Every NFL head coach and general manager is euphoric after the conclusion of the annual National Football League draft.
“You always feel good right now,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said in his post-draft press conference. “But the bottom line is you’ve got to get these guys in here and see what they can do.”
LaFleur was pleased with the 11 additions to his three-time defending NFC North championship team, which has fallen short of their ultimate goal in the playoffs despite having the most regular-season victories (39) over the past three seasons.
“I know nothing comes easy in this league and if you rest on your successes from yesterday you’re probably going to get worse,” he said. “So we’re always of that mindset of, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.”
Like any NFL team, the Green Bay Packers had several holes to fill and depth concerns entering the draft last week with the departure of key players like Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Lucas Patrick, Billy Turner, and Za’Darius Smith.
With 11 original picks at his disposal, general manager Brian Gutekunst had the luxury of flexibility and options—along with a deep talent pool at wide receiver.
With the top six receivers gone in the first round, Gutekunst stood firm at No. 22 and No. 28 in the first round and fortified the Green Bay defense with Georgia linebacker Quay Walker and lineman Devonte Wyatt—no doubt much to the delight of defensive coordinator Joe Barry, whose unit has the potential to be among the NFL’s elite this season.
“We lost some guys (on defense) that we’ll need other guys to step up into their roles and certainly implementing a few of these draft picks into those roles as well,” LaFleur said. “We’re excited about it. But again, nothing’s guaranteed.”
On Friday, Gutekunst made a move to ensure the Packers got the receiver they coveted.
He orchestrated a trade with new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings for Green Bay’s two second-round choices (No. 53 and No. 59) to move up and snare North Dakota State’s speedy receiver Christian Watson with the 34th overall pick.
“Obviously Christian put up a sub-4.30 40,” LaFleur said. “I mean, he’s flying. But I think the play speed of all those guys (rookie receivers) is pretty good.
“Certainly we’re not going to find Davante Adams, at least not initially. Certainly, I don’t want to limit any of these guys and say they can’t become that. . . It’s a process and it takes some time. Certainly, we’re going to push them to be their best right away because that’s what we need from them.”
Gutekunst ended the evening with the selection of tackle/guard Sean Rhyan of UCLA in the third round with the 92nd overall.
On Saturday, rounds 4-7 provided Gutekunst with the opportunity to add depth and versatility to a talented overall roster and new blood on the team’s Achilles’ Heel: special teams.
“I don’t think I went into it thinking I was going to have three offensive linemen or three wide receivers,” he said. “I think it’s just as we got later in the day (Saturday). . . you look at all the different options and we kind of tried to stay as much as we could to what was the best player available.”
Gutekunst added to the receiver and offensive line groups in the fourth round with the selection of Romeo Doubs of Nevada at No. 132 and tackle Zach Tom of Wake Forest at 140th overall.
With their only selection in Round 5, Green Bay went defensive with linebacker Kingsley Enagbare of South Carolina at No. 179.
In the seventh round, Gutekunst split his four picks, choosing physical safety/linebacker Tariq Carpenter of Georgia Tech (228 overall), behemoth 6-foot-5, 341-pound nose tackle Jonathan Ford of Miami (234 overall), versatile tackle Rasheed Walker of Penn State (249 overall), and wide receiver Samori Toure of Nebraska (258).
While the goal is always to select the best player available, Gutekunst said targeting players who could contribute immediately as core special teams players for new coordinator Rich Bisaccia came into play.
“We’ve got to get better there, so I think we’re open to a lot of different things that maybe we wouldn’t have done in the past,” Gutekunst said.
“We were looking at that a bunch and certainly guys like Carpenter. . . that factored in,” Gutekunst said. “At the same time, we wanted to kind of stay true to our board. We try to do that in the seventh round because you can make some mistakes there. Sometimes you can get caught up looking at the depth charts and saying, ‘How great a chance does this guy have to make the team?’”
Gutekunst said the numbers in position groups can quickly change due to injuries once the 2022 team takes the field in OTAs, mini-camps, and training camp.
The return units will get a boost from Watson and Doubs—and possibly the coverage units with their speed as potential gunners. Carpenter (6-3, 230) and Enagbare are athletic and tough defenders who could earn roster spots as backups and become core special team players. Touri, who led all BigTen receivers with a 19.5-yard per catch average last season, can also contribute to special teams and maybe a steal as a seventh-rounder.
Did the Packers improve their special team’s units, especially with Saturday’s selections? LaFleur is optimistic.
“Yeah, I think time will tell,” he said. “We have hopes for these guys, but again they’re going to have to get here and prove it.
“I think it comes down to his (Bisaccia) vision for these guys and putting them through consistent drill work. It’s going to be kind of a work-in-progress. I think we’ll have a lot better feel once we get out on the field. . . that’ll be a great opportunity for him to get his hands on these guys and get a good feel for what they can do.”
Time will tell how Gutekunst’s draft class rates compare to his four others, but one thing is certain for this year’s Packers team in a Super Bowl-or-bust season.
“Competition’s going to bring out the best and the cream’s going to rise,” he said. “That’s something that we needed to do and I think we accomplished that.”