Brian Gutekunst has often described the team-building effort as a “365-day-a-year” process. He’s also had the track record to back up that philosophy. At Gutekunst’s opening press conference when the Green Bay Packers promoted him to general manager in 2018, he expounded upon this philosophy further, stating:
I think I learned a long time ago, from the beginning, that you always want to create competition, and once you kind of realize a player isn’t good enough, you need to move on. Even if the player you bring in you’re not quite sure is good enough either, it’s better to move on and bring another player in and see if he can do it rather than stick with the player you know can’t.
That philosophy has played out a few different ways throughout the years. Still, you can consistently see Gutekunst’s willingness to change up the back end of his rosters. Here’s a smattering of some of Gutekunst’s more notable back-end roster moves:
- 09/25/2018: Signed free-agent CB Bashaud Breeland
- 12/17/2018: Signed WR Allen Lazard from the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad
- 10/05/2021: Signed CB Rasul Douglas from the Arizona Cardinals practice squad
- 10/20/2021: Signed LB Whitney Mercilus after he was released from the Houston Texans
- 10/04/2022: Signed LB Eric Wilson off of the New Orleans Saints practice squad
- 11/24/2022: Claimed LB Justin Hollins off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams
While the roster churn is partially to create more competition, many of Gutekunst’s most crucial moves are either to provide depth in a room for a playoff roster, like Mercilus and Douglas or to try to find a player who can provide future competition in a room, like Lazard and Wilson. Gutekunst’s niftiest bit of business may have been getting Douglas, re-signing him, and then flipping him and a fifth-round pick earlier this year to the Buffalo Bills for a third-round pick.
In recent weeks, Gutekunst has been on the hunt again. He’s placed claims on CBs Robert Rochell, who the Los Angeles Rams released, and Kyu Blu Kelly, who the Seattle Seahawks let go. Let’s look at Rochell and Kelly and where they may fit in the Packers’ short- and long-term plans.
A 2021 fourth-round pick, Rochell played in 28 games for the Rams. He posted a positive rookie effort in 2021 with a PFF grade of 61.9 on defense. Coming out of college, Rochell was described as a “freakish” athlete with a reported 79” wingspan, 4.38 40-yard dash, and a 3.89-second short shuttle. His athleticism hasn’t translated to the most consistent on-field performance. However, Rochell has also shown flashes on special teams, which may be the initial role the Packers envision for him. In the play below, Rochell shows the ability to use his speed to get downfield on the punt coverage unit. We started to see Rochell get snaps on both kickoff and punt coverage, as well as punt returns against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Baltimore Ravens’ fifth-round pick in 2023, Kelly has racked up the frequent flier miles recently. Baltimore released him after training camp, and he latched on with the Seattle Seahawks, where he racked up 37 special teams snaps. Kelly came out of college with a lot of playing experience, having played in 37 games at Stanford. While he’s only had a cup of coffee in the NFL, Kelly still comes with multiple years of team control beyond this season.
Kelly and Rochell likely profile in the vein of “back-of-the-rooster” types who can provide competition and depth as defensive backs and contribute on special teams. The Packers could also use their help as soon as possible. To date, the Packers have ranked 28th in the league in DVOA on special teams. If Kelly or Rochell can make a splash play or two on special teams over the back half of the season, don’t be surprised if they end up sticking around into 2024 and start earning more snaps on defense.