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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.

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