I’ll say this about the Green Bay Packers’ 2023 draft class: It’s voluminous and quite unlike any Packers draft in recent years.
Let’s start with the volume: 13 picks. With the team chasing Super Bowls behind Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for the last 25 years or so, the idea of drafting 13 players for their talent-rich roster would be absurd. But with the salary cap bills coming due this year and next, the Pack knows it needs to take as many swings as possible to infuse their top heavy roster with young, affordable talent.
Then there’s the makeup of the draft: seven skill position players and no offensive linemen. In the words of Vince Lombardi: “What the hell’s going on around here?!” It was time to invest in offense and with 13 picks, Gutey and his staff loaded up.
How’d he do? The general consensus seems to be pretty well, but nobody knows for sure, obviously. If you can get three future starters out of a draft, you’ve done well. And with the holes the team filled (especially at tight end and defensive line) there are opportunities for a lot of these guys to get on the field right away.
In no way do I have the expertise to grade these picks, but I’ve ranked them in the order I like them. This will be fun to look back on in a few years, or not.
13. Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State (5th, 149)
There was little doubt the Pack would draft a quarterback, but taking Clifford in the fifth round was ridiculous. He was projected to be a priority free agent, and the team likely could have snagged him with one of their four seventh round picks. The QBs were flying off the board on Saturday — call it the Brock Purdy effect — but the Packers panicked here. There was a lot of value on the board in the defensive backfield in particular.
12. Anders Carlson, K, Auburn (6th, 207)
I expected them to snag a kicker in the seventh round. When Michigan’s Jake Moody went in the third to the San Francisco 49ers (!) and Maryland’s Chad Ryland went a round later to the New England Patriots, the Pack probably figured they couldn’t wait that long. This pick smacks of special teams czar Rich Bisaccia screaming, I coached his brother! I turned him into a star after Mike Zimmer kicked him to the curb. I know this kid. I’m great with Carlsons. After two injury-plagued seasons, Carlson is apparently healthy, but his track record isn’t great. He doesn’t have a very strong leg on kickoffs, isn’t very good beyond 50 yards, struggled on mid-range kicks, and hasn’t kicked in the cold. Gutey would be wise to keep Mason Crosby on speed dial.
11. Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State (2nd, 42)
I really, really hope Musgrave turns out to be one of the future gems of this class, and I love the fact that Green Bay finally paid attention to this long-ignored position. Without much college production, they’re betting on Musgrave’s athletic traits and measurables. There will be extra scrutiny on this pick, since it’s the one that came over from the New York Jets.
Musgrave’s inability to stay healthy scares me. A knee injury cost him all but two games last season, and he missed games in every season in college. Musgrave caught just 47 balls his entire career and will now be tasked with being the opening day starter. I had my heart set on the behemoth Darnell Washington from Georgia, who dropped to the bottom of the third round with concerns about his knee. The Pack passed on him twice, in favor of the speedier Musgrave. I hope they’re right.
10. Lew Nichols, RB, C. Michigan (7th, 235)
I have nothing against this uber-productive back who led the FBS in rushing in 2021. Nichols hails from Matt LaFleur’s hometown, which may have helped his cause. My issue is that I was hoping the team would seek out more of an Aaron Jones type back, rather than an AJ Dillon clone. Nichols has shown to be a capable receiver and is used to cold weather. But I thought a shifty, gadget type guy would have added more to the offense. With the future of this position unknown beyond 2023, Nichols could find himself with a meaty role on this team a year from now.
9: Grant DuBose, WR, Charlotte (7th, 256)
I had to put this kid somewhere on my list. DuBose was Green Bay’s 13th and final pick and the third WR drafted (second straight year the team went to the well three times at receiver). Assuming he doesn’t trip over his own feet this summer, Dubose is likely headed to the practice squad for the foreseeable future. But watch his tape: He looks like an NFL receiver.
8. Lukas Van Ness, OLB, Iowa (1st, 13)
The young, freakishly athletic former Hawkeye made NFL history as the first player picked in the first round to never start a game in college. That’s more a function of how Iowa handles its depth chart by rewarding upperclassmen than it is a reflection on Van Ness. My reason for placing him this low is that I would have preferred they take the best receiver in the class, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Yes, I know. The Packers have shown they value premium positions, especially when they’re picking this high. But the JSN pick would have shown they are all about giving Jordan Love the best chance to succeed in 2023. If he ends up being Watt-like, I’ll happily eat my words.
7. Carrington Valentine, CB, Kentucky (7th, 232)
I don’t remember a Packers draft where they waited this long to add to the cornerback room. Granted, they like their top four guys, but you can never have too many. And one of them, Eric Stokes, still has a lot to prove. I like that Valentine excels in man coverage and hope Joe Barry allows his corners to play to their strengths. He probably could have benefited from one more year in college, but Valentine has the traits that could put him on the field regularly in a couple of years. Probably a practice squad guy in 2023.
6. Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia (5th, 159)
Like Dubose, Wicks will have to fight to earn a roster spot. He’ll have to figure out a way to cut down on the drops, which caused him to last this long on the board. But there is a path to the No. 4 spot on the depth chart if he hits the ground running. Scouts see a little Allen Lazard in Wicks, and he suffered a bit with a new coaching staff coming in last year. He broke the school record for receiving yards (Herman Moore) in 2021.
5. Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan St. (2nd, 50)
I give the team a lot of credit for executing trades that moved them down five spots, netting them two extra picks, which turned into two intriguing rookies (Wicks and Brooks). We all know Green Bay’s shining record of finding great receivers in the second round, but Reed was projected by most as a third-rounder, and there were some tantalizing names still available (Rice, Hyatt, Downs, Tillman, Mims). I like everything I’m hearing about Reed. His versatility and strength in the slot, and his toughness and hunger to be great. Plus, the fact that he should step right into the punt return role and maybe become that long sought out Swiss Army knife on offense. But his athletic score is lower than the Pack usually goes for. This was an important selection for Love’s development. They need to get it right.
4. Karl Brooks, DL, Bowling Green (6th, 179)
The Pack waited till Day 3 to address the holes on the defensive line, but I think they found a couple of gems. Brooks jumps off the tape, but you temper the excitement knowing that he’s playing in the MAC. He had offers to transfer to a bigger program (like another guy coming up on this list), but styed loyal to Bowling Green. Brooks is versatile enough to line all over the line and will get every opportunity to replace some of the snaps Green Bay lost when Lowry and Reed departed.
3. Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn (4th, 116)
I didn’t know anything about this kid before Saturday. I just knew the team had work to do to add depth along the defensive line. Then you watch his tape and read what evaluators had to say, and you can’t help but get a little excited. There are lot of questions up front beyond Kenny Clark, with Devonte Wyatt and TJ Slaton expected to take major steps forward. Wooden has a chance to work right into the rotation and take many of those Lowry snaps.
2. Anthony Johnson Jr., S, Iowa State (7th, 242)
I can hear you from here. Really Dave? Your second favorite pick was the 242nd pick in the draft? Hear me out. I’d been waiting for the team to pick a safety since Friday night, and when they didn’t, I had this guy’s name on my tongue when the draft resumed on Saturday. Okay, so this wasn’t a deep class of safeties, which unfortunate when your depth chart is rather lacking there.
I think Johnson will be a starter for this team in 2024. He almost came out last year as a corner, but he made the position switch and now gives you the coverage ability of a corner with the size and aggression of a safety. That versatility will allow him to compete a bit at the nickel or dime spots early if needed, as he learns the tackling traits needed to be a reliable safety. I was banging the table for the Pack to take him when they drafted Clifford. I love that he was still on the board this late.
1. Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota St. (3rd, 78)
Yes, I’m aware of the inherent danger of putting a third round Gutey pick at the top of my list. (See his third round track record: Oren Burks, Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara, Amari Rodgers, Sean Rhyan….woof!) But the streak ends here. Part of what I love most about this pick is that he wasn’t afraid to go back to the tight end well on the second night of the draft. As I mentioned, Musgrave’s greatest ability has not been his availability, so doubling up at this spot makes a ton of sense. Kraft also dealt with some injuries, but there’s a reason he’s been compared to fellow former Jackrabbit Dallas Goedert.
Kraft has all the size, speed and toughness you look for in a tight end. He could have improved his draft stock and his portfolio by transferring to Alabama and the seven-figure NIL deal that was there for the taking, but he stayed and helped his team win an FCS title. I don’t know if he or Musgrave will end up emerging as the team’s best tight end. Who knows, maybe they’ll become Gronk-Hernandez 2.0 (on the field only). But I love the fact that the team decided to take two early swings to fortify a position that will make Jordan Love’s job a lot easier.