In a little more than 24 hours, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider took Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson in the 2012 draft. Five years later, Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans Saints got Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara, Alex Anzalone, and Trey Hendrickson in a 72-hour frame. That’s how fast things can change in the NFL. One great draft class, a couple of home runs, and fortunes are altered. A great draft can make jobs more secure and define legacies.
Is the Green Bay Packers’ 2022 draft class on par with those two hauls?
Right now, it’s hard to determine how good that class was. But if the first season indicates what these players can be, the 2022 draft class might be a turning point for the Packers.
“Obviously we will know more in a couple of years, because we don’t know how these guys turn out,” Packers assistant director of college scouting Patrick Moore mentioned right after the draft. “But Brian [Gutekunst] has done a great job of navigating who we need and who’s the best player available. It’s worked pretty well. So I’m excited about the athletes we’ve added, the big bodies we’ve added. Good people, good players, and we’ve definitely got better in the last couple of days.”
A front office will always say they love the players they have just chosen. However, results on the field have backed up those feelings.
The Packers invested heavily in their defensive front. With two first-round picks after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, the Packers went against expectations and selected two defensive players. Both are still on a learning curve, which is natural for young players in the NFL, and it’s fair to question the positional value. However, off-ball linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt have shown good signs for Green Bay.
Walker led the team in tackles with 121; former first-team All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell had 96. The rookie also had 1.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, seven passes defended, and three forced fumbles. Walker made mistakes and ended up ejected from two games, including the elimination loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 18. However, he was an important piece for the defense and was selected to the PFWA’s All-Rookie Team.
Wyatt hasn’t played that much because the Packers relegated him to the fifth defensive lineman on the rotation for most of the season, but his role grew after Dean Lowry‘s injury. Even with little playing time, Wyatt had 1.5 sacks and 15 tackles. He wasn’t selected to the official All-Rookie Team but was part of the Pro Football Focus’ choices.
Another important addition to the defensive front seven came in the fifth round. Kingsley Enagbare was viewed before the draft as a second- or third-round prospect but became available at the end of Round 5. The Packers were still able to trade down before getting him. Enagbare started the season at the bottom of the roster but escalated up the depth chart and became a starter after Rashan Gary‘s knee injury.
It’s almost impossible to find good edge defenders so late in a draft, and Gutekunst did it. Enagbare finished his rookie season with three sacks (fourth on the team, only behind Preston Smith, Gary, and Kenny Clark), five tackles for loss, and 31 tackles.
The hours between the first and the second rounds was a nightmare for Packers fans. After thinking about wide receivers for months, they saw Green Bay leave the first evening without any. But the start of the second day came with a surprise: The Packers traded up with the Minnesota Vikings, giving up picks 53 and 59 to select Christian Watson 34th overall. Later, Gutekunst said he tried to move up to 32, which would have ended Green Bay’s streak of not drafting first-round wide receivers since 2004. But the draft position doesn’t matter that much. The trade was expensive, but Watson has shown how immensely talented he is.
Even playing just 14 games, Watson finished the season second in yards (611), first in yards per reception among players with at least 15 receptions (14.9), first in receiving touchdowns, and second in yards after the catch (only behind running back Aaron Jones).
Romeo Doubs went to the Packers in the fourth round. His ceiling is not as high as Watson’s, but his floor enticed Gutekunst. Doubs impressed because of how polished he is. Even after missing four games because of an ankle injury, he finished the season fourth in receiving yards on the team (425), third in targets (67), fourth in receptions (42), and fourth in receiving touchdowns (3). He probably won’t be a star, but he’s a reliable secondary offensive option.
On their wide receiver depth, the Packers also have Samori Toure, the seventh-round pick. He didn’t have many chances, but he scored one touchdown and will fight for a roster spot next offseason. Bo Melton is not part of the Packers’ draft class, but he was a seventh-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, and the Packers signed him off Seattle’s practice squad in December. He’s already under contract through 2023.
The offensive line is a major priority for Gutekunst through the draft, and that’s why he selected three players for that unit in each of the last three drafts. Last year, he got Sean Rhyan in the third, Zach Tom in the fourth, and Rasheed Walker in the seventh.
“I think it’s always important to us,” Gutekunst said after the draft. “We’ve kind of committed to that as we’ve gone along. From the 20-some years I’ve been with this organization, we’ve had two quarterbacks that we know we have to protect and that’s kind of a high priority.”
Rhyan didn’t have many opportunities throughout the year and ended up suspended in the last part of the season. Walker didn’t play. However, Zach Tom has proved to be a massive steal. He has played at left tackle, left guard, right guard, and right tackle, and performed at a high level in all of them. That would be hard for any player to accomplish, let alone for a fourth-round rookie. For the future, Tom has a real shot to be the long-term answer at right tackle — and maybe even left tackle, as soon as David Bakhtiari‘s tenure in Green Bay is finished.
Besides the draft picks, the Packers also got tackle Caleb Jones as an undrafted free agent, and he ended up playing over Walker in the preseason. Jones was elevated during the season and finished the year on the active roster again after a brief period on the non-football illness list. At 6’9” and with 370 lbs., Jones is a physical monster and developmental project, similar (but maybe more extreme) to what the Packers have done with Yosh Nijman.
The future is still uncertain regarding the quarterback position, and it’s impossible to predict how far the Packers might go without knowing if the starter will be Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love. Nonetheless, the 2022 draft class has the chance to elevate Green Bay’s roster and add several young building blocks to a team that badly needed them.