Green Bay Packers

Gutekunst Used the Last Two Drafts To Power the Fastest Rebuild In Recent Memory

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The problem with the “Tank for Tua” campaign wasn’t the losing — that was perfectly executed. It was that, when you sacrifice entire NFL seasons and put fans through years of torture all to land a top-five pick, you best not miss. While Tua Tagovailoa is by no means Josh Rosen or a Johnny Manziel, all evidence suggests he’s, well, mediocre. As a result, the Miami Dolphins have put together some impressive offensive showings at home against bad teams but rarely show up when it counts. In fairness, someone can make a similar case about every AFC quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes. But in his four-year career, Tagovailoa has shown no evidence that he can win in January.

Brian Gutekunst didn’t wait until he needed a franchise quarterback. He pushed his chips to the center of the table in an entirely different way, trading up for one immediately after coming off an NFC Championship run. Most people reacted with shock, confusion, and anger, including myself.

Fast-forward to this moment, and the league’s most storied, well-run franchise has done it again. They have reloaded a full-fledged NFC contender after a long, arduous two months of uncertainty and proven why teams don’t hire GMs off of Twitter. Every playoff heartbreak with Rodgers hurt because it was one year less with the greatest thrower of the football ever born. This time, it’s hard not to feel like the Packers have another decade-plus in them. Detroit may not have been the only team to choke a winnable playoff upset in Santa Clara, but 32 years is a lot more buildup than 60-something days.

So, Jordan Love is just that good, huh? Some rebuilds take a couple of years; some take longer. However, some have been going on in different iterations since Love was born! He is clearly a franchise quarterback, and Love’s extension this offseason will reflect that. But is he so transcendental that he can drag even the most inept group of offensive skill players into contention?

I mean, maybe, but that’s certainly not what’s going on here. Gutekunst didn’t just replace Rodgers; he ostensibly replaced All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari with a seventh-round pick. And in the wake of Davante Adams’ departure, a coalition of young receiving talent has dragged the position further down the list of needs. It’s worth mentioning that nearly every piece of Adams’ justification for leaving has aged as poorly as Derek Carr himself.

In the past two drafts, Gutekunst has been knocking down treys from Steph Curry range — and by that, I mean the late rounds. In 2022, he found one of the league’s best linemen, Zach Tom, in the fourth round before adding Rasheed Walker in the seventh. That’s two impact players at a high-value position, enabling the Packers to continue addressing defense with their most premium picks. Romeo Doubs was another fourth-round gem that year, and he came alive this postseason. Fifth-rounder Kingsley Enagbare has been nothing but solid as a backup edge. However, he has a long road back after tearing his ACL in Dallas. Not to mention, the top picks that year – Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, and Christian Watson – have plenty of runway ahead of them.

Moving on to 2023, Gutekunst got Dontayvion Wicks in the fifth and Karl Brooks in the sixth. The latter was casually one of the highest-graded defensive linemen in the league and were both extraordinary snipes. However, it’s hard to find a miss aside from Anders Carlson. Gutey rounded out the pass-catching group nicely by hitting on two tight ends in Musgrave and Kraft and adding some vertical and horizontal dynamism in Jayden Reed. The top pick, Lukas Van Ness, was one of the lesser contributors. But the Packers drafted him as a Rashan Gary-esque project at the edge position. Just based on the magnitude of the hit rate here, teams might want to see if Sean Clifford is available for trade!

Not only did the Packers get Love protection, but they also gave him a young, fun receiving corps where everybody has their own sort of specialization. More importantly, all of that showed up in the playoffs, perhaps even more so than the regular season. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but all that’s left to do is turn the elite defensive personnel on the roster into an elite defense. Ideally, the third time’s the charm with Jeff Hafley.

The Packers are one of four teams who will be controlling the draft in April, with five picks in the Top 100. The Arizona Cardinals, Washington Commanders, and Chicago Bears are the other three, emphasizing how masterful this reload has been. Each of those franchises began their rebuild long ago, and they are still just as far from Love and the Packers as they were from Rodgers and the Packers. This should be where it starts to get really fun.

At some point, Green Bay will have to beat the San Francisco 49ers if they are to finally seize the NFC. Still, it’s fun to be back in the mix already, and it’s all thanks to an unprecedented rebuild, built on the back of unprecedented batches of late-round gems.

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Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

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