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Packers possess strong track record with early receiver draft picks

Tight end likely to be addressed, too

WR Davante Adams
WR Davante Adams

GREEN BAY – General Manager Brian Gutekunst made it clear at the end of the 2019 season he was going to add to the receiver position heading into 2020.

He's already done so, and he's probably just gotten started.

The Packers signed free agent Devin Funchess, the former second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2014, after a year lost to injury in Indianapolis, and back in the winter they picked up Reggie Begelton from the CFL.

Funchess is now three years removed from his best season (63 catches, 840 yards, eight TDs in 2017 with the Panthers), while Begelton is coming off a monster year with Calgary (102-1,444-10) but has never played in the NFL, so neither acquisition precludes the Packers adding an early-round pick at receiver in the draft.

Not with Davante Adams the only wideout who produced on a consistent basis (83-997-5 in 12 games) in the first year of Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense, and not with this receiver draft class considered the deepest and most talented in recent memory.

The Packers haven't used a draft pick in the first two rounds on a receiver since Adams six years ago, but dating back through the Ted Thompson era, the Packers have a stellar track record when selecting receivers early. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Adams, who is now the first Packers receiver to go to three straight Pro Bowls since Sterling Sharpe, were all second-round choices, while James Jones was a third-rounder.

That scouting acumen, combined with the draft's depth at the position, could allow the Packers to use their first-round pick (No. 30 overall) elsewhere and find good value at receiver in the second or third rounds.

Then again, if the right guy is there, using a first-rounder on a receiver for the first time since 2002 (Javon Walker) isn't out of the question.

Either way, the Packers will continue to see how their young prospects develop, with Geronimo Allison now gone in free agency to the Lions.

Undrafted from Iowa State two years ago, Allen Lazard (35-477-3) emerged as the No. 2 behind Adams as the 2019 season progressed, and he caught two of the biggest TD passes of the season, both spurring comebacks vs. division rival Detroit.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling (26-452-2) faded after a solid start last season, and his playing time had greatly diminished when the playoffs rolled around. Jake Kumerow (12-219-1) contributed minimally, while Equanimeous St. Brown will get a restart after last season was washed out due to injury.

Also back are Darrius Shepherd, who made the roster out of training camp last year before getting released and re-signed to the practice squad, and Malik Taylor, another practice-squad holdover.

With Funchess, Begelton and a potential high draft pick added to the mix, the competition for roster spots and pecking-order position will look considerably different in 2020, which is just what Gutekunst is aiming for.

Tight end isn't staying the same, either. The Packers released Jimmy Graham from the final year of his contract before he signed with the Bears, and they brought back veteran Marcedes Lewis as a stabilizing presence, both on the field as a blocker and in the locker room as a leader.

The rest, once again, remains developing youth, with the potential for the draft to add here as well, though the position doesn't compare to receiver in terms of high-level prospects.

The most attention at tight end in 2020 will surround second-year pro Jace Sternberger, the third-round pick from Texas A&M a year ago who lost half his rookie season to injury. As Sternberger was worked into the rotation the second half of the year, he showed more promise as a blocker than draft pundits projected. Then he recorded both his first NFL reception and TD pass in the playoffs.

Sternberger's continued, rapid progression will be key for a unit that also brings back Robert Tonyan, who missed five games at midseason with a hip injury and never settled into a steady role in 2019, and Evan Baylis, who shuttled back and forth between the active roster and practice squad last season.

Take a look at photos of Packers TE Jace Sternberger from the 2019 season.

Tonyan and Baylis both entered the league undrafted, while James Looney, a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, was converted from defensive line to tight end as he spent all of last season on the practice squad.

An investment at tight end in the draft to build further for the future, particularly with Lewis entering his 15th season, is a pretty good bet. But how soon in the draft is the question.

With receiver and other needs higher priorities, Gutekunst spending one of his seven third-day picks – rather than a precious early pick, like he did last year on Sternberger – seems most likely.


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