GREEN BAY – It was a pleasant surprise Josh Jackson was still on the board, and it was a chance not worth taking that Oren Burks wouldn’t be.
There you have Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft for the Packers and General Manager Brian Gutekunst, who added two more defensive players Friday to go with first-round selection Jaire Alexander the previous evening.
Jackson, a player many mock drafts had going to the Packers in the first round at No. 14 overall, was chosen at No. 45 in the second round and will join Alexander in the cornerback room as another promising playmaker.
The first-year Iowa starter took the Big Ten by storm in 2017, leading the country with eight interceptions, including five against the two teams – Ohio State and Wisconsin – who played for the league title.
Combine that with Alexander’s five picks in his last fully healthy season in 2016 and the Packers like the ball-hawking potential of their young additions to the secondary.
“That’s always been a big focus in our defensive backs since Ted (Thompson)’s been here, ball skills and taking the ball away,” Gutekunst said. “When we’ve been at our best on defense the last 10 years is when we’ve taken the ball away.”
The Packers also added some speed at the linebacker level with Burks, a converted safety from Vanderbilt who at 6-3, 235 is “no small man” on the defense’s second level by today’s standards, Gutekunst noted.
Burks’ 4.59-second time in the 40-yard dash was among the numbers that had him rated among the top athletic testers at inside linebacker, and Gutekunst decided not to wait until Day 3 to see if he’d still be there.
A trade up 13 spots, from No. 101 to 88, cost the Packers a fifth-round pick and the chance to reassess the board overnight with that first pick of the fourth round in their back pocket. That’s the choice the Packers used last year on Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel, and Gutekunst didn’t part with it lightly, which says something about how he viewed the versatile, athletic Burks.
“When I acquired it, I knew it would be a valuable pick,” Gutekunst said. “And it was.”
Burks has a sister who’s a softball player at an institution of similar reputation in Stanford, and his list of community- and leadership-oriented off-the-field endeavors is impressive.
Take a look at Packers third round draft pick LB Oren Burks at Vanderbilt. Photos by AP and NFL.
He’s the epitome of an element to Gutekunst’s first draft that he seemingly couldn’t emphasize enough Friday night, giving Alexander and Jackson similar praise.
“The wiring of football players we bring into this building is really important,” Gutekunst said. “These three guys we’ve had a chance to take so far is what we’re looking for, how they approach the game and their mental makeup.”
Which in turn affects the makeup of the locker room, and adjusting it to his liking began with his first major trade last month. Positions and personality are all part of the equation as he’s putting his stamp on his first draft.
As Gutekunst joked after a second consecutive long night about going home to “get two beers out of the garage fridge and hope the door is not locked,” he acknowledged there’s still plenty of work to be done on Saturday over the final four rounds.
View photos of Packers second round draft pick CB Josh Jackson at the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas. Photos by AP and Perry Knotts, NFL.
For the second straight year, the Packers did not take an edge rusher on either of the first two days of the draft, though Gutekunst mentioned Biegel hasn’t shown yet what he can do.
The Packers also once again didn’t draft an offensive player over the first two days, this time in a year when the needs at receiver, tight end and offensive line stand out more than in the past.
But Gutekunst’s methods explain themselves. He’s using trades to get players he’s targeted at the right value on the board (Alexander and Burks), and he’s not going to let the depth chart distract him when a highly rated player falls (Jackson).
“If you do the work and the preparation the right way, you allow the board to talk to you,” he said.
As for helping two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense, Gutekunst didn’t sound impatient, an indication of two truths – he really likes the players he’s picked so far, and he can only pick one player at a time.
“I think there’s some opportunity there tomorrow,” he said of the offense, and of possibly trading yet again with his eight picks going into Saturday. “There’s still good players out there, and we’ll see how it falls.
“Tomorrow is a big, big day.”