GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst knows he has more work to do on the Green Bay Packers roster — both during Saturday’s third and final day of the 2019 NFL draft, and in the coming weeks and months before the Sept. 5 regular-season opener.
But the Packers' second-year general manager has, so far, improved his roster with four players who could — and, perhaps, should — have an impact this season, from his two first-round picks on defense (Michigan edge rusher Rashan Gary and Maryland safety Darnell Savage) to the two offensive players he added on Friday night (Mississippi State offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins in the second round and Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger in the third).
That said, Gutekunst insisted that he has abided by the best-player-available mantra of his GM mentors — with the mild exception of the Savage pick, since Gutekunst had to trade two fourth-rounders to move up to get him — and won’t reach to get more offensive skill position players for new head coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers to plug into the team’s new offensive scheme.
“We’re going to be aggressive and try to take the best players we can. When we’re done, we’ll look up at the roster and say, ‘Where do we go from here?’” Gutekunst explained Friday night. “There’s times you look up and say, ‘Wow, we really need to do this or we really need to do that.’ There’s other times, you’re like, ‘Let’s try to get better here. Let’s try to get better there.’
“I think you have to be careful of just trying to check boxes because you may end up missing on a player that can really, really help your team. Like I’ve said before, what your needs are right now by the time we get to August, September, it can change so drastically. And really for my position, I think you’ve got to look two to three years out and try to keep this team competitive every single year. I think that’s my responsibility.
“We’re obviously aware of the things we want to do, but at the same time I think you’ve got to be very careful of just checking boxes.”
That may be true, but with thinning depth on the offensive line and a couple of old war horses in the tight end room, the selections of Jenkins and Sternberger certainly checked important boxes on offense.
With an opening at right guard and a potential opening next year at right tackle, it seemed obvious that the Packers would add to their offensive line group. In Jenkins, the Packers got with the 44th overall pick a versatile lineman who started all 26 of Mississippi State’s games at center over the past two seasons but also played all five spots on the line during his career.
The Packers will have an open competition for the starting right guard job, with holdovers Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick competing with free-agent addition Billy Turner and now Jenkins, who college scout Charles Walls said will start out working at guard. Next year, Green Bay could be in the market for a starting right tackle, as veteran Bryan Bulaga is entering the final year of his contract.
“We took him as a guard, but you watch the tape, you feel comfortable putting him anywhere you need him to be,” Walls said. “Definitely a light bulb goes off when a guy with that much value, that much versatility falls to you.”
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Jenkins, who turns 24 in December, redshirted his first year at Mississippi State, then started eight games in his first two active seasons — six at left tackle and two at left guard. He moved to center as a junior in 2017 and started every one of the Bulldogs’ games there after that.
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“I feel like I can play all positions,” Jenkins said. “Right now, they’re looking at me at guard. But I feel like I can play all the positions on the line.”
New Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy was Mississippi State’s offensive coordinator last season, and Gutekunst said Getsy was “a big fan” of Jenkins.
The Packers took Sternberger at No. 75 overall, something they saw as a significant value because they didn’t rate him significantly lower than the two Iowa tight ends who went in the first round — T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.
The 6-foot-4, 251-pound Sternberger, who’ll turn 23 in June, was late to develop in college, starting his career at Kansas but leaving after two years and landing at a junior college, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Sternberger then moved on to Texas A&M, where he caught 48 passes for 832 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns last season.
“He wasn’t a guy that’s been there three or four years that’s been producing,” Gutekunst said. “But he had an outstanding year (at Texas A&M) in a pro system, was a matchup problem in college. And we think he can translate that to the NFL.”
Packers co-director of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan called Sternberger a “late-bloomer” because he redshirted at Kansas in 2015 and caught only one pass in 2016 before leaving the Jayhawks.
“We felt like he was comparable with the better tight ends in this class,” Sullivan said. “He is a very competitive kid. It’s important to him to be a well-rounded football player. His value is as a pass-catcher today, but he’s willing to block. He’ll get in there and mix it up. I think he’ll fit in well with our group.”
Sternberger was one of the 30 players the Packers brought to Green Bay for an official pre-draft visit, and he also met with the Packers at the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February as one of the team’s 60 allotted interviews there.
“Immediately when I got to Green Bay, I felt that family atmosphere. That’s an environment I want to be in,” Sternberger said. “I had a really successful visit there.”
Sternberger joins a tight end room with two veteran tight ends — Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis — at the forefront, and while he’ll have a chance to play early if deserving, the Packers don’t see the need to rush him onto the field after just one year of college production.
“I don’t think there’s pressure for him to come in here and be Superman,” Sullivan said. “But we definitely think he has the skill set to do that if needed.
“He’s got a very exciting skill set. He’s a guy that we feel like is an ascending player. We were really glad to get him. He was a riser at Texas A&M. He was a late bloomer, is what he was. Didn’t have much of a career at Kansas, moved on to junior college and then burst onto the scene this year.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9-11 on “Wilde & Tausch” on your local ESPN station.