You can say one thing about the drafting mind of Brian Gutekunst: he’s willing to take chances and he did just that on opening night of his second go-around running the Pack’s draft–just as he did a year ago.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that when the Packers were on the clock at 12, their highest drafting position in a decade, I had some firm opinions: my top options were Brian Burns, Christian Wilkins, Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat or Marquise Brown. Guys I didn’t want: Noah Fant and Rashan Gary.
It’s not that I don’t think Gary has the potential to be a star; I mocked him to the Lions at eight. It’s just that he has ‘boom or bust’ written all over him and I thought there were some surer bets still on the board. I’m never a fan of ‘freak’ athletes whose numbers blow you away, but whose play doesn’t match the measurables. I’m also not crazy about drafting those kinds of players who also happen to be injured. Gary disputes the torn labrum report, pointing to the 26 bench reps he did at the combine. But it sounds like his labrum will need some medical attention at some point.
By all accounts, he lives and breathes football, always practices hard and wants to get better. Anybody that runs a 4.6 at 277 pounds gets your attention. His physical attributes are similar to Za’Darius Smith and it sounds like they expect Gary to be in the outside linebacker rotation. Others believe he’s better suited up front. Regardless, Mike Pettine likes to move everybody around in the front seven and Gary should be able to do that eventually. With the Smiths, Clark, Daniels, Lowry and Martinez, there are a lot of high character, productive players in the Pack’s front seven who should be able to help unlock his potential.
There is a level of bust-ability with this pick and if Gary doesn’t become a difference-maker, and I have my doubts that he will, the Pack will have whiffed on a big opportunity to help this team reload at a critical time.
Gutey’s day one daring continued later in the first round when he parted with both early fourth round picks to move up nine spots to grab Maryland’s Darnell Savage. He insisted he was certain he wouldn’t have lasted to 30 and we’ll never know for sure, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he thought Savage was worth the move, despite fellow free safeties like Adderley and Thornhill likely available at 30.
The Savage pick is getting the most love nationally among the Pack’s new rookie class. When comps to Bob Sanders are being made, that gets my attention. Savage plays with an edge, like last year’s first round pick and that’s just what this defensive unit needs. He should step right into a starting spot next to Adrian Amos, with the ability to move up and play the slot corner at times, if needed. A versatile, hard-hitting, fast safety who is known to lead by example? A guy who one scout competed to the Honey Badger, without all the noise? I’m in.
Friday night, I went to the Avengers movie with my family, so I wasn’t watching pick by pick. I had wide receiver on the brain, seeing all the big names sitting out there and knowing what a slot guy or a speed guy could do in Matt LaFleur’s offense. The fact that Gutey ignored this position entirely, tells you that he believes in the three guys he drafted last year, along with Allison’s return and Kumerow’s possible rise. I still think they’ll keep their eyes open for a veteran.
Instead, the Packers addressed the offensive line with the addition of Elgton Jenkins, the center/guard out of Mississippi State. After reading about his length, versatility and quickness, it’s clear why the team pounced. He will immediately give Lane Taylor a run for his money at left guard, with free agent signee Billy Turner likely moving in at right guard. Assuming Bryan Bulaga has one year left in him, the Pack will hope that either Turner or Jenkins can be the long-term solution as his successor–or they’ll reload in next year’s draft.
The guard spot was a huge question mark a month ago, but with Jenkins, Turner and the return of last year’s draftee Cole Madison, there is suddenly depth and competition there. There’s a chance that Taylor, McCray and Patrick–last year’s guards, could all end up out on the street.
I loved the third round pick, Jace Sternberger. The Pack had to find a young, athletic tight end who could cause matchup problems and the Texas A&M product could be just that. In most scouting reports, he was listed as the third or fourth best tight end in this class and may just be scratching the surface. After leaving Kansas and playing JC for a year, he broke out with the Aggies–so he’s a one year wonder. I heard him compared to Travis Kelce on draft night and he says he plans to work as hard on blocking as he does on route running. He was not asked to do a lot of that at A&M. He’ll learn from Graham and Lewis this year and likely get a chance to contribute quickly. If all goes well, he’ll be the starter in 2020.
On to Saturday, where the Pack had to sit out the fourth round; payment for moving up for Savage. After an interminable wait, the Pack was finally on the clock at 150. My favorite RB, Memphis’ Tony Pollard was gone (fourth round to the Cowboys), but there were a number of nice backs on the board. Gutey had other ideas, adding a defensive lineman, and teammate of Sternberger, Kingsley Keke. Reading his draft profiles, he projects as an ascending player with the physical tools to be a starter at some point. With Mike Daniels heading to free agency after this season, the Pack add another player to compete for that spot, along with Lowry, Lancaster, Adams and maybe Gary. It’s tough to pass on another DL from the SEC, Gutey’s clearcut favorite conference.
There was no way Gutey was going through the draft without adding a cornerback. Toledo’s Ka’dar Hollman is a 4.37 speedster who has a chance to develop into a rotational corner, once he learns not to play with his hands (hopefully he won’t study Josh Jackson’s technique). He came up the hard way after going to work after high school and fighting his way to Toledo and now a day three draft pick. There are question marks at this position despite all the draft capital in recent years, so he’ll have a shot.
The Pack finally added a running back with its next pick and Dexter Williams will have a chance to contribute immediately. He’s had more than one issue off the field at Notre Dame but the Pack feels comfortable that those things are behind him. The emotional story of his mom facing terminal illness, yet planning to move to Green Bay with him, makes it hard not to root for him. LaFleur believes he’s a perfect fit with his running style. Let’s just hope that his nickname, Juice, doesn’t portend bad things to come.
With the final pick, the Packers finally added an inside linebacker and they’re getting good reviews on the addition of Ty Summers, from TCU. He was projected as a fourth or fifth rounder and appears to be a speedier version of Jake Ryan. He’ll have a chance to contribute immediately on special teams and if he turns heads might get a chance on defense at some point as well.
Draft grades are like mock drafts: meaningless. But they’re fun to read and reaction to the Pack’s class ranges from A (Pro Football Focus) to C+ (Mel Kiper), with a bunch of Bs in between.
I think this class will ultimately be judged by what the two first rounders become. Gutey and his staff need to hit on these two picks. If they do, Pettine’s defense could become the strength of this team in short order. If they don’t, we could be in for another year of mediocrity.