When it comes to the NFL draft, Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst is a wild card.
In his first three NFL drafts, the Wolf and Thompson disciple has been a crafty general manager, especially in the first round. No matter who the Packers might be linked to, what the team needs are, and who is available, expect the unexpected in 2021.
Years of swinging and missing on defensive backs left the Packers with a major need in 2018, Gutekunst’s first year in charge. Gutekunst filled that need but in an unexpected manner.
Gutey traded out of his initial spot, receiving a future first-round pick from the New Orleans Saints. Yet the Saints’ pick was too low for the rookie GM, who traded back up to 18 to snag his guy, the unexpected Jaire Alexander. The Packers needed a corner, but most expected Iowa ballhawk Josh Jackson to be the move. Alexander was smaller than the Packers’ usual threshold at the position, and he reportedly had little contact with Green Bay. Alexander would go on to become a star for the Packers, who would double-dip and take Jackson in the second round.
Gutekunst also gambled on a pair of specialists, punter J.K. Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley, when many GMs look to fill these roles with UDFAs.
In 2019, it seemed likely the Packers would go for a star tight end or EDGE player, and there were some very attractive options. Despite a top-heavy edge class and an early pick (as far as the Packers normally have), the Packers seemingly took care of the problem in free agency, signing Smiths Za’Darius and Preston to massive contracts. But when the draft came around, Gutekunst once again did the unexpected, taking Michigan’s Rashan Gary over a tight end like Noah Fant or seemingly more polished pass-rushers like Brian Burns or Montez Sweat.
Gary was an athletic monster but hadn’t produced at Michigan. But with two new starters on the edge, the Packers wouldn’t need to start Gary immediately. Instead, the team banked on his athletic upside, and, going into the 2021 season, it looks like the move is paying off; Gary looks like a rising star.
The pick Gutey got from the Saints the previous year wouldn’t go to waste. The Packers took Darnell Savage out of Maryland with the 21st pick. Savage was not only the first safety off of the board but the first defensive back taken in the entire draft. Savage particularly came on in the second half of the 2020 season, Neither first-rounder was an expected pick.
Gutekunst followed up by taking an early interior lineman, a rarity in Green Bay. Elgton Jenkins was picked over attractive weapons like Irv Smith and A.J. Brown and became an early-impact player. Jenkins was a priceless addition as he’s played all over the line in his first two seasons and finished 2020 as a Pro Bowler.
In 2020, a draft overflowing with talented wide receivers, Gutekunst made his boldest move yet. Not only did the Packers not take a single wide receiver, a position viewed heavily as a need, they stunned the football world by selecting Utah State QB Jordan Love, a decision that was not remotely controversial in the least bit. For a team that sniffed the Super Bowl the previous season, drafting a quarterback was truly unexpected. Gutekunst didn’t care; he saw his guy and made the trade up to get him. It’ll be a while before we see how this plays out, but it solidified the trend we saw the previous two years: Brian Gutekunst does what Brian Gutekunst wants.
In 2021 the Packers have major needs at cornerback., interior defensive line, and offensive tackle. But based on Gutekunst’s history as a general manager, no one can predict anything. Like his predecessor Ted Thompson, Gutekunst is always looking to the future and will make the move he believes sets the team up for continued success, even if it leaves those outside of the building scratching their heads.
No matter who the Packers are linked to, and regardless of the team’s needs, expected Gutekunst to zag against the expected zigs.
Maybe this is the year they take that early receiver.
Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.