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Prepared for draft, Packers 'can't predict' exactly how it'll go

GM Brian Gutekunst has seen and done plenty in his years running the show

Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst & Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst & Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – Brian Gutekunst has entered a draft with two first-round picks before.

He's made trades on the opening night of the draft before, moving up and back.

He's waited out a long night and picked at the bottom of the first round, too.

So there isn't much the Packers general manager hasn't seen or done in running his first four Green Bay drafts, and all sorts of possibilities are on the table as Gutekunst owns the No. 22 and 28 selections in the first round Thursday night, plus two more picks in the second round to open Friday night.

But while nothing would necessarily surprise him, the key is reacting swiftly and confidently to whatever does occur. That's what these last few pre-draft weeks have been about, as Gutekunst and his personnel staff have gone over countless options as to how the early portion of the draft could fall.

"I think it's just being prepared for all the scenarios that can possibly happen," Gutekunst said Monday afternoon, a little more than 72 hours before the draft kicks off. "You really can't predict it."

What he can predict is all the analysts obsessing over when he's going to draft a wide receiver, with the Packers trading Davante Adams and losing Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in free agency, while adding only Sammy Watkins, over the past month and a half.

Green Bay hasn't drafted a receiver in the first round since taking Javon Walker in 2002, and even with a pair of first-round picks this year, that streak could continue because the Packers have five more picks in the second through fourth rounds as well.

Gutekunst shocked everyone two years ago when he didn't select a single receiver from what had been touted as one of the deepest drafts at that position in recent memory. Last year he traded up in the third round for Clemson's Amari Rodgers.

As the college game continues to crank out receiver prospects at a fast pace, this could be the year Gutekunst pounces early once or even twice, as using a second-round pick on a receiver would be a first for the Packers since selecting Adams in 2014.

"The last few have been pretty deep, and I think this one is another one," Gutekunst said of the receiver class. "But history still kind of shows that for all rookies, not just wide receivers, but for all rookies, it takes time. This is a hard league. There's a learning curve before these guys really start to produce at a high level."

The Packers are in the market for early contributors and depth at a number of positions, with the offensive and defensive line, edge rusher and tight end among the more prominently mentioned.

They have the draft capital – 11 selections in all, seven in the first four rounds – to load up and/or move around for particular targets. Gutekunst classified the depth of the linemen on both sides as "pretty good," in part due to the pandemic-impacted college season of 2020 giving a lot of players an extra year of eligibility to stay in school and enter the draft this year instead.

He also indicated the Packers' draft board has larger numbers of late-round and undrafted candidates that will make Green Bay's three seventh-round picks and strong history in the college free agent market an intriguing finish to the three days.

As for finalizing that board, Gutekunst said he still plans to have some discussions with Head Coach Matt LaFleur this week, but the heavy lifting is done. Putting out and receiving feelers on trade possibilities will continue from now until the Packers are on the clock Thursday night.

"Certainly it'd be nice to have some of those things ironed out before you got into it, but that's not always the way it works," Gutekunst said.

"We're getting down to it. Over the weekend we got very comfortable with the board, where we're at, and just trying not make a mistake at the last minute here."

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