Gutey’s third draft class. Where do we begin? Well, the obvious spot to start is with his first selection, the one that will now determine whether he is still the general manager in four or five years. I wrote about the earth-shattering, Titletown-tilting selection of QB Jordan Love on the morning after the first round and there will be plenty of time to delve deeper in the days and weeks ahead.
For me, the reality of the Pack’s 2020 draft is the undeniable fact that the starting lineup didn’t noticeably improve. I have to think the Packers stand alone in this regard. And that’s what frustrating to Packer fans, myself included. As I said on “In the Zone” Saturday, the Pack’s championship window is by no means closed, but I’m not sure my mutt terrier could squeeze through it.
A team that surprised most and reached the NFC title game, didn’t identify and add draft capital that can make it better in 2020. If the trade-up in round one had netted them linebacker Patrick Queen or WR Michael Pittman, they would have addressed areas that need upgrades.
But the theme of this draft is the remaking of the Packers offense into one that more resembles the way Matt LaFleur wants to play. That means a much stronger commitment to running the ball and using those running formations in the passing game as well. We will see less and less three receiver sets (not to mention four WR spread formations), and more multiple tight end looks–think San Francisco.
That doesn’t forgive passing on what was considered the deepest WR class in decades. But when they committed to moving up for Love, they became hamstrung when it came to grabbing a receiver they may have coveted. They came off the board in droves in the second and the loss of their fourth round pick in the Love deal took away their best chance to move up even if they wanted to.
In all, seven receivers came off the board in the second, with Denzel Mims, a name that was assigned to the Pack in the first round in a lot of mocks, getting plucked just three picks before Green Bay. I was pounding the table, yelling Logan Wilson’s name when they were on the clock (just like I had done for Queen in the first round). If not, electric Antonio Gibson from Memphis would be fun, or maybe OT Josh Jones or DT Justin Madubuike from A&M.
Instead, Gutey went running back, a position we figured they’d target at some point in the draft, with Jones and Williams in the final years of their rookie deals. But in the second round? And AJ Dillon was a prospect that most believed had a 50-50 shot of being picked on Friday. Felt like kind of a reach, especially when this felt like a pick that needed to strongly impact this year’s team. Not that Dillon can’t do that, especially if one of the other guys gets hurt. Dillon seems to be built in the Derrick Henry mold, just a shorter version. By taking him here, Gutey needs to hit on this pick. I’m not saying he needs to be Henry, but he needs to be better than Eddie Lacy was.
The third round pick is where Gutey lost me. I joked to my son Jackson right before the pick, ‘watch the Pack take a fullback here.’ I was a little bitter that the first two picks didn’t inject much into next year’s team and knew the Pack wouldn’t be picking again until another 100 or so names came off the board. There were some highly touted inside linebackers on the board, a couple of tackles and a couple prolific tight ends.
Turns out, Gutey did grab a tight end, albeit one I’d never heard of–I’m guessing most of you hadn’t either. And in Josiah Deguara they appear to have drafted, wait for it, their new fullback. LaFleur envisions Deguara replacing Danny Vitale and playing the part of 49er Kyle Juszczyk. Fine, you want a guy like that? Take him in the sixth round, not the third. I almost used an exclamation point right there, but it seemed like overkill. Just know that I really wrote that sentence with an exclamation point in mind.
The Pack’s first three picks netted them a possible QB of the future, possible future “thunder” part of a thunder and lightning backfield with Aaron Jones in 2021 and an H-back who figures to play 15-20 snaps a game and help on special teams.
And to top it all off, they had to wait some 70 picks before they’d be on the clock on Saturday. By then, the dream of adding a wide receiver who could impact 2020 was dead. Barring a free agency addition like Tyler Gabriel (which I would heartily endorse) or a veteran casualty added in the next few months, the team plans to roll with Adams, Lazard, Funchess, MVS, EQSB, Jake Kumerow, Malik Taylor and Reggie Begelton.
We’re already hearing that next year’s WR class might be as good or better than this one. That gives us 12 months to wait and see whether Gutey and his staff will pass on another stellar class.
When they finally picked again, the added a familiar name, former Gopher Kamal Martin. Love his game, love his love for the game, hate his injury history. If he can put that behind him, he can be on the field in sub packages as a guy with the cover ability and speed to cover tight ends and help in the running game a bit. I still wish the Pack had added a much stronger prospect at this position. In Martin, Kirksey and Burks, the Pack is counting on guys who have all had a tough time staying on the field.
With the three sixth round picks, Gutey surprisingly went all offensive line all the time. Jon Runyan is a guy we’ve all seen play for years at Michigan, and his dad in Philly before him. In drafting former Oregon Center Jake Hanson, they get a look at a guy who could be Corey Linsley insurance, if they let the veteran walk in 2021. Lucas Patrick could also be the starter-in-waiting at center. The third pick, Simon Stepaniak, a fellow Hoosier, tore his ACL in December and figures to land on the practice squad. A former captain, he’s versatile enough to play all three interior spots, which will earn him a look.
With the two seventh round picks, Gutey decided to roll the dice on a pair of defensive players. Of the two, former Hurricane Jonathan Garvin has a better chance to stick, likely as an OLB, maybe to replace Kyler Fackrell. He played DE at Miami and scouting reports say he had the talent to go on day two, but dropped because he didn’t show effort consistently. He has a similar build as the Smiths and if he can follow their lead, he may have a shot.
The safety that the Pack took first, Vernon Scott from TCU, was seen as a likely undrafted player, but the Pack liked his speed (he ran in the 4.4s) and think he can cover in the slot. He’s a dart throw.
The Pack added 15 undrafted guys after the draft, including a (gasp) wide receiver, Darrell Stewart, from Michigan State. A few interesting guys to keep an eye on: CBs Stanford Samuels (Florida State) and Will Sunderland (Troy) and DE Willington Previlion (Rutgers).
The Packers are getting trashed nationally for this draft class, for the main reason we’re all frustrated: they didn’t do much to take their 13-3 team over the top, while their NFC competitors most certainly did.
What you can’t deny is this: Gutey and his staff have put their careers in Green Bay on the line with this draft strategy. It really starts and ends with the Jordan Love pick. But it is now obvious the offense is taking on the identity that its coach wants. And if the LaFleur offense takes off in year two, led by a defiant Aaron Rodgers, and this team is once again an elite NFC team, the lack of new weapons added will be a non-story.
It’s very easy to sit back and say the Packers bungled this draft, and they may very well have. But like most drafts, we’ll probably look at it very differently in a few years.
Let’s hope that’s the case.