McGinn: Red flags, no stud WR define Brian Gutekunst's fifth draft
Bob McGinn dissects the 2022 draft class in Green Bay, in which he believes the general manager waited too long at receiver and drafted one player his predecessor never would have.
Based on his lackluster track record, maybe it was too much to expect general manager Brian Gutekunst to work the board, fully utilize his extensive draft capital and come away from the NFL draft with a solution to the Green Bay Packers’ blatant need at wide receiver.
Instead, Gutekunst waited when he should have pounced in Round 1 and then pounced when he should have waited in Round 2.
So, after letting the prolific Davante Adams walk via the trade route and speedy Marquez Valdes-Scantling depart via free agency, the Packers not only find themselves without a No. 1 receiver but from the looks of it without even a legitimate No. 2.
Let’s hear it for the No. 3’s. The Packers have three or four of those. After standing pat with their motley crew of tight ends, they’re likely to enter the season without a single target that would scare a defense in a game becoming more tilted toward high-flying offenses by the year.
Now Gutekunst must turn like never before to Aaron Rodgers in hopes he can make it all better. Only Rodgers, the NFL’s top-paid player, expected that the organization would retain Adams.
Selfishly, Rodgers is refusing to show up for the voluntary off-season program even though every minute he could spend with the three drafted rookie wide receivers and often-injured Sammy Watkins, the veteran retread, would be invaluable. But he got his, and the Raiders have his alter ego.
“You’re dealing with a very temperamental, passive-aggressive quarterback,” an NFL GM said this week. “Don’t be surprised if 12 doesn’t bail out of this thing. I’m not saying he will; I haven’t heard anything that he will. But if he looks at this and what he’s got to work with, you’re only Houdini for so long. At what point is it just too much? Offensively, they’re going to struggle.”
The Packers needed wide receivers in the worst way. Instead, Gutekunst used his premium choices on an inside linebacker, a defensive tackle and a developmental wide receiver from FCS North Dakota State. Neither Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt nor Christian Watson was a significant producer in college. The last time the Packers drafted a player as high as Watson’s slot (No. 34) from a small school was 45 years ago: defensive end Ezra Johnson of Morris Brown (No. 28, 1977).
Armed with 11 picks, including the first-round choice (No. 22) and the second-round choice (No. 53) from the Raiders in a trade for Adams, Gutekunst had the wherewithal basically to do whatever he wanted to do in the first round.
Given the urgent, win-now need at wide receiver, the Packers all but ruled out Jameson Williams because of his reconstructed knee that probably will sideline him for at least half the season. Their quarry — Drake London, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — went No. 8, No. 10 and No. 11.
In the weakened NFC, the Packers really are a team that’s one player away from winning it all.
The Saints, a non-playoff team in 2021 now led by a new coach, traded up from No. 16 to No. 11 and secured Olave. The Lions, 3-13-1 a year ago, advanced from No. 32 to No. 12 and grabbed Williams.
“You know, I think we went through some scenarios, there were some conversations and stuff,” Gutekunst said in his typical halting fashion after the first round. “I think at the end of the day, you know, we have four picks in these first two rounds and we felt really good about sitting and picking. We certainly explored some options. There was a little run on receivers there and once that kind of happened, I think we were kind of, like, thought we would stay and pick.”
Jahan Dotson, who went No. 16 to the Commanders, was too small for the Packers. In the end, they decided Treylon Burks wasn’t worth trading up to No. 18, the slot Burks was drafted by the Titans. They traded up with the Eagles to make the pick.
At the start of business Friday night, the Packers had keen interest in three wide receivers: George Pickens (6-3, 200, 4.51), Alec Pierce (6-3, 208, 4.44) and Watson (6-4, 208, 4.32). Like Williams, John Metchie was coming off an ACL tear. The Packers regarded Skyy Moore as too small.
Pickens, who returned from an ACL tear of his own to play the final four games last season, was regarded by two personnel directors as the most talented wide receiver in the draft albeit one with some issues related to maturity. Pierce was compared by more than one scout as a faster, less agile Jordy Nelson.
Having had all night and all day to plot their next move, the Packers traded their two second-round draft choices (No. 53, No. 59) to the Vikings and selected the small-school Watson at No. 34 over Pickens and Pierce from college football playoff teams. Gutekunst, a longtime Southeast area scout, ended up picking nine players from Power 5 conferences, one from the Mountain West and Watson out of the Missouri Valley.
Incidentally, six of the Packers’ 11 draftees spent five years in college, four spent four years and one, Sean Rhyan, spent just three. Devonte Wyatt was the only pick that also played in junior college.
This year marked the sixth time in Gutekunst’s five drafts that he traded up, and his history doesn’t suggest genius at work.
His best move was in 2018 with the selection of Jaire Alexander at No. 18, but after first trading down he lost the chance to draft Derwin James (No. 17 to the Chargers). James might well be the NFL’s finest safety; Alexander might well be a top-5 cornerback.
Gutekunst traded forward for Oren Burks in the third round of 2018, safety Darnell Savage in the first round of ‘19, quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of ’20 and wide receiver Amari Rodgers in the third round of ’21. Burks was a bust, Rodgers looks like a bust, Savage has been an adequate three-year starter and Love has been unimpressive in limited exposure.
Someone in the organization must have fallen in love with Watson. Maybe it was a coach. My rankings generally reflect the vote of 16 evaluators that I polled on the leading receivers in the last few weeks leading to the draft. Of the nine wide receivers that received votes, Watson wasn’t one of them. My rankings had him at No. 11.
If the Packers hadn’t made their reactionary move 19 slots up the board, they could have waited for Watson to be taken and then quickly traded up with all of their ammunition to take Pickens or Pierce and ensure they landed one.
Had Gutekunst heeded his own words from Thursday night, as it turned out the Packers could have remained at No. 53 and still drafted Pierce. He went there to the Colts; Pickens almost got there as well, going No. 52 to the Steelers.
If Gutekunst hadn’t been so impatient, he could have followed the selection of Pierce at No. 53 with Bryan Cook at No. 59. He went No. 62 to the Chiefs. A hardnosed strong safety with speed, the Packers viewed Cook as the ideal successor to 29-year-old Adrian Amos, whose contract voids after next season. Having traded No. 59 for Watson, the Packers remain thin at safety.
In the last three days, three executives in personnel for NFL teams reviewed the Packers’ draft at length. Much of the background information also comes from interviews with GMs, personnel directors and scouts in the last two months.
There was considerable praise among scouts for some of the Packers’ selections. Certainly, Gutekunst needed a good draft, and this might be it.
Under Gutekunst, the Packers have drafted 24 players in Rounds 4-7. His best picks were Valdes-Scantling, Jon Runyan, Royce Newman and Kingsley Keke. Not one of those 24 picks has become established as a solid starter.
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Gutekunst’s four-man corps of third-round picks has been a washout: Burks, Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara and Amari Rodgers.
His four second-round choices include Elgton Jenkins on the top-shelf side, AJ Dillon on the good side, Josh Myers on the wait-and-see side and Josh Jackson on the dismal side.
In the first round, his choice might be ranked like this: Alexander, Rashan Gary, Eric Stokes, Savage and Love.
Almost 4 ½ years since taking over for Ted Thompson, arguably four of the team’s five best players still were drafted by Thompson: Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark and Aaron Jones. Alexander is Gutekunst’s only top-5 acquisition.
Gutekunst has done his best work in unrestricted free agency with the signings of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Billy Turner and Amos in his phenomenal haul from 2019, and De’Vondre Campbell in 2021. Those players, the hiring of Matt LaFleur as coach and the Rodgers-to-Adams record-setting connection has kept the Packers in contention for most of his tenure.
Here is a pick-by-pick look at the Green Bay draft. Following each choice are two numbers. On a 1-to-10 scale — with 10 being the highest — the first number is each player’s chance to make a significant contribution as a rookie; the second number is his chance to make a significant contribution during his career in Green Bay.