GREEN BAY – As the NFL Scouting Combine rolled on Wednesday, General Manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouts continued their work in Indianapolis as prospects prepared for the start of on-field testing Thursday.
Here are five more things we learned:
1. Zoom has changed the combine game for NFL teams.
After weighing all the options, the Packers chose to keep their coaches in Green Bay to work on offseason projects rather than spending the week in Indianapolis.
A prevailing reason for that change was the introduction of Zoom interviews, which the league shifted to during the COVID-19 pandemic. The formal interviews from Indy now include additional participants via Zoom, so absent coaches can log on. Teams also have access to all the workout video from Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Packers have 45 formal interviews with prospects, which Gutekunst says will last roughly 15-20 minutes. Traditionally, the coaching staff would conduct the informal face-to-face interviews with players, but the scouting staff is also handling those responsibilities this year.
"The Zoom interview not only allows us to spend more time with these guys, but it also allows us to come back and follow up afterward, which is really important," said Gutekunst on Tuesday. "You'd love them here for the face-to-face interactions. Our scouting staff is handling most of that this week. But I do think overall for the time, it's better this way. You'd love to have those guys here and have more time but it puts them behind by being here all week."
2. Spread offenses have affected college tight ends, but this is a promising draft class.
The rapid expansion of receiver-heavy pass offenses has made it increasingly difficult for tight ends to shine at the college level, but there are several players in this year's draft class that many NFL scouts feel have the tools to make a sudden impact.
Leading the way is Notre Dame's Michael Mayer (6-4, 265) and Utah's Dalton Kincaid (6-4, 240). Last season, Mayer became the Fighting Irish's first consensus All-American since 1976 after catching 67 passes for 809 yards and nine touchdowns. Kincaid is considered the other likely first-round pick after leading Utah with 70 receptions for 890 yards and eight TDs.
The 33rd Team currently has Mayer slotted at No. 13 and Kincaid at No. 23 on its big board. Five other tight ends are listed in the top 100.
"The tight end draft is pretty heavy, I think everybody's talked about that a little bit," Gutekunst said. "So much of the spread offenses that have taken ahold in college football, they just started playing without tight ends or they really are playing with a big slot – the 225-pound slot receiver. There were very few teams that were playing with traditional tight ends; a few in the SEC, a few in the Big Ten. It just seems to be a good year for them."
With Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis both entering free agency, the Packers only have Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis, and practice-squad holdovers Nick Guggemos and Austin Allen under contract for next season at the moment.
"We've got a lot of areas that are unknown right now," Gutekunst said. "We only have a couple tight ends coming back from last year, so there's some holes there. Those guys have to step into those roles and fill them, or we're going to have to look other places."
3. Ted Thompson's lessons still ring true for Gutekunst.
Now five full years into his tenure as Green Bay's GM, Gutekunst still thinks of his late predecessor when draft season comes around.
With double-digit picks in this year's draft, the Packers' scouting department is readying to burn through quite a bit of midnight oil in preparation for April. As daunting as that may appear, however, Gutekunst's philosophy remains rooted in Thompson's simplistic, yet proven, way of viewing a draft board.
"There's going to be good players," Gutekunst said. "Every time I would start talking to Ted about the strengths and weaknesses of the draft, he'd just look at me and say, 'Brian, every time we pick there will be a good player there to take.' I believe that.
"I'm excited. We're going to end up probably with 10, 11 picks again, and probably do some moving around and try to help this football team."
4. Mike McCarthy still has fond memories of Aaron Rodgers' breakout moment.
While Rodgers ponders whether to return for a 19th NFL season, McCarthy was asked about his former quarterback on Wednesday and how a team knows when a young quarterback is ready to play.
It triggered positive recollections of Rodgers' breakthrough performance between the Packers and McCarthy's current team, the Dallas Cowboys, in 2007. Rodgers was called upon in the second quarter to replace an injured Brett Favre, who exited with elbow and shoulder injuries. The Packers lost 37-27 in a battle of 10-1 teams, but Rodgers played well. The future four-time MVP completed 18-of-26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown.
"We didn't pull back on the game plan and Aaron went in there and played extremely well that night," said McCarthy, who's entering his third year as Dallas' head coach. "I just recall on the plane ride home, Ted and I talking about his performance. We knew then that he was ready. So that was kind of a moment for us.
"But the reality of it is, you see it every day in practice. The way Aaron practiced, ask our defensive players from '06 to '07 and they'll tell you that everybody knew that he had a chance to be a great player."
5. Detroit has big goals after "barometer" performance in regular-season finale.
The Lions secured their first winning season in five years when they knocked off the Packers, 20-16, in the 2022 regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.
Although Detroit missed the playoffs on a seventh-seed tiebreaker with Seattle, head coach Dan Campbell felt the win over Green Bay was a major feather in the cap of a young Lions squad that improved from 3-13-1 to 9-8 during Campbell's second season at the helm.
"Winning games comes a long way," said Campbell on Wednesday. "To be able to come out to Lambeau, last game of the year, outdoors, at night, against that quarterback, against the team that's won the division repeatedly for a number of years, I felt like that's a barometer of where we're at – where we started, where we've come to and where we continue to go. That's a good way to finish out."
An interesting landscape is forming in the NFC North. On top of the improvements the Lions have made, Minnesota is coming off a 13-4 season in Kevin O'Connell's first year as head coach and Chicago currently holds the No. 1 pick in April's NFL Draft.