Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst Is Betting On Kalen King’s Very Bad Year

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Much to the chagrin of many Green Bay Packers fans, Brian Gutekunst passed up an opportunity to select a high-profile cornerback like Cooper DeJean, Terrion Arnold, or Kool-Aid McKinstry in this year’s NFL draft. Instead, Gutekunst focused on other positions, primarily offensive line, linebacker, and safety. He only used his 11th and final selection to take a cornerback, drafting Kalen King out of Penn State. Many fans are high on the prospects of King becoming a late-round steal. Still, passing on chances to draft cornerbacks early emphasizes Gutekunst’s level of comfort with the position group and his adherence to a best-player-available philosophy.

During April’s offseason workout program, a reporter asked Gutekunst about his comfort level with the cornerback group. Jaire Alexander, Carrington Valentine, and Eric Stokes are Green Bay’s best corners, and the Packers declined Stokes’ fifth-year rookie option on Thursday.

“I feel pretty good about it right now because we’re running around in shorts, and everybody’s healthy,” Gutekunst said of his cornerbacks. “Certainly if (the draft) would have fallen right, we’d have addressed it earlier, it just didn’t. It was just kinda one of those years. But right,t now I really like our group, and I like the way they look.”

Even with the Packers transitioning into more of a 4-3 oriented defense under new coordinator Jeff Hafley, nickel will still be one of the primary looks for any NFL defense. That means Alexander, Valentine, and Stokes could all be on the field a large percentage of the time. At the start of free agency, Hafley got his dream safety in Xavier McKinney in a splashy move. Gutekunst also drafted three players at safety to finish a complete transformation of the position group from where it was a season ago. The Packers took Javon Bullard in the second round with pick 58, and he figures to be in the mix from Day 1. Meanwhile, fourth-round pick Evan Williams and fifth-rounder Kitan Oladapo will provide depth and a special teams presence.

“I think the nickel position has become more and more important in our league,” Gutekunst said at the NFL owners meetings in April. “Having a guy who can do multiple things — not only to cover but being an instinctual guy that can take the ball away and also play against the run because of how much those guys are involved — I think that position in particular has become more and more valuable.”

Gutekunst submitted Kalen King’s name with the third-to-last pick in the draft. Entering the 2023 college football season, experts projected the 2022 All-American to be a first-round pick. However, King’s draft stock plummeted after a dismal final year at Penn State and an underwhelming combine results.

“Just because I got picked towards the end of the seventh round this year doesn’t mean that’s the player I am. That’s just where I was slotted to be,” King told reporters following the draft. “Anything before this point, I feel like doesn’t matter anymore. With me having this opportunity with the Green Bay Packers, I feel like nothing happened last year. Everything is happening exactly how it’s supposed to.”

Regardless of whether it translates to an immediate impact role on Sundays, King’s selection helps emphasize Gutekunst’s approach to building competition within each position group. If King can overcome his underwhelming 2023 season and show more of the athleticism and ability that made him an All-American in 2022, he’ll push Alexander, Stokes, and Valentine for snaps.

“He’s got a really nice skillset. Has played some high-level football at Penn State. He’s got some versatility to play outside and to play nickel as well,” Gutekunst said regarding King following the draft. “I think his best football is ahead of him as well. He’s a young player. He was a three-year player coming out. So, hopefully, that does drive him. We’re going to have a very competitive secondary right now and I feel really good about that, and it’s going to be fun to watch those guys excel.”

While outlets like and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave Green Bay a solid “B” for its draft performance, a player like King can stand out as a differentiator in retrospect. After selecting Valentine and Rasheed Walker in the seventh round over the past two seasons, he’s looking to continue that hot streak with Kalen King (and Michael Pratt, but that’s a different story). Gutekunst hasn’t let one down college year scare him off before (Dontayvion Wicks!), and he’s hoping King proves to be his latest value pick.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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