TOM SIL­VER­STEIN

Packer Plus - - News - Tom Sil­ver­stein

Trades by new GM show a fu­ture plan

Green Bay — It’s al­ways a swipe in the dark pro­ject­ing how an NFL draft class will per­form, but if you were go­ing to give first-year Green Bay Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst the ben­e­fit of the doubt, you could cer­tainly make a case he has po­si­tioned his team for a Su­per Bowl run. In 2019, that is. Gutekunst sat at No. 14 in the first round of the 2018 draft with a chance to land an in­stant de­fen­sive starter and po­ten­tial im­pact player with Pro Bowl po­ten­tial, but given the op­por­tu­nity to se­cure a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, he de­cided to trade all the way back to the No. 27 po­si­tion.

Here is likely how Gutekunst looked at: I can have ei­ther line­backer Tre­maine Ed­munds or safety Der­win James – pre­mium ath­letes with bigschool ex­pe­ri­ence and No. 1 or 2 po­si­tional rank­ing in the ’18 draft class – or I can have a lesser-rated player plus an un­de­ter­mined first-round player next sea­son.

In other words, it was a two-for-one deal.

The catch is that while the Chicago Bears se­lected an in­stant starter at No. 9 with in­side line­backer Ro­quan Smith and the Detroit Lions drafted a likely starter in cen­ter / guard Frank Rag­now, the Pack­ers moved back and then up to No. 18 and grabbed Louisville cor­ner­back Jaire Alexan­der.

Any­one who has been around the NFL for a while knows that it’s dif­fi­cult for cor­ner­backs to ex­cel right away. So, it’s very pos­si­ble the Bears and Lions will take greater leaps for­ward this sea­son than the Pack­ers.

Maybe the 2018 cor­ner­back class will pro­duce more of 2017’s Marshon Lat­ti­more, Adoree Jack­son and Tre’Davi­ous White, but his­tory tells you that you could just as eas­ily wind up with a Gareon Con­ley, Kevin King or Wil­liam Jack- son, none of whom made it through their rookie sea­sons, let alone pro­duced as a starter.

In the NFC North alone, Min­nesota’s Xavier Rhodes and Detroit’s Dar­ius Slay, the two best corners by far, started a to­tal of 10 games their rookie sea­sons. It took them, as tal­ented as they were, a full year be­fore ei­ther of them even had an in­ter­cep­tion.

The Pack­ers have seen with King, Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall, Quentin Rollins and Demetri Good­son over the past four drafts that mining an im­me­di­ate start­ing corner out of the draft isn’t easy. They re­ceived a de­cent con­tri­bu­tion from Micah Hyde in 2013, but the last corner to make a mark was sec­on­dround pick Casey Hayward, who had six in­ter­cep­tions as a nickel back in 2012.

There’s a chance the 5-foot-10, 196pound Alexan­der will prove to be phys­i­cally ma­ture and tal­ented enough to put the clamps down on top NFL re­ceivers, but Alexan­der had hand and knee in­juries last year and might find him­self in the same boat as King (shoul­der surgery) last year.

The other corner the Pack­ers took, Iowa’s Josh Jack­son, has all the tools to be an NFL starter, but sev­eral scouts seemed sur­prised the Pack­ers se­lected him be­cause they thought of him as a zone corner. De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine likes his corners to play press-man cov­er­age and that means Jack­son is go­ing to have to learn a new way to play.

Sev­eral per­son­nel peo­ple said they could not blame Gutekunst for trad­ing back once he re­ceived an of­fer of a fu­ture first-round pick. As cer­tain as they were that he would take Ed­munds or James, they said ev­ery per­son­nel man on the planet drools when he thinks about first-round picks.

“I was shocked they didn’t take Ed­munds,” a col­lege scout said. “The No. 1 next year was just too sweet. We liked Alexan­der where they took him (No. 18).”

If you think ob­tain­ing picks in fu­ture years is dumb, con­sider that New Eng­land’s Bill Belichick traded away picks in this draft for a sec­ond (Chicago), third (Detroit) and sev­enth (Philadel­phia) in 2019. If New Eng­land is do­ing it, there’s a pretty good chance it’s a smart thing to do.

But as boun­ti­ful as that ad­di­tional first-round pick might turn out for the Pack­ers, Gutekunst did have to trade a third-round pick to move back up to take Alexan­der. That selec­tion, No. 76 over­all, could have been used to take edge rusher Sam Hub­bard, in­side line­backer Ma­lik Jef­fer­son, tackle Marti­nas Rankin or re­ceiver Michael Gallup.

In­stead, to get back into the third round, Gutekunst had to trade the first pick in the fourth round and a fifthround pick.

The bot­tom line is that ob­tain­ing that ex­tra first-round pick di­luted what the Pack­ers got out of the ’18 draft. There are only so many play­ers who can make a dif­fer­ence as a rookie and most of them are taken within the first 15 picks of the draft.

It’s pos­si­ble third-round line­backer Oren Burks will play a de­cent amount, but re­mem­ber how it took Blake Martinez a year to find his foot­ing in the NFL. Well, he went to Stan­ford and so even though Burks is a bright guy, he’s prob­a­bly go­ing to strug­gle.

The wide re­ceivers Gutekunst took – J’Mon Moore, Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown – are all mar­velous ath­letes, but name a Pack­ers wide re­ceiver who came in and lit it up his first year in coach Mike McCarthy’s of­fense. And those very best ones were taken in the sec­ond round, not in the fourth, fifth and sixth.

It’s al­ways pos­si­ble that fifth-round guard Cole Madi­son will win a start­ing job and punter JK Scott will be a firstyear sen­sa­tion. But is that re­ally go­ing to put the Pack­ers over the top in 2018?

As much as fans wanted Gutekunst to load up for a Su­per Bowl run this year, he merely did what his pre­de­ces­sor Ted Thomp­son did the year be­fore, which is take ad­van­tage of the strong­est po­si­tions in the draft and raise the tal­ent level.

“We’re try­ing to build on our team and cre­ate com­pe­ti­tion at ev­ery spot that we could,” Gutekunst said Satur­day. “We felt re­ally good about our board and know­ing it, and know­ing where the value is.”

This wasn’t the year for Gutekunst to go crazy in free agency, ei­ther. He had a lim­ited amount of salary-cap space and there wasn’t any­one for whom it was worth break­ing the bank. The ad­di­tion of tight end Jimmy Gra­ham, de­fen­sive end Muhammad Wilk­er­son and any other castoff vet­eran Gutekunst ac­quires in the com­ing months will have to be enough.

Look­ing ahead, how­ever, Gutekunst will be flush with cap space next sea­son. Among those com­ing off the books are line­backer Clay Matthews, re­ceiver Ran­dall Cobb, safety Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix, line­backer Jake Ryan and tight end Lance Ken­dricks.

In 2019, the cap shows the Pack­ers could have more than $50 mil­lion in space to sign their own and other teams’ free agents. Add in the two first-round draft choices and what­ever ad­vance­ment the 2018 class shows and the Pack­ers could be in a very good place.

As for the present, they’ve still got Aaron Rodgers and the hope that pre­vi­ous draft choices will blos­som this year, but no one should come away with the feel­ing that the 2018 draft was any­thing more than an ex­er­cise in long-term fran­chise build­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Green Bay Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst (left), coach Mike McCarthy (cen­ter) and team pres­i­dent Mark Mur­phy stand in­side the draft room at Lam­beau Field dur­ing the first round on Thurs­day.

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