GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst certainly has some idea of what he’d like to do with the Green Bay Packers’ two first-round selections — No. 12 and No. 30 — on Day 1 of the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday night.
Not only has the second-year general manager and his staff built their draft board with grades for 300-plus NFL hopefuls, but his scouts have a keen understanding of the other 31 teams’ needs, and the analytics crew (official title: Football Technology Department) has researched which teams are most likely to swing trades during the draft.
Gutekunst knew how important that preparation was even before sitting in the big chair for the first time last year. But he also knows that all kinds of potential “unscouted looks,” as coaches might call them, are lurking around every selection. Not all of them will be as dramatic as the fall that young, soul patch-sporting University of California quarterback experienced during the 2005 draft — when one Aaron Charles Rodgers landed right in Ted Thompson’s lap for his first selection as GM — but handling unpredictable moments will be almost as important as the obvious pick-the-right-guy pressure that comes with the job.
“I kind of learned this leading up to the draft last year: The amount of preparation (required) from the strategic (standpoint) — the way things might fall — was more than maybe I thought about in the past. But I thought last year going into it, we felt pretty prepared,” Gutekunst explained earlier this week when asked what had been the biggest lesson he learned from his first draft in charge. “So, we’ve really followed kind of the same template that we did last year with the guys kind of going through different scenarios and things.”
And yet, last year’s first round serves as a perfect example of how things change on draft night.
For starters, Gutekunst said, he spent much of the day, including once the draft kicked off, trying to trade up into the top 10. Sitting at No. 14, he felt he needed to move higher to get the kind of impact player he wanted with his first pick. When that didn’t happen, he was ready for the trade that he made — in which the New Orleans Saints came up to No. 14 from No. 27 and gave the Packers their first-round pick this year to do it.
With the Saints reaching the NFC championship game, that pick turned out to be No. 30, and it gives the Packers two first-rounders for the first time since they took Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji (No. 9) and USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 26) in 2009.
But while Gutekunst went into last year’s draft knowing the Saints were interested in a deal — the teams had discussed such a scenario a week in advance — he didn’t know until after making that trade that he’d have to then move back up to get one of the players he liked most. That player turned out to be Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander, whom he took at No. 18 after making another trade with the Seattle Seahawks to move up from No. 27.
Could he be making deals again on Thursday night? Sure. In fact, the scouting staff has already had conversations with other teams about possible trades.
“Certainly over the last week and this week, those calls start to happen,” Gutekunst explained. “We've taken a number of calls on the 12th pick so far this year. Last year, those conversations happened with teams moving up and certainly when we actually pulled the trigger to move back, a lot of the conversations with us moving from 27 back up to 18 hadn't happened because we weren't at 27 (until after the New Orleans trade).
“As soon as we made the trade, I told our guys, ‘Let's get back on the phone and see what we could do.’ There was kind of a window of picks that I thought if we got back up in there, we'd still get a guy who's valued at that range. It happened fairly quickly, but the first trade back was discussed a week and a half ahead of time. But the one with John (Schneider, the Seahawks GM) didn't happen until after we moved back.”
With two first-rounders, Gutekunst has a host of options. If he can find a trade partner, he could package them both to go up into the top 10 if there’s a player there he covets who’ll be long gone by No. 12.
Among those players who are almost sure to be gone before No. 12 are defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Quinnen Williams, edge rushers Nick Bosa Josh Allen, and top offensive linemen Jawaan Taylor and Jonah Williams.
Or, if there’s a run on quarterbacks early — or if a quarterback-needy team gets anxious and is worried about missing out on one of the top passers — he could entertain offers and move back from No. 12, accumulating more picks.
A move back might also be in play at No. 30, as another team might want to get into the bottom of the first round in order to have the all-important fifth-year option for that rookie’s contract, since picks after the first round all sign standard four-year deals.
Players who could be there at No. 12 include Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns, Washington State offensive lineman Andre Dillard, Mississippi State edge rusher Montez Sweat, Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, and Michigan linebackers Devin Bush and Rashan Gary.
At the same time, Gutekunst made it clear that he won’t trade back for the sole purpose of accumulating more picks, even though he learned from Wolf that more swings at the plate during a draft are valuable.
“To pass up the kind of player I think will be there at 12, I think there will have to be a significant; something that could help our team potentially this year and maybe down the road,” Gutekunst said. “With the 12th pick and the 30th pick, to move back, just to gain something insignificant, I think would be tough for me to do. But it will really come down to who’s there.”
For instance, Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, who certainly seems to fit new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offensive scheme, might not last until No. 12. Is he worth moving up to get? Or, in a deep draft, is it smarter to stay put and choose from a variety of other players who may have only slightly lower grades?
“I pray for patience all the time,” Gutekunst said. “It really comes down to being about the player. If there’s a player that I think that the only way we can acquire him is to go get him, and he’s at a different value than the guys that will be sitting there, then we’ll do it.
“If we’re at 12 and I’ve got six guys that I value equally and we can move back a few and feel like we can get the same kind of guy, we’ll consider that. If you ask me today I don’t think that’s how it will fall. But you never really know.
“I don’t think you can go into a draft rigid without looking at all the possibilities and being prepared to move either way. I really believe you’ve got to be open minded to what gets thrown at you — because otherwise you could miss some opportunities.”