The 2020 draft may well define Gutekunst’s career in Green Bay.
The Packers’ third-year general manager again made a bold move in the first round.
By trading up four spots in the first round to select talented but unpolished quarterback Jordan Jove of Utah State with the 26th overall pick, Gutekunst looked to secure the future of the franchise at the marquee position.
Ron Wolf knows something about bold moves. In 1992, he traded one of Green Bay’s first-round picks to Atlanta for a raw, unproven talent, evoking the wrath of the Packers fanbase.
“I received a lot of unpleasant phone calls and letters,” former Packers president Bob Harlan said. “They couldn’t believe we had traded a #1 pick for Brett Favre when Don Majkowski was our quarterback.”
The response from Packers Nation was no less favorable when then GM Ted Thompson selected Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 Draft, when fans clamored for more weapons for Favre.
“I know nothing about Jordan Love,” Wolf said Monday from his Florida home. “ My notion is, you have to protect your number one position in the game. That’s quarterback. If you have the opportunity to get someone you think has the talent and potential to be a high-quality player at any position in the draft, you’d better take it. Particularly at the quarterback position. Those opportunities are rare. Time will tell if you were right or not.
“But know this. As a GM, you can’t please everyone. So like the Ricky Nelson song goes, you got to please yourself—and believe in your (draft) board.”
The Packers offensive identity is evolving, perhaps relying less on the 36-year-old Rodgers as the run will set up the pass. As a disciple of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, LaFleur values versatile backs, tight ends and receivers who can line up all over the field to create mismatches and stress defenses.
“Matt certainly wants to run the ball,” Gutekunst said. “(He) really wants to tie everything to the run game and off the run game, and these guys will help us do that.”
LaFleur said, “I think as we’ve gone through a full season, we have a much better idea of who we are, of what we do well, and now it’s on us to put that plan in place.”
Make no mistake. Rodgers is the Packers most valuable offensive asset and undisputed team leader.
“Aaron is a pro, and he’s the leader of our football team, and I anticipate that for a really long time,” LaFleur said. “Aaron’s by far the best quarterback I’ve ever been around. I think he’s the best ever to play the game. I hope he can play until he decides he doesn’t want to play anymore.”
Green Bay exceeded expectations with a 14-4 record in LaFleur’s rookie season and fell one game shy of the Super Bowl, but were out-coached and outplayed by San Francisco in the NFC Championship game.
As the dust settles on the Packers 2020 draft, a new run-first philosophy may be instituted this season for the Green Bay offense. It may be best for the team and the 36-year-old Rodgers. And the Green Bay draft was decidedly offensive.
With 13 wide receivers already off the board, a bruising running back, a complement to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, was taken in the second round.
Round three brought a versatile tight end to an existing receiver group led by veteran Davante Adams and a stable of unproven raw talent.
The focus was on offense, but Packer Nation awaited the name of a play-making wide receiver to be called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in this receiver-rich draft pool.
It would not happen on Day 3 either.
“It’s a little bit the way everything kind of fell early in the draft,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “It just didn’t work out that we were able to select some of the guys we had rated really highly.
“I thought the top was one of the stronger drafts at the wide receiver class that I can remember, but the runs went pretty early, and once we got to a certain spot, with the group that we had coming back, it wasn’t like we weren’t looking to add to that competition. We just felt that there weren’t a lot of great candidates that were locks to make our team next year.”
Rounds 4-7 on Saturday started and ended with defense for Green Bay, with a run on lineman in-between.
Gutekunst chose the University of Minnesota inside linebacker Kamal Martin in the fifth round with the 175th overall selection to add depth and athleticism at the position, with only Christian Kirksey and Oren Burks having NFL experience at present.
Then came a franchise first, as Gutekunst selected three offensive lineman in the sixth round. Their common trait: physical run blockers who fit the Packers’ zone-blocking scheme.
The NFL Draft was instituted in 1936, and the only time Green Bay selected two linemen in a single round came in 1968. Then GM-only Vince Lombardi selected a guard (Richard Cash) and center (Ron Worthen) in the 10th round.
Michigan’s guard Jon Runyan (102 overall) brings an aggressive, physical attitude and has an NFL pedigree as his father had a successful pro career from 1996-2009. Oregon center Jake Hanson (208 overall) is 303-pounder who may also be cross-trained to play guard. Indiana guard Simon Stepaniak (209 overall), is a 321-pounder who performed 37 reps of 225-pounds at the combine. His rehab after knee surgery is on track for pads this summer.
In the seventh round, Gutekunst went defensive, selecting TCU safety Vernon Scott with the 236th pick and finishing with Miami’s DE Jonathan Garvin at 242. Scott may be an immediate contributor on special teams while Garvin, nicknamed “Spider,” is an athletic edge rusher with raw potential.