t it? I mean, bigger catching radius, completion percentage. But I think it’s just really a reflection about how we felt about them as players. So, yes, I think any quarterback would prefer to throw to a bigger target, no disrespect to the smaller targets. But I’ve always preferred bigger receivers.”
The selections of the two specialists was the strangest part of this Packers draft. I’m not sure I’d ever draft a long snapper, though maybe Gutekunst was trying to save every penny he could by moving on from veteran Brett Goode. Taking a punter in the fifth round is rich, but at least Gutekunst didn’t trade up for him, like Mike Sherman did for B.J. Sander in 2004.
“The special teams emphasis was something I wanted to make sure we put a stamp on,” Gutekunst said.
On taking Scott he added: “In this particular case we had a player we thought was rare and we decided to go ahead and pull the trigger.”
Packers fans cheer during the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.