GREEN BAY – If there’s a story to be told down the road about General Manager Brian Gutekunst’s first draft, it’ll focus on the players picked and not on the room he commanded.
That’s just the way Gutekunst would want it. He’s not one for drama or distraction, even as he deftly went about boosting his second draft by acquiring an extra first-round pick for 2019.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s description of what it was like every time the Packers were on the clock the last three days is probably as strong a compliment as Gutekunst could ask for.
“He knew exactly what he wanted,” McCarthy said shortly after the new GM finished adding 11 total players to the Packers’ roster, including eight on Saturday.
What Gutekunst wanted was to pick highly rated players who fell to him and beef up the competition at certain positions when he had choices of comparable prospects.
On Saturday, he accomplished that primarily in two places, picking three wide receivers and two specialists among his eight picks.
“I think it shows an emphasis on special teams,” McCarthy said of the selections of Alabama punter JK Scott and Mississippi State long snapper Hunter Bradley. “We need to be better on special teams.
“We want as much competition as possible. We want to have a healthy, competitive 90-man roster and we’re definitely on our way.”
As for the receivers, Missouri’s J’Mon Moore, South Florida’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown are all in the 6-3 to 6-5 range with some speed, particularly Valdes-Scantling.
The additions of undrafted prospects Geronimo Allison and Michael Clark in recent years have given the Packers some different body types on the perimeter, and these three rookies markedly increase those kinds of options for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I think you’re always looking for bigger targets,” McCarthy said. “It makes sense, doesn’t it? Bigger catching radius, completion percentage. I think any quarterback would prefer to throw to a bigger target.”
The competition at wide receiver behind the top two of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb promises to be fierce come training camp.
The Packers wanted to create a similar dynamic at cornerback, and McCarthy couldn’t be happier with how that was addressed on the first two days with Lousiville’s Jaire Alexander and Iowa’s Josh Jackson. The head coach called the competition in the secondary “vastly improved.”
“Their ball skills are exceptional,” McCarthy said of the top two picks. “It’s something we pay close attention to, if you look at our history with the turnover ratio. I think they’re a great fit for how we want to play defense, and I’m excited to get those guys involved.”
Two linebackers were added, one inside (Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks) and one outside (Southeast Missouri’s Kendall Donnerson), plus one lineman on each side of the ball, both from the Pac-12. Washington State’s Cole Madison could play guard or tackle on offense, while Cal’s James Looney joins Green Bay’s deepest position group on the defensive front.
Not every roster need was addressed. Not adding an edge rusher until the 11th and final pick in Donnerson was not ideal, and no tight end was selected.
Gutekunst confessed to making some tough decisions on Saturday in the fast-paced final four rounds, but he emphasized staying disciplined when the board told him who the better player was. He leaned on his predecessor, Ted Thompson, at times.
As he noted all weekend, preparation was the key to staying calm and collected at decision time.
“It’d be nice to come out of every draft and fill all the holes you think you have, but that’s never the case,” he said. “You try to take good football players because you really don’t know what your needs are going to be come September.”
A scout at heart and by trade, Gutekunst takes that approach seriously, because when third-day draft picks become difference-makers down the road – like fourth-rounders Mike Daniels and David Bakhtiari, and fifth-rounder Corey Linsley on Green Bay’s current roster – the team inevitably gets stronger.
“If you can find quality role players or starters on Day 3, that’s where you create an advantage or an edge over other teams,” he said. “Those are hard things to do, but scouts feel the further you get down the board, they know those players better than anyone.”
Gutekunst knows his board better than anyone, and because of that he could say “it was a lot of fun” despite the pressure he was no doubt feeling.
“I think we helped the Packers,” he said.
History eventually will be the judge, but either way, that judgment won’t be able to claim Gutekunst got distracted or overwhelmed by it all. By making his lists and checking them twice, he made sure of that.
“He knew exactly what he wanted.”