Brian Gutekunst

Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst said he believes that the eight rookies the Packers added during the 2019 NFL draft will help get things going in the right direction again after last year’s 6-9-1 finish. 

GREEN BAY — Afterward, after eight picks had been added and handful of undrafted free agents had come to terms, Brian Gutekunst and his Green Bay Packers scouting staff had one more important task on their 2019 NFL Draft to-do list.

“We’re going to go have a couple cold ones tonight,” the Packers second-year general manager said with a smile.

They'll be well-earned.

To be sure, after back-to-back losing seasons, there is still plenty of work for Gutekunst, first-year head coach Matt LaFleur and the rest of the team to do before the Packers can be considered a playoff contender again, even with two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers back at quarterback.

But, both Gutekunst and LaFleur believed that the eight rookies the Packers added during the three-day draft will help get things going in the right direction again after last year’s 6-9-1 finish and longtime head coach Mike McCarthy’s dismissal.

“I think I’ve helped the team. I’d like to think that our group has really helped the team,” Gutekunst said. “Again, a lot of these guys in last year’s draft, some of these guys are coming into this building for the first time (or) in their second year, there’s obviously an adjustment period. But I’m really excited about the group that we have right now and what our coaches can do moving forward.”

Said LaFleur: “It’s a collaboration, in terms of building our roster with ‘Gutey’ and the personnel department, but I feel confident that these guys are going to buy into what we’re doing. I feel really good about the relationships that we’ve already established with these guys and just setting the tone moving forward.”

After adding Michigan edge rusher Rashan Gary and Maryland safety Darnell Savage with their two first-round picks on Thursday and Mississippi State offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins and Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger with their second- and third-round picks on Friday, the Packers made four selections Saturday: Texas A&M defensive lineman Kingsley Keke (No. 150) in the fifth round; Toledo cornerback Ka’dar Hollman (No. 185) and Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams (No. 194) in the sixth round; and TCU inside linebacker Ty Summers (No. 226) in the seventh round.

That eight-player group (five defensive players, three offensive players) joins Gutekunst’s 11-player class from last year, one that began with Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander in the first round and included five defensive players, four offensive players and two specialists.

Of those 19 players, only one came from a non-FBS level (Southeast Missouri State outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson, a seventh-round flyer last year) and only two other came from outside the Power 5 conferences (South Florida wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-round pick last year, and Hollman on Saturday).

Another thing Gutekunst’s classes have in common so far: Speed. Excluding punter JK Scott and long-snapper Hunter Bradley, whom the team added last year, of the 17 other draftees, 11 of them ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash or faster, and four of those players had 40 times in the 4.3s. Even the offensive and defensive linemen Gutekunst took were faster than the typical players at their positions.

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“I hope I'm not getting pigeon-holed and giving too many tells,” Gutekunst replied when asked to self-scout his own work in his first two drafts. “Obviously, we always go back and self-assess how we're doing things and our process. That's really important to me.”

Add in Gutekunst’s willingness to use veteran free agency as a tool, and he’s remade a roster that had fallen into disrepair in the later years of Ted Thompson’s tenure. Whether those players turn out to be the right players remains to be seen, but the changeover has been obvious.

“I think just the group dynamics and the way we've gone about it from Year 1 to Year 2 (have gotten better). I mean, you're thrown in there in January with the change that we had last year and you just kind of go, go, go. And then to change a lot of the process parts that we did this past year going into this year, I really feel good about how the group came together and jelled.

“We got better from Year 1 to Year 2. I really feel that. I'm kind of excited about where our group is headed.”

To get that group where it wants to go, Gutekunst, LaFleur and the scouting and coaching staffs all know what must happen.

The defense, fortified with the only four first-round picks who remain on the roster besides Rodgers (Gary, Savage, Alexander and 2016 first-rounder Kenny Clark) must elevate its game in Year 2 of coordinator Mike Pettine’s system.

The offense, in the beginning stages of installing a new playbook under LaFleur, must get Rodgers back to his MVP level, get significant contributions from its existing running backs and wide receivers given the minimal investments made over the weekend to those positions and hit the ground running with a scheme that has lit up scoreboards elsewhere in the league.

And the special-teams units must go from a liability to an area that at the very least doesn’t lose games, as they have in past years.

“It’s a team game, so we need our team to get better,” Gutekunst said when asked how desperately the Packers need Gary and Savage to live up to their draft status. “And we added these players with the expectation that they’re going to improve our team.”

Added LaFleur: “I think there’s always holes that you think about. (But) there’s no doubt we’ve added a lot of key pieces moving forward, both in free agency and in the draft — not only on the defensive side of the ball but (offensively).

"We’re going to try to bring in people all the time to compete at every position because I think that’s how you develop the best version of each player.”


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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.