Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst Was In His Bag Once Again On Draft Weekend

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After using the past two drafts to power a rapid rebuild, Brian Gutekunst was cooking again last weekend. In typical Gutey fashion, he targeted guys with elite athletic profiles, filled needs, sneaked in a trade-down, landed a standout University of Georgia defender, and said, Screw all your mock drafts when he passed on rumored top target Cooper DeJean. There’s a strong possibility that Gutekunst selected three starters in the first three picks. Jordan Morgan’s versatility ensures he finds a spot on the offensive line. Edgerrin Cooper could team up with Quay Walker to patrol the middle, and Javon Bullard may line up next to Xavier McKinney in the secondary.

The NFC North has had a pretty strong weekend. The Chicago Bears landed Rome Odunze alongside Caleb Williams and completed an offense that looks more potent than anything we have seen from them in years. Chicago has a reputation for being champions of the offseason and failing to push it much further than that. But Williams, the slam-dunk No. 1 pick for over a year now, is far less polarizing to scouts as a player than Justin Fields and Mitchell Trubisky. The Minnesota Vikings landed Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy to replace Kirk Cousins without moving heaven and earth. Still, it remains to be seen just how much upside he has and how long it will take him to settle into the system.

If this Packers draft class turns out as strong as it appears, this was the latest masterclass in a remarkable rebuild that began when Gutekunst shocked the world by selecting Jordan Love in 2020. It basically included only two months of adversity before Green Bay returned to contention with the league’s youngest team. In adding Cooper, Bullard, and McKinney to fill massive defensive holes this offseason, the Packers finally set themselves up to be the year that the personnel translates to output on the defense. New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley has to be pleased to inherit this unit.

Gutekunst has become predictably unpredictable in the war room. While he’s markedly more aggressive in free agency than his predecessor, Ted Thompson, Gutekunst has carried on the Packers’ longstanding draft philosophy. Impressive athletic profiles and versatility continued to show up in Green Bay’s picks. However, needs were a noticeable point of emphasis, demonstrating the front office’s intention to go all-in following a breakout season.

McKinney and Bullard will take over for the revolving door of Darnell Savage Jr, Jonathan Owens, and Rudy Ford at the safety position; Cooper will bring youth, energy, and physicality to the spot that the aging De’Vondre Campbell held last season; and Morgan is another high-upside piece to add to Love’s offensive line. His arrival also opens the door for Zach Tom to move to center, a possibility the Packers are reportedly intrigued by. It’s a long road between now and opening day, including crucial transitions for the young guys, but they have flipped multiple key weaknesses into potential strengths overnight — at least on paper.

As they addressed need after need, the elephant in the room became cornerback,  the major position Gutekunst opted not to dip into early on. Star defensive back Jaire Alexander has one side of the field under firm control, but there are a plethora of questions on the other side. Former first-round pick Eric Stokes flashed aggressively in his rookie year, but major injuries have sidelined him ever since. Seventh-round rookie Carrington Valentine held his own in a handful of starts in 2023, but it’s still difficult to view him as a long-term solution.

In a post-draft presser, Matt LaFleur addressed this by saying Stokes “looks great,” suggesting he will be ready to go as CB2 opposite Alexander. That brings the number of Georgia defenders in the starting lineup up to four, with Bullard joining Stokes, Walker, and Devonte Wyatt, another high draft pick primed for a big leap.

One of the primary factors in Gutekunst’s draft domination these past couple of years has been the diamonds in the rough he finds in the middle rounds. This year, seventh-round corner Kalen King feels like a guy who fits that mold. Around this time a year ago, King was forecasted to go on Thursday or Friday. However, he had a rough 2023 season and slid the entire length of the draft. Jayden Reed and Sauce Gardner were among those who shouted him out as a steal.

Interestingly, two of their late-rounders have gotten the better of potential future villain Caleb Williams. Fifth-round safety Kitan Oladapo sacked him in an Oregon State victory over USC, and seventh-round quarterback selection Michael Pratt outdueled him in an absolute boat race of a Cotton Bowl in 2022. Pratt has maintained a decent national profile as the leader of an overperforming Tulane team, and it will be interesting to see if he winds up with the backup quarterback job that currently belongs to Sean Clifford.

Overall, it was an incredibly successful weekend for Gutekunst and the Packers. They put the cherry on top of the Aaron Rodgers trade with the addition of Cooper and have this roster locked, loaded, and ready to make noise in the NFC. Over the next few months, the onus will fall on the coaches to turn personnel into production. LaFleur’s system looked polished and potent in Love’s first year at the helm, and it feels like the sky’s the limit with the entire young core returning. Hafley’s defense will be far more interesting to see. Time will tell if he can avoid the fates of his predecessors, but one thing is certain: Brian Gutekunst has put them all in a position to succeed heading into 2024.

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