GREEN BAY – Time will tell what kind of stamp new Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst puts on his first draft, with the types of players he selects and the trades he decides to make.
But if there’s one way in which he would like to follow the example his predecessor Ted Thompson set, it’s in the realm of demeanor when the pressure is highest.
“His steady hand was something I think the whole room felt,” Gutekunst said on Monday in his pre-draft news conference, three days before the 2018 draft’s first round. “I think that’s important. It’s important for the guy who’s making the selections to be that way.
“It can be a chaotic, anxious time, and I think if the guy making the picks is that way, it makes the room uneasy. There’s a ton of instances where maybe there was some anxiety or chaotic things going on, and he never lost this head. That was always impressive.”
Gutekunst heads into his first draft as GM with 12 selections, one in each of the seven rounds plus an extra in the fourth, two extra in the fifth, and one extra in both the sixth and seventh.
There’s a good chance he’ll address every position, except maybe quarterback (given the offseason trade for DeShone Kizer) and running back (after the Packers drafted three a year ago). Even defensive line, a fortified strength of the team with the offseason signing of Muhammad Wilkerson, might get an addition as Gutekunst stressed that it’s always harder to find quality big guys, so it’s difficult to pass on them when they’re available.
That said, a dozen picks going in also potentially opens up more opportunities for swaps, to move to spots to get a targeted player at the right value.
Some of this draft’s top defensive players, such as N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and Florida State defensive back Derwin James, aren’t likely to make it to the Packers’ 14th spot in the first round, according to the experts. So regarding the possibility of trading up from 14 – especially if he’s enamored with a specific player, which is common with all scouts – Gutekunst stressed it’s about weighing all the factors.
“If you have a chance to go up and get an impactful player, you’re going to think about that,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s understanding what you have to give up. What’s the cost? That’s the bottom line.”
Gutekunst and his personnel staff have been going through all kinds of scenarios over the past couple of weeks, but that hasn’t been at the expense of building the draft board with the usual, straightforward value approach.
Green Bay’s process is to rate players in their own right but also factor in the team’s needs as part of the overall equation to determine where they’d fit as a selection.
“We try to build the board value-based, but we build it for our own team, not the league,” Gutekunst said. “So those (roster needs) are naturally in play.
“It’s important, especially early on, that … you’re making sure you’re getting players (evaluations) correct. You have to get the first part right before you can move into the scenarios.”
Having been involved with drafts for roughly two decades, the process is nothing new to Gutekunst, only making the final call will be. In that respect, he knows there will be a lot of voices in the room, including Thompson’s, and it’s his job to sift through them all to make the best choices.
It’s a challenge he’s clearly looking forward to, and Thursday night’s first round can’t get here soon enough. The Packers’ board is pretty much set, and in the final days there’s a temptation to continue tweaking it, which Gutekunst referred to as “overcooking.”
Handling the anticipation this week becomes almost as important as managing the anxiety during the draft itself. Gutekunst mentioned “conviction” and “discipline” as two additional qualities of Thompson’s he admired most amidst all the intensity, and he knows from observation and involvement those attributes were able to shine brightest because the preparation was so thorough.
“I remember how important getting it right from the get-go is, doing the work, getting the board correct,” Gutekunst said, recalling draft lessons he’s learned over the years. “If you don’t do it back then, it doesn’t matter what you do now. You can’t skip steps. You have to do it all.
“You can’t go into the weekend and hope to get it right. You have to be ready ahead of time.”