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Huge opportunity awaits Packers in 2019 draft

Early-round positioning is rare for Green Bay


INDIANAPOLIS – Technically, it's an opportunity neither Ron Wolf nor Ted Thompson ever matched in Green Bay.

If he stays where he is, General Manager Brian Gutekunst will pick three of the first 44 players in the 2019 NFL Draft, an early haul of top-level talent that could have a major impact on the present and future of the Packers.

"It's big for our football team," Gutekunst said from the NFL Scouting Combine of having the 12th, 30th and 44th picks in the first two rounds. "I think it's really important that we hit on those three picks.

"Those guys up there have a chance to immediately impact our team not only for the short term but for the long term as well. We're excited."

Gutekunst is in this position primarily thanks to a pair of draft-day trades last year, which netted an extra first-round pick from New Orleans, the 30th selection.

Gutekunst's mentors never made three picks quite this high in the same draft, though they each had front-loaded opportunities they certainly made count.

Wolf's picked three of the top 52 players in his first draft in 1992, which yielded cornerback Terrell Buckley and receiver Robert Brooks. That year, Wolf also had extra picks in both the first and second rounds, which were traded in advance for QB Brett Favre and coach Mike Holmgren, respectively.

Thompson's first two drafts featured three picks in the top 58 in 2005, bringing in QB Aaron Rodgers and safety Nick Collins, and then three in the top 52 in '06, producing linebacker A.J. Hawk, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge and receiver Greg Jennings. (Another note: Thompson actually entered that draft with three picks in the top 37, in part due to the Javon Walker trade, but he traded back from two high second-round spots to take Colledge at 47 and Jennings at 52 while picking up other late-round picks.)

Of course there's no guarantee Gutekunst stands pat and takes three players in the first 44 picks. He also pointed out those positions will give him the ability to move around the board, as he did last year, if the right opportunity arises.

He did say it would take a "significant" offer, perhaps another future first-rounder like last year's trade with the Saints, to move back from No. 12, the Packers' highest first-round slot since taking B.J. Raji at No. 9 overall in 2009.

Photos of Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, General Manager Brian Gutekunst, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

It's possible he could have a half-dozen players rated equally at 12 and feel comfortable moving back several spots, but "if you ask me today, I don't think that's how it'll fall," he said.

Another option with two first-rounders and a mid-second would be to move up higher than 12 if an available player warranted the investment. Last year from his original 14th spot, Gutekunst said he explored trade-up possibilities until around the 10th or 11th pick, but nothing materialized and he ultimately went the other way.

One factor that will affect the value of Gutekunst's 12th pick is where the first-round quarterbacks get taken, a pivot point in any draft. Four QBs going in the top 10 last year in effect helped the Packers land cornerback Jaire Alexander, a potential mainstay at a premier position, at No. 18 after Gutekunst's trades.

"I pray for patience all the time," Gutekunst said of the urge to trade up when the draft's biggest names are getting called. "It really comes down to being about the player.

"If there's a player that I think the only way we can acquire him is to go get him and he's at a different value than the guys that will be sitting there, then we'll do it. But I'm just going to kind of see how it shakes out."

Gutekunst added he's thinking about possible trade scenarios all the time, but those start to take more realistic shape around mid-March and through April leading up to the draft.

After the Packers' contingent returns from the combine next week, it'll spend about 10 days reviewing and adjusting the draft board, which helps to reveal rounds or positions of strength (or weakness). Those areas then allow (or require) flexibility to achieve certain goals.

Gutekunst feels this upcoming draft is particularly deep on the defensive front – one of the best he's seen – and the offensive line crop is also "above average." That matches up well with some of the Packers' more poignant needs.

To be clear, this draft for the Packers isn't just about the first three picks, as high as they are. Despite no compensatory picks, Green Bay currently has 10 selections, including six in the first four rounds.

After their first three selections, the Packers also have picks No. 75 in the third round and Nos. 114 and 118 in the fourth round, the latter acquired from Washington in the midseason trade last year of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

After all the studying and evaluations, GMs generally pinpoint a spot in the draft where the talent level falls off considerably. It might be after 100 picks, or 150, or somewhere in between.

Gutekunst hasn't determined where that is yet, but this week's combine will give him a better idea. That can also influence some decisions, but it doesn't need to dictate them, either.

"Ted always used to say, 'There's always a good player every time you pick in the draft, you just have to find him,'" Gutekunst said. "So that's kind of where we're at now. Hopefully that plateau will be after the fourth round, because obviously we have a lot of picks in those first four."

In the end, the film work, interviews, medical reports and other information gathered this week in Indianapolis gears a GM toward being as prepared as possible for the draft, ready to react to any and all scenarios.

"I don't think you can go into a draft rigid without looking at all the possibilities and being prepared to move either way," said Gutekunst, who certainly lived by that philosophy in his first draft as GM a year ago. "I really believe you've got to be open-minded to what gets thrown at you because otherwise you could miss some opportunities."

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